Canada expected to intervene in Libya but experts disagree on how
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, February 19, 2016 12:15PM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 19, 2016 11:05PM EST
After the Pentagon said Friday that a U.S. airstrike struck an ISIS training camp in Libya, killing a man suspected of terrorism in Tunisia, Canada’s top soldier said he expects Canadian Forces “will certainly be involved somehow” in the North African country.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance told reporters at the Conference on Security and Defence in Ottawa on Friday that Canadian military officials are closely monitoring the situation.
“I don't know whether we will be involved militarily, but we will certainly be involved somehow, because Libya sits at a crossroads of some very important and dangerous things that are happening in the world,” Vance said.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan later told reporters Canada needs to “look at what the potential political solution is,” in Libya, and added, “if there’s a need where Canada can bring in a certain capability that will assist part of the coalition, we will consider it.”
U.S. and European military officials have said ISIS's numbers are increasing in Libya, just as they are shrinking in Syria and Iraq.
Europeans are particularly worried, because ISIS terrorists could enter the EU on boats crossing the Mediterranean by posing as migrants. Libya is about 800 kilometres from Italy.
CTV News has learned that Canada is part of a group of seven NATO nations called LIAM, the Libyan International Assistance Mission. Led by Italy, the group aims to find options to help bring stability to Libya.
Sources say the Canadian government asked to join LIAM -- which includes the U.S. and the U.K. -- last December.
At the moment, LIAM is considering training Libyan forces to fight back against ISIS -- similar to Canada’s involvement in Iraq. The training efforts would be considered a peacekeeping mission.
But any potential decision would need to first pass UN approval and be accepted by the Libyan government.
Sources also told CTV News that there’s no indication that the federal government would consider sending the jets recently pulled from Iraq into Libya.
The Pentagon’s deadly airstrike struck a training camp near Sabratha, close to the Tunisian border, and killed an estimated 40 people.
Among the dead is Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian suspected of plotting the terrorist attacks at Tunis’s Bardo Museum in March 2015, according to a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.
Twenty-four people were killed in the Bardo Museum attack.
Chouchane’s terror cell is also suspected in last June’s attack on a Tunisian beach resort, which left 39 dead including one shooter.
ISIS militants in Libya have also shot and beheaded dozens of Christians, a horror they caught on video.
Dorn: 'Just a matter of time'
“It was just a matter of time,” before the Americans struck ISIS in Libya, according to Walter Dorn, a Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and the Canadian Forces College.
However, Dorn told CTV News Channel he expects the U.S. to conduct mostly “surgical strikes” using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and Hellfire missiles, as opposed to dropping bombs with fighter jets.
Fighter jets don’t appear to be needed, because ISIS so far doesn’t have a “wide area of control,” in Libya, beyond the city of Sirt, he added.
Dorn said he expects to see Canada “very much involved in the peace-building aspect,” adding that there are plenty of ways Canada can help.
“We have to get in there to help win hearts and minds, create a stable society, get the two main factions and the various militia groups together at the negotiating table, support the United Nations, and create a viable economy that isn’t just oil based,” he said.
“I think the world as a whole dropped the ball in following up with the NATO campaign of eight months with years of sustained effort,” Dorn added.
MacKay: ‘A quintessential threat’
Peter MacKay, a former defence minister and possible Conservative leadership contender, told CTV’s Power Play he’s “encouraged to hear that there is active discussion about what role Canada can play with our partners.”
“This is a quintessential threat; this is the war of our generation,” he added. “Canada is one of those target nations that (ISIS) would very much like to hurt.”
MacKay didn’t say whether he would support a bombing mission, a training mission, or a mix of both, but said it is important to show our allies “consistency and coherence.”
“There is no question that putting trainers, boots on the ground, special forces, has perhaps the highest impact in terms of getting the results you’re after,” he said. “It also comes with the highest risk.”
MacKay added that Libya has been experiencing “incredible instability since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled,” in 2011.
“We were there, we contributed to that state, so there is a responsibility I believe, on the part of Canada, to continue to play a role.”
MacKay said the situation is complicated by a lack of governmental institutions. “We should have had more efforts, in my view, on the part of the international community, to help them build.”
Bruno: ‘Completely counterproductive’
Alessandro Bruno, an international affairs expert who works for the firm Profit Confidential, told Power Play that military intervention in Libya right now would be “completely counterproductive.”
“The blunt reality here is Libya is a complete disaster and has been since 2011,” Bruno said. “Governments and NATO, despite all the intelligence … did not understand Libya did not have institutions, it did not have governance.”
Bruno said that Gadhafi was “a kind of stalwart protecting the West from Islamic fundamentalism.”
He said that when he lived in Gadhafi’s Libya in the 1990s, “you couldn’t even have a beard in public -- you’d be arrested because you were a potential Islamist.”
Bruno said a military mission could only make sense if the “two Libyan governments that are now fighting for control finally agree to a central government, perhaps restoring it back to Tripoli, and then, after that, you can help to train a Libyan army.”
Bruno said he’s skeptical that can happen and it would certainly take years.
Day: Trainers make ‘no sense’
Steve Day, a former Canadian special forces commander, told Power Play it makes “no sense” for the West to intervene with trainers on the ground.
“If there isn’t an indigenous force to train, there’s no sense putting trainers on the ground.”
Perry: Don’t rule out airstrikes
David Perry, a Senior Analyst and a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told Power Play he wouldn’t rule out Canadian airstrikes.
“Depending on what the objective is in Libya, we’ve just now freed up those assets,” he said. “So maybe given the nature of things here, that would be something (the government) would consider.”
2011 mission had wide support
In 2011, the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats all supported military intervention in Libya, as part of a NATO-led bombing campaign backed by the United Nations.
Canada sent six CF-18 jetfighters, two CP-140 Aurora patrol planes and a CP-150 refuelling jet -- a similar contribution what the Liberals pulled last week from Iraq and Syria.
Less than a year ago, when the Conservative government proposed expanding Canada’s anti-ISIS airstrikes from Iraq to Syria, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau warned of mission creep.
Trudeau demanded in question period to know whether the government was planning to send bombers or special forces, “into Yemen or Libya or against Boko Haram in Sub-Saharan Africa”
Then Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would not, but added that Canada should go into any country where ISIS was “establishing caliphates, large territorial areas from which they are threatening to launch terrorist attacks against this country.”
With files from The Associated Press and CTV's Christina Commisso