Prime Minister Stephen Harper has apparently quashed his defence minister’s musings about a possible Canadian military role in Mali, telling a press conference on Tuesday that Canada is not considering a “direct military mission” in the West African country. He did not, however, rule out other forms of assistance, including “indirect” military support (Lee Berthiaume, “Harper: Canada won’t pursue ‘direct military mission’ to Mali,” National Post, 8 January 2013):
Appearing side-by-side at a press conference after meeting for several hours on Tuesday, Harper and Benin President Boni Yayi, who is also the African Union chairman, both said the threat posed by the situation in Mali was significant.
But when it came to tackling the problem posed by jihadists linked to terrorist group al-Qaeda, who have taken control of the northern half of Mali and are reportedly beginning to push southward, the two leaders differed sharply.
“The government of Canada is not considering a direct Canadian military mission,” Harper said as Yayi looked on.
Rather, Harper said Canada will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the region while at the same time consulting with Western allies and African states to determine the best way forward.
On Saturday, the Globe and Mail reported that one form of assistance that Canada will be providing is training for military forces in the neighbouring Republic of Niger (Steven Chase, Geoffrey York & Colin Freeze, “Ottawa contributing to fight in Mali by training Niger forces,” Globe and Mail, 12 January 2013):
The Canadian government is in the early stages of providing military training to Niger, a country struggling to cope with the spreading Islamic extremism afflicting neighbouring Mali and the region. …
The Harper government has publicly rejected a direct military mission in Mali – even in the face of demands from African leaders – but this assistance to Niger allows Canada to contribute to the campaign against the Islamic militants who have taken over a large swath of Mali’s territory.
That’s because the soldiers from Niger receiving Canadian instruction may very well find themselves fighting the al-Qaeda-linked rebels of Mali in the near future. Niger is expected to be one of the three biggest troop-contributing nations, along with Nigeria and Burkina Faso, in a UN-sponsored West African military intervention in Mali.
The Canadian government, which is normally quick to trumpet overseas military efforts, was surprisingly silent on its West African training plans in recent days, failing to mention them during a week of debate over whether Ottawa should contribute a military mission to Mali. It, however, answered questions on the matter Friday.
Canada’s military involvement in Niger has already commenced. A heavy-lift C-17 transport plane is currently in Africa where it’s delivering Special Operations personnel to Niger for preliminary training and preparation for Exercise Flintlock, an annual West African training exercise sponsored by the U.S. military.
[Update: Will that C-17 or other aircraft also be providing logistical support to the armed forces fighting in Mali? The government of Mali says that Canada has agreed to provide such support, but as of Sunday the Canadian government was saying that no decision had been made (Steven Chase & Les Perreaux, "No aid to Mali promised yet, Ottawa says," Globe and Mail, 13 January 2013). When do they plan to let Canadians in on the secret?
Update 2: The Prime Minister confirmed on Monday that one C-17 would be provided for one week to contribute logistical support to the French forces fighting in Mali. More details here.]
Photo credit: Government of Canada