The federal government is prolonging the mission of a Royal Canadian Air Force cargo plane to fly equipment and supplies into Mali's capital to support French forces as they battle al-Qaeda extremists.

The extension of flights from one week to one month was ordered after a request from the French president and defence minister, said Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

"It was a very specific request that we extend the use of the C-17, the heavy lift transport which is making flights basically from France to the Malian capital of Bamako," MacKay told CTV's Power Play on Thursday.

"They're making regular daily flights, bringing equipment, personnel. I think what you can anticipate is that will be the route that will continue," he said.

Just under 40 Canadian Forces personnel are assisting with the project.

The French have received logistical help from Britain, Germany, Denmark and the U.S., noted MacKay. Meanwhile, 2,300 French and 1,500 African Union troops are battling to regain control of northeastern Mali from three al-Qeida-linked extremist groups that have controlled the vast region of the African country for months.

"We know that this is a difficult task that the French have undertaken," said MacKay.

"This is a determined insurgency. Al-Qaeda is like cancer. They will spread if not cut out. And so, Canada continues to do its part."

The C-17 Globemaster will continue its flights until Feb. 15 but no other Canadian aircraft or military support will be involved.

MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper insist Canada will not be dragged into a combat mission.

France began an air and land campaign two weeks ago to save Mali's embattled interim government from Islamic insurgents. Its fighter jets have pounded rebel training camps, arms depots and bases.

Now Mali's government is under fire over allegations its soldiers have carried out summary executions as they battle radical Islamists.

There's a growing humanitarian crisis in Mali, noted MacKay.

"The numbers (are) up around 400,000 people displaced and allegations of human rights abuses. These are very difficult and concerning times," he said.

Canada suspended aid programs involving direct payments to the government of Mali after a coup in March 2012. The flow of aid has resumed, but it is directed through international agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is seeking to reassure its allies that Canada recognizes the danger of al Qaeda occupying territory and training jihadists in North Africa.

"Canada is a committed partner in combating terrorism in all forms," Baird said. "We recognize the many challenges Mali and its neighbours are facing at the moment, and we are prepared to do our part for the people of the Sahel."

With files from The Canadian Press and Associated Press