Canada will extend its peacekeeping mission in Mali for an extra four weeks this summer in order to smooth the transition for the Romanian helicopter crews that are coming to support the United Nations mission in the war-torn West African country, officials said Friday.
Canada will begin to gradually withdraw its air task force in Mali at the end of July, a month later than previously announced, in anticipation of the arrival of Romanian helicopter crews that are taking over from Canadians in providing the UN peacekeeping force with vital medical and tactical airlift capability.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canadian operations in Mali will be scaled down and limited to medical evacuations until the end of the mission on Aug. 31, 2019.
Last summer, Canada 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.
However, Canada had denied repeated UN requests to extend its mission in Mali for a few weeks to allow the Romanian contingent to become fully operational.
The departure of Canadian troops from Mali at the end of July, as was initially planned, would have left the UN mission with a gap in its medical and tactical airlift capabilities because it would take the Romanian air crews until mid-October to become fully operational.
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However, Canadian officials insist the new phased approach will ensure a smooth and efficient transition process between the Canadian and Romanian rotations.
A small transition team of Canadian military personnel will be deployed to assist Romanian peacekeepers in getting the lay of the land, and Canada has offered to provide four flights of its giant C-17 transport aircraft to assist Romania in moving their personnel and equipment to Mali, officials said.
This approach will minimize disruption in the availability of critical capabilities to MINUSMA forces and help set up the Romanian rotation for operational success, Canadian officials insist.
“We will continue to work with the United Nations and Romania to facilitate a thorough handover as a responsible member of the global peace and security community,” Sajjan said.
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. The Mali operation marks the first operational deployment of Canada’s 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.”
Since their deployment in July of 2018, Canadian air crews have conducted 10 medical evacuations. Canadian helicopters have accumulated more than 3,000 flying hours, transported more than 6,400 passengers and delivered more than 370,000 pounds of cargo, officials said.