Canada Votes 2015

Libya: The Canadian war nobody wants to talk about this election

Photo: Wikicommons

Six months after the fourth anniversary of the Canadian military adventure in Libya, the Canadian government has so far abstained from officially commemorating Operation Mobile, Canada’s contribution to the NATO mission aimed at dislodging then-president Mouammar Kadahfi from power during the 2011 upheavals of the Arab Spring.

With the chaotic state of Libya, it's no wonder the Conservatives aren't trumpeting the Libya intervention in this election campaign.

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Parliamentary archives mention only 46 instances concerning that mission since the month of March 2015, of which 33 were during House of Commons debates, while the rest took place during parliamentary committee meetings. Of these instances, only eight came from Conservative MPs.

The prime minister has not said anything on the question since the start of this year. His most recent intervention on the subject goes back to April 25, 2012, six months after the end of the mission. The last mention of the situation in Libya by a Conservative MP was made by Royal Galipeau of the Ottawa-Orléans riding in Ontario, when he declared on June 19 that “the Islamic State's Libya branch carried out another kidnapping, targeting 88 Eritrean Christians.” On March 26, MP Bernard Trottier, also the parliamentary secretary for the minister of foreign affairs, expressed his worry about the emergence of the armed group on Libyan soil. “Over the past few months, we have noticed that groups affiliated with ISIL in Libya and Egypt, and more recently Boko Haram, a group whose violence was unequalled before the emergence of ISIL, have pledged allegiance to that organization,” he said. During a parliamentary committee meeting of his department, Jason Kenney, the minister of national defence, had also brought up the issue of Libyan terrorist groups affiliated to the Islamic State.

The prime minister has not said anything on the question since the start of this year.

The general silence on the question left the floor open to the opposition, which criticized many times the foundations of the mission, given the conflagration of that country, the degradation of security of the civilian population and the emergence of a Libyan faction of the Islamic State.

During a debate on the current Canadian mission in Iraq, NDP MP Jack Harris, official opposition critic on matters of defence, interrogated the government about the nature of this mission, asking, “Have we learned nothing from our experience most recently in Afghanistan and Libya? Neither can be called a success.” MP Hélène Laverdière had, for her part, noted in March 2015 that “the Canadian mission in Libya ended up costing six times more than initially estimate.” The leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, practically described Operation Mobile as a failure. “Ask the Americans how that worked out in Benghazi. Now, years later, with everything we have seen unfold in Libya, it is clear that the NDP was right to ask those questions [about the mission in Libya favouring a regime change] then ,” he declared on March 24, 2015.

Between the months of March and November 2011, Operation Mobile saw a mobilization of 14 aircrafts, among which were six CF-18 jets, two warships and an unknown number of elite soldiers from the special forces. According to a report of the Ministry of National Defence, the total cost of the mission was $374 million.

Chain reaction

The Harper government never forgets to highlight the anniversaries of numerous military campaigns carried out by Canadian troops during the course of history. It is therefore surprising to note the total silence of Stephen Harper’s team on the fourth anniversary of Operation Mobile. Canada had sent its planes, ships and soldiers from a very secret joint-army operational force 2 in order to help Libyan rebels overthrow the regime of Mouammar Kadhafi.

Since the fall of the dictator and his brutal execution, which was shared widely on social media, the situation has only worsened in the North African country, and the sudden change of regime provoked a chain reaction whose jolts were felt well beyond its frontiers. In January 2012, Tuareg separatists captured a part of the Libyan arsenal and initiated a revolution in the north of Mali, eventually taking over large areas that they later lost to jihadist groups, and provoking a major crisis. In February 2013, Canada sent a C-117 military transport plane and special forces to assist French and Malian special forces that were fighting the jihadis as well as to protect the Canadian embassy in Bamako.

With the federal electoral campaign in full swing and Oct. 19 approaching, questions of national security and the fight against terrorism feature constantly. Canadian armed forces continue their combat mission in Iraq and, facing the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the debacle in Syria and Iraq, the Conservative government is again selling the war against the Islamic State as a solution for helping the Syrian refugees escaping the war.

This article originally appeared in the French edition of Ricochet.
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