Special forces on ground in Mali
OTTAWA—Canada’s special forces are on the ground in Mali to help protect Canadian personnel who already are operating in the troubled African country, say sources within the Department of National Defence.
Few other details were immediately available, although the Department of Foreign Affairs went to lengths to spell out that the presence of special forces’ soldiers does not signal an involvement in combat.
“Steps have been taken to ensure our mission and Canadian personnel are protected,” he noted.
“We cannot comment on security specifics.”
Canadian Forces crews have been piloting and supporting Canada’s C-17 heavy-lift transport as it moves military equipment in support of French troops.
That mission, which originally was only supposed to last a week, now is scheduled to continue until Feb. 15.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday that any further role for Canada would require consultation with parliamentarians.
“We are providing technical assistance to French and other military forces who are there,” Harper told the House of Commons in response to a question from NDP leader Tom Mulcair.
“We have committed heavy-lift aircraft to that engagement, which is being done under a United Nations’ mandate.
“Of course, through this chamber and through committees, we will be consulting with parliamentarians on any further steps that need to be taken,” he added.
There had been speculation the government would provide a smaller, C-130J Hercules transport to carry African troops into Mali, where forces are fighting to retake the northern half of the country from al-Qaida-linked militants.
The French had asked Canada to take on that role but a number of other nations, including the United States and Britain, have kicked in air transports.
Harper repeatedly has ruled out “direct” Canadian military involvement in the campaign, which began Jan. 10 with the arrival of as many as 2,500 French troops to defend Bamako, the capital.
However, Harper has consulted opposition parties in order to build a political consensus about whether there should be further support and how that might play out.
Baird, meanwhile, has sought to reassure allies that Canada appreciates fully the danger posed by having a branch of al-Qaida occupying territory and training jihadists in North Africa.