Genocide Looms In The Central African Republic (CAR)

Posted By December 30, 2013 No Comments


Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye of the Central African Republic (CAR) pleaded with France and the UN for French military intervention in his violence-ridden nation. The unanimous Resolution 2127 (2013) adopted by the Security Council at its 7072nd meeting on 5 December 2013 authorized a new peace enforcement mission dubbed Internal Support Mission in CAR – referred to under the French acronym as MISCA [1].

Acting under the muscular Chapter VII article 42 of the Charter of the United Nations (UN), it authorizes the use of force in order to complete the mission, rather than the less robust Chapter VI [2], which does not. The UN Security Council resolution authorizes thousands of African and French troops to end anarchy in the Central African Republic, where masskillings have triggered fears of genocide. [3] France already has 1,200 troops in its former colony with a further 400 to back up a 2,500-strong African Union mission. The MISCA force, composed of primarily African Union forces, has about 2,500 troops there now, but is increasing that to 6,000.

How fast this can happen is unknown. Yet, we do know that the killing has started. Reports of up to 400 bodies were found after three days of fighting between Seleka and a largely Christian armed group named Anti-Balaka (“anti-machete”, the weapon of choice by many Seleka fighters). As of December 2013, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) began to distribute food (beans, maize, oil and salt) to some 20,000 people and is providing aid with vehicles, fuel, firstaid supplies and body bags for the dead. “We’re extremely concerned about the situation here,” said Arnaud de Baecque, deputy head of the ICRC delegation in the capital.

“We call on the authorities to do their utmost to protect the population. We also appeal to all those involved in the fighting to facilitate the work of the Red Cross.” [4]

Violence began again a year ago when the Seleka rebels attacked and President François Bozizé fled to Cameroon. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye now heads a very shaky transitional government that was to restore law and order. He needs assistance and has pleaded with the UN, the AU and France for additional assistance in preventing violence. [5] The Muslim Seleka alliance marauding groups terrorized the north with rapes and murders. Armed militias formed to oppose the mostly Islamic and widely feared gangs the mostly Christian Anti-Balaka groups. [6] According to the UN, the conflict had generated more than 400,000 refugees since the fighting began, and the situation continues to deteriorate. [7]

The United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office (BINUCA) is the UN political office in CAR and has expressed deep concern for the worsening violence. [8] The UN Force is now moving into place and supported by the French – MISCA – was preceded by a mission originally sanctioned by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – known as MICOPAX and it was to protect civilians and promote peace in CAR starting July 2008. It succeeded the FOMUC operation established in October 2002 that was authorized by the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African Republic (CEMAC). The mission of 400 soldiers and 150 police has been wholly inadequate to the task. [9] CAR, at 622,984 sq. km is slightly smaller than Saskatchewan, with a population just over five million. The common language is French but the tribal languages are still widely used.

At this writing, CAR is poised to slip into tribal and sectarian violence the likes of which have not been seen since the failure of the UN (and Canada) to prevent genocide in Rwanda in the spring of 1994. [10] By the time of the arrival of a UN force including the Canadians in Rwanda much of the horror was over, although some fighting continued. Today, mindful of the failure almost 20 years ago, the UN has speedily authorized a UN force to move quickly to prevent genocide and use force to achieve that aim if necessary.

Should Canada get involved?

Morally, stopping a potential genocide should be something that everyone can agree on, but Canada cannot nor should not deploy its forces everywhere there is a UN need. When and where and under what criteria should Canada intervene? The Canadian Armed Forces today rank among the best in the world and are well equipped and battletested. Should highly trained Canadian soldiers be deployed when indigenous African forces can be deployed? With African Union missions in Darfur, Sudan, Somalia and now CAR the best these forces have are already deployed. Include Kenya’s problems with Somali terrorism along their common border, not to mention the large UN force in Congo – MONUSCO – and the number of troops that nearby countries can provide is limited and with little air lift capability [11]. The deployment speed of troops and their speed on the ground will dictate whether or not bloodshed can be avoided.

The French are moving quickly and have 1,600 troops with equipment but are still concerned this will not be fast enough. The Royal Air Force (RAF) has provided assistance using its C17 Globemaster heavy strategic lift aircraft to transport French equipment, but no ground troops are promised. [12] France views deploying forces to this former colony as a last resort to stop the killings. It also views itself as the only country that could act quickly, as it has forces stationed in nearby countries. [13] It looks as though there will not be enough well-trained fast moving French forces to contain the violence.

Canada supported the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” and commits the Security Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict [14]. Canada is one of the few nations in the world that have the capability to respond quickly with the right forces for this type of situation. The chief asset giving Canada “reach” are the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) massive CC- 177 Globemaster aircraft with strategic range and speed. These machines have proved their worth from the moment of delivery. Canada’s rapid relief efforts in the Philippines are a serious demonstration of the “reach” of the RCAF [15]. The Canadian Army is well trained, well experienced and blooded with a range of forces that could be used – from heavy mechanized brigades to small Special Forces teams. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers (APCs) are not required and would in any case take far too long to deploy. Light, small, special forces teams (from the CAF’s Joint Task Force II – JTF II) could not generate sufficient numbers on the ground. The CAF also has at its disposal the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) and 427 Special Operation Air Squadron among other assets that would be appropriate to the situation [16].

“In the main, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment enables special operations and, specifically, JTF2; thus, JTF2 can focus on the precise tasks for which they are so well selected and trained. However, particularly in out-of-area operations, we see that the Canadian Special Operations Regiment would be the more appropriate organization to put to the task.”

— (Colonel Barr, commander CANSOFCOM, in Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, 27 November 2006).

After the CAF’s ill-fated mission in Somalia and its aftermath [17], there is a reticence to deploy formed Canadian units to Africa most especially a reticence to deploy Canadian troops on never ending (it seems) UN missions. For example, the United Nations Mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) started in 1964 and continues to this day – almost fifty years! Canadian troops were there for 30 years [18]. Much has been learned since the 1990s, new units and doctrine created. New equipment, material, and training methods have been put in place giving the CAF the tools to be able to respond to this situation in CAR. It is time for the government of Canada to respond a help prevent this looming genocide.

Is it in Canada’s own interest to act?

If Canadians care about peace and security then it is in our interest, as the UN Security Council specifically states the “situation in the CAR constitutes a threat to international peace and security” [19] What would be the mission? Care must be taken to establish what is to be done. Major- General (ret) Lewis MacKenzie warns of “mission creep” in his book Peacekeeper: The Road To Sarajevo [20]. Can other countries do the job? Not quickly enough. Canada is uniquely positioned to act in this type of military intervention as the RCAF is one of only seven or eight air forces that fly heavy lifters. France is not one but the UK is, as well as the US among others. Sufficient forces including equipment must be moved quickly. Any such force would need to be a high readiness, rapid reaction unit composed of the requisite elements to stop the killings. Ideal for the mission is Task Force Arrowhead, an element of Canadian Special Operations Command. It is described on the Department of National Defence website as:

TF Arrowhead is a scalable, agile force able to respond to threats and incidents around the globe on short notice. While it is internationally focused, it can also be deployed in Canada. It is a high readiness SOTF capable of quickly deploying to a crisis for short periods of time. It is comprised of personnel from all four units in the Command and is led by CSOR. TF Arrowhead represents an initial response that could be a pre-cursor to the deployment of another SOTF or conventional task force. Tasks include, but are not limited to: Direct action, CBRN response, sensitive site exploitation, counter-proliferation, support to non-combatant evacuation operations, special protection operations.

What is the risk to Canadian troops?

There are no troops or fighters that would be anywhere near as well trained and equipped as the Canadians (other than perhaps the Légion étrangère). It is mass lawlessness, crime, and individual and mob violence that needs to be stopped. A common weapon of choice appears to be a machete, as it was in Rwanda.

The groups fighting in Bangui are split along tribal and Muslim-Christian sectarian lines. The Muslim militias that are loyal to the Seleka rebels are fighting with a lightly armed Christian militia loyal to the ousted President François Bozizé. These are not formed groups, but rather mobs that come together and disperse in some cases carrying out lynchings. The fighting is not industrial war, guerilla war or civil war yet, it is killing your neighbour on a large scale.

The other risk – muttered sotto voce by Canadian officers – working with or for sub-standard ad hoc missions and or the third world generals who command. In short, a certain distrust that has been reflected in the dearth of Canadian units deployed on UN operations. In this instance the French stand apart from the UN mission as it continues assembly and deployment. The French military being sent and operating in CAR now are primarily high quality troops from the French Foreign Legion, a multi-ethnic volunteer force led by French officers with deep history in the area.

While the news is full of the loss and mourning for Nelson Mandela or the antics of Canadian politicians, genocide germinates in the Central African Republic. With nary a front page nor lead story, a few column inches can be found at the back of a newspaper. It is only Senator Roméo Dallaire who reminds us of the personal price paid when no one listened. His book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda [21] tells us of the horror of Rwanda and the truism that all it takes for evil to win is for good men (and nations) to do nothing.

Canada is a rich, first world, G7/G8 Nation, with the capability to stop genocide in CAR. Morally, Canada has a responsibility to protect and so should assist the French and the UN in doing so. The reasons for intervention are clear with reports by various international organizations fearful of a blood bath. Mindful of the debacle of Rwanda, and convinced of the impending horror, the UN Security Council – with great speed – has authorized a military mission. This mission is now has a clear moral imperative; stop the genocide.

The command control issues that occur with UN missions can be alleviated by partnering with the French (our NATO ally) and limiting the Canadian participation to four to six months (like the French) and then departing as the UN mission bulks up. It bears noting here that the French fact of the CAF is again of great value just as it was in French speaking Haiti.

Canada is one of the few nations with the capability to move quickly. With the CC117 Globemaster strategic lift aircraft the RCAF can deliver anywhere there is a landing strip. In this case, the now secured airport in the capital Bangui. With JTF II, CSOR, helicopters, special duty vehicles and a myriad of other equipment, Canada has the wherewithal to make a significant and rapid contribution. Let us not again read of body counts in the hundreds of thousands. If we knew about and could stop a tsunami we would. A wave of killing is mounting, we know about it, we can stop it. We must.