Cover Story: UN Assistance in Mali
Mar 15, 2013

Jihadists are on the move in the sub-Sahara. The land-locked, developing country of Mali witnessed political deterioration that climaxed with a military coup in March 2012, and has remained in turmoil ever since. Former Libyan mercenaries and Al-Qaeda rebels exacerbated the crisis by capturing the country’s Tuareg region in the North, an area rich in uranium, gold and possibly oil. They were well armed, extolled a radical vision of Islam, and rapidly overcame the Malian army and the civilian population, imposing Sharia law.

Seeing Al-Qaeda’s rise in wealth and fortitude as a threat to their national security, Mali’s neighbours swiftly appealed to the international community for help. The response came in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 2085 permitting international intervention and “Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Mali.”

On 14 January 2013, following a request from the French Government, Canada committed one CC-177 transport aircraft, in a non-combat role, to transport equipment into the Malian capital of Bamako. Here, a Canadian Loadmaster and Traffic Technician load a French military fuel truck for delivery to Mali. (Photo: Sgt Matthew McGregor, CF Combat Camera)
Canada has been stepping up, in partnership with other Western and African allies to contribute equipment, skills and technology to help Mali persevere.
Canada committed one of its four CC-177 Globemaster transport planes in support of a French-led coalition mission in the West African country of Mali. Operation Serval is now in action.
The mandate of Canadian Air Task Force Mali specifically excludes combat and is limited to airlifting equipment and personnel. Since contracted for this mission two months ago, this C-17 and its 35-member crew have been working on a 24-hour work cycle. DND reports that, as of 15 March 2013, Air Task Force Mali had conducted 37 flights to deliver about 1,184,000 kilograms (2,605,000 pounds) of much-needed cargo.

During his first official visit, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault thanked the Canadian government for the loan of its transport plane and Canada’s ongoing support. “[France] considers Canada an ally that is always there in the most difficult ­circumstances,” he said in a written response to the Globe and Mail. “In the case of our intervention in Mali, we asked [Canada] for logistic support and the response was in line with our friendship.”

Canada’s contribution of the CC-177 has been extended indefinitely. “It will remain there as long as we feel there is a need,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper ­confirmed at a joint press conference with Ayrault. Harper remains firm that Canada is not willing to commit troops to a combat mission in Mali, although a Canadian contribution to a UN-led peacekeeping force has not been ruled out entirely.
“In terms of our longer term engagement, I think you know well we are not looking to have a combat, military mission there. We will certainly be providing development and humanitarian assistance. But the details of what our long-term engagement may be are still the subject of discussions we’re having among our ministerial colleagues, our caucus, and as well obviously we’re talking to the opposition parties about their preferences as well,” said Harper.
Canada has a pre-existing, decades-long relationship with Mali. Most recently, members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) travelled to Africa in 2011 to provide training to members of Mali’s special forces, as the country faced threats from Al-Qaeda insurgents.

Canada has approved an extra $13 million to the $70 million already being contributed to ongoing humanitarian and development assistance. Have we opened the door to ever-greater expectations? Will additional requests soon be forthcoming?
If a UN call to put boots on the ground goes out, how will we respond? Now is the time to be having those difficult policy discussions.

Bethan Nodwell is a military spouse with a passion for politics, international relations and the defense industry.
© FrontLine Defence 2013