More help for Mali mis­sion

Fort McMurray Today - - NATIONAL NEWS - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral gov­ern­ment plans to deepen Canada’s in­volve­ment in Mali by send­ing up to 20 po­lice of­fi­cers and in­vest­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in the com­ing years to help train lo­cal se­cu­rity forces in the des­ti­tute West African na­tion.

The lat­est ini­tia­tives were re­vealed Thurs­day, as the first Cana­dian Forces he­li­copter and an­other group of mil­i­tary per­son­nel headed across the Atlantic to take up their roles in what has come to be known as the world’s most danger­ous peace­keep­ing mis­sion.

Canada has al­ready com­mit­ted a to­tal of eight he­li­copters and 250 ser­vice mem­bers for the next 12 months to pro­vide med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions and other sup­port to the UN in Mali, which has been riven by con­flict and in­sta­bil­ity since 2012.

The Cana­di­ans are ex­pected to of­fi­cially take over from the cur­rent Ger­man and Bel­gian he­li­copter con­tin­gent next week; as of Aug. 1, they will be­gin fly­ing mis­sions from a dusty UN base in the north­ern city of Gao.

But se­nior of­fi­cials who briefed re­porters Thurs­day on con­di­tion of anonymity said the gov­ern­ment is also in talks with the UN and Euro­pean Union about send­ing Cana­dian po­lice of­fi­cers, who will train Malian coun­ter­parts to bet­ter pro­vide law and order to the coun­try.

One of the main com­plaints about the Malian se­cu­rity forces is that they are un­der­strength and stretched thin, mean­ing they have been hard­pressed to ex­tend their reach into much of the coun­try — es­pe­cially those ar­eas where fight­ing over smug­gling routes is preva­lent.

The RCMP, along with of­fi­cials from Pub­lic Safety Canada, Global Af­fairs Canada and the Surete du Que­bec, vis­ited Mali last month to take a closer look at the work that is un­der­way and how Canada can con­trib­ute.

The gov­ern­ment is now wait­ing for the UN and EU to lay out the num­ber and type of of­fi­cers that they want Canada to send, said one of­fi­cial, adding: “Ob­vi­ously, and very im­por­tantly, we need to also de­ter­mine the level of risk that we’re will­ing to un­der­take.

“The pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity is al­ways to en­sure the duty of care of our Cana­dian po­lice of­fi­cers who we de­ploy to peace op­er­a­tions, so we’ll need to come to ground on where we stand there.”

At the same time, a sec­ond of­fi­cial said Canada has con­trib­uted about $40 mil­lion since 2010 to­ward counter-ter­ror­ism train­ing in Mali, which has seen Is­lamic ex­trem­ist groups stoke in­ter­nal ten­sions in the coun­try and tar­get lo­cal and UN forces for at­tacks.

Those in­vest­ments are set to con­tinue, with about $10 mil­lion per year ear­marked for more such train­ing, the sec­ond of­fi­cial said, “and we an­tic­i­pate go­ing for­ward that, of course, Mali will be a ben­e­fi­ciary of a good pro­por­tion of that fund­ing.”

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