BY Scott Taylor
Last Thursday, Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance presided over a rain-soaked ceremony on Parliament Hill to formally recognize the change of command between outgoing Canadian army commander Lt.-Gen. Marquis Hainse and his newly announced replacement, Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk.
During his address to the crowd, Vance talked about the recent decisions to deploy up to 1,000 Canadian soldiers into Latvia as part of a NATO initiative to deter Russian expansion into the Baltic. Then Vance quietly dropped a little bombshell by saying Canadian soldiers would also soon be sent to Africa. Vance was careful not to mention any specific country or mission; he just said the Canadian Army would soon find itself in Africa.
This news was echoed by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan that same day from Kuwait. Like Vance, Sajjan did not point to a location, merely telling reporters that there are some very bad guys in Africa — like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabab in Kenya. According to Sajjan, Canada cannot sit idly by while other nations take up the fight against evildoers around the globe.
The most speculated upon potential peacekeeping mission for Canada to commit military resources to is the war-ravaged country of Mali.
At present, the United Nations has over 11,000 blue beret troops deployed in Mali, and that sizeable force is hard pressed to contain a growing tide of Islamic extremist insurgents.
Those who have been following the bouncing ball of international conflict sparked by the 2011 so-called Arab Spring will recall that Mali was plunged into chaos after NATO helped Libyan rebels topple President Moammar Gadhafi. After Gadhafi was killed, Libya descended into anarchy and the countryside was awash in discarded weaponry.
Many of the nomadic Tuaregs who had fought for Gadhafi decided to avail themselves of the abandoned arsenals and to head back into neighbouring Mali. There, the Tuaregs allied themselves with the notorious al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and together they successfully defeated the demoralized Malian forces.
The situation was so dire that in January 2013, France had to deploy a force to bolster its former colony and help drive back the Tuareg separatists and their crazy al-Qaeda allies. Canada lent a hand to the French during the combat phase by providing one CC-177 Globemaster III heavy lift transport aircraft and about 40 RCAF personnel for a three-month period.
The French intervention successfully recaptured the vast desert tracts the Tuaregs and AQIM had initially overrun, but this did not eliminate the root cause of the violent unrest.
Since it became a UN mission in December 2012, a total of 52 peacekeepers have been killed in Mali in clashes with the extremists, currently making it the UN’s most deadly mission. Not helping matters is the fact that Libya remains a failed state gripped by total anarchy and the flow of weapons and munitions into Mali remains unchecked.
In other words, if Canada is serious about dealing with bad guys to make the world a safer place, why don’t we start by leading a second intervention into Libya? Canada prided itself on having led the NATO mission to depose Gadhafi back in 2011; and of all the allies, we staged the biggest victory parade.
Libya’s current plight is at the very least partly the result of Canada leading the chase to change the regime during the Arab Spring. Rather than begging to join existing UN missions in Mali or the Central African Republic, why not employ Canadian troops to fix the current mess in Libya that was created by a Canadian-led mission?
Or, if we really must send troops on an international mission for the sake of seeming relevant on the world stage, we can always go back to Afghanistan. NATO just signed on for four more years in Afghanistan, the mission Canada cut and ran from in 2014.
One would like to believe that if we are to deploy Canada’s sons and daughters into harm’s way, that it is truly in the interest of our national security — and not simply a hollow gesture to make the Liberal government look good at the UN.