While Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan praised the work of Canadian peacekeepers in Mali on Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa has no plans to extend their stay in the war-torn country despite an appeal by the United Nations.
The departure of Canadian troops from Mali at the end of July, as was initially planned, would leave the UN mission with a gap in its medical and tactical airlift capabilities because it would take the Romanian troops that are coming to replace them until mid-October to become fully operational.
Canada has deployed about 250 soldiers and eight helicopters to provide the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission Mali (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 three litter patients as well as four walking wounded. This marks the first operational deployment of CH-147F Chinook helicopters in this aeromedical configuration.
However, since it takes two Griffons to accompany each Chinook on operations, Canada’s effective contribution is only six helicopters at any one time, with the extra Chinook and Griffon acting as “spares.”
Despite Sajjan’s praise for Canadian air crews and medical personnel for “facilitating life-saving aero-medical evacuations,” Freeland wouldn’t explain why Canada is refusing to extend the mission except to say that the government is honouring its commitment to Canadians, the UN and allies.
“We made a commitment to Mali, to our partners, to the UN and to Canadians that we would be there for a year,” Freeland said in a teleconference call from New York City. “That is the commitment that we will be honouring.”
In a letter obtained by CBC, the UN had urged the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to continue providing critical medevac and tactical airlift to MINUSMA until the Romanians are able to fully take over on Oct. 15.
The UN Peacekeeping Secretariat says in the letter dated Feb. 26 that the extension of the Canadian mission would allow MINUSMA to bridge a gap in medical evacuation and its medium utility helicopter capabilities while the Romanians get up to speed, CBC News reported.
Canadians are working hard with their Romanian counterparts to assure effective transition, Freeland said.
“I do also want to emphasize it’s important to understand that the transition is not something that happens on a single day,” Freeland said. “The transition takes time and we are actually already working with the Romanians today on the transition to make sure that it works.”
Canadian air crews have conducted at least eight 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.
- Canadians airlift wounded peacekeepers after another deadly attack in Mali
- Canadian peacekeepers called in following deadly attack in Mali
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 the UN.
Since being established in April 2013, MINUSMA has become one of the deadliest UN peacekeeping missions. According to UN figures, as of January 2019, 191 UN peacekeepers have died in Mali.
With files from Melissa Kent of CBC News and The Canadian Press