Mali Update

KEN POLE  –  Feb 2, 2019

An announcement confirming that Canadian Armed Forces helicopters and support personnel deployed with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) will be replaced by Romanians in July 2019  was made by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her Romanian counterpart, Teodor-Viorel Meleșcanu, in a brief news release issued by Global Affairs Canada.

This decision has resulted from “a productive meeting” between the two ministers back in December while attending a NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

“United Nations peace operations provide critical support to countries in crisis, advance political solutions for reconciliation and social cohesion and set conditions for durable and inclusive peace,” the news release stated. “Through their support to MINUSMA and other contributions in Mali and the Sahel, Canada and Romania stand shoulder to shoulder with the Malian people in their quest for lasting peace and sustainable development.”

Romania’s commitment was described as “an example of the continuing close cooperation among NATO allies to deliver critical capabilities to the UN, in line with the ‘smart-pledging’ approach, which ensures countries’ contributions match real needs on the ground.” Smart-pledging is defined by the UN as partnership commitments of high-value capabilities by two or more UN members to address specific needs.

Canada committed last March to a one-year air task force deployment, Operation Presence, which began last August using Boeing CH-147 Chinook transports escorted by armed Bell CH- 146 Griffons. Canada provides medical evacuation, logistics and transport from a base at Gao in northern Mali.

The Canadian mission is due to end on 31 July 2019 despite pressure within the UN for an extension. Nearly 60 countries are contributing military and police resources to MINUSMA, the largest contributors being Burkina Faso, Chad, Bangladesh, Senegal, Togo, Guinea and Niger.

Outside the House of Commons shortly after the Romanian commitment was announced, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan noted that he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had visited the CAF base just before Christmas.

“Before that I was actually in Romania and talking to my counterpart regarding their plans for it,” he told reporters. “We’re actually doing some cooperative work to making sure they get set up. This is what we were looking at in terms of not just bringing high level capabilities but a smart pledge concept as well. Other nations have had this type of capability to start stepping up, and I’m very proud that Romania has come on board.

Reiterating the July 31 pullout date, he said “we’re passing our lessons on to other nations on what we learned, just like the Germans had passed on the lessons to us. We have brought in some new ideas that is making the mission even more effective, so we look forward to the cooperation and to be able to work together.”

However, he demurred when asked what Canada’s next “smart pledge” might be, explaining that Canada has been working with the UN to identify “various challenges” ever since the deployment to Mali began. “We have the unique training concept, also the quick reaction force,” he said. “Let’s not forget, this is about making sure that we put in a capability to a mission where it’s actually needed rather than us just volunteering. […] That’s how we’re going to make the UN better.”