OTTAWA – Canada would need to hear a number of things from its allies – notably a long-term strategy – before deciding to commit troops to an Italian-led training mission in Libya to counter the advance of Islamic extremists, says Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
Signs that western allies are preparing for some kind of intervention in the North African country have been growing stronger in the last few weeks and Sajjan has already indicated that the Trudeau government is willing to consider some kind of involvement.
The signals became stronger in the last few days with reports in Europe that a mission to train and advise Libyan security forces was coming soon and Britain might contribute 1,000 troops.
Sajjan says Canada is monitoring the situation and no decision has been made.
But he revealed it was a topic of conversation with the German defence minister this week and that the Italians have put a series of recommendations in front of allies.
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“Once we have an opportunity to hear that and digest that information, we’ll decide as a government if we are going to be involved and what type of involvement we will have,” Sajjan said in a conference call from Germany late Wednesday.
In justifying its withdrawal of CF-18s from the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria both Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said that the training of security forces in other nations is one of Canada’s specialities.
“Canada has extraordinary Canadian Forces with a wide range of abilities … but training is something we do very, very well,” Trudeau said last year as he sold the retooling of the country’s mission to skeptical allies.
The theme was one of the major underpinnings of the Liberal government’s eventual decision last month to triple the number of trainers in Iraq. With so much rhetorical capital invested in the image, it could make turning down a possible Libya training mission politically uncomfortable.
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Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion lay down a marker early in the debate last fall, saying Canada wasn’t interested in an intervention in Libya unless there was a functioning government in Tripoli.
Some British MPs and ministers, according to published reports, have suggested the same thing, saying they wouldn’t favour becoming involved while the country is still split between two warring factions.
Sajjan said Canada needs to understand what the political situation might be, what kind of resources would be necessary and what is the long-term plan to bring stability to the region.
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“As you know, we got rid of one dictator, leaving only a political vacuum to allow groups like ISIL and Boko Harem to take advantage of this,” he said. “That’s the type of information I want to assess and address this time because we need to make sure this area remains stable.”
Sajjan pointed to how instability in Libya was spilling over into neighbouring Tunisia, where security forces have taken part in border gun battles.
The U.S. has conducted an airstrike on an ISIL training camp in Libya, but held back on full-scale invention because it’s been unable to find reliable partners among rebel groups on the ground who would be able to roll back the advance of the extremists.