Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been dragging his feet about deploying Canadian peacekeepers to Mali. One result, according to the Canadian Press is that Canada lost out on the opportunity of providing the force commander for the 15,000 member UN contingent in Mali. So what, I ask?
It's not like the mission in Mali is accomplishing anything. It's not like sending Canadian soldiers to die will change anything -- except for the families of our soldiers who will die or be grievously wounded there. Sixty UN peacekeepers have already died there on this pointless mission. There is no peace to keep in Mali and no plan that will produce peace. Keep our soldiers home, minister.
Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 22, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Canada should never again contribute troops to the endless UN-led peace missions that pop up around the world. In 70 years of peacekeeping, I'm at a loss to think of a single mission that succeeded.
The mission in Cyprus, which has been heralded a success story by many including Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary, oversaw the effective ethnic-cleansing of that island, but has still failed to achieve a peace agreement 53 years after it began
If Canada feels compelled to re-engage with UN missions, then it should do so on its own terms. Never for an open-ended deployment. Post-Afghanistan, we have a renewed, combat-capable army that is capable of putting a highly-trained and well-equipped battalion-sized combat group on the ground anywhere in the world within 72 hours and sustaining it for weeks and months at a time without relying on allies for close air support, resupply, medical, logistical and administration support, etc.
Canada has the combat-experienced infantry, armour and artillery troops and the equipment they need. It has the strategic C-17 and tactical C-130 airlift they need to deploy and be sustained. It has the CH-47 and CH-146 Griffon helicopters it needs to move troops around the battlefield. We have the CF-18 fighter-bombers required to provide close air support to our troops on the ground and could readily acquire the helicopter gunships that would round out our combat capability. We have the medical support units necessary to provide battlefield care and immediate surgical/trauma care for soldiers wounded in combat.
A CF-18 takes off from the Canadian Air Force base in Bagotville, Quebec. (Photo: Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
This mission would provide a focus and priority for our defence procurement -- underlining our need for Amphibious Air/Sea support ships that can provide a mobile support hub for Canadian operations abroad.
For decades, the UN has wanted for this capability. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations cannot put troops on the ground anywhere, fast enough to make a critical difference early on in a mission -- the time when its impact could be the greatest in terms of preventing widespread suffering and destruction. Instead, it takes months and months to get together and deploy a UN force that normally shows up lacking weapons, equipment, support and credibility. For years, generals have wanted a "rapid response" capability for the UN.
It's not an easy role to assume and it would be very dangerous.
If Canada wants to re-engage with the UN on peacekeeping operations -- it now has the capability to offer just such a short-term, rapid-response capability. Canada could put combat-capable troops on the ground within 72 hours of the UN's call for help -- and keep them there for three to six months while the UN gets its shit together to put a longer term force on the ground. Canadian Forces can then hand over to the UN mission and decamp to Canada until the next time they're needed.
This would keep Canada's military sharp and ready, provide an extremely valuable and effective capability the UN desperately needs, and prevent Canadian troops from becoming mired in endless, drawn-out and ineffective UN missions.
It's not an easy role to assume and it would be very dangerous. But, Canada's military is better equipped to take on this task than any other military on Earth. Our soldiers are excellent. They're used to operating in small groups with minimal support. And they don't carry the colonial baggage or political taint of larger, more powerful nations. It's a role Canada can and would be proud of.
The author spent 14 years as a professional army officer who served on three different UN peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa.
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