Tuesday, March 22, 2016

CAF Preparing for Possible UN Mission to Burundi, Mali, Niger, or Burkina Faso and NATO Mission in Libya

Published today in the National Post, Matthew Fisher outlines where the Canadian Forces could possibly be deployed next.

When the Trudeau Government was elected in November of 2015, they indicated that they would return Canada to a Peacekeeping role internationally; and while I will not debate the notion of Peacekeeping here, it seems that at some point in the near future (believed to be in the mid-late 2016 calendar year) the Liberals will announce that the Canadian Armed Forces will deploy on at least one UN Peacekeeping Mission in Africa; despite the regions high risk, and the budget cuts to DND that are expected in today's 2016 Budget.

Matthew Fisher writes that the CAF could possibly see itself in Burundi, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, or Libya. Is there a possibility that the CAF could end up in more than one of these positions? Yes it is highly likely. While Minister of Foreign Affairs Dion has said the CAF will not enter Libya unless there is one Government; Minister of Defence Sajjan has indicated that as long as NATO has a long-term plan in Libya he would consider a training mission to help stop ISIS' advance in the country. Especially as  reports indicate support for the Government of National Accord (GNA), Libya's U.N.-backed unity government, is growing. However, opposition does still remain.

A Canadian Armed Forces Tactical Aircraft Security Officer provides a ring of security around a Canadian Armed Forces CC-177 Globemaster III aircraft at the airport in Bamako, Mali. (February 2013: CAF Combat Camera)

Here is Matthew Fisher's article:

There is no clear consensus in the military community about how the biggest spending ministry in the federal government — the Department of National Defence — will fare Tuesday when the Trudeau government unveils its first budget.

But there is agreement that Ottawa soon will commit the armed forces to a hazardous UN peacemaking mission in Africa. It is unlikely that funding for such an undertaking would be included in any calculations announced in the budget. If such a project is announced during the next 12 months, it probably will be taken, to use military parlance, “out of hide.” That is, from existing military spending.

The mission almost certainly will involve a country in French West Africa that many Canadians will never have had heard of, let alone know where it is on a map. It will be regarded in New York as the opening shot in Canada’s declared bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021.

Many of those who serve reckon that after only five months in power it is too early for the Liberals to have figured out what military programs they intend to slash, delay, realign or cancel. But there may be news about spending on new navy ships and hints about creating what the government has described as a more agile force, which is widely regarded as code for downsizing.

The senior brass has been tightlipped about this. The official and unofficial line is that all is well between National Defence headquarters and the new leadership on Parliament Hill. That seems to be the case, notwithstanding disappointment over the withdrawal of RCAF warplanes from the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the dubious declared logic behind it.

Conversations over the past few months with scores of soldiers outside the senior ranks and with those who served until recently indicate a widespread dread that serious cuts are likely in next year’s budget. And that by then, it will have become obvious that to pay for other government priorities, defence spending in Canada will be in retreat at a time when allies such as Britain and Australia — which face different but serious political and economic problems — have jacked up defence spending to deal with emerging threats to western security from Russia, China and ISIL.

The upshot, which will become known following a pending defence review, is a force intentionally designed to be less combat capable.

Of equal concern is how the government intends to pay for its pledge to return Canada to peacekeeping and establish closer relations with the UN. My experience with the UN in Africa, the Middle East and Asia is that it does a good (and thankless) job of providing food and humanitarian aid to those afflicted by war and natural calamities. But its peacekeeping operations have been a shambles.

Nowhere is this more true than in Africa. It is not only the rampant allegations of rape and corruption that have undermined UN peacekeeping operations there. It is that almost all of the troops are from Third World countries such as Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Togo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Nepal, Thailand, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe. They are ill-equipped and most of them are poorly led and woefully unprepared to fight wars.

UN troops in Africa have either tended to stay in their barracks while collecting what for them are princely UN wages or have gone out into hazardous situations with bravado but not much else.

More than 1,300 peacekeepers have died worldwide since 2002 with more than 100 a year since 2008. About 40 per cent of the deaths have been in Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Mali and the Ivory Coast.

A mission in Burundi has been touted by some peacekeeping advocates in Canada. But even the African Union has refused to contribute troops to such a UN mission because the regime still in power has said any blue berets would be regarded as an invasion force.

The preferred option, given the growing danger posed by Islamic extremists in North Africa, is to be part of a UN or UN-approved mission in Libya. But Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, who seems to have the lead on defence decision-making for the government, has said Canada will not go unless Libya has only one government. Right now there are two and they detest each other.

A safer bet would be to fold Canadian troops into existing French missions in Mali, Niger or Burkina Faso. It is something France would heartily welcome.

With France committing more resources to fighting ISIL in the Middle East, the Germans, Belgians and Swedes are helping Paris out in Mali against ISIL’s new affiliate, al-Mourabitoun, and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Wherever the Trudeau government sends its troops in Africa, and however it eventually plans to pay for them, it will be a difficult, inevitably hazardous undertaking.