By Scott Taylor
The military and Liberal government communications teams are in full spin to sell Canadians on an imminent peacekeeping mission in Africa.
To date, the entire exercise has been a convoluted inversion of all basic principles concerning the implementation of a military deployment. The Liberals had campaigned through the last election on the promise of returning to the era of Pearsonian-style peacekeeping under the United Nations banner rather than employing combat forces in support of U.S. or NATO-led adventures.
The first indication the Liberals were intending to make good on that promise was a cryptic comment by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance at a change of command ceremony on July 14. In addressing the soldiers on parade — and the attendant media — Vance stated that Canadian soldiers would soon be deployed on a new mission in Africa. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan confirmed that Africa was the intended continent later that same day, but neither gentleman could identify an actual mission.
From Aug. 9-16 Sajjan and his advisors set off on an African adventure to investigate potential conflicts and ongoing peacekeeping missions to which Canada could lend a helping hand. Following that fact-finding tour, which included stops is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Sajjan held a press conference. There was still no announcement as to where our soldiers would actually be going, but Sajjan did tell the media that this new deployment would involve approximately 600 soldiers with a mission budget of $450 million.
To recap: Canadians have now been told the continent, the size of the contingent and the cost, but there is still no clarity as to the purpose or objective of sending soldiers into harm’s way.
The safe bet now is that Mali will be the ultimate destination for our blue-helmet offering, as a small team of diplomats, military officers and RCMP officials were in the capital, Bamako, last week.
The usual military cheerleaders have already opined that this will be a mission well suited to Canada’s robust, well-equipped, veteran combat troops. The consensus among these warmongering hawks is that the conflict in Mali could pose an even greater challenge for our military than our 11-year deployment to Afghanistan.
In their eagerness to get Canadian soldiers back into the midst of a real shooting war, these Colonel Blimps fail to acknowledge that, despite our best efforts, we did not win in Afghanistan. The combined might of NATO failed to destroy the Taliban in 15 years of conflict, and our experiment with democracy in Afghanistan produced one of the most corrupt regimes on the planet.
That being the case, and given that Afghanistan cost Canada 159 soldiers killed, 2,000 wounded and injured, and an estimated $18 billion, why on earth would we want to jump into yet another even more challenging conflict? Mali is definitely a mess, and it is presently considered the most dangerous UN peacekeeping mission, with 105 peacekeepers killed and hundreds more wounded since April 2013.
The main threat to Malian security is posed by the militant Tuareg separatists in the northern region of Azawad. In early 2012 the Tuaregs launched an armed revolt, equipped largely with the weapons and munitions that had been left unsecured in neighbouring Libya, following NATO’s toppling of Moammar Gadhafi.
Allied with al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, the Tuareg rebels won a series of decisive victories over the Malian security forces. This in turn led to a demoralized Malian military staging a coup on March 21, 2012. The Tuareg victories continued, with the al-Qaeda-backed rebels seizing the cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.
To stem the tide, France deployed a large combat force to restore order to their former colony. The French were able to reclaim the conquered territory, but the unrest has persisted and inept Malian security forces have proven incapable of containing the rebels.
As France draws down its combat force, the UN force of approximately 13,000 peacekeepers and 2,000 international police are filling the vacuum. As the casualty figures would indicate, it doesn’t matter whether it is Malian troops, French soldiers, or blue-bereted UN peacekeepers; the Tuaregs remain widely opposed to accepting the regime in Bamako.
Tens of thousands of Canadian troops had no success in trying to force Pashtuns in Kandahar to adopt the corrupt regime the U.S. had installed in Kabul, and now we are sending 600 soldiers and $450 million to force Tuaregs in the Sahara to accept the central authority in Mali?
Good luck with that.