But Prime Minister Stephen Harper insists no Canadian Forces personnel will be involved in any combat action in the landlocked West African country. And he says the transport plane commitment will be short.
An al-Qaida-linked group has seized the northern part of Mali and is advancing south.
The Canadian plane will be used to transport equipment and supplies into the Malian capital of Bamako, which is not in the combat zone.
France, which began air strikes last week against insurgents in the north, has ordered the immediate evacuation of all French nationals living in the Malian town of Segou.
"There is a serious situation in northern Mali, where there is a large territory now occupied by essentially terrorist entities, who are looking at expanding their influence throughout Africa," Harper said at a Montreal news conference.
"This is a serious enough matter that it has been the subject of a United Nations Security Council resolution supported by all permanent members demanding that there be some kind of international action.
"Our allies, the French, have decided to take the lead on that and have requested specifically from a number of allies, including Canada, very limited and defined support in the form of heavy lift logistical support."
The C-17 has been committed for only a week.
"We will obviously after a few days analyze how that is going and talk with our allies but, this is intended to be of a short duration," the prime minister said.
The real solution must rely on African-led participation, but in the meantime, Canada will lend a hand to the French, he said.
"We think that is an appropriate role for Canada, given our relative capacities and interests."
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