Canada currently has accepted a one week mission in support of French operations in Mali. The mission is primarily logistic support. Since logistics is an immense task, France has requested that Canada extend its mission beyond one week.
Canada has currently accepted to provide one C-17 transport aircraft for one week. The C-17, shuttles equipment and other logistic items between the French base Le Tube and Mali's capital Bamako.
Background to current Mali conflict
Mali is a landlocked nation in West Africa, located southwest of Algeria. While insurgency by terrorist rebels has long been a concern, the current conflict began in January 2012, with the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Mali. The Rebellion was led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). Amadou Sanogo, a military officer, seized power in March 2012, primarily due to Toure's failures in quelling the rebellion. The West African Economic Community imposed sanctions.
This set the stage for the MNLA to take control of the north, declaring independence as Azawad. The Islamist groups that had helped defeat the government, turned on the Tuareg and took control of the North. These groups included Ansar Dine and Al-Qaida, which had the aim to implement Sharia Law in Mali. On 11 January 2013 France intervened at the request of the Sanogo government.
France's Request to Extend the MissionCanada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke briefly with France's President Francois Hollande on the phone on Wednesday, but has not yet made a commitment to extend the mission. Prime Minister Harper's Office (PMO) released a brief statement, which indicated that the request to extend the Mali mission was part of the conversation.
Discussions have been underway, which included Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and the ambassadors of France and Mali. It is clear that the need for logistics support is urgent, which lead to an extension to the mission.
France's ambassador to Canada Philip Zeller stated that France wanted the mission extended longer than the one week announced earlier by Prime Minister Harper. Mali's ambassador, Traore Ami Diallo stated that he expects the mission to be extended.
France currently provides 550 combat troops, which are currently engaged in an operation against the rebels. While France is the only western country involved in combat, the US, the UK, Canada and the European Union are providing logistics support.
The Obama administration has agreed to provide transport aircraft, but has yet to make a decision on the provision of tankers and surveillance aircraft. US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said that the US is planning to send trainers to assist participating nations with training. While US troops would not land in Mali they would assist the contributing nations in training and equipping African national military. France is planning on a short conflict, but as insurgencies go, it could expand into a longer mission.
Today 200 Nigerians were due to arrive in Mali to help fight the insurgency. This is the first of the West African contingent, which will number 3000 troops, with Chad providing 2000 troops.
With the urgency of the situation and the need for logistics support, Canadians can expect an extension of the mission.