Do Canadian special-forces soldiers in Mali mean we are going to war?

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew
Canada will provide another $13 million in aid to Mali, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino announced Tuesday in Ethiopia.

When the Conservative government announced that it would lend a RCAF C-17 cargo jet to the battle against Islamic extremists in Mali, the immediate concern was that “mission creep” would end up dragging our military into the fight with both feet.

Those fears were compounded when that aircraft’s mission was extended. It continues to provide the French military with non-combat support, such as transporting equipment. What will follow, critics asked? Some fear the answer will be soldiers.

Boots on the ground.

There are still no Canadian soldiers engaged in battle, but the Globe and Mail reports that a team of special-forces soldiers has been deployed in the Malian capital of Bamako, where Canada has diplomats and business interests.

[Pulse of Canada: Should Canada get involved in the Mali conflict? ]

This isn’t an about-face for the government, which still won’t directly confirm the existence of the special-forces troops. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he would support allies but would not “consider a direct military mission in Mali.”

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Globe:

We have been clear, there will be no combat mission in Mali. Steps have been taken to ensure our mission and Canadian personnel are protected. We cannot comment on security specifics.

It should be noted that there is no fighting in Bamako, and Malian troops working with France’s military have pushed the Al-Qaida–allied militants back in recent weeks.

[ Related: Will Canada intervene in rapidly-deteriorating Mali conflict? ]

Meantime, Britain and the U.S. have offered their own support. British troops could soon be deployed on a training mission and the U.S. continues to search out rebel bases with unmanned surveillance drones, according to Reuters.

So far, Canada’s main contribution to the mission in Mali is a single RCAF C-17 cargo jet and recently-announced $13 million in humanitarian aid — money that will help provide medical supplies and fund initiatives like a UN nutrition program. Highly altruistic stuff.

Make no mistake, we are not the victim of mission creep yet. But it is a notoriously slippery slope.