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U.S., Canada discuss Defense Cooperation

U.S. and Canadian defense officials discussed a range of bilateral military issues during meetings held here today.

Canadian National Defense Minister Peter MacKay hosted Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The two delegations spoke about strengthening and broadening an already strong alliance between the two nations. Gates and MacKay spoke at a news conference following their meeting.

Afghanistan is where the two countries’ militaries cooperate most closely, and Gates thanked the Canadian people for their sacrifices on the battlefield and continuing commitment to the struggle in Afghanistan.

“No country has suffered more fallen heroes proportionately than has Canada, and I extend our countries sympathy, prayers and admiration to their families,” Gates said.

The Canadian military is ending their combat mission in Regional Command–South, and will dedicate about 950 service members to training Afghan soldiers and police.

MacKay said the meetings help improve military coordination between the two countries.

Mexican Minister of National Defense Gen. Guillermo Galvan was to have attended the meeting, but illness forced him to cancel. Both MacKay and Gates said they wanted to re-schedule the so-called Tri-lateral meeting as soon as possible.

Gates and MacKay addressed threats to the Western Hemisphere, cooperation among the nations of the hemisphere and efforts to combat a range of international threats such as piracy, counterterrorism, narco-trafficking and human trafficking.

Gates said he and MacKay discussed expanded cooperation in the Arctic, coordinating maritime security assistance to the Caribbean region and sharing defense practices for supporting civilian authorities.

The two men also discussed the North American Aerospace Defense Command, especially the new maritime domain awareness mission assigned to the group.

They also discussed the decision to allow the Joint Permanent Board on Defense to continue looking at ways to examine a cyberdefense role. Gates said the two nations will “examine together how the advanced defenses of our military networks might also be applied to critical civilian infrastructure.”

Gates reaffirmed America’s strong commitment to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Canada is an integral partner in the program and the new fighter will be the Canadian military’s aviation backbone for decades. Gates said the Pentagon has made adjustments to the program, and that the United States is expecting to have 325 aircraft built by 2016.

Canada wants the Air Force variant of the F-35, and Gates said that version is doing well, and not under probation like the short take-off, and vertical landing variant is.

“It is a true 5th generation fighter, it will continue to gives us significant capabilities, it will continue the interoperability that has been at the heart of our NORAD relationship for decades now,” Gates said. “Without getting into domestic affairs in Canada, I would just say my hope is that all of our partners continue to move forward with us in this program.”

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