OTTAWA – Canada’s C-17 heavy-lift military transport plane touched down on Malian soil for the first time Thursday carrying a French military armoured vehicle among other equipment.
The aircraft departed Le Tube, France, and landed in Bamako, Mali’s capital, arriving at 10 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET).
Jay Paxton, spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said the aircraft also carried 900 kilograms of batteries.
The C-17 airlift is part of an international effort to equip French and African forces for an assault on the al-Qaida-linked militants that occupy Mali’s north.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered France the plane for one week, but French President Francois Hollande has asked him to consider extending the mission.
The Harper government hasn’t made any decisions on an extension.
Harper has made clear that Canada will not send combat troops to join the French and African forces currently on the ground.
Canada is dispatching troops, including special forces, and helicopters to Mali’s western neighbour, Mauritania, to take part in a regularly scheduled U.S.-led military training exercise called Flintlock 13.
However, Paxton dismissed any suggestion that those military assets could be diverted to the international efforts in Mali.
“Flintlock is completely separate from Mali,” Paxton said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said if Canada’s military contribution increases, the matter should be brought before the House of Commons for debate.
“Certainly this is a decision to be made by the Parliament of Canada,” Mulcair said Thursday.
“It will really depend the situation at the time we discuss this, and the situation on the ground. As you know it’s constantly evolving.”
France increased its troop numbers to 1,400 from 800, and it may rise as high as 2,500.
France’s ambassador to Canada, Philippe Zeller, has told The Canadian Press that his country is grateful for the contribution of the C-17 and doesn’t for see any need for Canada to send troops.
But he did say France is expecting Canada and the rest of the international community to offer financial support of the military operations going forward.
European Union foreign ministers Thursday approved a military training mission to Mali, and ordered it to be sped up to mid-February.
The EU also called on Mali’s current military rulers, which took control of the country in a coup last March, to begin democratic reforms.
“Political progress is essential in order to ensure Mali’s long-term stability. To that end, the EU urges the Malian authorities to adopt and implement a roadmap for the restoration of democracy and constitutional order in Mali as soon as possible,” the EU said in a statement.
“It encourages a national inclusive dialogue open to the northern populations and to all groups which reject terrorism and recognize the country’s territorial integrity.”
Canada dispatched its ambassador to Mali earlier this week to deliver that same message.