OTTAWA — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will travel to Mali and Senegal later this week as the Liberal government considers where to send hundreds of Canadian peacekeepers.
The stop in Mali is noteworthy as the West African country has long been seen as among the top candidates for a Canadian mission.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is shown in Brussels on Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP via CP)
The United Nations established an operation there called MINUSMA in April 2013 after French and African Union forces pushed back rebel and Islamic militant forces that had taken control in the north of the country.
The current UN force numbers about 13,000 troops and 2,000 police and while it includes contributions from Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, most of the contingents are from countries in Africa and South Asia.
The mission is extremely complex and includes everything from training local forces to protecting civilians, to counter-insurgency operations.
100 blue helmets killed this year
It is also extremely dangerous: More than 100 blue helmets have been killed in Mali over the past four years, including 32 this year.
Sajjan's office says his four-day, two-country tour is simply intended to collect information and should not be seen an indication Canada is about to join the Mali mission.
The defence minister previously visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is also home to a large UN peacekeeping mission, as part of a five-country tour in August.
But there's no denying Mali has become a popular destination for Canadian officials in recent months.
International development minister also visited Mali
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau visited there during a three-country tour of West Africa at the beginning of September.
The government sent a reconnaissance team of officials from National Defence, Global Affairs and the RCMP to take a closer look at the UN mission around the same time.
The UN has also made no secret of its desire to see Canadian troops in Mali, as the peacekeeping mission desperately needs the type of advanced skills and equipment that Canada can deploy.
That includes helicopters and intelligence personnel. The Canadian military's francophone skills are also considered assets in a French-speaking country such as Mali.
'We need to go into this eyes wide open'
The government has previously said a decision on Canada's next peacekeeping mission will be announced by the end of the year, though Sajjan appeared to back off that timeline on Tuesday.
"We need to go into this eyes wide open," he said.
"So based on that, I have not set a deadline as I want to make sure that we do all the necessary work, so that we can have the meaningful impact."