Canadian C-17 departs for Mali after brief technical glitch
Published Tuesday, January 15, 2013 8:42AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 15, 2013 5:56PM EST
A Canadian military transport plane has departed from CFB-Trenton en route to Mali by way of France – albeit slightly later than expected due to technical problems just before take-off.
The Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 Globemaster was supposed to depart Tuesday morning for France, where it will touch down and collect a load of equipment and personnel scheduled to be shuttled to the landlocked West African country.
But the plane's departure was put on hold due to generator and electrical problems, and a second plane had to be assigned to the mission.
Instead, the plane took off for France early Tuesday afternoon, and will then continue on to the Malian capital of Bamako, which is located about 400 kilometres from where African and French troops are battling Islamist militants.The mission is part of "logistical" support Canada is providing to help French troops.
Earlier Tuesday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay held a news conference on the tarmac at CFB-Trenton, with the Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 sitting on the runway behind him.
He reiterated comments made Monday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying Canada would provide heavy-lift assistance to bring equipment to Mali for a period of one week, but Canadian military personnel were not expected to take part in any combat operations.
"This aircraft and the Canadian Forces who will be taking this aircraft to France are doing so to assist the French with personnel and equipment moves necessary to support Mali and this is a logistics operation intended to support French operations," MacKay said.
He added: "When a conflict is underway it is not always predictable, but there is no intention here to be within the conflict zone and the Canadian Forces, as in all cases, realize the liability they take on."
So far, Canada has committed to help for just one week, with 35 Canadian Forces members involved in the effort. MacKay said the U.K. has made a similar commitment to help, and the U.S. has indicated it is contemplating taking on a role as well.
But former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy said Canada needs a comprehensive policy to deal with issues of civil war and conflict in Africa, which he called an area of “increasing importance.”
“One plane will not a mission make,” Axworthy said, noting that Mali faces challenging issues including hundreds of thousands of displaced people, child soldiers and starvation.
“Putting instability in order is going to take a major commitment. We have to be ready for it and I think we have to explain to the Canadian people why.”
Axworthy said that the conflict in Mali has been mounting for a number of months and that the international community should have been prepared for it. He said that Canada could offer peace-building initiatives to Mali, similar to what has been offered in Afghanistan.
“We can’t simply do it by reacting or being responsive only on a spot basis. You really have to think through carefully and have the right criteria to determine what action you’re going to take,” he said.
He noted that Mali was once one of the “poster boys” for African democracy, and Canada committed an aid package worth $100 million to the country.
Al Qaeda-linked military extremists have been battling with government forces in Mali since a coup last March, and now control much of the country's north, including the garrison town of Diabaly which was taken Monday despite intense bombardment by French special forces.
In addition to providing a support role to the French mission, Ottawa also weighed in on the diplomatic front Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told Canada's ambassador to Mali, Louis de Lormier, to formally tell Mali's military rulers to continue to focus on restoring democracy to the nation.
The current leadership took control of Mali's government in a March 2012 coup, and Baird said the instability caused by the leadership vacuum allowed the al Qaeda-affiliated rebels to take control in the country's north.
Canada has urged the military rulers to hold free and fair democratic elections as soon as possible to restore democracy and the faith of the international community.