A small advance team of Canadian troops arrived in Mali on Sunday, June 24 to take part in the peacekeeping mission, considered the U.N.’s most dangerous.
The group of around a dozen will be followed in the coming weeks by the rest of the Canadian contingent.
The first deployment consists of “the theater activation team, whose job is to assist with logistics and coordinate transport and equipment,” a spokesperson for Canada’s ministry of national defense said.
A few dozen more troops are due in Gao by Monday, CBC reported.
In March, Canada announced it would deploy for a year an air support force including two CH-47 Chinook helicopters for medical evacuations and transportation, as well as four Griffon armed helicopters and a contingent of about 250 soldiers, following two years of talks with the U.N.
The first group was accompanied by the Canadian chief of the defense staff, General Jonathan Vance, who held talks in the capital Bamako, Canadian media reported. Vance said Canada now intends to deploy three Chinooks and five Griffons to Mali with the additional aircraft acting as spares, CTV reported.
It is unclear when the Canadian helicopters will arrive in Mali, but the Canadian defense ministry spokesperson said that the mission “is planned from August 2018 to July 2019.” In April, the head of the U.N.’s Minusma peacekeeping mission Mahamat Saleh Annadif said that Canada would send the helicopters in August but that the Minusma needed them in June.
Minusma has around 12,000 military and 1,900 police personnel deployed from more than 50 U.N. partner nations. It has lost more than 160 people since it deployed in 2013 – a figure that accounts for more than half of U.N. peacekeeping fatalities over this period.
Nine peacekeepers have been killed so far this year, most recently on April 15, when a rocket and car bomb attack on the “Super Camp” neighbouring Timbuktu’s airport left one U.N. peacekeeper dead, a dozen wounded and another dozen French soldiers hurt.
Earlier this month, the Netherlands said it would end its troop contribution to Minusma by May 1 next year and will send troops to Afghanistan instead.
Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, exploiting a Taureg separatist uprising. France began a military intervention the next year that evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment with a mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel region.
On June 14, the first troops from a 100-member U.K. contingent to be deployed in support of Barkhane arrived in the region. The U.K. is to send three CH-47 Chinook helicopters, but British military personnel will not be involved in combat operations, the government said.
Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed last year to set up the 5,000-strong G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train 5,000 troops to work alongside French troops and United Nations peacekeepers with the Minusma stabilization mission.
With reporting from AFP