Canadian infantry and medical personnel disembark a Chinook helicopter as they take part in a medical evacuation demonstration on the United Nations base in Gao, Mali, Saturday, December 22, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Romania to replace Canada in Mali peacekeeping mission

Romanian troops will replace Canadian peacekeepers in Mali once Canada completes its year-long mission in the conflict-ridden West African country at the end of July, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Thursday.

Ottawa and Bucharest agreed at the sidelines of the NATO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in December that Romania will supply transport helicopters to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), after the end of the Canadian deployment in Gao, in northern Mali, Freeland said.

“Canada welcomes the commitment of Romania, a credible and capable troop-contributing ally, to replace our Canadian Air Task Force in MINUSMA,” Freeland said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the UN, Romania and many other NATO allies to ensure a smooth transition in 2019.”

Canada has deployed about 250 soldiers and eight helicopters to provide MINUSMA with a 24/7 aeromedical evacuation capability, as well as tactical airlift.

The Canadian task force includes three medium lift CH-147F Chinook helicopters and five CH-146 Griffon helicopters. The Griffons, armed with side-mounted machine guns, provide security to the Chinooks that are equipped to care for up to two critically injured patients as well as several walking wounded.

Canadian air crews have conducted at least seven medevacs since being deployed last summer, including two major medical airlift sorties in January following deadly attacks on UN peacekeepers in northern and central Mali.

While the announcement by Freeland and her Romanian counterpart, Teodor-Viorel Meleșcanu, mentions transport helicopters, it says nothing about medical airlift capabilities and it’s unclear whether the Romanian helicopter contingent can provide the same level of critical medical evacuation services provided by Canadian Chinooks equipped as flying ambulances.

Nearly 60 countries are contributing military and police personnel to MINUSMA. However, the largest contributors are Burkina Faso, Chad, Bangladesh, Senegal, Togo, Guinea and Niger, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Since being established in April 2013, MINUSMA has become one of the deadliest UN peacekeeping missions. According to UN figures, as of Dec. 31, 2018, 177 UN peacekeepers had died in Mali. The two attacks in January bring the total to 189 deaths.

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