Liberals consider peacekeeping mission to Africa
by Bruce Campion-Smith (feat. George Petrolekas)
July 14, 2016
OTTAWA—The Liberal government is considering proposals to deploy Canadian troops on a peacekeeping operation, likely to Africa, as part of its pledge that Canada is back on the world stage.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Wednesday that defence planners are looking at various possibilities but signaled that soldiers could be destined to Africa to help curb Islamic extremists.
“We will be moving ahead on this because it’s very important to send a message to our multilateral partners that Canada will play a responsible role in the world,” Sajjan told reporters in a conference call Wednesday.
“When we said we would be a responsible partner in the world, we meant it,” he said.
But just where and when the new deployment will occur is still being decided, he said.
“We’re at the very early stages of making our actual assessments of where we need to put the right resources,” Sajjan said. “We are looking at all the various requests in the different regions.”
Canada already has some 800 military personnel in northern Iraq and Kuwait involved in the mission to help combat Daesh extremists. Another 470 troops are involved in missions in eastern Europe.
At a meeting of the leaders of NATO leaders in Warsaw last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Canada’s commitment to dispatch 450 troops to Latvia as part of the alliance’s response to pushback against what it deems Russian aggression.
But even with those commitments, the military still has the capacity to do more in the world, Sajjan said.
“We will have the flexibility to do more in peace operations,” he said.
In the fall election that swept them to power, the Liberals accused the Conservatives of scaling back Canada’s contributions to international peace operations.
“As the number of violent conflicts in the world escalates, demand for international peace operations has never been greater,” the Liberal platform declared.
As of April, 2016, Canada had just 79 personnel dedicated to UN peace operations, ranking 73 out of 123 nations, according to the United Nations.
Canada’s long engagement in Afghanistan was guided by the so-called “3 Ds”—development, defence and diplomacy – that emphasized assistance was more than just military action alone.
Sajjan said a similar philosophy will shape the coming deployment as the Liberals seek to do more than just put boots on the ground but look to programs such as training police officers, improving the judicial system or shoring up government institutions.
“We need to have a meaningful impact. It’s not just about going somewhere and providing troops,” he said.
Sajjan said the decision where to deploy could also be shaped by the need to curb the spread of Daesh extremism out of the Middle East.
“We need to look at the root causes of the problem, how certain radical groups will feed into other conflict zones,” Sajjan said.
“Certain parts of the world . . . haven’t gotten the right amount of attention and that’s why we are looking at Africa,” he said.
Any number of trouble spots beckon. Across Africa, potential deployments could include South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia and Congo.
But George Petrolekas, a retired senior military officer and defence analyst, says Mali, where Canada has assisted French forces in the past, is a logical choice.
“It’s no secret that the French have asked many times for more Canadian assistance,” Petrolekas said in an interview Wednesday. “Africa has been top of mind.”
Given existing deployments, he said the military could support a mission with up to 1,000 troops.
Local forces in Mali, aided by foreign troops including the French, have been targeting Islamic extremists active in the former French colony.
The French have deployed some 3,500 troops as well as fighter aircraft, drones and armoured vehicles into the region on a counter-terror mission known as Operation Barkhane.
The United Nations has a stabilization mission in Mali involving more than 10,000 troops. In June, the United Nations agreed to add another 2,500 soldiers to the mission, which now ranks as the deadliest of its peace operations. In May, five Togolese peacekeepers serving on the UN mission were killed in an ambush.
Sajjan spoke to reporters from Kuwait, where he visited with troops there and in neighbouring Iraq serving on Operation Impact to help combat Daesh.