Canadian special forces to continue with U.S.-led training of African troops despite links to coups


Canadian special forces are still committed to taking part in U.S.-led training exercises in Africa despite links to instructing troops who have been involved in two separate military uprisings in Mali.

Malian soldiers forced the resignation of the country’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after they launched a coup on Aug. 18. Coup leader Col. Assimi Goita, as well as many of the soldiers who took part in the uprising, had received training at the U.S.-led annual Flintlock military exercises which involves western special forces providing counter-terrorism training to African units. A former army officer has now taken over as president in Mali and Goita has declared himself vice president.

Canadian special forces have been involved in Flintlock training for the last 10 years. Canadian special forces personnel have trained Malian soldiers during Flintlock as well as other military personnel from various African nations.

In 2012 Malian paratroopers trained by Canadian special forces attempted a counter-coup after another military uprising but that failed. The paratroopers, from an elite presidential guard, had received training the year before by members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment during the Flintlock exercise.

But the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command or CANSOFCOM says it is still committed to the Flintlock training. “CANSOFCOM will continue to participate in Exercise FLINTLOCK as part of the Government of Canada’s ongoing commitment to deliver counter-terrorism capacity building in Africa,” CANSOFCOM spokesperson Lt. Anne Côté noted in an email.

Military sources point out that the Malian paratroopers who took part in the 2012 counter-coup were trying to reinstate the country’s president.

Côté said that Canadian special forces have in recent years been involved in training Niger’s military personnel during the Flintlock exercises. A key part of training is in the law of armed conflict, she added.

But Jeremy Keenan a professor at Queen Mary University of London, in the United Kingdom, noted earlier this year that while alleged war crimes have been committed by Mali’s troops, Niger’s military has been linked to some of the worst atrocities against civilians in the region.

That “is perhaps surprising given that the Forces Armées Nigeriennes, (FAN) have appeared better trained and disciplined compared to those of Mali and Burkina Faso,” Keenan, who is recognized as an expert on the Sahara region, wrote in a recent article for the International State Crime Initiative.

Surveys and reports from Niger’s human rights commission have linked Niger’s military to the execution or disappearance of 170 civilians, he noted.

Walter Dorn, a professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, said it is important that Flintlock and other training programs funded and supported by western countries promote democracy and moral limits on the use of force. “I would suggest that those who participate in the exercises be vetted for any human rights violations, including participating in coups and attacks on civilians,” he said. In addition, such exercises should have components to support civilian control over the military, Dorn said. “They should also feature moral standards and accountability mechanisms to be fostered,” he added.

Economic conditions, corruption, and setbacks in the ongoing battle against Islamic insurgents had prompted ongoing protests earlier this year against Mali’s government, setting the stage for the military takeover.

The 2012 coup in Mali took place when soldiers, upset with the government’s response to a rebellion of Tuareg tribesmen and an ongoing insurgency by Islamic rebels, removed the president.

Mali had been considered relatively stable until early 2012 when Tuareg tribesmen seeking an independent country combined forces with Islamic militants to take control of the northern half of the country.

The insurgents had received a major boost when NATO forces, including those from Canada, helped overthrow Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The insurgents outfitted themselves with weapons stolen from Libyan government military bases and were able to seize much of Mali before being pushed back by international forces. Canadian military personnel deployed to Mali from August 2018 to August 2019 when Canada contributed an air task force that provided medical evacuation, logistics and transportation capability to the United Nations in northern Mali.



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