Canada will deploy an infantry unit and military trainers along with attack and transport helicopters to Mali for 12 months in support of an ongoing UN peacekeeping mission, the government announced Monday.
“The task force will include two Chinook helicopters to provide much-needed transport and logistics capability, as well as four armed Griffin helicopters for armed escort and protection,” Minister for National Defence Harjit Sajjan told a press conference.
The deployment will be Canada’s first in Africa since its troubled mission to Rwanda in 1994.
The exact number of troops that will be sent and the date they will leave is yet to be decided, Sajjan added.
The pledge comes after Canada last November said it would send a Hercules aircraft to the U.N. regional support center in Entebbe, Uganda, which backs U.N. operations throughout Africa, as well as make available to the U.N. a rapid response force of 200 soldiers.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the unit heading to Mali would include female soldiers to meet a demand for gender perspectives in securing peace and security in hotspots.
“One of our priorities is to increase women’s participation in peacekeeping,” she said.
Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012.
In recent months, jihadists have increased activity in central Mali, targeting domestic and foreign forces in outbreaks of violence once confined to the country’s north.
Four United Nations peacekeepers were killed and four wounded in late February when a mine exploded under their vehicle in central Mali.
The peacekeeping mission which began in 2013 is known by the acronym MINUSMA and currently has 12,000 military and 1,900 police personnel deployed from 57 U.N. partner nations.
The Canadians, according to Sajjan, will conduct reconnaissance, facilitate medical evacuations and help plan missions in the country.
In January, the U.K. government said it would send three additional Chinook helicopters to Mali for counter-terrorism operations. The helicopters will be used by French troops, part of the wider counter-terror effort in the Sahel region of Africa. The Royal Air Force is already providing transport flights in support of the 4,000 French troops deployed there on Operation BARKHANE.
In February, European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini announced the E.U. would double its financial contribution to the G5 Sahel joint force, a multinational counter-terrorism force in west Africa’s Sahel region which includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger.
In January, Canada sent costal defence vessels HMCS Summerside and HMCS Kingston on a three-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea region off west Africa. The ships will work alongside more than 20 African countries as part of the U.S.-led Obangame Express 2018 exercise, and the deployment will include port visits to nations including Ghana, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Senegal, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
With reporting from AFP