Does Canada Want to Combat Terrorism in Africa? Forget UN Peacekeeping – Support the Sahel G5

Andrew McGregor

AIS Commentary, July 24, 2017

Canada’s Trudeau government announced last summer that it was prepared to deploy up to 600 troops on a UN peacekeeping mission, likely in Africa. In the meantime, no movement has been made on the pledge, much to the disappointment of the UN and Canada’s allies, who were holding the leadership of the Mali peacekeeping mission open for a Canadian officer. Now, however, a non-UN alternative has emerged, one that is desperately needed and has both a military and development component – the Sahel Group of Five (SG5).

It is perhaps not surprising that no decision has been made regarding a Canadian peacekeeping force in Africa. While Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks of a need for Canada to set a “clear and sovereign course” independent of the United States, both Prime Minister Trudeau and his defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan have emphasized the importance of consulting Washington before making any decision. Given the Trump administration’s disengagement from Africa and the urgency of a military contribution in Africa, such deference seems unnecessary and counterproductive.

The Purpose of the SG5

In the Sahel, a broad band of arid nations just below the Sahara, political and religious extremism feed off climate change, lack of development, absence of infrastructure, competition for resources and ethnic rivalries, leaving the region in dire need of external assistance and internal reform. Meanwhile, efforts to address these issues are restricted by al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorism paid for by trafficking in narcotics, migrants and other “commodities.” The region’s barely existent borders make a mockery of unilateral efforts by weak states to address the crime and violence.

With the encouragement of France, the Sahelian nations of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania created the Sahel Group of Five (SG5) as a multilateral response to these issues in 2014, though the concept remained dormant until its revival last February. While the force’s mandate calls for a campaign against terrorism and trafficking, it also calls for the return of displaced persons, delivery of aid, facilitation of humanitarian operations and a role in implementing development strategies.

Each nation will initially provide a battalion of 750 men aided by French training, communications and logistical support. The military component will operate in all five countries, with the right of “hot pursuit” across international borders. The first military leader of the force will be Malian chief-of-staff General Didier Dacko, an experienced and capable veteran of counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations.

The UN Security Council unanimously “welcomed” a resolution calling for the formation of the force on June 21, though US pressure prevented approval for its deployment under a UN mandate, which would have involved UN financing. The Trump administration is seeking to reduce its contribution to UN peacekeeping costs but the US can still be expected to continue providing intelligence and logistical support for counter-terrorist efforts in the Sahel.

Putting the SG5 into action is expected to come with a budget of over €400 million. The EU has pledged €50 million, France €8 million (on top of a substantial military contribution) and each of the SG5 nations will contribute €10 million. France has additionally pledged €200 million in development assistance. Angela Merkel has also promised the support of Germany, which already has 650 troops in Mali and the United Arab Emirates have expressed interest in funding the initiative. The force will seek additional funding from “bilateral and multilateral partners” at a future donors’ conference.

Other than France and Belgium, Canada is the only Western partner with a large military and civil French language capacity, making it ideal for deployment in the francophone Sahel. Canadian contributions in terms of combat troops, logistics, intelligence, training, humanitarian assistance and development planning would greatly reduce the unfunded portion of the SG5’s annual budget while simultaneously improving the capability of all these elements.

Of the contributing Sahel nations, Chad is the most militarily effective, but existing commitments to the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional coalition formed to tackle Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, have forced Chad’s President Idris Déby to warn that substantial assistance will be required for Chad to play its expected role in the SG5. Without Chad’s participation, the alliance stands little chance of battlefield success.

Mali’s government has criticized MINUSMA for its “defensive posture, which has given freedom of movement to terrorist and extremist groups.” The UN’s peacekeepers in Mali have made only glacial progress implementing the terms of the 2015 peace agreement. The force suffers inordinate casualties while doing little to combat terrorism in the region, a task largely left to French troops operating outside of UN auspices.  MINUSMA is hampered by the restriction of its operations to territory within Mali’s borders, while its terrorist opponents face no such limits. The SG5 addresses this problem.

As the lone Western sponsor of the SG5 and the former colonial power in each of the participating nations, there is some anxiety that France will exploit the group for its own political and economic benefit. The presence of another less-interested sponsor could provide some balance and reassurance to those African nations already experiencing the strong influence of Paris in their affairs. It might also encourage a more favorable attitude to the force from Algeria, where the bitter legacy of the war for independence has led to great suspicion of all French security efforts in the Sahel.

Not Without Difficulties

Of course participation would not be without problems. A Canadian commitment would have to be long term – creating a capable SG5 could take three years and creating a uniform military standard will be difficult. However, it need not be open-ended; the ultimate goal must always be for the Sahel nations to assume full responsibility.

If funding is limited, security operations will almost certainly be treated as a priority over other aspects of the G5S mandate, based on the harsh reality that violent extremism undermines the effectiveness of all other programs as well as the sovereignty of regional states. At present, aid workers are regarded by the region’s militant groups as nothing more than easy prey and a source of funding through ransom.

Integration of alienated groups into security and development operations will be essential if the SG5 is to be prevented from becoming a transnational occupation force. This cannot be achieved without offering economic alternatives to rebellion and cross-border crime, emphasizing the importance of the development component.

Despite fears that France may be looking to draw down their African commitment, President Emmanuel Macron has pledged continued French support and has already visited the region twice to confirm this commitment.  There is no doubt, however, that Paris is seeking to reduce its military expenditure in Africa – Operation Barkhane, its 4,000 man mission to provide security in the Sahara/Sahel region, costs €800 million per year.

Conclusion

A religious adherence to UN peacekeeping as the only legitimate or desirable means of contributing to international security turns a blind eye to less rigid and more adaptive structures free of UN bureaucracy and inefficiency.

For a Canadian government increasingly seen as soft on terrorism, unwilling to rescue or ransom its Canadian victims but eager to reward Canadian-born practitioners, the need for some sort of dedication to international counter-terrorism efforts might seem obvious. The SG5 provides an opportunity for Canada to stand beside its European allies, set an independent course from Washington and play a meaningful role in destroying Africa’s deadliest extremist groups while engaging in important development assistance where it is needed most.

If Ottawa’s aim in African security operations is to encounter minimal difficulties and avoid casualties, the SG5 will not be for them. If, however, Canada is ready to give its highly capable military and development sector a real challenge with the potential of providing a secure future to some of the world’s most impoverished peoples, then it should take a serious look at the SG5 alternative.

According to Foreign Minister Freeland, “it is precisely the countries that stand for values and human rights that also need to be ready to say we are prepared to use hard power where necessary.” If the world “needs more Canada,” the Sahel is in special need of a Canadian presence.

Dr. Andrew McGregor is the Director of Aberfoyle International Security, a Toronto-based agency specializing in security issues in the African and Islamic worlds.

Looking for War in All the Wrong Places: Canada’s Search for a UN Peacekeeping Mission in Africa

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Commentary

July 21, 2016

Canada PK MemorialCanadian Peacekeeping Memorial, Ottawa (Frank Hudec/DND)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded with familiar platitudes following the brutal terrorist attack in Nice, offering “sympathy” while claiming “Canada stands with France as a steadfast ally” that will “continue to work with our allies and partners to fight terrorism in all its forms.” [i]

Yet taking the fight to the enemy is apparently not in the cards; Canada’s Liberals have no taste for a direct confrontation with the Islamic State organization.

Liberal defence policy is grounded in a belief that Canada is a “peacekeeping” rather than “peacemaking” country, and the search is now underway to find a politically appropriate place to resume large-scale peacekeeping duties, preferably African, preferably Francophone and definitely under UN auspices. These parameters immediately disqualify action against Islamic State or al-Qaeda affiliates in the most active fronts; Libya, Nigeria and Somalia. Libya and Nigeria have no peacekeeping missions and Somalia’s peacekeeping mission (actually a European-financed war against al-Shabaab) is conducted by the African Union, not the UN. So what’s left? Let’s have a look at the nine candidate missions in Africa, most of which are dominated by personnel from non-allied nations:

MINURSO – Western Sahara

Going strong since 1991, MINURSO is the African equivalent of the Cyprus peacekeeping operation (1964 to present); a seemingly endless mission with no apparent resolution in sight. Why? Because, like Turkey and Greece in Cyprus, the Western Sahara issue is manipulated by two implacable rivals (Morocco and Algeria in this case) as a form of proxy war that spares the economic and political disruption that would be created by a real war between the two nations. MINURSO is the only UN mission to be distinguished by an absence of any human rights mandate, meaning it can only watch abuses without intervention. However, the end to this mission may be in sight – Morocco has begun shutting down MINURSO operations in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, claiming the UN has abandoned its neutral stance in the region.

Experience – Canada contributed 35 peacekeepers to MINURSO between 1991 and 1995.

Mission Fatalities – 15[ii]

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility[iii] – Minimal (Spanish and Arabic)

Risk to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel – Minimal

Political Payoff – Minimal

 

MINUSCA – Central African Republic

MINUSCA has struggled to cope with savage sectarian violence since April 2014, but its extended mandate is up at the end of the month. France is reducing the size of its own independent deployment though bandits and gunmen still roam much of the nation. A South African effort to intervene in the conflict ended in military disaster and withdrawal in 2013.[iv] The UN mission has been rife with accusations of child sexual abuse and rape, with an entire contingent of 800 Congolese peacekeepers being sent home. Peacekeepers from France, Burundi, Tanzania, Morocco and several other countries are being investigated on similar charges with new cases emerging all the time. MINUSCA is unusual in that it has a mandate to take military action to disarm and neutralize rebel fighters, though this goal sometimes appears to be of secondary importance for the UN peacekeepers.

Experience – Canada contributed an 80-man French-speaking signals unit from 1998-99 to MINURCA, an earlier UN peacekeeping effort in the CAR.

Fatalities – 22

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Significant

Political Payoff – Moderate

Canada PK MINUSMAMINUSMA Patrol, Northern Mali

MINUSMA – Mali

MINUSMA is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all the potential missions, with 101 Peacekeepers killed since April 2013.

France is conducting counter-terrorism operations in northern Mali together with its regional partners Chad and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane. As part of MINUSMA, Canadian troops would not participate in such operations, though it would be able to operate alongside NATO allies Germany (400 troops divided between MINUSMA and an EU training mission) and Holland (400 troops in MINUSMA but in the process of withdrawing four vitally needed Apache attack helicopters plus three utility helicopters). MINUSMA’s mandate has been renewed until June 2017 and it is adding another 2,000 personnel.

Mali is certainly in great need of any professional assistance as terrorism begins to spread into the previously unaffected south, where most of the population lives. Of all the possible operations, this would have the greatest direct impact so far as countering terrorism.

As conditions worsen in Mali, the UN has pledged to take a more “active and robust” approach to applying its mandate of enforcing the peace agreement and restoring government authority.[v] However, whatever good work is accomplished by the UN mission is steadily undone by the Malian Army’s determination to return to the same brutal treatment of civilians that inspired the 2012 rebellion.

Fatalities – 101

Desirability – Optimal

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Significant

Political Payoff – Optimal

 

MONUSCO – Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Established under an earlier name in 1999 to monitor a peace agreement, this mission has grown into the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission with no end in sight. Since its start, MONUSCO has become entangled in a series of new conflicts and now acts more as a support unit for the ineffective Congolese Army than a peacekeeping mission. Even for peacekeepers with access to modern medical facilities (unlike the local population), service in the Congo can be perilous; over half of the mission’s 263 fatalities are from illness.

Canada PK MONUSCOMONUSCO Armor, DRC

MONUSCO peacekeepers have been accused of trading ammunition and rations for ivory, drugs and locally mined gold. In 2012 they abandoned the city of Goma to a much inferior rebel force claiming they were only authorized to protect civilians. The unarmed civilians of Goma were, of course, left to their fate. Despite the formation of a unique UN offensive combat formation known as the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), UN peacekeepers are no longer trusted locally to provide protection from rampaging rebel groups. In the violence-plagued North Kivu region, the UN’s peacekeepers are referred to as “tourists in helicopters.”[vi]

India, Bangladesh and Nepal are principal contributors to MONUSCO, though India is seeking to separate itself from a mission that has brought criticism and losses of personnel. MONUSCO’s mandate has been renewed until June 2017.

Fatalities – 263 since 1999 (includes MONUC before it was renamed MONUSCO)

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate

Political Payoff – Moderate

 

UNAMID – Darfur

This joint UN/African Union mission has taken a heavy toll of peacekeepers killed (233 since July 2007) but has had little impact on Sudan’s counter-insurgency operations and their attendant atrocities. Its mandate has been renewed until June 30, 2017 despite the objections of Khartoum, which never wanted the mission in the first place. In the meantime Khartoum toys with UNAMID, denying it access to areas of conflict and holding up supply shipments and visas for UN officials.

Small to large scale attacks on peacekeepers in Darfur have been common from the beginning – some of these attacks are believed to have been carried out by government forces or their proxies in an attempt to force the peacekeepers out. UNAMID’s strategic goals are protection of civilians and humanitarian efforts – the mission takes no action against insurgents or government troops. The largest contributors to the mission are Rwanda, Ethiopia and Egypt. Despite having had little impact on the ongoing conflict (a remarkable 2.6 million people are still displaced), UNAMID is now the second largest UN peacekeeping force with an annual budget of $1.35 billion.

Experience – Canada contributed seven military administrators and armor trainers from 2007 to 2009.[vii]

Fatalities – 233

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Minimal (Arabic)

Risk to CAF personnel – Significant

Political Payoff – Moderate

 

UNISFA – Abyei (Sudan/South Sudan)

The district of Abyei is home to a nasty little struggle over an oil-rich but otherwise innocuous piece of land on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Since neither party could agree who owned the land, it was simply left out of the peace agreement establishing South Sudan’s independence– not a good sign that a resolution is impending. In the meantime, civilians take a beating through efforts to depopulate the area.  Established in 2011, UNIFSA is overwhelmingly Ethiopian in composition.

Fatalities – 20

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Moderate (English)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate

Political Payoff – Minimal

 

UNMIL – Liberia

Established in 2003 UNMIL is an unlikely choice as it is in a draw-down phase after its annual budget reached an unsustainable $340 million. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ethiopia are the main contributors.

Fatalities – 197

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Moderate (English)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate

Political Payoff – Minimal

 

UNMISS – South Sudan

Canada PK UNMISSUNMISS Post, South Sudan

In the young nation of South Sudan power still comes from the mouth of a gun, as both the government and the army are divided by differences between the country’s two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer. With nearly all the nation’s oil revenues spent on arms, South Sudan is awash in weapons. Raids, clashes, massacres and ambushes are South Sudan’s reality.

Without a mandate for intervention, UNMISS (formed in July 2011) can do little more than offer refuge in their camps to masses of civilians fleeing certain death. Much of the current struggle is fuelled by the ongoing proxy war between Sudan and Uganda, the latter deploying sizeable numbers of troops and armor in South Sudan. The fact that South Sudan sits on some of the world’s largest oil reserves has done nothing to discourage all manner of small armed movements from trying to seize their slice of petroleum revenues.

The African Union has agreed to deploy thousands more peacekeepers to reinforce UNMISS, though the plan is opposed by South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit (a Dinka).[viii] Local protests against the UNMISS presence are common.

Experience – Canada had a limited contribution (45 peacekeepers) to UNMISS from 2005 to 2009.

Fatalities – 43

Desirability – Minimal

Language Compatibility – Moderate (English)

Risk to CAF personnel – Moderate to Significant

Political Payoff – Moderate

 Canada PK ONUCI

UNOCI – Côte d’Ivoire

These days UNOCI is a generally low-risk operation with a 2004 mandate for assisting the implementation of peace agreements following the 2003 (and later 2011) civil wars and providing disarmament and humanitarian assistance. UNOCI is currently trying to draw attention to the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence in Côte d’Ivoire, where two-thirds of such attacks are on children.

Experience – A small number of Canadian police served with UNOCI

Fatalities – 143

Desirability – Moderate

Language Compatibility – Optimal (French)

Risk to CAF personnel – Minimal

Political Payoff – Minimal

 

Conclusion

Rather than fighting al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization alongside our allies, Ottawa now prefers to join the ranks of second-rate militaries from third-world countries that rent out ineffective troops for UN cash. Though many UN missions perform important work in both the military and humanitarian fields, the intractability of some conflicts is often aggravated by the UN military presence, which discourages any sense of urgency in reaching reconciliation, particularly if one party believes it can use the presence of a UN mission to further their own strategic goals. While joining a UN African peacekeeping mission satisfies a Liberal nostalgia for a largely mythical golden era of Pearsonian peacekeeping, it is also a means of sidestepping a confrontation with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State for domestic political considerations, a confrontation in which Canada’s professional military and Special Forces could make a meaningful contribution in direct support of our allies beyond meaningless expressions of sympathy and solidarity.

ACRONYMS

MINURSO – Misión de las Naciones Unidas para la Organización de un Referéndum en el Sáhara Occidental

MINUSCA – Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en Centrafrique

MINUSMA – Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali

MONUCO – Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo

MONUSCO – Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo

UNAMID – United Nations Mission in Darfur

UNIFSAUnited Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei

UNMIL – United Nations Mission in Liberia

UNMISS – United Nations Mission in South Sudan

UNOCI – United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire

 

NOTES

[i] Canadian Press, July 15, 2016 – http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/bastille-day-nice-attack-canadian-reaction-1.3680263

[ii] Figures used for UN missions in Africa are taken from official UN sources: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/resources/statistics/factsheet.shtml; Fatality statistics are taken from http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/fatalities/documents/stats_3.pdf (as of June 7, 2016).

[iii] “Language Compatibility” refers to the language compatibility of the host nation in light of the government’s stated desire to have a French language mission – therefore “Optimal” = French language, “Moderate” = English, and “Minimal” = languages other than French or English.

[iv] See Andrew McGregor:  “South African Military Disaster in the Central African Republic: Part One – The Rebel Offensive,” Terrorism Monitor, April 4, 2013,  http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=238 ; “South African Military Disaster in the Central African Republic: Part Two – The Political and Strategic Fallout,” Terrorism Monitor, April 4, 2013, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=236

[v] UN News Centre, “Security Council extends mandates of UN peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Golan and Mali,” June 29, 2016;  http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54357#.V45YkjVqncc

[vi] Al-Jazeera, January 19, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/01/peacekeepers-drc-longer-trusted-protect-160112081436110.html

[vii] Government of Canada, “Archived – Canadian Forces Launches Contribution to U.N.- African Union Mission in Darfur,” CEFCOM/COMFEC NR 08.008 – February 4, 2008, http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?&nid=376349

[viii] Radio Tamazuj, July 19, 2016, https://radiotamazuj.org/en/article/au-agrees-send-more-peacekeepers-south-sudan-kiir-plans-demonstrations

Update: Unwanted Ally: Hezbollah’s War on the Islamic State

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Commentary, February 15, 2016

The Western-led military coalition operating against the Islamic State organization in Syria and Iraq continues to wrestle with the implications posed by having Hezbollah as an active but entirely unwanted ally in the campaign. (1)

Hezbollah in SyriaHezbollah Position in Syria

Some indication of how the West intends to deal with the movement considering its designation as a terrorist group by many NATO partners was given in the text of the International Syria Support Group’s (ISSG) agreement to “cease hostilities” in Syria.(2)

Intended to be implemented within days, the agreement, which falls well short of a monitored ceasefire, allows for continued attacks on the Islamic State, al-Qaeda-backed Jabhat al-Nusra “or other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations Security Council.” (3) Hezbollah is clearly excluded as a continuing target as it is not a UNSC designated terrorist organization. This carefully worded document indicates the West and its ISSG partners will continue to ignore the presence of Hezbollah in the ground war against the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra rather than address the diplomatically difficult but nevertheless essential formation of a policy to deal with the Sunni extremists’ leading opponent on the battlefield. The continued absence of such a policy only invites uncontrolled military interaction that could easily and quickly expand the conflict.

In the meantime, Jordan is leading an ISSG effort to identify terrorist organizations active in Syria, but given the incredible variance among ISSG partners as to who or what actually constitutes a terrorist organization, these efforts are not likely to bear fruit.

Canada is the only coalition state so far to declare a policy on military interactions with Hezbollah in the region, simply stating that there will be no cooperation under a “no contact” policy. Ottawa has withdrawn its CF-18 fighter-bombers from the anti-Islamic State coalition as the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau backs away from meaningful military commitments alongside Canada’s allies in favor of a “sunny ways” policy that does not involve killing terrorists or even depriving them of Canadian citizenship. Ottawa has announced plans to deploy 100 Canadian troops in Lebanon to act as advisers in the fight against the Islamic State organization. These behind-the-lines advisers in Lebanon and others in Iraq are intended to replace the Canadian bombing mission.

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan was adamant that the advisers will work only with “the legitimate government of Lebanon,” but not with Hezbollah. Sajjan appeared to be unaware that Hezbollah parliamentarians and two cabinet ministers are part of “the legitimate government of Lebanon.” Although his statement is consistent with Canada’s designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, it remains that it is Hezbollah and not the Lebanese Army that is doing the vast bulk of Lebanese fighting against Islamic State forces, meaning the new advisory mission will have little impact and be an ineffective replacement for bombing runs on Islamic State targets. Those Lebanese Army units that are involved in anti-Islamic State activity along the Lebanese-Syrian border tend to operate joint patrols with Hezbollah, suggesting Canadian troops operating under Canada’s “no-contact” policy with Hezbollah will be restricted to advising rear-echelon formations.

Hezbollah’s campaign against Sunni extremists in Syria has received an important statement of support from Lebanese Christian presidential candidate Michel Aoun, a former Lebanese Army commander who noted that the Lebanese Army was simply not strong enough to defend Lebanon without Hezbollah’s assistance (Gulf News, February 7, 2016). Aoun is relying in some degree on Hezbollah support for his presidential candidacy (by constitutional requirement, Lebanon’s president must come from the nation’s Maronite Christian community), but is growing frustrated with Hezbollah’s somewhat leisurely promotion of his candidacy amidst suspicions in some quarters that Hezbollah would prefer to have no president at all.

Recent musings by Ali Akbar Velayati, Iranian adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, on the possibility of a formal alliance between Iran, Russia, Syria and Hezbollah were dampened by Russian officials, though the Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan conceded: “In the hypothetical sense, [Velayati] is correct: if Hezbollah is doing what we’re doing, then we are principally allies” (Sputnik News [Moscow], February 3, 2016). Russia is still attempting to assure Israel (with whom it signed a defense agreement in September when the Russian intervention in Syria began) that it has no intention of strengthening Hezbollah with heavy weapons, but it clear that it is Russian-Hezbollah-Iranian ground-air coordination on the battlefield that has enabled the Syrian regime to make major strides against both extremists and Western-backed “moderate” rebels in recent weeks.

If the Saudis decide to intervene in Syria militarily in favor of the Sunni rebel groups supported financially by the Kingdom (as they are threatening to do, possibly with military support from Turkey and a number of Arab nations), clashes with Hezbollah and Syria’s Iranian advisers will be inevitable, finally transforming the simmering Sunni-Shiite feud into a full-blown battlefield confrontation. If the “cessation of hostilities” agreement fails, as it seems it must, the potential for massive escalation in Syria holds dire consequences for the entire Middle East.

Notes

1. See original article, “Unwanted Ally: Hezbollah’s War on the Islamic State,” Terrorism Monitor, January 22, 2016, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=988
2. ISSG members include the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States.
3. “Statement of the International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich on February 11 & 12, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/12/syria-cessation-of-hostilities-full-text-of-the-support-groups-communique.

Taliban Hail End of Canadian Combat Mission in Afghanistan but Predict Disaster for New Training Mission

Andrew McGregor

July 14, 2011

The Afghan Taliban have released a statement on the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan following the scheduled withdrawal of Canadian troops from combat operations on July 7. Entitled “Remarks of the Spokesman of the Islamic Emirate Regarding the Withdrawal of the Canadian Invading Forces from Afghanistan,” the statement by Qari Mohammad Yusuf Ahmadi appeared on numerous jihadi website forums (Ansar1.info, July 8).

Leopard Tank of Lord Strathcona’s Horse in Kandahar Province

Since the arrival in Afghanistan of special operations forces in December 2001, the Canadian contingent has fought numerous battles against Taliban forces, losing 157 soldiers during their deployment, the majority to improvised explosive devices.  The current force of 2,850 soldiers will be replaced by a team of 950 troops assigned to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).

According to the Taliban spokesman, the Canadians “sustained heavy casualties in various attacks at the hands of mujahideen, compelling them to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan… In addition to the life loss, the heavy economic burden of the war dawned on the people and members of the Parliament of Canada to press the ruling regime in Canada to withdraw their forces.”

Contrary to Qari Yusuf’s claims, there was majority support in Parliament for the mission, which started under a Liberal Party government and continued under the current Conservative Party government. Opposition did come from the separatist Bloc Québécois and the socialist New Democratic Party of Canada, which has called for immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan since 2006.

Qari Yusuf suggests Canadians ask their government and military just what has been accomplished in Afghanistan other than immense loss of life and equipment. If a satisfactory answer cannot be provided, Canadians should intervene to prevent the deployment of the new training mission. The Taliban spokesman warns that “the new mission of Canada under the name of military training will bring in only losses and bitter outcome like the precedent of their war mission…”

Several days after the statement, the deputy commander of the new Canadian training mission, Colonel Peter Dawe, appeared to dampen expectations of the mission in an interview with Canadian state television: “I have concerns. Nobody in the mission is naive. We’re optimistic but not naive. …We’re not in the business of making guarantees. We certainly won’t guarantee success… Afghans don’t need to be taught how to fight. They just need to be given the critical enablers” (CBC, July 10).

JTF2Joint Task Force 2 (Ottawa Citizen)

The Canadian contribution to the Afghanistan campaign began with the deployment in October, 2001 of some 40 members of the highly secretive Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) special operations group as part of the American-led Task-Force KBAR. In 2004, the Canadian unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by the United States for its work in Afghanistan. It was the second time the award was given to a Canadian unit, having been won in the Korean War at the Battle of Kapyong by the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).

Over the last ten years, the Canadian military has deployed artillery, armor, special operations units and (in rotation) all three infantry regiments of the regular army, supported by volunteers from Canada’s reserve units. The air arm of the Canadian military mission (Task Force Silver Dart) provided support with helicopters, Heron unmanned aerial vehicles and CC-130 Hercules tactical airlift transports.  In a deployment originally scheduled to last only until October 2003, Canadian troops were stationed at Kabul from 2002 until 2006, when they redeployed to the volatile Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. On July 7, command of their sector was handed over to the U.S. military.

This article was originally published in the July 14, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Taliban Claim Arghandab Occupation a Diversion and Demonstration of Strength

Andrew McGregor

June 24, 2008

Last week’s apparent attempt by the Taliban to occupy the Arghandab district of Kandahar province perplexed many observers. Following the successful raid and breakout of prisoners from Kandahar Prison on June 13, the large-scale operation in Arghandab, where there is little support for the Taliban, resulted in the loss of scores of Taliban fighters.

Arghandab3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment on Patrol in Arghandab

A June 19 statement from Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi outlined some aspects of the movement’s strategy: “There were some hidden objectives behind our plan to enter Arghandab… The obvious aim of this was to show that we can easily enter an area and then leave it without suffering any casualties whenever we want to. We also wanted to divert the enemy’s attention to this area so that our prisoners could safely return to their homes” (Voice of Jihad, June 19). According to Qari Yusuf, the Taliban fighters left the district of their own accord rather than being driven out: “They did so in order to prevent loss of life and material among the local people, because the enemy’s cruelty and their bombardment of the area, which would have caused losses to civilians, were intolerable.”

Afghan troops assisted by Canadian forces quickly defeated the insurgents in a counter-offensive that began on June 18. The Taliban claimed a loss of only six men, but a Defense Ministry spokesman cited a loss of 56 fighters, while Kandahar governor Asadollah Khaled claimed over 100 Taliban were killed (Tolo TV, June 19).

The number of Taliban fighters killed in the operation is disputed by Afghan and Coalition security forces, though there seems little doubt that hundreds of fighters were involved in a sweep through at least a dozen villages in Arghandab. There was similar disagreement over the number of foreign militants involved in the operation, with Afghan security officials claiming that the large number of militants wearing the distinctive woolen pakool cap indicated that most of the attackers came from Pakistan, though other sources failed to see the pakool worn by any of the dead fighters (Globe and Mail [Toronto], June 21). The fighters were apparently led by a Taliban commander known as Mullah Shakoor.

The withdrawal does not appear to have been hurried; before leaving Arghandab the Taliban are reported to have destroyed an important bridge and heavily mined and booby-trapped the whole district. It was, according to General Zaher Azimi, “a move similar to the Russian occupiers” (Tolo TV, June 19; Radio Afghanistan, June 17).

There is some speculation within Afghanistan that the Pakistani government organized and financed the operation as covert retaliation for successive U.S. strikes on targets within Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (Hasht-e Sobh, June 18).

Canadian Brigadier General Denis Thompson did not agree with Afghan speculation that the attack was part of an attempt to occupy the provincial capital: “What you have to understand about this district is it’s all one tribe, the Alokozai… They’re mostly pro-government. So this was the Taliban demonstrating to the tribe that they’re vulnerable. It was a psychological operation, not a military operation” (Globe and Mail, June 21).

Until last October the leading Alokozai elder was Mullah Naqib, a famous anti-Soviet mujahideen and a leading backer of the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul. Though he resisted Taliban encroachment into Arghandab, Mullah Naqib was also prominent at times in negotiations with the Islamist militants. Following his death from a heart attack last fall, the Mullah was replaced by his 26-year-old son on the orders of Hamid Karzai. The appointment of this untested youth broke with tradition—tribes generally choose their own leaders—and overlooked a number of capable fighters and leaders in the tribe. There is reason to think that the Taliban operation was intended to intimidate the Alokozai into cooperation or passivity, eventually clearing the way into Kandahar.

This article first appeared in the June 24, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Peacekeeping in the Central African Republic: Canada’s Quiet Return to a Troubled Continent

By Andrew McGregor

Behind the Headlines (Canadian Institute of International Affairs), 55(4), Summer 1998, pp.18-23

In the wake of misadventures in Rwanda and Somalia, and a near fiasco in eastern Zaire, Canada is back with a UN peacekeeping mission in Central Africa. What are the prospects for success?

Outside the tight circle of relations between France and the francophone countries of Africa, the words Central African Republic (CAR) usually evoke only hazy, if disturbing, memories of the brutal and farcical reign of `Emperor’ Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1966-79). Though long absent from the sensational headlines that accompanied the Bokassa regime, the CAR is today worse off than it ever was under Bokassa – a financial outcast, ruined by years of government corruption and political instability, and on the brink of sliding into the kind of violent turmoil that engulfs its neighbours.

CAR 1Following the public relations disasters of Somalia and Rwanda, and a still-born attempt at leading a mission to eastern Zaire, the Canadian government has chosen the CAR as the area for Canadian peacekeepers to return to Africa as part of a francophone peacekeeping mission that may provide the prototype for a much debated Organization of African Unity/United Nations permanent peacekeeping force.

The Central African Republic has known little of independence, democracy, or economic prosperity since it gained statehood in 1960. A land-locked country with few effective trade-links with its neighbours, Ubangi-Chari (modern CAR, Chad, Gabon, and Congo/Brazzaville) was intended by its first leader, Barthelemy Boganda, to be part of a larger post-independence nation comprising all of the former French Equatorial Africa. Boganda believed that a state of this size was necessary for economic viability and envisioned an eventual larger United States of Latin Africa, in which the former colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal, and Spain would be united in Central Africa. Boganda’s dream died with him when his plane exploded in 1959. Since then, the CAR has struggled through the financial dependency and gross mismanagement of David Dacko (twice), Bokassa, General André Kolingba, and the current president, Ange-Felix Patassé.

Effectively managed, the CAR has the potential to be self-supporting, even prosperous. The land is fertile, food plentiful (if poorly distributed), and the population of three million well within reasonable numbers for a country larger than France and the Benelux countries combined. A rich forest and abundant mineral and ore deposits (including diamonds and uranium) await exploitation, but for the moment the nation remains highly dependent upon foreign aid, mainly from France. Government corruption and incompetence placed the CAR on the International Monetary Fund blacklist, but the Fund has agreed to give the nation one last chance to mend its ways in conjunction with the UN peacekeeping mission. The long-neglected development of human resources and the continent’s lowest rate of literacy are two of the greatest impediments to developing a viable economy. Foreign debt is approaching the billion dollar mark, literacy remains rare, 65% of adults make less than US$100 per year, and 75% of children suffer from malnutrition.[1] Life expectancy is a meagre 47 years.[2]

The ethnic composition of the CAR is highly complex and constantly evolving, with some 30 groups displaying a high degree of social and cultural interaction. When describing the population of the Republic, observers often find it convenient to speak of groupings based on environmental adaptation in the three main geographic divisions of the CAR – the savaniers, the riverains, and the forestiers.[3] The last two dominated political life for 33 years, but Patassé’s presidency marked the ascendance of the savaniers. Lately, however, the savaniers are believed to have lost confidence in Patasse, who favours his own Sara group (15% of the savaniers). Patassé is protected by three private militias composed mostly of men from his home district of Ouham-Pendé, supported by Sara rebels from southern Chad who take refuge in Ouham-Pendé, including 1,000 mercenaries called Codos-Mbakaras (`Invulnerable Commandos’). He has also been able to call upon the French-trained Presidential Guard battalion, also recruited from Ouham-Pendé.

Patassé, the leader of the Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centraficain (MLPC), was a prime minister in the Bokassa government. Following two abortive attempts in 1981 and 1982 to seize power from General André Kolingba (who himself took power through a coup in 1981), Patassé was eventually elected president in 1993. Allegations of corruption and tribalism against his government led, in part, to four successive mutinies by the army, which Patassé survived only by invoking a secret assistance pact with France. Nonetheless, he relies upon a platform of anti-French populism and is almost certain to run in the forthcoming presidential elections.

Kolingba remains among some groups a powerful political force with access to funding from wealthy ex-Mobutists who have taken refuge in the CAR. His 12-year rule was notable for corruption and tribalism. Kolingba, a former ambassador to Canada, may contest the elections, but his just as likely to pursue a more direct approach to the presidency. At present, French diplomacy and the UN presence serve to constrain him.

Kolingba is supported by several hundred Zaireans, ex-members of Mobutu’s Division Spéciale Presidentielle (DSP), and may be negotiating for further assistance from mercenaries. French internal security (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) has reported a meeting between representatives of Kolingba and Christian Tavernier, a Belgian mercenary who led the ill-fated 1996-97 Serbian mercenary force in Zaire. The 3 April 1998 issue of Africa Confidential claims that Tavernier is eager to sell a mercenary force of Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldiers for use in the CAR. The new corporate-style mercenary firms that were so prominent in the recent Sierra Leone conflict have yet to take an interest in the CAR, aside from making enquiries about former French airbases at Bouar and Bangui for operations elsewhere in Africa.

Most notable among the other possible candidates for the presidency is Abel Goumba, one of the few CAR political leaders who was not compromised by collaboration with the Bokassa regime. Now in his mid-seventies, Goumba leads both the Front Patriotique pour le Progrès and the ‘G-11’ radical opposition alliance. But his democratic credentials are questionable, and there is some feeling in Bangui that his support for the mutinies was opportunistic.

One objective of the UN mission is to remove the CAR army from the political process. Unpaid and under-equipped elements of the army have participated in four abortive mutinies against Patassé that left hundreds of civilians, as well as many mutineers and French Foreign Legionnaires dead. Most of the mutineers are from Kolingba’s Yakoma tribe and are veterans of his Presidential Guard. Patassé’s repeated claim that France armed the mutineers cannot be reconciled with the rapid response France provided to his pleas for help. Most of the balance of the army are Gbaka forestiers (the tribe of Dacko and Bokassa); the almost total absence of savaniers in the ranks explains Patassé’s construction of an alternate security apparatus. At present the army has no command structure, vehicles, or communications equipment, and the security of the country has been left to a gendarmerie of 1500 men and an extremely limited operational capacity. The current demobilization and re-insertion project should retire at least a third of the army, the rest of which Patassé has resolved to build into a multi-ethnic force.

In the face of domestic pressure over intervention on behalf of the unpopular Patassé, the French government created and funded the Misson Internationale de Surveillance des Accords de Bangui (MISAB), a peacekeeping force formed of francophone troops from Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, Senegal and Togo. Authorized by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,[4] the force was charged with monitoring implementation of the 25 January 1997 Bangui Agreements. This includes supervising the surrender of arms by former mutineers, militias, and all other persons unlawfully bearing arms. Though MISAB disarmed about 85% of the mutineers, it failed to disarm Patassé’s militias, which led to a widespread belief in Bangui that MISAB were Patassé partisans.

The performance of the multinational force was uneven; some contingents displayed a general indiscipline. Another violent mutiny followed in which 50 people were killed in the crossfire between mutineers, MISAB troops and French helicopter gunships. The 19 June to 9 July mutiny (which had a measure of public support in Bangui) was ended by the mediation of General Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, who pushed MISAB to be more even-handed in the disarmament process.

Despite its rocky performance, MISAB was seen by the French as a model for inter-African peacekeeping co-operation. France field-tested a prototype eight-nation African peacekeeping force in Exercise Guidimakha between 20 February and 3 March 1998.[5] Unfortunately the exercise served primarily to remind the participants how vital European operational assistance would be to any OAU/UN permanent peacekeeping force. France has shipped a significant amount of military equipment to Senegal for use by such a force and is willing to provide advisors from among officers currently attached to the Senegalese army.

Britain is involved in extensive training of Ghanian peacekeepers, who have substantial UN and Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) experience already. The United States, whose efforts at taking a leadership role in creating an African peacekeeping force were politely rebuffed by several nations (most notably South Africa), has become involved in training and equipping Malian peacekeepers. Nigeria’s former foreign minister, Tom Ikimi (a driving force behind Nigeria’s ECOMOG peacekeeping adventure in Sierra Leone), has denounced the peacekeeping scheme as a neo-colonialist plot to repartition Africa.[6] Nigeria was pointedly left out of plans for creating the force, but the Togolese president, General Gnassingbé Eyadéma, and the OAU secretary-general, Salim Ahmed Salim, have provided enthusiastic support. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela appears to have come on side. He questions the OAU’s strict principles of non-intervention and respect for state sovereignty and suggests that responsible governments have a duty to protect the rights of citizens in neighbouring countries.[7] Amadou Touré, a leader in African conflict resolution, cites le devoir d’ingérence (the duty of interference) in the context of an African village, where a neighbour has the right to step into a dispute between husband and wife, and believes the African tradition needs to be translated into diplomatic action.[8]

A main impetus for the pan-African peacekeeping force is the desire of France to limit its African obligations and roll back the number of troops and bases it maintains in Africa. France has made approximately 35 interventions in the post-independence period, often on behalf of leaders with little international credibility. The recently revealed “secret assistance pacts” with African francophone leaders have been annulled, and a new policy of rescuing only democratically elected governments has been implemented.

CAR 2Malian Peacekeepers in Bangui (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

The transfer of peacekeeping duties in the CAR from MISAB to the UN’s Mission des Nations unies en République centrafricaine (MINURCA) relieves France of the burden of financial responsibility for MISAB and gives the force added international credibility. Wit Anglophone Ghana dropping out of the original line-up of participants, the new force is essentially MISAB with the addition of small contingents from Canada and Côte d’Ivoire. The leadership of MINURCA was initially offered to Amadou Touré, who turned it down, some think because he wants to be available when a commander for the proposed OAU/UN force is chosen. Field command of MINURCA has been assumed by General Ratanga of Gabon.

The MINURCA mandate is quite specific:[9]

  1. To assist in maintaining and enhancing security and stability in Bangui and the immediate vicinity;
  2. To assist national security forces in maintaining law and order in Bangui;
  3. To supervise and control the disarmament exercise (in practice this has meant arms disposal only);
  4. To ensure the freedom and security of UN personnel;
  5. To provide police training; and
  6. To provide advice and support for legislative elections scheduled for August-September 1998 (since postponed to December and now to be combined with presidential elections).

MINURCA is scheduled to leave 90 days after the results of the elections. Canadian involvement came about as a result of a direct request from th secretary-general of the UN, Kofi Annan, and consists of 45 communications personnel from Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. The Canadians are operating out of the French M’Poko Airbase in Bangui, which will be turned over to CAR authorities when the mission ends. The other French airbase at Bouar was stripped clean by looters after its transfer earlier this year.

Several of the CAR’s neighbours are watching MINURCA’s activities closely. The Rwandans claim that elements of the old Hutu-based Forces Armées Rwandaises and remnants of Mobutu’s DSP are active in the CAR and have launched attacks across the north-eastern Congo against the Rwandans. Chad’s Idriss Déby has recently taken steps to obtain a settlement with the Sara rebels in south Chad to facilitate the early pumping of vast reservoirs of high-grade oil recently discovered in south Chad. Déby would undoubtedly like to see a regenerated CAR army capable of denying CAR territory to Chadian rebels and bandits.

While the Canadian government hopes for a short and successful mission to assert Canadian peacekeeping credentials in Africa, there are few signs to encourage such hopes. With the CAR army largely disarmed and confined to barracks, the countryside has deteriorated into armed chaos. The continued dominance of CAR politics by and old guard of discredited leaders offers only the prolonged use of tribalism and regionalism as the guiding forces of government policy. Just as important as who wins the elections is the question of whether French external intelligence (Direction Générale de la Surveillance Extérieure), a powerful force in CAR politics for many years, abandons it manipulations and leaves Bangui to its own devices.

Regardless of the success of the democratization process, the CAR’s future prosperity will require stable relations with stable neighbours. Unfortunately the CAR remains in the centre of one of the world’s most volatile and faction-ridden areas.. A peacekeeping success in the CAR will be only the first step on a long rad of regional conflict resolution and structural adjustment. To succeed, African leaders must see MINURCA as the start of such a process and not just an attempt by France to pass off responsibility for an unprofitable territory to the UN.

[1] Figures provided in supporting documents for UN Resolution 1159 (1998).

[2] Brian Hunter, ed, Statesman’s Yearbook 1996-97 (London, Macmillan 1996), 333, 1992 figure.

[3] Pierre Kalck, Central African Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1993), xx-xxi.

[4] UN Security Council Resolution 1125 (6 August 1997) authorized a three-month mission to ensure security. On 6 November 1997, a three-month extension was granted by Resolution 1136 (1997).

[5] Exercise Guidimakha was held on the borders of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. The participating nations were Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Gambia, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. There were also small units from the US Marines and the British Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Logistics were provided by the French.

[6] Tom Ikimi, speech at an ECOWAS meeting, Lomé, December 1997, quoted in Foreign Report 2485, 26 February 1998, 6.

[7] Nelson Mandela, speech at the 34th OAU Summit, Oaugadougou, 8-10 June 1998.

[8] Kay Whiteman; “A Conversatiion with ATT [Amadour Touman Touré],” West Africa no. 4119, 30 September-13 October 1996, 15611.

[9] UN Security Council Resolution 1159 (27 March 1998).