01/31/2013 01:14 EST | Updated 04/02/2013 05:12 EDT

Mali Intervention: Canada's Bill At $18.6 million, Top Soldier Says

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A Malian soldier asks journalists to leave a destroyed area on January 26, 2013 in the key central town of Konna controled by French and Malian army since last week after being taken last January 11 by Islamist groups. French and Malian troops pushed north towards the key Islamist strongholds in northern Mali today, as west African defence chiefs gathered in Ivory Coast to review plans to deploy a regional intervention force. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

OTTAWA - The total cost of providing a transport plane to aid international efforts in Mali is an estimated $18.6 million, says one of Canada's top soldiers.

Of that cost, $11.7 million is directly related to the mission itself and the remainder is the regular cost of keeping the C-17 Globemaster ready to go, Maj.-Gen. Jonathan Vance told a House of Commons committee Thursday.

Canada had initially agreed to provide the massive transport plane for one week to assist the French government in transporting soldiers and supplies to the West African country.

The French military launched an intervention there Jan. 11 to oust Islamists from power in the north of the country and to stop their march south.

Canada later agreed to extend the contribution of the transport plane until the middle of February.

Since then, the French have been successful in pushing back the rebels and the United Nations is now considering a peacekeeping force to keep the peace in the north.

The total cost of the Canadian contribution mission won't be known until 60 days after it's over, Vance said.

Since the first flight on Jan. 17, the plane has flown 13 missions and moved more than 350,000 kilograms of cargo.

"The success enjoyed by the Canadian armed forces in support of this mission has been underpinned by the efforts of our members who are working closely with their French counterparts to ensure seamless support continues through out current commitment," Vance said.

The contribution of the C-17 came after repeated requests from African and European leaders for Canada to play a role in international efforts to thwart the attempted takeover of the country by a loosely connected group of Islamist forces.

That followed a military coup in March 2012, which saw Canada suspend what had been about $100 million in aid a year to the country.

France's military success will see development programs restart, Canadian International Development Agency officials told the committee.

Earlier this week, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino also announced $13 million in further emergency aid.

But the problem in Mali is far bigger than just the country itself, said Kerry Buck, an assistant deputy minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

She told the committee that a swath of Africa has increasingly become a haven for terrorists in recent years as ethnic and religious groups move across the Sahel region.

"The rise of terrorist groups that have been increasingly emboldened is alarming to the whole international community," Buck said.

Many experts have suggested that Islamic militants were able to take advantage of the lawlessness in Libya following the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in order to secure arms and cash.

Canada had contributed $10 million to disarmament efforts in Libya in part to stop the disbursement of small arms.

But Buck said it goes back further than the international military intervention there.

"Those arms and money have been coming out of Libya for awhile and from other sources starting to fuel the Islamist extremist groups," she said.

"So as a terrorist haven, the Sahel has caused concern to the international community for awhile."

Given the mission's complexity, isn't there a risk that Canada is being drawn into a prolonged conflict, said Liberal MP John MacKay.

He noted Canada seems to have several goals in its work in the country, including supporting the French, helping the Malian government, delivering humanitarian aid and working on training efforts.

"My concern here is that by having this broader approach you actually may miss what for some would argue is the most significant goal which is the containment of the Islamist threat," he asked.

Vance said it is important for the global community to look beyond that.

"There is a tendency sometimes to see military kinetic action as being the silver bullet on the Islamist threat; in fact, kinetic action does not address root causes," he said.

"An appropriate balance between hard military and all of the things that have been mentioned here is what actually stops the Islamist threat."

The prime minister has insisted that Canada will play no combat role in Mali.

In additional to the 40 personnel working with the C-17 Globemaster, there are special forces in the country at the request of Foreign Affairs to guard the embassy.

Vance would not elaborate on their role but similar work was done following the Libyan intervention.

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