Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Canada warns of 'another Afghanistan' in Mali

By AFP

Canada's top diplomat warned Tuesday of "another Afghanistan" in Mali, the beleaguered African nation where French-led forces launched a military offensive against Islamist insurgents.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also told lawmakers that Ottawa was mulling requests for financial assistance and military trainers but ruled out contributing Canadian troops for a Mali peacekeeping mission.

"We're not, at the drop of a hat, going to get into another Afghanistan in this region," he told a parliamentary committee.

Mali imploded after a March 22 coup by soldiers who blamed the government for the army's humiliation at the hands of north African Tuareg rebels, who have long complained of being marginalized by Bamako.

With the capital in disarray, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the Tuareg rebellion and took control of the country's north.

French-led forces launched a military offensive last month to drive out the Islamists and, in recent days, have been the target of a string of attacks.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) -- which US officials have labelled Al-Qaeda's most dangerous franchise -- has called for a holy war in Mali, prompting fears of fresh attacks.

Canada last month sent a C-17 military transport aircraft to support France's routing of the rebels, moving almost one million pounds of French military equipment to Bamako.

Baird said Ottawa is prepared to further "help address the humanitarian crisis and... we are supporting the road map to democratic elections sometime later this year."

But he expressed concerns about Canada getting involved militarily in what he described as "already amounting to a counter-insurgency."

"We have one side: a military government that took power in a coup last year and another side: an al-Qaeda affiliate. I don't think they're going to sign on for a peacekeeping mission," he told the committee.

"It very much is going to be an insurgency on the ground, like we've seen in Iraq and like we've seen in Afghanistan."

Canada lost more than 150 soldiers in a 10-year war in Afghanistan before pulling out in 2011.

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