Harper Government sending blinding laser weapons to Afghanistan

Despite receiving hundreds of letters from Ceasefire.ca supporters urging tests for these weapons, the Harper Government is pressing ahead with deploying blinding laser weapons to Afghanistan.  – Steve


Canadian Forces buy laser ‘dazzlers’ for Afghanistan

David Pugliese
Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Canadian military will purchase 500 laser dazzlers for troops in Afghanistan as it seeks a new way to reduce the number of casualties among civilians.

The devices temporarily blind individuals and the army is hoping they can be used to ward off Afghans who drive or walk too closely to Canadian checkpoints or convoys. In the past, troops, worried about suicide bombers, have killed or wounded civilians who ignored or didn’t see warnings to keep their distance.

That, in turn, has prompted concern in the army that such incidents could erode support for the presence of coalition forces in Kandahar.

The dazzlers, renamed “laser-generated visual warning technology,” could be in the hands of Canadian troops in Afghanistan as early as next fall.

Maj. Stephane Dufour, director of the project to acquire the new systems, said the devices are designed to protect both soldiers and Afghan civilians. He noted that being hit by a laser is akin to someone looking at the sun.

“It’s fairly bright,” Dufour explained. “It will not debilitate you so much that you will have an accident but for sure you will know something is going on. If you keep coming, then the intent is determined that perhaps you are not a good guy and therefore (soldiers can) keep escalating force.”

The devices will be mounted on the personal weapons used by the troops.

The laser dazzler project is expected to cost more than $10 million. There is the potential for another 250 dazzlers to be purchased after the initial order.

Demonstrations of the dazzlers were conducted in Ottawa in August 2007 and there have been various tests. Additional tests are planned for early next year.

But Anthony Salloum, program director of the Rideau Institute, an advocacy group that has raised concerns about the dazzlers, said they are being put into the field without proper testing. That, in turn, could put Canada in the situation of violating the international treaties it has signed in regards to the introduction of new weapons, he added.

Salloum said that Canada also has ratified a treaty that prevents the use of weapons that cause permanent blindness. “All of this begs the question about why the government is going full hog on purchasing 500 of these weapons when they haven’t been fully tested,” he added.

A report on the dazzlers by the air force’s safety centre stated that injury from the systems could range from something quite significant to virtually undetectable. The report noted that it will be important to properly train soldiers not to use the devices on individuals at too close of a range because of the injury they could cause.

© Canwest News Service 2008

Tags: Afghanistan, Anthony Salloum, Canadian Forces, David Pugliese, Lasers, Rideau Institute