Ottawa delays decision on military deployment to Africa
The Liberal government appears to have paused its decision on a military mission to Africa as it takes stock of the priorities of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Asked Monday why a decision originally expected before Christmas was taking so long, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjansaid his government wanted to be confident “that we have all the right information.”
“There is no date set … Canadians expect us to make sure we get this decision right,” Sajjan told reporters at the Liberal cabinet retreat in Calgary.
But the defence minister conceded too that he needed to talk with James Mattis, the new U.S. defence secretary, about the government’s well-advanced plan for the military deployment.
The two talked for the first time Monday, a discussion that included mutual threats confronting the two nations and their “wonderful” defence relationship, according to Sajjan, who said he hoped they would be able to meet soon.
“Any time there would be a change, we would be discussing our plans and the new administration plans,” Sajjan said.
The Liberals are weighing the deployment of up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers on a peace support operation. The Star has reported that Mali is the likely destination for the deployment though cabinet has not made a final decision.
The defence department has readied its options for consideration, suggesting that the delay now is at the political level.
“I was hopeful to get it done by the end of the year but we don’t want to be set on a timeline,” Sajjan said.
The issue was originally on the agenda for the cabinet retreat but fell off several weeks ago, likely postponed by two political events. The first was a cabinet shuffle that installed Chrystia Freeland as foreign affairs minister. The second was Trump’s arrival in the White House and with it, a new set of foreign and defence priorities for the United States that Canada and other allies have to consider.
The conversation with Mattis included a preliminary discussion about the peace mission, Sajjan said, though he denied that the U.S. administration would have say in how Canada deploys its forces.
“The decisions of that is of our own but we obviously will be discussing these type of issues,” Sajjan said.
“Here’s why. It’s not just making a decision. The challenge that we face is not independent . . . It’s all interconnected,” Sajjan said.
“We have to discuss this. We need to be able to maximize our impact on the ground. When we have missions, whether it’s a UN mission or whether it’s a NATO mission or whether it’s a coalition, you’ve be able to maximize the impact and co-ordinate our efforts together and bring stability,” he said.
“That’s the level of synergy we’re trying to bring,” Sajjan said.
With files from Paul Wells