Canada will deploy an Aviation Task Force to Mali in support of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for a period of one year. The Task Force could be deployed as early as August of this year.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made the announcement revealing that the Aviation Task Force will be comprised of two CH-147 Chinook and four CH-146 Griffon helicopters. The Task Force will also be accompanied by a number of support personnel.
The two Chinook will be conducting medical evacuations and logistical support while the four Griffon act as armed escorts.
Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance said the planning was still underway, however. Since Canada will replace Germany in that role, Vance believes a consultation with them will help smoothen the transition and better prepare the Task Force.
Vance also envisioned the possibility of using the Aviation Task Force to support the ground forces. German and Dutch helicopters occasionally used their helicopters to support MINUSMA troops on the ground when they were ambushed by insurgents.
“It is possible in the tasks that we look at, they could be used for support to ground forces. It is possible. We’ve got to look at it. We need to get a lot more detail,” he said.
That said, the Liberals said it would be a non-combat mission meaning the Canadian troops would not take part in any type of offensive. That said, Canada still has to define its rules of engagement in accordance with the MINUSMA.
Canadian soldiers will have the ability to defend themselves and General Vance said the Task Force will use the necessary force to protect both its helicopters and personnel.
“I’ll issue the appropriate rules of engagement to allow us to do that. We’ll be well plugged-in to the intelligence networks so that we maintain situational awareness and we’ll do everything we normally do to mitigate risk through the excellent flying of our aviators in the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force],” Vance said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland also announced that Canada will “increase the meaningful participation of women” in the deployment to Mali in conjunction with the Elsie initiative for Women in Peace Operations.
“Today’s smart pledge is another way Canada is contributing its expertise to create a safer, more peaceful world. We are committed to improving the effectiveness of UN peace operations. We are doing this by working with partner countries to increase the meaningful participation of women, through the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations, implementing the Vancouver Principles to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and providing specialized training to meet the needs of the UN.”
According to a National Defence news release, the Elsie Initiative for Peace Operations is a Canadian-led pilot project to test new ways of eliminating barriers to the participation of women police and military in peace operations. Canada will lead this search for a breakthrough, working closely with a Contact Group of countries who will bring their experiences, expertise and political commitment to the project. A tailored package of technical assistance and training will be offered to a select partner country (or two), and an innovative financial mechanism will be designed to incentive progress among countries who contribute police and military to UN operations.
Although Canada’s role in Mali seems to take form, it is too early to confirm the exact number of troops and the future role it will play in the war-torn region. The one-year deployment is, I believe, the first step in sending ground troops in the Sahel where Boko Haram — and other insurgent groups — have been killing and abducting innocent people.
More than 162 United Nations troops were killed in Mali since 2014. More than 15,000 UN personnel are currently deployed with the MINUSMA.