Why Are Canadian Soldiers In Timbuktu?

Canada should not put our brave men and women in danger and write blank cheques just because France and the UN tell us we should.

(This column originally appeared on Sun News)

By: Candice Malcolm

You probably didn’t notice, but Mali has broken into a civil war. And as of yesterday, Canadian airmen are in harm’s way.

The local branch of al-Qaeda overtook Mali’s northern territory – home to historic Timbuktu. These rebels claimed independence for the territory they call Azawad, and imposed strict and brutish Sharia Law onto the people.

Mali’s military government—itself illegitimate, having obtained power through an illegal coup d’état last spring—is fighting back. France has intervened, in a move backed by the UN, and Canada has sent troops to play a non-combative role.

Before we go through the merits of this intervention, let’s go back to the last mission Canada was involved in – the 2011 NATO mission in Libya. While the west was putting pressure on the Qaddafi regime to step down, Qaddafi himself fought back and assembled a well-funded, well-armed group of mercenaries to protect him.

Part of that militia included several thousand Arab Africans from northern Mali. When it became apparent that Qaddafi’s days were numbered, these rebels returned to Mali, armed, trained, and determined to continue their jihad.

By late 2011, 3,000 heavily armed men in 600 all-terrain vehicles had amassed in Mali’s northern Azawad region. They founded the National Liberation Movement for the Azawad (MNLA) and joined forces with the local al-Qaeda cell.

Mali is a poor country in West Africa with little economic prospect. Over one-quarter of its GDP comes from foreign aid, and it perpetually spirals in an aid-dependency trap.

As the rebels launched their raids in Azawad, a military coup in the capital seized power from the democratically elected government, under the guise of fighting al-Qaeda rebels in the north.

At the time, the Harper government condemned this action. In a statement on March 26, 2012, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said, “Canada utterly condemns this attack on democracy by a faction of Mali’s military”. Canada immediately suspended its $109-million aid contribution to Mali, and Minister Baird assured us that Canada would not back this illegitimate government.

Fast-forward 10 months, and the federal government announced that Canada would in fact back this illegitimate rule. On Tuesday,  we learned that the Canadian military  had been deployed to Mali to help the counterinsurgency efforts. You see, John Baird thinks the government in Mali is illegitimate and refuses to send our money there. Peter MacKay on the other hand, thinks the cause in Mali is so important that he has sent the Canadian military in harm’s way to help them.

Why is Canada involving itself in Mali’s civil war? A war between undemocratic military autocrats and Qaddafi-trained Jihadists?  We have no strategic interests, few economic ties, and no cultural or historic attachment with Mali. We’ve called the regime illegitimate and condemned their actions.

Are we just going to keep chasing al-Qaeda around Africa, even if it means teaming up with warlords and despots?

War is a horrible thing. It causes death and destruction. It kills the good alongside the bad. There are plenty of regimes we don’t like around the world, plenty of terrible governments harming their people.

We should learn from our mistakes in Libya and the unintended consequences of our actions against Qaddafi. For every bad guy you eventually kill, you engage and activate unknown others along the way.

Canada should not put our brave men and women in danger and write blank cheques just because France and the UN tell us we should. We have enough of our own problems at home. We should spend our time and attention fixing those first.