Canada plans to deploy troops and helicopters to support the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, the government said Monday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan announced the deployment of two Chinook transport helicopters, four armed Griffon helicopters and accompanying troops.
"The deployment will come with a number of troops of the Canadian Armed Forces who will facilitate medical evacuations for troops on the ground and provide logistical support for that mission," Sajjan said.
The announcement confirms Canadian media reports on the deployment and comes after nearly three years of deliberations since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to increase Canada's contribution to UN peacekeeping missions.
Officials did not say how many troops would be deployed or when the 12-month mission would begin. In 2015, Trudeau said some 600 troops could be deployed to Mali.
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Germany welcomes deployment
Canada has been under pressure from allies, including the Netherlands and Germany, to contribute the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The Canadian contingent is expected to replace German transport and combat helicopters, which Berlin plans to bring back home this summer.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the Canadian announcement.
"The Canadian decision is good news for this important UN peacekeeping mission, but so also for our Bundeswehr soldiers stationed in Mali," von der Leyen told Tagesschau.
Although deploying helicopters is considered less risky than sending troops on the ground, it is not without risks. Last August, two German pilots were killed when their Tiger helicopter crashed in Mali's northern desert.
"We are very aware of the complexities and the difficulties of the situation in Mali. Indeed, it is the complexity and the difficulty of the situation there which requires a UN peacekeeping force," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland said.
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UN's most dangerous mission
Mali is the UN's most dangerous peacekeeping mission. More than 150 UN peacekeepers have been killed there since they first deployed in 2013.
There are about 12,000 UN peacekeepers in the country, as well as 1,700 UN police officers. Germany has approved up to 1,100 soldiers to deploy to the mission.
Mali descended into a spiral of instability in 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and other groups took advantage of a power vacuum left by a military coup in the capital, Bamako, to take over northern Mali in a bid for independence.
But the rebellion for Tuareg autonomy was quickly hijacked by Islamist militants, including al-Qaida aligned groups.
Events in Mali prompted France to militarily intervene in its former colony in January 2013. French forces were able to largely push back the extremist insurgency, but jihadis continue to use sparse terrain to launch attacks.
The UN deployed a peacekeeping mission in July 2013 to replace the French mission. It now oversees a June 2015 peace accord signed between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels and other northern rebel factions, but excludes al-Qaida linked groups. Implementation of the peace agreement is fragile.
The importance of Mali and the larger Sahel region have increased for Europe in recent years as criminal trafficking networks have helped bring tens of thousands of African migrants to Libya, using it as a springboard to reach Europe.
cw/rs (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)