MacKay mulls Mali mission

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has floated the possibility that Canadian troops may be sent to help to train troops in Mali (Jane Taber, “How Canadian troops could end up in Mali,” Globe and Mail, 1 January 2013):

In late December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for African troops to help Mali combat Islamist forces occupying the northern part of the country. On Sunday, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay suggested the Harper government could contribute to a training mission in the African nation of Mali depending on the “ask” – this, despite the fact Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has repeatedly said Canada is not “contemplating” a military mission in Mali. …

The UN Security Council resolution passed in late December didn’t contain a timeline, but did state that no military intervention would take place before the Mali government is stable and its military, which is notorious for human-rights abuses, is properly trained. Any military intervention would not likely happen until next fall.

“They’re giving it a long preparation time,” said Prof. [Walter] Dorn. “So that means that they’re trying to figure out what they would do.”

In addition, Prof. Dorn notes that it is not clear whether this would be a “hybrid” mission – one that is jointly commanded by the UN and the African Union – or one specifically led by the African Union, which includes more than 50 African states.

“There will be a lot of tension in terms of who’s doing what,” said Prof. Dorn. “So one issue will be command and another will be what is the French role – you don’t want to be looking colonial – and what’s the American role?”

These strategic issues, as well as rules of engagement, still have to be worked out, he said.

“This is a mission where you have to use a substantial amount of force,” he said. “It is not a peacekeeping mission.”

Globe and Mail correspondent Geoffrey York echoes many of those concerns in an opinion piece warning of the dangers of sending troops to Mali (“Mali mission’s political perils,” Globe and Mail, 1 January 2013):

They are likely to be welcomed when they first arrive, but Canada’s soldiers will be venturing into a dangerous political minefield if Ottawa decides to approve a proposed training mission in Mali.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay confirmed this week that he is considering a possible military training operation in the impoverished West African nation, where Islamist rebels have seized the north. But the reality is that it would be a deceptively risky mission, with no assurance of success.

Mali’s army has a history of political aggressiveness, human-rights abuses, chaotic command structures, and resistance to Western training. Those problems are compounded by its uneasy alliance with revenge-minded militia groups. Instilling discipline in this unruly gang could be a near-impossible task.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, a spokesman for Mali’s army said it would welcome a Canadian training effort. Yet he also made clear that the army has its own urgent agenda – which could conflict with a more cautious Canadian approach.

The spokesman, Bakary Mariko, said the army is ready to attack the rebels now and won’t tolerate any delays. That contradicts the slower-moving Western military plan, which Canada would support. The Western plan contemplates a campaign against the northern rebels in late 2013, after many months of training and preparation. …

The history of Western training missions in Mali is littered with embarrassing setbacks. One graduate of the U.S. military training program for Mali, for example, was an officer named Captain Amadou Sanogo. Instead of fighting for democracy and human rights, he led a military coup last March, and still holds a powerful grip over Mali’s government today. …

Canadian special forces troops were involved in several Western training missions in Mali in 2010 and 2011, but it is unknown whether they had any contact with the coup plotters or with the U.S. training operation in Timbuktu.

Canada’s stance on a potential military role in Mali is fuzzy. While the foreign affairs department has rejected a “military mission” in Mali, the defence minister says a training mission is still being considered – perhaps along the lines of what Canada has done in training Afghanistan’s army.

“We are contemplating what contribution Canada could make,” Mr. MacKay said this week. “Training is something that Canadian Forces are particularly adept at doing.”

Photo credit: Aluka Digital Library

Tags: African Union, Canada and military intervention, Canada and peacekeeping, Canadian defence policy, Geoffrey York, Mali, Military intervention, Peter MacKay, UN peacekeeping, United Nations, Walter Dorn