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Despite fears of 'mission creep,' Canada to deepen role in Mali

Minister of Defence Peter MacKay shakes hands with Canadian forces members of Squadron 429 at CFB Trenton, on Tuesday Jan. 15, 2013. Canada is sending the C-17 Globemaster to help France with the conflict in Mali.

Lars Hagberg/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Canadian government will extend the tour of the heavy-lift transport plane shuttling equipment from France to Mali for a military mission.

Initially, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered the massive C-17 plane for a one-week mission. But France has asked Canada and other nations to provide more air-transport help, including assistance to carry a West African force of 3,300 into Mali.

Now Mr. Harper's government is set to approve an extension, to be announced later this week.

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French troops intervened Jan. 10 to stop the advance of Islamist fighters linked to al-Qaeda who took over Mali's north in April and who had started to seize government-controlled towns farther south. The advances had raised fears that Mali would fall to jihadists intent on controlling a broad swath of North Africa. Now France insists the country must be stabilized to thwart a threat to the region, and the world.

Mr. Harper's government has sought to set limits on its contribution to the Mali operations, fearing so-called "mission creep" that will drag Canada into a deeper role. It has ruled out so-called boots on the ground involved in combat in Mali. But Mr. Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird also have stressed that the Canadian government wants to see African leadership in the mission.

It's not yet clear how long the C-17 extension will last, or whether Ottawa will meet France's request for more planes in addition to the C-17.

President François Hollande made a general request for additional help when he personally asked Mr. Harper to extend the tour of the C-17 during a phone call on Wednesday.

France's Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said in a radio interview Sunday that Canada has offered to transport West African troops into Mali.

The Harper government on Monday refused to confirm or to comment on the extension.

Mr. Fabius also said European countries will help transport African troops. "There is transportation that will be partly by the Africans themselves, partly by the Europeans and partly by the Canadians … and the Russians have proposed to provide means of transport for the French, so it's fairly diverse," Mr. Fabius said.

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French officials said Sunday about 400 African troops had arrived, but the lion's share are still preparing to to be deployed in coming weeks. West African nations in the ECOWAS bloc have pledged a force of 3,300. Chad, a Central African nation that houses a French military base, has offered 2,000 troops.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has also ruled out a combat role, indicated Monday that he is preparing to send more transport and surveillance help for Mali. His government has so far provided two C-17s, offered intelligence support and said it will send military trainers as part of a European training mission.

But in addition to requests from France for more air transport, Mr. Harper's government is being pressed by West African nations to beef up its support for their Mali mission.

N'Goran Kouamé, the ambassador to Canada from Ivory Coast, which chairs the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, said that while African nations are preparing to send troops – his country will send a battalion – they will need logistical support and backing from Western nations such as Canada.

"We need logistical support for these troops, or we're sending them to the slaughterhouse."

In Ottawa, the Ivorien ambassador made clear that West African nations are including Canada in that call for assistance.

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"We'd like a greater involvement from Canada in this crisis, because it's not a Malian crisis, nor an African one, nor a French one. It's an international crisis," Mr. Kouamé said. "Military, logistical support, humanitarian, financial – it's all of that."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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