'This is a risk' Freeland says of Canada sending air task force to UN mission in Mali
OTTAWA – The Canadian military will send peacekeeping troops and an aviation task force to Mali for a year-long mission, the federal government announced Monday, but it won’t come without risk, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
"This is a risk, our Canadian women and men in uniform are extremely brave, Freeland said in an interview with CTV Power Play host Don Martin.
"You can’t take all the risk out of it, and if a country is completely safe then it doesn’t require UN peacekeeping operations," she said, while pledging that the government will do all they can to make the mission “as effective and as safe as it possibly can be.”
According to the United Nations, there have been 162 multinational peacekeeper fatalities since the mission began in 2013.
Canada is deploying two Chinook helicopters to provide transport and logistics, and four Griffon helicopters to offer escort and protection services, Freeland announced Monday, accompanied by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance.
"It is intended to support the mission as a whole, in the transport of people, equipment, as well as to support air-medical evacuation of any casualties and wounded," Vance said Monday.
Other specific details, including the number of troops that will be deployed, and when the 12-month commitment will begin, are yet to be announced.
"The task force will be accompanied by a number of Canadian Armed Forces personnel for support," the government release reads.
During the announcement, Freeland said one of the government’s key priorities will be to increase the number of female peacekeepers and that will be reflected in this deployment to the troubled West African country.
On Power Play Freeland said Canada chose Mali because it fit what the UN needed with what Canada, a relatively small player when it comes to UN peacekeeping, can offer.
"There are very few countries that have the advanced technical capabilities that Canada has, particularly in the air. So our helicopters are a particular contribution that Canada is one of the few countries that can make, and Mali is the peacekeeping operation that needs them, so that’s how this came together," she said.
In the interview, Freeland said that while Canada’s six helicopters won’t solve all of the problems in Mali, she anticipates the contribution will make a “very significant difference.”
The government says it will soon register its pledge with the UN and the Canadian Armed Forces will begin planning.
Retired lieutenant-general and senator Romeo Dallaire called the government’s announcement “wise,” considering how long it’s been since Canada has been a real player in international peacekeeping.
"I think it’s a first-class decision to get our feet wet back in Africa, in peacekeeping, and in a role that will give us an opportunity to learn and to come in with a high-technology requirement that is a force-multiplier for those 13,000 troops on the ground," Dallaire said on CTV’s Power Play, referencing the helicopter commitment.
"It gives us the experience of how we can sustain forces in the field in a complex area like that," he said.
In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s UN peacekeeping commitment—focused on training, increasing female participation, providing air support, and a 200-person quick reaction force on top of a previous pledge of 600 soldiers and 150 police officers— during a conference in Vancouver, B.C.
Opposition call for debate, more detail
Conservative defence critic James Bezan slammed the government’s announcement of sending Canadian forces to what he called the “most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world.”
Responding to the government's announcement, he said the ministers "failed to clearly articulate" how the mission is in Canada’s national interest and questioned the government's motivation.
Bezan accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of using this mission and Canadian troops as "political pawns" in what he called a "selfish political ambition" – namely scoring Canada a seat on the UN Security Council.
"We fear that Mali could become another Rwanda, or a Somalia," Bezan said. "Let’s be clear, Mali is a war zone… and there is no peace to keep."
The Conservatives are calling for a debate and vote on the mission.
During question period, Trudeau referenced his initial election campaign commitment to reengage in UN peacekeeping and said the government will "continue to work with the members opposite to determine the best way to move forward" with a debate on the mission in the House of Commons.
NDP defence critic Randall Garrison told reporters Monday afternoon that while he welcomes a renewed peacekeeping commitment, what was announced Monday leaves many unanswered questions, including how the deployment will be funded and resourced.
"We know that the Canadian forces stand ready to do their difficult and dangerous work for us around the world, providing that they are properly equipped, trained, and supported when they get home," he said.