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France wants Canadian troops in Africa, and that’s good for us

Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister of France, came to Canada on Wednesday. He brought with him support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's initially half-baked idea of reborn Canadian peacekeeping in the modern era.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has developed some specific thinking about more contemporary ideas of "peace security operations," in contrast to the traditional peacekeeping role of supervising an agreed-upon ceasefire line.

Mr. Valls welcomes Mr. Trudeau's Canada-is-back slogan. The prospect of 600 Canadian troops in one African nation is not an enormous contribution. But France is the former colonial power in the countries concerned and is supplying thousands of troops. Six hundred more from Canada can make a real difference.

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The French Prime Minister praised the Canadian Armed Forces as "a very professional army" and said, "Generally, we need a strong and active Canada in the world."

It's not false modesty to say that co-operation with the French military will be more helpful to Canada than the Canadians will be to France. This country's troops will be at best rusty, or more accurately, inexperienced, in dealing with Third World conflicts and the Sahel region of Africa in particular.

If the 600 troops of the Canadian military were stationed alone in the middle of Africa without solid and seasoned allies, in countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso (Mr. Valls specifically named these nations), the Canadians might at first be far out of their depth, even with their limited role in protecting civilians – a role that may be difficult to assign and stick to in a region where there are all sorts of ruthless jihadi militias.

Mr. Sajjan's idea of "by force if needed" may not be realistic when the Canadian troops are on the ground – they, as much or more than the people of the country or region, may be the targets.

Mr. Valls emphasized the shared problems of terrorism in France and Canada, which is something of a stretch, this country being on the other side of the Atlantic from France and far less accessible to ISIS and its like.

But if the proposed Canadian contingent works well, there may be a case for sending more Canadian troops.

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