Amazing these preparations going unnoticed in the United States and without any debate in Congress.
The disarray and discontent, further muddled by a confusing mix of freelance militia groups, are signs of the huge task that confronts Western governments – possibly including Canada – as they gear up to train thousands of Malian forces for the world’s next war: a battle against the Islamist radicals who have seized control of the northern half of this West African country.
The military operation, with strong support from Europe and the United States, could begin as early as March or April. It will be a crucial effort to expel al-Qaeda-linked militants from the three main cities of northern Mali, rolling back the growing power of terrorists who have murdered and kidnapped their way across a wide swathe of North and West Africa.
The challenge will be nearly as complex as anything Canada faced in Afghanistan. The obstacles, as in Afghanistan, are not merely a determined band of Islamist jihadists, but also a ferment of ethnic tensions, a proliferation of armed militias, a collapsing state, extreme poverty, a harsh climate, and an anarchic army.
Canada is still deciding whether to join the military training effort in Mali, but some analysts expect that it will. If it does, it will not have much time to try to help fix an under-equipped Malian military that has long been notorious for corruption, human rights abuses, an unclear chain of command, an appetite for political power, and a reluctance to accept civilian control. Years of earlier training efforts by Canada and the United States failed to make a dent in the army’s problems.