Tag Archives: al-Qaeda

UN Peacekeeping: PM Trudeau and Liberals too Fearful to Meet their Pledges when they Realized the Realities of “Killer Peacekeeping”

Further to this post from 2016 when the then-newish Liberal government announced with great fanfare that Canada was back for UN peacekeeping,

“The end of peacekeeping, and what comes next for Canada’s soldiers”

the Trudeau government soon chickened out of any major commitment that might involve any real risk of numbers of fatalities, breaking quite a few public pledges along the way. But, hey, who cares what the rest of the world might think about this country’s esprit de sérieux? The Liberals soon realized most of the voting public they were relentlessly courting frankly didn’t give a damn, my dears; so they dithered for two more years and then sent a force to Mali to do the least dangerous mission they could put together (but note towards the end of this post what the Brits are doing in the Sahel). Excerpts from a Canadian Press piece by Lee Berthiaume (tweets here):

A look at Canadian peacekeeping 25 years after Rwanda

When now-retired major-general Guy Tousignant handed over command of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda 1995, Canada had been involved in virtually every UN mission over the previous four-plus decades.

But after the scandal of Somalia, in which Canadian soldiers tortured and killed a teenage boy, the frustrations and failures of the UN’s efforts in Bosnia and Croatia, and the horrors of Rwanda, Canada started to withdraw from peacekeeping.

Read more: Number of Canadian peacekeepers deployed abroad hits 60-year low

Today, Canada has around 40 peacekeepers in the field. That’s a fraction of the 1,200 Canadian blue helmets and blue berets deployed when Tousignant left Rwanda.

That number is also about one-third of what it was when the federal Liberals came to power five years ago — despite repeated promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government for Canada to do more.

That the decline has continued is frustrating for some who worked with the Liberal government during its early years. They told The Canadian Press they supported the plan to re-engage in peacekeeping and they believed it was going to happen…

Most agree, to varying degrees, [that]…the potential electoral costs of a large-scale deployment of Canadian peacekeepers overseas are seen to outweigh the benefits.

“I think the Liberal government realized there was probably little votes in it,” says retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian army commander Andrew Leslie, who was an adviser to Trudeau before being elected as a Liberal MP in 2015.

“The characteristic of this current government is its relentless and ruthless focus on how to get re-elected. And promises were made and not kept.”

Leslie, who did not run for re-election last year, made clear he thinks other governments have made similar calculations in the past.

The Liberal government insists it is living up to its commitments, and that Canada is making a real difference at the UN.

It points to the year-long deployment of helicopters to Mali, which ended in August 2019, and the occasional deployment of a transport plane to Uganda [see this official, and not very informative, official webpage on the appropriately, and ironically, named Operation PRESENCE]. Canada is also spearheading efforts to increase the number of women on peacekeeping missions and working to prevent the use of child soldiers in conflict…

Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Trudeau, said the government “has ended up in a place where it can say that it’s meeting its commitments to re-engage with peacekeeping, at really minimal cost.”

The transport plane deployed to Uganda on occasional basis to ferry troops and equipment to different UN missions in Africa is useful, said Paris, but “on its own, it’s a minimal commitment,” adding the same could be said of the contribution to Mali…

All say what is really needed is more Canadians in the field — something Trudeau called for ahead of the October 2015 election that brought the Liberals to power.

A survey conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of the Canadian Defence and Security Network in August found three in four respondents said they were supportive of peacekeeping. But it also found older respondents more supportive than a key target for the Liberals’ electoral efforts: young Canadians…

The government committed in August 2016 to deploying up to 600 troops and 150 police officers on UN missions, then delayed for years before sending helicopters to Mali after repeated requests from the UN and allies such as France and Germany.

The Liberals also promised in November 2017 to provide a 200-strong quick-reaction force to the UN. Three years later, it has yet to materialize.

“I see it as extreme risk sensitivity,” Paris said…

In the meantime, the UN struggles to make do with what member states have on offer. The British started a three-year deployment of 300 troops to Mali this month, but the mission there is still short hundreds of troops and police officers…

About that UK contribution to the UN’s MINUSMA mission (website here), the British Army has taken on the sort of boots on the ground role, running real risks, that PM Trudeau turned his back on. That sort of thing is noticed around the world even if barely, if at all, in Canada:

300 British troops deploy to Mali on UN Peacekeeping Mission

A UK task force has arrived in Mali to join the UN peacekeeping mission where they will provide a reconnaissance capability

UK troops arriving in Mali on an RAF A400M
UK troops arriving in Mali on an RAF A400M

300 UK troops have arrived in Mali as part of the UN’s peacekeeping mission, primarily drawn from the Light Dragoons alongside the Royal Anglian Regiment and supported by specialist trades from across the Armed Forces.

The UK Task Force will provide a highly specialised reconnaissance capability, conducting patrols to gather intelligence and engage with the local population to help the UN respond to threats from violent extremism, and weak governance…

And lookee here. also from the above government news release–the UK is also providing direct help on the ground to the separate French counter-terrorism combat operation in the Sahel, something this government would never contemplate (or might it? see below):

Alongside this, the MoD currently has 3 Chinook helicopters and 100 personnel in a logistics role supporting the French-led Counter-Terrorist mission, Operation BARKHANE [more here]. This is entirely separate from the UN mission, but they will be operating in the same region.

But in fact is there a slim chance that we might follow the Brits with some personnel and equipment in-theatre for Barkhane? Seems unlikely to me but see this recent post:

Canadian Military to Support French Counter-Terrorism Combat Mission (Barkhane) in Mali/Sahel?

Lots more on what I sometimes call today’s “killer peacekeeping” at these earlier posts.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Canadian Military to Support French Counter-Terrorism Combat Mission (Barkhane) in Mali/Sahel?

This looks like a well-inflated trial balloon as it’s the French defence attaché in Washington who’s floating it. And especially striking as PM Trudeau last year pulled out our low-risk contribution (Op PRESENCE) to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) as soon as could be half-decently done despite UN requests to extend it a few months (“Canada delays departure from Mali until end of August: UN had been urging the Liberal government to extend the mission”). Indeed it seems this balloon went up after discussions between the two countries and presumably with Canadian agreement.

Nonetheless giving direct, even if low-risk, assistance to the French anti-jihadist Op Barkhane would be quite a volte-face for this government (it is noteworthy that France is now also asking for more military help from fellow EU members). Perhaps the government has decided, in these uncertain times for relations with the US–even with a Biden administration, and with a UK in rather a bit of a Brexit bother, that now is the time to strengthen ties with our most important partner on the continent as several elements of our foreign policy are coming under review.

And, in relation to strengthening relations with France, it is noteworthy that on November 13 our foreign minister, François-Philippe Champagne, tweeted this after the French had taken out a senior al Qaeda leader in Mali:

Canada welcomes the success of the French Armed Forces’ operation. This news is particularly important for the security of civilians & the stability in #Mali.

I cannot recall a previous similar congratulation for a hit job on a terrorist by our government (well, maybe bin Laden) so maybe we were signalling a more “muscular” attitude in the French context.

Other factors, er, enabling taking part in Barkhane: Britain has been supporting the operation with three large RAF transport helicopters in Mali for over two years so the Canadian Armed Forces would be working alongside two very familiar allies and sharing a common (if different) language with both.

From a Canadian Press story by Lee Berthiaume (tweets here):

Canada facing calls to step up amid violence, instability in Mali

Canada is being urged to step up its presence in Mali, including through the provision of military assistance to help fight Islamic militants in the region and a diplomatic push to lead peace and reconciliation talks.

The calls for greater involvement follow a coup in August that has once again left the West African nation under military rule even as fighting between different armed groups — including some Islamic extremist groups — continues to spiral out of control.

They also come more than a year after Canada wrapped up its peacekeeping mission in Mali, leaving only a handful of troops and police officers to continue supporting United Nations’ efforts to bring peace and stability to the country.

French military and diplomatic officials were among those asking for more Canadian involvement in Mali during a panel discussion last week on the situation in the country hosted by the Ottawa-based Conference of Defence Associations Institute [here is the webpage for the webinar].

France has been leading efforts to counter the growing threat of Islamic extremists in West Africa and the sub-Saharan region since a previous coup in Mali in 2012, with French forces involved in combat operations against jihadist groups.

Canada has provided some support to that French mission, which is known as Operation Barkhane, notably the occasional provision of military transport aircraft to help move troops and equipment around the region.

French Brig.-Gen. Cyril Carcy, who until August commanded Operation Barkhane, thanked Canada for that contribution during the CDAI conference even as he hinted at talks between Ottawa and Paris around the provision of more assistance.

“I do believe that discussion is already underway to ask for additional contributions,” Carcy said in French before listing several ways in which the Canadian military can help French and local African forces fighting terrorist groups in the region [emphasis added].

Those include more intelligence and sensors to help locate and identify Islamic militant forces as well as air-to-air refueling to support French fighter jets operating in the region.

“The Canadians can therefore participate without necessarily being present in Mali in the combat sense,” said Carcy, who is now the French defence attache in Washington, D.C. [emphasis added]

But perhaps my speculation (WAG-ing) at the start of the post is just building castles in the Sahel sand–see image at the top.

UPDATE thought: Of course it may also be that, by having their D.C. defence attaché speak publicly as above, the French are trying to put pressure on PM Trudeau’s government to do as they would like.

By the way, the UK is about to deploy in December a substantial British Army contingent for MINUSMA, Mali, to take on a forward, boots on the ground role, that PM Trudeau would not:

[300] Soldiers from the Light Dragoons and Royal Anglians are deploying to the West African country..

The British soldiers will deploy in December in a non-combat role, acting as the Long-Range Reconnaissance Task Group to the UN peacekeeping operation MINUSMA. 

Their role will be to conduct patrols in Jackal vehicles, providing situational awareness and intelligence [not exactly a task without real danger] that will help to protect civilians in the region, amid sharply rising terrorism and conflict..

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Looks Like Trump Moving to Lessen US Support for France’s Anti-Jihadi Op BARKHANE in Sahel…

…or, taking the bark out of helping Barkhane?

First the French:

1) ‘Critical to our operations’: French defense minister asks Esper to maintain US presence in Africa

French Defense Minister Florence Parly made a public plea this week for the United States to remain engaged in Africa.

The military relationship between NATO allies Paris and Washington is “as solid as ever,” she said, adding that France knows “perfectly, Washington’s priorities, which are increasingly looking towards the Far East.”

“We understand that,” Parly said at a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Mark Esper after a Monday morning meeting at the Pentagon. But she said, “The U.S. support is critical to our [combat] operations and that its reduction would severely limit our effectiveness against terrorists.”

Esper said his review of the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Africa is not complete, and “no decisions yet have been made.”

“In due course, we will make them. I’ve been consulting now with Minister Parly for many months, and we will continue to do so as we make decisions and as we consult, going forward.”

Esper credited France for being “a real leader” in the Sahel region of northern Africa, noting its commitment of thousands of troops, but — echoing a theme of the Trump administration — said other countries need to fill the departing boots of U.S. service members.

“France has reached out to other European allies,” he said. “I think it’s time for other European allies to assist, as well, in the region, and that could offset whatever changes we make as we consider next steps in Africa [emphasis added].”

Parley reiterated that U.S. support “is really critical to our operations,” especially in light of this month’s agreement between France and the G-5 nations of West Africa to combine their military forces, as well as Paris’s commitment of an additional 220 French troops.

2) France to send 600 more troops to Africa’s Sahel

A French soldier in front of a Cayman helicopter of Operation Barkhane, July 29, 2019, in Ndaki, Mali.
A French soldier in front of a Cayman helicopter of Operation Barkhane, July 29, 2019, in Ndaki, Mali. © Benoît Tessier, REUTERS

France will deploy 600 more soldiers in the fight against Islamists militants in Africa’s Sahel, south of the Sahara, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Sunday [Feb. 2].

The reinforcements would mostly be sent to the area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Parly said in a statement. Another part would join the G5 Sahel forces.

Parly added that Chad “should soon deploy an additional battalion” within the joint force of the G5 Sahel, which brings together Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in the three borders zone. It’s the epicenter of the fight against jihadist groups, including the Islamic State group in the Grand Sahara (ISIS-GS).

“The reinforcement … should allow us to increase the pressure against the ISIS-GS… We will leave no space for those who want to destabilise the Sahel,” she added.

France already has 4,500 soldiers stationed in the Europe-sized region as part of Operation Barkhane, supporting poorly-equipped, impoverished local armies that in 2017 launched a joint anti-jihadist G5 Sahel force.

Despite the French presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force dubbed MINUSMA in Mali, the conflict that erupted in the north of that country in 2012 has since spread to its neighbours, especially Burkina Faso and Niger [Justin Trudeau’s government pulled the Canadian Armed Forces our of MINUSMAin 2019 as fast as they half-decently could, more here] .

Jihadist fighters have recently stepped up their campaign against military and civilian targets. UN chief Antonio Guterres warned last month that “terrorist groups are gaining ground”…

And now for the Trump effect:

US military downgrades efforts against extremists in Sahel

The U.S. military has switched from trying to degrade Islamic extremist groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat increases, a new U.S. government report says.

The quarterly report by the inspectors general for the Pentagon, State Department and USAID released this week was the first one to be unclassified as interest surges in the U.S. military’s activities in Africa. Security allies are worried as the U.S. considers cutting troops on the continent to counter China and Russia elsewhere in the world.

Top concerns in Africa include the fast-growing threat from multiple extremist groups in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert and the enduring threat by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab in Somalia, which killed three Americans in an unprecedented attack against U.S. forces in Kenya last month…

About 6,000 U.S. military personnel are deployed across Africa, the report says, including 500 special operations forces in Somalia and about 800 personnel in West Africa.

The security situation in Burkina Faso “is deteriorating faster than anywhere else in the Sahel,” says the new report, citing AFRICOM. The West African nation is staggering under a growing number of extremist attacks as fighters move in from neighboring Mali. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled.

Extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida in West Africa’s Sahel “are neither degraded nor contained,” the report warns, citing AFRICOM.

Late last year, AFRICOM told the Pentagon inspector general that the new U.S. military strategy has switched from trying to degrade, or reduce the effectiveness, of those extremist groups to trying to keep them from growing their membership and spreading into new areas.

Mali’s president this week told French media outlets his government is now in contact with leaders of the most active extremist group, the al-Qaida-linked JNIM, a sign that troubled West African countries are exploring various options, including negotiations, to curb the threat…

The U.S. military in the Sahel largely supports the militaries of France and African countries in their fight against the extremists, including with “limited counterterrorism operations,” and carries out airborne intelligence and surveillance operations…

On verra how all this plays out. Meanwhile MINUSMA’s peacekeeping is having a hard time being effectual:

UN official sees dire security situation in Mali, asks for more peacekeeping resources

Ah, those shifting Saharan sands.

UPDATE: As for those European allies:

1) UK:

Since July 2018, London has contributed three heavy-lift Chinook helicopters to France’s Sahel fight. They have clocked up some 1,600 hours of flying time to date, transporting about 11,000 personnel and 800 tonnes of freight.

The twin-rotor helicopters can haul nearly four tonnes of supplies and more than 30 troops at a time — a vital contribution in a region where road access to frontline troops is long and dangerous, with a high risk of mines and militia attacks.

The helicopter support “allows us to devote ourselves to air combat missions while our British comrades provide logistics, refuelling and troop transport,” said Loic, who heads France’s Barkhane air combat group in Mali…

2) Denmark:

Danish contribution to Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region

Since the middle of December 2019, a Danish helicopter contribution, incl. app. 70 persons, has been deployed to the French-led Operation Barkhane to support the international effort to counter terrorism in the Sahel region. The Danish helicopter contribution is placed in Gao in the eastern part of Mali where it will carry out transportation tasks, including transport of troops and equipment. It is the first time that Denmark contributes to Operation Barkhane and the deployment is planned end in December 2020…

3) Estonia:

Estonian special operations forces are set to join the new France-led Task Force Takuba in the Sahel in the second half of 2020, the Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday, November 13.

Estonian troops have been deployed to Operation Barkhane in Mali since August 2018, and the parliament last week approved a planned increase in the number of troops deployed to 95, including special operations forces…

“The current contribution of an infantry platoon will be strengthened with the additional capabilities of medical, EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] and JTAC [joint terminal attack controller] domain, starting from April 2020,” Murof said, adding that the platoon will continue in its primary force protection role…

You won’t see Justin Trudeau’s government even thinking about deploying elements of the Canadian Armed Forces to support such a combat mission as France’s Barkhane. Even though our francophone cabilities would be a good fit. Not warm and fuzzy, don’t you know?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Increasingly Kinetic US Small Ball Military Engagement in Somalia

POTUS has been considerably expanding the limited American involvement in this splendid little war in accordance with his small ball approach to intervention abroad–excerpts from a major NY Times article:

In Somalia, U.S. Escalates a Shadow War

The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

Hundreds of American troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993.

The Somalia campaign, as it is described by American and African officials and international monitors of the Somali conflict, is partly designed to avoid repeating that debacle, which led to the deaths of 18 American soldiers. But it carries enormous risks — including more American casualties, botched airstrikes that kill civilians and the potential for the United States to be drawn even more deeply into a troubled country that so far has stymied all efforts to fix it.

The Somalia campaign is a blueprint for warfare that President Obama has embraced and will pass along to his successor. It is a model the United States now employs across the Middle East and North Africa — from Syria to Libya — despite the president’s stated aversion to American “boots on the ground” in the world’s war zones. This year alone, the United States has carried out airstrikes in seven countries and conducted Special Operations missions in many more.

American officials said the White House had quietly broadened the president’s authority for the use of force in Somalia by allowing airstrikes to protect American and African troops as they combat fighters from the Shabab, a Somali-based militant group that has proclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda.

In its public announcements, the Pentagon sometimes characterizes the operations as “self-defense strikes,” though some analysts have said this rationale has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is only because American forces are now being deployed on the front lines in Somalia that they face imminent threats from the Shabab…

About 200 to 300 American Special Operations troops work with soldiers from Somalia and other African nations like Kenya and Uganda to carry out more than a half-dozen raids per month, according to senior American military officials. The operations are a combination of ground raids and drone strikes…

The escalation of the war can be seen in the bureaucratic language of the semiannual notifications that Mr. Obama sends to Congress about American conflicts overseas.

The Somalia passage in the June 2015 notification is terse, saying American troops “have worked to counter the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida and associated elements of al-Shabaab.”

In June, however, the president told Congress that the United States had become engaged in a more expansive mission.

Besides hunting members of Al Qaeda and the Shabab, the notification said, American troops are in Somalia “to provide advice and assistance to regional counterterrorism forces, including the Somali National Army and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces.”

American airstrikes, it said, were carried out in defense of the African troops and in one instance because Shabab fighters “posed an imminent threat to U.S. and AMISOM forces.”..

AMISOM’s official website is here. The mission is authorized by the UNSC but not UN-run. Just like the NATO mission in Afghanistan, see from 2011: “Afghanistan: News You Won’t See in the Canadian Media“. One would fall off the chair if our government got the Canadian Forces involved in any way with UNISOM; they seem to make a theological distinction between operations mandated by the UN and those actually run by the organization.

Still relevant from 2013:

US Droning On Ever More Widely

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Counter-Terrorism: CSIS’ New C-51 Powers Not So Threatening in Practice

The civil liberties sky has not fallen–and surely will not under the Liberal government:

John Ivison: Fear of oppressive surveillance by spy agencies under Tories’ anti-terror legislation unfounded

Remember how the Conservative anti-terror legislation was going to usher in a new era of omnipresent government surveillance?

Well, it hasn’t happened — at least not according to the scraps of information that are publicly available.

The latest figures made available were on electronic surveillance, released by the Department of Public Safety [report here].

As part of the anti-terror bill, it became a crime to “knowingly” advocate or promote the commission of a terrorism offence.

Critics claimed that there would be a rash of wiretap authorizations, as police sought to crack down on speech crimes.

But the numbers for 2015 suggest there were precisely two cases where the authorities were given authorization to listen in on people suspected of promoting terrorism.

We don’t know how many prosecutions resulted from the authorizations but it’s a good bet there were none…

CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, was [also] given wide-ranging powers to disrupt suspected terrorist plots, rather than just gathering information about them.

The new law gave CSIS the power to ask judges to approve warrants, even if its preventative measures breached rights or freedoms otherwise protected by law.

As critics Craig Forcese and Kent Roach have made clear, the law risked making judges “enablers of illegality [more here].”

Yet here again, it appears the security forces have not used their new powers.

When he was before a Senate committee last March, CSIS chief Michel Coulombe said the agency had used the disruption powers nearly two dozen times but had not sought judicial approval in any of the cases. Rather, the disruption powers were more benign — for example, talking to family, friends and community leaders close to the person suspected of being at risk of radicalization…

The Liberals are currently reviewing Canada’s national security laws. They have promised to repeal “problematic elements” of the legislation, and amending what Forcese and Roach call the “outer limits” to the speech-crime and threat-disruption provisions would seem to be a reasonable compromise between preserving freedoms and protecting Canadians…

Now see what the Aussies are planning:

Australia: Dangerous Terrorists? Just Keep’em Locked Up

Related:

Under PM’s Thumb: Proposed Canadian Parliamentary Security/Intel Review Committee

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Africa: UN’s CAR MINUSCA Mission to be Canadian Forces’ Schwerpunkt?

More trial-ballooning from the government (another recent example here on shipbuilding):

Canada peacekeepers seem set for Central African Republic deployment before end of year

The government’s decision on where in Africa to send Canadian peacekeepers will rank as one of its most portentous — if the Liberals get it wrong it could prove fatal to their prospects at the next election [that’s quite the stretch].

This helps explain why, a year after Justin Trudeau proclaimed that Canada is back on the world stage, Canada is not yet back.

The plans appear to have been drawn, scrapped and redrawn in recent months. But sources suggest that if a decision on deployment is not imminent, it will at least come down before the end of the year.

The most likely outcome is that the bulk of Canada’s resources [total up to 600 military, 150 police] will be sent to Central African Republic, the landlocked country of 5 million that ranks 187th out of 188 nations on the human development index [more here and see Canadian government’s advisory: “AVOID ALL TRAVEL“].

It sounds increasingly as if some military resources will also be deployed in neighbouring Mali, where the United Nations mission covets Canada’s Chinook helicopters [see “Canadian UN Peacekeeping in Mali? RCAF Helicopters?“].

But while the Trudeau government is conscious of the need to confront Muslim extremism in Mali, it is keen to resist calls to commit hundreds of combat [surely only if necessary] troops in a country where 32 UN peacekeepers have already died this year.

CAR is considered a much less risky bet for Canadian personnel — according to Walter Dorn, professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada [and a big booster of UN peacekeeping for Canada]…

The thinking at Global Affairs Canada [the new title of our foreign ministry] (admittedly, often not the same as the thinking inside the Department of National Defence), is that the conflict in the CAR is relatively self-contained — a quasi-peace where some armed groups have already signed up to a disarmament agreement introduced by the newly-elected government.

…a UN special report last spring said CAR has made “considerable progress” since early 2013, when Muslim Séléka rebels forced the government to flee, amidst fighting with mainly Christian anti-balaka militias.

There are currently 10,000 UN troops and 1700 police in the country keeping a kind of peace [Operation MINUSCA], despite outbreaks of violence between armed groups, and incidents like the murder this week of a senior army officer in the capital Bangui, which set off clashes that left 11 dead [see also: “Violence hinders aid delivery in northern Central African Republic: agencies”]…

It is striking how minuscule (good UN mission title?) is the European contribution to the CAR mission–scroll down from latter part of p. 2 PDF here. There are quite a few more Euros in the Mali mission, e.g. Germany, Netherlands, Sweden–p. 5 PDF here; and there is also a major French combat force around, Opération Barkhane.

Meanwhile we see this from the Chief of the Defence Staff; the dithering, to be polite, is getting embarrassing:

Gen. Jon Vance flips and flops on Africa

Posts on (killer) peacekeeping broadly:

Canadian UN Peacekeeping in Mali? RCAF Helicopters? Part 2

“The end of peacekeeping, and what comes next for Canada’s soldiers” [note “Comments”]

It remains ass-backwards to announce the number of military personnel one will commit before deciding on which missions–with which roles therein–one is willing to undertake.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Afghanistan “Worth It”–Don’t Lose it

And keep in mind the truly nefarious role of miscreant Pakistan–excerpts from a major NY Times article, by a reporter with great Afghan experience, that is a clear message to the next American president (the current one really doesn’t care much):

15 Years in the Afghan Crucible
By CARLOTTA GALL [more here]

KABUL, Afghanistan — There is an end-of-an-era feel here these days. Military helicopters rattle overhead, ferrying American and Afghan officials by air rather than risk cars bombs in the streets. The concrete barriers, guarding against suicide attacks, have grown taller and stronger around every embassy and government building, and whole streets are blocked off from the public.

It has been 15 years since American forces began their bombing campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on Oct. 7, 2001, and sometimes it feels as if we are back to square one, that there is nothing to show for it.

The recent American military drawdown has been drastic — from over 100,000 troops a few years ago to a force of 8,500 today. Thousands of Afghans have been made jobless as bases and assistance programs have closed. Meanwhile tens of thousands of Taliban are on the offensive in the countryside, threatening to overrun several provincial towns and staging huge bombings here in the capital…

For Afghans, and for many of us who have followed Afghanistan for decades — I have been visiting the country since the early 1990s — the times are reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year occupation. The Communist government and army that the Soviets left behind survived only three years before they were overthrown by the mujahedeen in 1992.

The Taliban, supported by Pakistan, seem intent on repeating that scenario, hoping to seize control of a section of territory along the Pakistani border and declare once more their Islamic Emirate. Since the Taliban temporarily overran the town of Kunduz last fall, many Afghans have lost confidence that the government can protect them…

Despite years of denials from Pakistan, it is now widely understood that the Taliban has all this time been mentored and equipped by the Pakistani intelligence agency. Yet President Obama has failed, as did his predecessor, President George W. Bush, to end Pakistan’s long flirtation with Al Qaeda and its brand of terrorism.

Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, is still believed to be living in Pakistan, alongside the top Taliban leaders — and continues directing mayhem through his adherents across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. American Special Operations forces have been raiding Al Qaeda groups infiltrating back into Afghanistan over the last two years.

And the Pakistani military is ever more brazen in its support for the insurgents, even flying in retired military officers to train the Taliban by chartered helicopter — one crash-landed in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan in August bearing six retired military personnel and a Russian pilot.

Watching so many deadly attacks continue over the years with little done to prevent them at their source has been one of my hardest experiences as a reporter. And it is increasingly difficult to answer Afghans when they wonder how America could have been so blind or careless to ignore Pakistan’s role in sponsoring terrorism [see this interview with Ms Gall about a book of hers: “Pakistan, The Taliban And The Real ‘Enemy’ Of The Afghanistan War”]…

Reconstruction was frustratingly slow at first — even now, most of the country still does not have electricity — but has grown steadily. For years the roads were an agonizing trial of bumping and jolting, but these days journeys that used to take several days can now be completed in hours. In the provinces, administration buildings, schools, hospitals, clinics, police stations and even prisons have sprouted.

Over time I began to notice a new generation of trained professionals working in government offices: Young men with degrees in charge of district offices, teenage women teaching classes to the younger students, female graduates working in private universities, and officials in the ministries and embassies returning from abroad with master’s degrees and doctorates.

…Afghan friends and acquaintances rarely hesitate when asked whether the American intervention was worth it: “No question” is the usual response. There have been many painful mistakes, of course, but the building, the education, the defense and diplomatic support have all helped Afghanistan rise from the ashes.

Women especially have gained confidence…

Most Afghans say they will need American support in defense and diplomacy to counter the continuing threat of terrorism and to protect them from predatory neighbors beyond the 2017 deadline that President Obama has made for the drawdown. There is a real danger the Afghan Army could collapse next year if the fighting and casualties remain as intense, and so a continued United States military commitment will remain essential…

Peace will be a tall order and require a high level of American commitment for years more. But the result would be welcomed overwhelmingly by Afghans who have endured decades of war, and serve as a lasting tribute to the families of the American soldiers who died there.

Carlotta Gall, a senior foreign correspondent for The New York Times, spent nearly 12 years reporting in Afghanistan since 2001.

Meanwhile Canadians have essentially washed their minds of Afghanistan save for a wide-spread acceptance that it was not “worth it“. Fie on them; they should read Ms Gall’s entire piece.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – NJ/NY Bombings: How a Young Afghan-American Turned to Jihad

Ahmad Rahami’s sad story of a terrible inability to reconcile a clash of cultures–excellent in-depth reporting at the NY Times:

Journey From Class Clown to Suspect in Chelsea Bombing

If there was one child Mohammad Rahami had to worry about bringing shame upon the family, it was Ahmad. In the fifth grade, his teacher complained to Mr. Rahami that Ahmad acted like a king in class. In junior high, he broke a friend’s nose. Even worse was high school — after Mr. Rahami arranged for Ahmad to marry a good Afghan girl from Kabul, Ahmad dated a Dominican girl, getting her pregnant in his senior year.

The shame. They had falling-outs, so many of them. In the beginning, because Ahmad was just becoming too American for his conservative Afghan parents, who had moved to New Jersey after Mr. Rahami fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets as part of the mujahedeen in the 1980s. And then, in the last few years, they fell out over much darker fears. Ahmad spent hours watching videos on the internet espousing violent jihad, embracing some of the most prominent purveyors of that message: Bin Laden, Awlaki, Adnani, the men who in that world needed no first names. Mr. Rahami said he asked Ahmad to stop.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Rahami recalled telling his son, one of eight children. “You don’t know if they are real Muslims. You shouldn’t watch them. You have nothing to do with them.”

But nothing stopped Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, who now stands accused of bombings in New York and New Jersey and a string of other attempts

pool.jpg
Ahmad Rahami in high school. He is seen third from left, with Maria Mena hugging him from behind…

[In high school] Maria Mena, whose family was from the Dominican Republic, became Ahmad’s sweetheart. A photograph shows the couple in a swimming pool, with another couple and three friends, a diverse group, Maria smiling broadly and hugging Ahmad from behind. Mr. Rahami was furious at the relationship. The family had arranged for Ahmad to marry a woman in Afghanistan. He told his son that he could not have a girlfriend while he was engaged to someone else.

No surprise, but Ahmad did what he wanted. By senior year, Maria was pregnant. The teenagers were excited, holding hands in the hallways, grinning and touching each other. In a prom picture, Maria is pregnant, wearing a shy smile and a white dress. Ahmad seems happy, too, wearing a shiny pink vest and a matching tie over a white shirt.

His father had had enough. One day, Ahmad came to school upset, Ms. Podhradsky said. His parents were forcing him to move back to Afghanistan after graduation.

In early July 2007, just after Ahmad graduated, he was put on a plane — to Pakistan, it turned out — leaving behind his girlfriend, who would give birth to their daughter without him…

Please read it all.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Islam, Jihads, Caliphates and End Times

Excerpts from a review article at the Times Literary Supplement:

Wars of Religion
THOMAS SMALL [more here]

This piece forms part of a TLS Special Feature, our primer on the complex politics and religions of the Middle East

A hadith (or saying of the Prophet Muhammad) considered sound by all major authorities and widely circulated among Sunni Islamists states that the history of the umma will go through five phases: first, the Prophet himself will rule over it and teach it the right way to live; then will come the time of caliphate, when caliphs will rule according to the Prophet’s teachings; then the time of benign kingship obtained by force, followed by the time of oppressive kingship; finally, the time of caliphate will rise again, where a caliph will rule once more in accordance with the Prophet’s teachings, and usher in the end of the world.

From this eschatological perspective, Ataturk’s abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1923 marked the end of the third of those five phases, the phase of benign kingship. Since then, the Islamic world has been suffering the injustice of oppressive kingship, whether at the hands of brutal dictators or morally bankrupt monarchs. And though jihadist groups differ over the best way to achieve it, they are united by an ultimate aim, which they share, broadly speaking, with all forms of Islamism: the restoration of the Caliphate as a necessary step along the way to the Last Judgement.

In June 2014 a particularly savage Al Qaeda splinter group achieved this aim – though not before falling out with its parent organization. Having conquered territory on either side of the Iraqi–Syrian border, the Islamic State announced that its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would henceforth be known as Caliph Ibrahim. From his base along the Euphrates in the Syrian city of Raqqa – where the most famous Abbasid caliph of them all, Harun al-Rashid, also based his court, moving it there from fractious Baghdad in AD 796 – the caliph and his followers now prepare for the End Times, which they believe are imminent, by purifying the world of idolaters and apostates.

The rise of the Islamic State is simply the latest twist in the unfolding tale of the various jihads that have plagued the Muslim world for two decades now, claiming well over a million lives, mostly Muslim. People are understandably struggling to know what to think about all this…

Ignoring or playing down the way Islam in particular sacralizes warfare is to obscure much. Islam was originally a political theology that went something like this: Out of all the peoples and tribes of the world, God chose a tribe of Arabia called Quraysh to carry out his final plan for humanity. From among their number he selected a prophet, revealed his will to him “in clear Arabic”, and instructed him to establish the quintessential divinely ordained polity at Medina. But the death of this prophet was still just the beginning of the story. The Quraysh remained God’s chosen instrument, despite the non-Qurashis swelling their ranks. And though the umma disagreed about how they could determine God’s will in the matter of who exactly was to be caliph — whether by tribal deliberation, patrilineal heredity, trial by combat, or a combination of the three — it was a matter of faith (except for some outlying schismatics) that God intended him to be a Qurashi, and that under his charismatic leadership the Qurashis would extend God’s sovereignty across the earth until every worldly power was placed under his dominion…

Very relevant, based on a major 2015 piece at The Atlantic:

“What ISIS Really Wants”: The End, My Friend

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Islamic Reformation? Moroccan Monarch Section

Further to this 2015 post based on the Egyptian president,

The call comes from a very interesting source–will many listen? This event has so far received much less Western media coverage than it should get…

we now hear from a descendant of the Muslim prophet (PBUH):

The boldness of a king’s speech
Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French author, philosopher and activist [more here].

The date is Aug. 20.

In Tangier, King Mohammed VI is giving a speech, as he does every year, to mark the revolution of Morocco’s king and people.

And, lo and behold, after anodyne remarks on the evils of underdevelopment, on Africa’s destiny and on the contribution of the Moroccan resistance to the Algerian revolution, he launches into an all-out attack against radical Islam and the dark string of murders recently committed in its name, leading off with the July 26 killing of a Catholic priest inside a Normandy church as an act of “unforgivable madness.”

A little thing? Yes and no.

To begin with, I am not aware of any other head of state in that part of the world who has spoken out with such a strong voice. But more important, Mohammed VI is not just any head of state. His very special standing in the Sunni Arab world, his titles of “Sharifian Monarch” and “Commander of the Faithful,” and especially his status as a “descendant of the Prophet,” give the least of his declarations a weight that they would not have in the mouth of another.

On the day of his speech, he is not content to declare war on the jihadis. He tells them that the war will be waged on Earth and in heaven. He places them outside the law, not only of men, but also of God.

He will meet them, he says, on the field of their belief and challenge the meaning that they give to this or that verse of the Koran. Relying on other verses, on commentary on the verses they cite, or simply on the sovereign authority of his own reading and interpretation, he will unmask them as imposters…

Like nearly all heads of state, Muslim and non-Muslim, he could have been content to intone, over and over, that there was “no link” between Islamic radicalism and Islam writ large.

Mohammed VI is doing the opposite. He is acknowledging the link and cutting it.

…at the beginning of his reign, he launched his great reform to promote equality of the sexes, fighting gender privilege with exegesis and consulting women’s organizations as well as religious scholars, with the result that, two years later, Morocco had a family code that was equally consistent with the precepts of Islam and the modern principles of human rights.

It was in just this way, too, that the emancipation of the Enlightenment began in Western Christendom, with the God of natural rights posed against that of the Inquisitors, and, once the new movement had taken root, with Locke’s and Bodin’s recognition that each of us contains a share of transcendence, the strongest guarantee of our inviolability and our rights…

On doit espérer. An earlier post based on BHL:

Frankreich Judenrein? Nein!

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds