The Canadian military will deploy helicopters and support troops, including medical teams, to the troubled West African nation of Mali later this year, CBC News has learned.
A senior government official, speaking on background, said a formal announcement will be made Monday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The deployment is in response to a direct request from the United Nations.
Details on how many choppers and personnel will be involved are still being worked out, but the official said the UN has been served with formal notice of Canada’s participation.
The helicopters presumably would replace a German contingent which has four aircraft flying transport and medical evacuation missions in Mali.
When the deployment takes place, it will be the first major step the Liberal government has taken to fulfil its promise to return the Canadian military to peacekeeping.
Last fall, at a Vancouver ministerial summit, Trudeau reaffirmed an early pledge to deliver up to 600 troops and 150 police to UN peace support operations.
He laid out a roadmap that included a five-year commitment of helicopters, transport planes, military trainers and a 200-strong rapid reaction force.
The elements were to be deployed piecemeal as the UN requested them.
A troubled history
That in itself was a major departure from past policy, which saw Canada send hundreds, even thousands, of troops overseas on peacekeeping operations.
The deployment, which will take place later this year, also marks a return to Africa by the Canadian military, which — in Trudeau’s words — has “had a troubled history” of peace missions on the continent.
He was referring to both the Somalia and Rwanda missions of the early 1990s, which ended in scandal and tragedy.
The UN has repeatedly asked Canada for help in Mali, which holds the distinction of being the deadliest peace support operation on the books.
As of the end of February, 162 peacekeepers had been killed in Mali since the mission was established in 2013.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN’s under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, recently warned the Security Council that the human rights and humanitarian situation in Mali, which is plagued by an insurgency and Islamic extremists, is getting worse.
The new Canadian deployment comes as the UN plans a restructuring of the mission.
The senior official said that the Liberal government has secured a commitment that Canadian aircrew and troops will be rotated out after 12 months.
That’s significant, because one of the major concerns of the government and the Canadian military has been that the UN has lacked a defined rotational system for troops.
Countries deployed on peacekeeping missions sometimes get stuck in place because no other country wants to come in and relieve them.