Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird has warned of "another Afghanistan" in Mali, a west African nation presently on the global spotlight following the launch of military offensive by French-led forces against Islamist insurgents.
While speaking to lawmakers yesterday, Baird said Ottawa was still considering the requests for financial assistance and military trainers to support the Africa-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), though ruled out contributing troops toward a peacekeeping mission in the west African nation.
"We're not, at the drop of a hat, going to get into another Afghanistan in this region," he told a parliamentary committee, as quoted by AFP.
The west African nation erupted into chaos after last year's March 22 coup by soldiers -- who called themselves the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR) -- blamed the government for the army's humiliation by the North African Tuareg rebels, who were protesting marginalization by the capital Bamako.
With Bamako in confusion, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters seized control of the Tuareg rebellion and captured the country's north.
French-led forces last month launched a military offensive to expel the Islamist insurgents, and, in recent weeks, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has called for a holy war in Mali sending signals of fresh attacks.
Blamed for a string of attacks, AQAP has been numerously described by US officials as Al-Qaeda's most dangerous franchise.
In January this year, Canada sent a C-17 military transport aircraft to back French, enabling them to move nearly 1 million pounds of French military equipment to Bamako.
According to Baird, Canada is also prepared to help address the humanitarian crisis as well as support the road map to democratic elections sometime later this year. He however expressed concern on Canada’s military contribution in what he described as "already amounting to a counter-insurgency."
"We have one side: a military government that took power in a coup last year and another side: an al-Qaeda affiliate. I don't think they're going to sign on for a peacekeeping mission," he told the committee. "It very much is going to be an insurgency on the ground, like we've seen in Iraq and like we've seen in Afghanistan."
He further suggested he doesn’t trust Mali’s interim government, or its road map to restore democracy with July elections, saying: “I don’t take everything at face value in terms of what comes out of Bamako.”
Canada is yet to explain to the EU whether it will supply trainers for the peacekeeping mission slated for April, a Western diplomat told The Globe and Mail that European nations are still of the opinion that Canada would ultimately contribute some trainers, although possibly to train Mali-bound troops in a neighboring African nation.
According a report by Ottawa Citizen, Canada is one of the few Western countries that is yet to offer financial support for the AFISMA, a UN-sanctioned mission to stop the Islamists from turning northern Mali into a base of operations.
In 2011, Canada lost over 150 soldiers in a 10-year war in Afghanistan before withdrawing troops.