OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay says a heavy-lift Canadian air force transport plane will continue to assist French forces in Mali for another month.
The commitment involving the C-17 Globemaster, which has been shuttling war material, vehicles and troops between France and the Malian capital of Bamako, was set to expire Friday.
MacKay confirmed the extension to March 15 outside of the House of Commons on Thursday following question period.
"We received a request a few days ago, but it was a request that came to us through military channels," MacKay said.
"We wanted to examine the specifics of what that would request would entail and how it would fit with ongoing operational requirements of the Canadian Forces."
MacKay offered no details on the status of the special forces contingent that was deployed to protect the Canadian embassy in Bamako, which had been scaled back.
It is the second extension for the Canadian support mission, which kicked off in early January after French forces intervened in the former west African colony where al-Qaida-linked militants had threatened to overrun the country.
In January, air force planners cleared the schedule of the C-17 transport, which is attached to 429 Squadron out of CFB Trenton, Ont., for up to three months to give the government flexibility in the unfolding situation.
French forces have made quick work of militant strongholds, pushing them out of many provincial towns in the northern part of Mali. But fears of an Afghanistan-style insurgency have taken hold as both Western and African troops have faced roadside bombs and ambushes in some areas that were thought cleared of guerrillas.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird acknowledged that threat in his testimony before a House of Commons committee earlier this week, saying Canada won't "get into another Afghanistan."
Public opinion polls suggests Canadians don't want to see the country get any more involved in the conflict than it already is.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last month that he would reach out to the Opposition parties to seek a "broad" national consensus Canada's next steps — a reflection of fears the war in Mali would be a drawn-out conflict.
The Commons foreign affairs committee has held a series of hearings, mostly fact-finding sessions.
Thursday's news of the C-17 extension caught Opposition members off guard.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said there's been virtually no dialogue, in spite of the government's promise to consult the House about the mission.
"What we need to know from the government is, what was the basis of this extension?" Dewar said.
"We need some details. Having a minister announce this as he's walking up the stairs isn't helpful. It's not open and it's not what the government said it would do on Mali."
The U.N. Security Council is still debating whether to deploy up to 6,000 peacekeepers in Mali to help stabilize the country.
The 15-member council has dragged its feet on approving a French request for blue-helmeted peacekeepers to patrol areas that it has cleared of militant fighters.
Officials at the UN have suggested in media reports out of New York that the council is close to a consensus.
Born out of the Algerian Salafist movement, GSPC, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) arrived on the public stage in January 2007. It rose to prominence partly by attacking Algerian government forces but mainly through its involvement in kidnapping Westerners across the Sahel zone including Mali, Niger and Mauritania. It has also links to trans-Sahara smuggling - a trade that includes drugs, guns and people - topping up the tens of millions of dollars raised from ransom-taking. In July 2012, the head of U.S. Africa Command described AQIM as al-Qaeda's "wealthiest affiliate". <em>Caption: In this May 17, 2010 file photo, a nomad from the Tuareg tribe of the Sahara Desert brings his herd for vaccination to a team of U.S. Special Forces in the Sahara Desert handing out aid near the town of Gao in northeastern Mali. (AP Photo/Alfred de Montesquiou, File)</em>
Its objectives include ridding North Africa of Western influence, overthrowing apostate "unbeliever" governments. Its leaders are Algerian militant Abdelmalek Droukdel and Salah Gasmi. Gasmi, the group's number two, was arrested in northern Algeria last month. It has traditionally operated in Mali through two wings, or katibas. France has advised its 6,000 citizens in Mali to leave as AQIM has in turn promised revenge for the French military intervention in Mali. <em>Caption: A still from a video shows Islamist fighters walking in the streets of Gao on June 27, 2012. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)</em>
Ansar Al Dine
Ansar Dine, which experts say has links to local al Qaeda factions, is a Tuareg-led Islamist group. Its name means "Defenders of the Faith" and it follows the puritanical form of Islam known as Salafism. Ansar Dine's leader, renegade Tuareg chieftain Iyad Ag Ghali, is linked to AQIM through a cousin who is a local commander and the group has received financing from AQIM, diplomats said. Ansar Dine and other Islamists gained the upper hand in Mali last year when they hijacked a rebellion launched by the secular MNLA Tuareg rebel group that fought for independence in 2012. <em>Caption: In this Aug. 31, 2012 file photo, fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamist group Ansar Dine stand guard in Timbuktu, Mali, as they prepare to publicly lash a member of the Islamic Police found guilty of adultery. (AP Photo/File)</em>
Ansar Al Dine
Ansar Dine's turbaned fighters, who operate under the black Islamist flag, initially gained a reputation in the north for keeping order after outbreaks of looting. However they started enforcing sharia, earning hostility from locals who have a long history of practising a more liberal, tolerant style of Islam. The group has said that Timbuktu's famed shrines are un-Islamic and idolatrous. Much of the area's religious heritage has now been destroyed. <em>Caption: In this April 24, 2012 file photo, fighters from Islamist group Ansar Dine stand guard during a hostage handover in the desert outside Timbuktu, Mali. (AP Photo/File)</em>
The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) is seen an AQIM splinter group that formed in late 2011. The faction retains links to AQIM but has focussed on broadening its base from the domination of AQIM's Algerian-dominated leadership. Its stronghold has been in Gao, the biggest town in Mali's north, and it has drawn recruits from a range of ethnic groups in Mali and elsewhere in the region. Last month the United States designated the group and Hamad Al Khairy and Ahmad Al Tilemsi, two of the organisation's leaders, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. MUJWA has also been behind attacks and hostage taking in the region. <em>Caption: A Malian soldier partrols in the streets of Kidal 26 May 2006. (KAMBOU SIA/AFP/Getty Images)</em>