By Scott Taylor
It was announced on March 19 that Canada would be sending military resources to support the ongoing United Nations peacekeeping mission in war torn Mali. While the exact composition of Canada’s contribution to Mali has yet to be finalized, it is expected to include two heavy lift Chinook transport helicopters, four Griffon utility helicopters and up to 250 personnel.
The primary role for this contingent will be to provide helicopter logistic support for the 13,289 UN peacekeepers from 20 countries, who are currently deployed to what is billed as the UN’s “most dangerous mission”.
To date, since it’s inception in April 2013 there have a total of 145 UN peacekeepers killed in Mali, but many of those deaths were as a result of accidents or illness rather than targeted attacks by insurgents.
To be clear, Mali will have its dangers but this mission is not anywhere near as dangerous as Afghanistan. Still, whenever the Canadian government commits to sending our troops into harm’s way, we should have a clear understanding of how any potential sacrifice by our soldiers will be offset by a direct benefit to Canada’s interest.
In other words, when a Commanding officer has to potentially write that letter to a grieving family, they can say with conviction “rest assured that your son/daughter did not die in vain”.
So far, the stated objective for Canada’s initial twelve-month commitment to Mali is that our service members will be providing support to the ongoing international peace effort underway in Mali.
That is certainly not much of a battle cry. It is also not exactly a plan filled with any optimism for a victory, as no one from the Trudeau government has dared to even explain what a Canadian ‘victory’ will look like in Mali.
The most recent eruption of violence occurred in 2012, but the international community – including Canada, have been pumping aid money into this impoverished West African nation for more than 5 decades. To date an estimated $80 billion (USD) of international aid has been pumped into Mali. Canada also sent military trainers to assist the Malian security forces back in 2011. It was in fact some of these Canadian trained Malian paratroopers who failed to prevent the March 2012 coup d’état staged by commander Amadou Sanogo. But I digress.
At the root of the problem is the fact that Mali was never a natural nation, but rather a product of the colonial era wherein European powers staked out claims on the African continent.
Geographically, Mali resembles an hourglass with the top half being part of the vast Sahara desert, with the bottom section carved out of the tropical sub Saharan territory of West Africa.
The fiercely independent Tuareg semi-nomads who live in the Sahara region have virtually nothing in common with those Malians from the south.
In January 2012, Tuareg separatists, heavily armed from the unsecured arsenals of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and allied with al-Qaeda of the Islamic Magrheb (AQIM) extremists easily defeated Malian security forces in Northern Mali.
They proclaimed an independent caliphate, and this demoralizing setback led Sanogo and his troops to seize power in Bamako the capital.
The Tuareg – AQIM success also led the new Malian regime to request international military assistance in the form of French troops.
For our part, in early 2013 Canada helped support the French military deployment though the provision of our C-17 strategic airlift planes. It only took the French army a few short weeks to recapture the territory of the caliphate, but since that time, both Tuareg separatists and Islamic extremists continue to offer defiant resistance to both French troops and the UN peacekeeping force.
It is also worth mentioning that neighbouring Libya, which has remained a failed state plagued by violent anarchy since NATO helped depose Gadhafi in October 2011, still offers an unchecked conduit of illegal arms and ammunition for the Malian insurgents.
Canada is going to commit to furnishing a military contingent for at least 12 months, to a mission that is already six years in progress with no feasible plan on the table to resolve the age-old problems that so clearly divide Mali.
There is also of course no mention of a plan to fix Libya, despite the fact that Canada took great pride in the fact that we had a lead role in the military operation to topple Gadhafi. As long as Libya remains destabilized any peacekeeping effort in Mali is akin to bailing out a sink with the tap still running.
I sincerely hope that Canada can conclude this Mali mission without a single casualty because I honestly do not know how one could justify the sacrifice of any of our soldiers in pursuit of fruitless perpetuation rather than a victorious conclusion.
If we are in it, it should be to win it. Otherwise it is just senseless political posturing to curry favour at the UN.