Mission to Mali
The decision to jointly deploy Irish and British troops on a 500-strong EU military training mission to Mali is welcome on a number of fronts. Most importantly it should be a contribution to the long-term decisive defeat of the three brutal militias which until French intervention had taken control of much of the north of the country and the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, terrorising their populations. It represents an important affirmation as holder of the EU presidency, of Ireland’s commitment to the full range of our membership responsibilities.
And support for the UN-backed mission is a concrete expression of Ireland’s commitment to multilateral collective defence in the UN framework as an alternative to superpower military alliances – missions such as these are exactly why we have an army capable of operating abroad. And although it does not require specific Dáil approval because fewer than 12 soldiers are involved, there can be little doubt that it will have strong cross-party support.
The symbolism of the joint deployment also marks a small step towards what Minister for Defence Alan Shatter is somewhat overselling as “historic” in the continuing “normalisation” of relationships between ourselves and the British. The group of 24 will include eight members of the Army with the balance drawn from the Royal Irish Regiment. It will be the first time our Defence Forces have served in the same unit as UK soldiers, although they have served together in UN-mandated operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan. The Malian army is also being reinforced by several thousand from neighbouring west African states.
The purpose of the mission, announced initially by the EU last December, is to professionalise the Malian army which has a poor reputation in the field both militarily and in terms of human rights abuses. An important and welcome component of the training will specifically relate to the latter, instruction on international humanitarian law and the the protection of civilians and human rights.