The West’s intervention to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2011 was one of the triggers of the current war in Mali, and as Canada’s role in Mali slowly grows, the danger of being drawn further into a spreading West African conflict also grows.
As a number of commentators have pointed out, the West’s “successful mission” in Libya was partially responsible for the current crisis. Many of the fighters among the rebels who recently took over half of Mali had earlier answered the call from a desperate Gaddafi, who offered his Tuareg allies both heavy and light weaponry in an attempt to stave off the inevitable. His last-ditch efforts failed miserably against the forces arrayed by NATO, and after his death in October 2011, those now seasoned Tuareg veterans returned home to Mali well armed (“Gaddafi’s influence in Mali’s coup,” BBC News, 22 March 2012). They formed the backbone of the most powerful Tuareg-led rebel group in the region, the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), which with the support of the Islamist groups Ansar Dine and Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb began to drive government forces out of northern Mali (Scott Taylor, “How Canada helped al-Qaida in Mali,” Chronicle-Herald, 14 January 2013).
The success of these rebel groups led to the overthrow of the Malian government in a military coup early in 2012, after which the rebels were able to seize control of the entire northern half of the country. In April 2012 the MNLA declared the Azawad region independent from Mali. Subsequent fighting between the MNLA and the Islamist groups, which wanted control not only of Azawad but of all of Mali, was won by Ansar Dine and its allies, which now dominate the north of the country. In January 2013 the MNLA declared its readiness to fight alongside government forces against the Islamists (“Northern Mali conflict (2012–present),” Wikipedia).
The countries intervening in this conflict, ostensibly to counter the threat of Al Qaida-inspired terrorism, risk embroiling themselves in a civil war/separatist struggle that could grow into a region-wide war from which it becomes more and more difficult to extract themselves.
Canada’s contribution to the intervention remains minor, but if the French government is correct, additional commitments are already being added (David Pugliese, “Canada to transport African troops to Mali for fight against extremists, France says,” Ottawa Citizen, 20 January 2013):
France’s foreign minister has announced that Canada has offered to transport African troops to Mali as the war against Islamic extremists continues.
Laurent Fabius said Sunday that Russia had offered to transport French troops and supplies to Mali while Canada had offered to bring African troops to that war-torn country.
“There is transportation that will be partly by the Africans themselves, partly by the Europeans and partly by the Canadians, and the Russians have proposed to provide means of transport for the French, so it’s fairly diverse,” Fabius told radio station Europe 1.
As with the original C-17 commitment, which Canadians learned about from the government of Mali, it appears that we have to rely on a government other than our own to find out about Canada’s latest commitment to the Mali conflict.
Photo credit: DND