Friday, June 22, 2018

Canada in Mali: What Exactly is the Mission?

By Charlie Pinkerton, iPolitics 

The Canadian Armed Forces are just weeks away from deployment to Mali, where they will replace a German helicopter contingent as part of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the country.

Questions have been raised about whether there is any peace to keep in the central African nation. So what is the mission?

Some background: During the 2015 federal election Justin Trudeau promised that a Liberal government would involve Canada in peacekeeping again. In 2016 the government said up to 600 Forces troops would be made available to peacekeeping efforts.
A French soldier stands inside a military helicopter during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the troops of Operation Barkhane, France's largest overseas military operation, in Gao, northern Mali, Friday, May 19, 2017. The six military helicopters that Canada plans to send to Mali could be used to move more than peacekeepers: they could be called upon to support a multinational counter-terrorism force also operating in the country.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Christophe Petit Tesson, POOL
French soldier inside a military helicopter in Gao, northern Mali, Friday, May 19, 2017. is keeping the door open to sending more helicopters to Mali to support Canada's peacekeeping mission there. Christophe Petit Tesson / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The government announced in March that Canada would join the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (also known as MINUSMA). It has since said that between 200-250 troops will deploy initially. The “flexibility” exists to deploy more, said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. “We can go up to 600 and we will make adjustments,” he said in May.

In Mali: Canadian troops will fly two Chinook transport helicopters and four Griffon armed escort helicopters. Forces will be armed on base and, in some circumstances, on board the helicopters. Weapon systems on the Griffons will be similar to those used in Afghanistan, according to Lt.-Gen Al Meinzinger, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Canada’s Griffons were outfitted with side-door machine guns and Gatling guns in Afghanistan.

The defence minister has not closed the door on the possibility that the number of helicopters that Canada sends to Mali could change.

While serving as the commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, Lt.-Gen Stephen Bowes clarified to the House defence committee what Canada’s role in Mali would be, saying that “it’s air medical evacuation, logistics support and transportation.” Bowes has since moved to a position with Veterans Affairs Canada.

Meinzinger said that Canadian troops will be supported by about 500 Germans in the base camp in the Gao region of Mali, where they’ll operate from.

Canadian soldiers are committed to MINUSMA for a year.

Since the mission began in April 2013 it has been the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission. In total, 169 MINUSMA peacekeepers have been killed.

Two German pilots were killed last year in a helicopter crash near Gao. A report conducted by Germany’s Defence Ministry showed the crash occurred because the helicopter’s autopilot had been set incorrectly.

A contentious aspect of the mission has been Forces rules of engagement when encountering child soldiers. The Forces published a joint doctrine last year on how to face young combatants. It was the first time the Canadian military has published a directive that specifically addressed encountering child soldiers.

Bowes told the Commons defence committee in April that Canadian Forces members would follow “Canadian rules of engagement” in MINUSMA.

“They will have the authority to defend themselves,” the defence minister has also said.

Discussion dividing Canada’s government and its opposition has largely been over whether Mali is considered a war zone.
At the G7 summit just weeks ago, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told CBC News that Mali is a war zone and that casualties are “possible.”

Bowes called it a “complex conflict zone.”

Sajjan has called the conflict “complex and dangerous” and repeatedly said it’s important to consider the “realities” of modern peacekeeping.

Bowes said in April that Canada would begin its involvement in Mali in June with most of its main troops entering before the third week of July and Germany’s helicopters exiting in August.

Sajjan said last month that Forces would enter Mali in July but that they would put safety over meeting deployment deadlines.

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