Make Mali about peacekeeping, not politics

Lewis MacKenzie, a retired major-general, was the first commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo.

So, the United Nations has officially requested Canada provide helicopter support to its floundering “peacekeeping” mission in Mali. Okay, but that is not the full story – far from it. You see, the UN never makes a formal public request for support from a country that is turned down. This would be too embarrassing for both parties.

In this case, Canada spent an enormous amount of time and effort to study, research, liaise, travel and debate internally before it publicly promised to contribute a modest force of some 600 souls to help out somewhere in the multitude of possibilities in Africa. The UN was pleased with the expectation that a small battalion of our highly capable soldiers would be sent to one of the three major UN missions to augment the Third World contingents currently doing the dirty work on the ground. After months of inexplicable foot dragging, the private negotiations with the UN resulted in Canada agreeing to a formal request for some helicopters. The UN was disappointed, but at least it was an actual commitment somewhere on the horizon.

Once the modest pledge had finally been announced, the subsequent public political pronouncements contributed even more to embarrassing our country at home and abroad. Having taken more than a year to come up with the commitment, we were told ad nauseam that while Mali was the most dangerous of the UN missions in Africa, our folks would be safe by avoiding the IED threat and ambushes by the insurgents.

Now I come to the crux of the matter: risk. In any sane planning process involving deployments into hostile territory, the first question that needs to be answered is, “What is the aim of the mission we are about to…

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