By Charlie Pinkerton, iPolitics
The Canadian Armed Forces won’t be rushing to meet any deployment deadlines in Mali or on any other future peacekeeping missions under this government, the minister of defence said Tuesday.
“I will not speed up the process just for the sake of meeting a certain timeline for any time of competitive nature. We will always make sure that when we make a decision that we will achieve the mission and that our troops will have the right training and equipment,” Harjit Sajjan told members of the House Standing Committee on National Defence.
The Canadian Forces are preparing to send two Chinook transport helicopters and four Griffon escort helicopters as part of a United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Mali. Canada is replacing German and Belgian allies in an area near Gao, where its helicopters will serve in a support role.
The Canadian Press reported last week that the helicopters and 250 military personnel are scheduled to leave in July and begin work at the start of August.
Sajjan insisted the number of troops deployed is not as important as their capabilities in modern peacekeeping missions such as Mali.
“This is not about the numbers anymore. This is about understanding what contributions that we can make that can have a substantial impact.”
He added that the number of Canadian troops deployed should be expected to fluctuate.
“We now have the flexibility, based on the plan that we have, to go up to 600 and we will make adjustments.”
Conservative defence critic James Bezan slammed the government for the amount of time it has taken to deploy troops.
“The armed forces know how to deploy, that’s what they do. Why is it taking so long to move a small helicopter task force to Mali?” Bezan questioned.
Sajjan blamed planning and safety concerns for delays in deployment.
When pressed by Conservative members on the dangers that Canadian Armed Forces members deployed in Mali will face, Sajjan admitted that the mission poses threats.
“We need to look at what the realities are on the ground and that’s what we need to discuss. Yes, those conflicts are complex, and are dangerous,” he said.
Both German and Dutch forces have lost helicopters in accidents in Mali over the last couple of years in the area where Canadian helicopters will deploy. Four peacekeepers died in those accidents, which were caused by difficulties posed by the environment.
Canadian troops are pledged to a one-year commitment to the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali.