We’re going in. After two-and-a-half years of political hand-wringing, the Trudeau government has finally announced that Canada will send at least six helicopters and as many as 250 troops to Mali.
This was never a good idea, and it still isn’t. It originates not in sound military planning or wise foreign policy, but in the spin room of a Liberal Party that promised during the 2015 election campaign to “renew Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping operations.”
For the record, that promise has still not been kept, because this is not a traditional United Nations peacekeeping operation of the kind evoked by the Liberal campaign.
Mali is not a country at war with a neighbour that needs an international force of non-combatants to keep hostile sides apart. It is a state tipping into collapse, five years into a civil war and carved up by competing acronymic ethnic factions that on many days cannot be distinguished from criminal operations trafficking in drugs, weapons and humans.
At least 162 UN forces have been killed there since 2013. Mali is effectively a combat zone – and home to the most dangerous UN mission in the world.
It is true that Canada’s troops will be shielded from the worst of the violence. Flying helicopters in and out of hot spots is safer work than most in Mali.
And Canada’s allies in the beleaguered UN force in Mali are no doubt glad to have the moral support. France in particular has been pressing for this.
But that doesn’t minimize the Trudeau government’s culpability in what could turn into a disastrous mission in the blink of an eye.
Canada has few national interests in Mali. The ones we do have – investments in mining operations and a history of providing generous foreign aid – are not valid reasons for putting our troops in danger.
The simple fact is that the Liberals made a self-serving promise to get Canada back into the peacekeeping business, then went looking for a mission. After years of dithering and to save face, Mali is what they settled on.
It is frankly horrifying that this government is willing to risk Canadian soldiers’ lives with so little justification.