21 Jan 2013

North Africa: How involved is Britain?

Some MPs left the Commons today wondering whether we are about to get very active in the Sahel region of Africa. David Cameron’s rhetoric – in a Commons statement this afternoon – is still very resonant of the pre-Afghanistan words of Tony Blair.

He didn’t talk about an “existential” struggle today but he did talk about a “generational struggle.” He said “containment” was not an option, the jihadists must be “completely overcome.”

What does it all amount to? Was the tragedy in the desert an epiphany for David Cameron? Or is this inflated rhetoric that doesn’t match¬† what is fundamentally an unchanged level of commitment?

The total EU military training force for the area looks like being 250 or so strong in terms of military personnel from several countries, hence David Cameron’s talk of our UK commitment being¬† in the “tens” not the hundreds.

He said we stood ready to help the French with more C17 planes and unspecified “surveillance” aircraft. He pledged unspecified “intelligence and counter-terrorism assets” in the effort to “dismantle the AQIM network.” And when Dennis Skinner asked him if he could guarantee there would not be a combat deployment of British troops on the ground he ducked the question.

What all this appears to amount to is a degree of refocusing of some assets (some of them of the “hush hush” variety we may never get to hear about) slightly inflated by language intended to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and to look decisive.

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