OTTAWA – Canada will be dispatching an aviation task force to the troubled West African nation of Mali as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, a senior government official said Friday.
The government source said the task force will be in Mali for up to 12 months and an official announcement on the deployment will be made Monday.
It will be Canada’s first peacekeeping mission in Africa since the early 1990s when troops were sent to Rwanda and Somalia.
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted soldiers to overthrow the country’s president. The power vacuum that was created led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013.
However, insurgents remain active and the UN has seen its multinational peacekeeping force in the region suffer more than 150 fatalities since its mission began in 2013.
In terms of troop numbers, Canada is currently at a historic low for participation in peacekeeping missions. Canada had a total of 43 peacekeepers deployed around the world at the end of December, the most recent UN numbers indicate, down from 62 in November.
The decline, largely the result of a reduction in the number of Canadian police officers deployed to Haiti, means Canada has fewer peacekeepers in the field than at any point since the 1950s.
The deployment to Mali will help fulfil a pledge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made in November during a peacekeeping summit in Vancouver.
The prime minister unveiled a package of measures, which include offering up to six helicopters and two transport aircraft, plus their associated pilots and support personnel, as well as a 200-strong quick reaction force to the UN.
Trudeau also pledged $21 million to help double the number of women deployed on peacekeeping operations around the world, which he emphasized as critical to bringing peace and stability to conflict-ridden areas.