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Politics Canadian commitment to Mali coincides with major review of UN peacekeeping mission

Canada’s decision to send military helicopters to Mali has coincided with a major UN review of the peacekeeping mission there to determine whether it is on the right track or needs to change to better support peace and stability in the country.

The Department of National Defence says it is aware of the review and will track the results, which are expected in the coming weeks, but that it is too soon to say whether there will be any impact on Canada’s role in Mali.

The review began in January and is part of a broader attempt by the UN to improve peacekeeping following questions about such missions by President Donald Trump and others.

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The Mali mission isn’t the first to be put under the microscope over the last year; the UN also commissioned reviews of its missions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, though neither resulted in significant changes.

But the Mali mission is already different from others after the UN Security Council authorized it last December to provide medical evacuations and logistical support to a multinational, counter-terrorism force operating in the country.

There has also been a sense that the mission needs to shift its focus from northern Mali to the centre of the country, where Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida have stepped up their attacks in recent months.

A change on either front could affect the types of operations that the Canadian military is asked to conduct with its two transport helicopters and four armed escorts.

Asked about the review on Thursday, Defence Department spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said planning for the mission in Mali had only started and negotiations with the UN have yet to begin.

“While we will monitor the outcome of the review closely,” Lemire added, “it is premature to discuss how this review will affect Canada’s contribution to the mission.”

The review is being conducted by a team led by former Swedish ambassador Lena Sundh and has been charged with looking at all aspects of the peacekeeping and reporting its recommendations to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

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It is expected to address such fundamental questions as why the mission exists, whether troops are operating in the right areas and, ultimately, whether it is set up to help bring peace and stability to Mali.

“Obviously, one of the things that the review is looking into is what (the mission) can achieve in the environment in which it’s deployed,” said one UN official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

At the time the review started, the head of peacekeeping operations, UN undersecretary-general Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said there was a “race against time” to keep the security situation in Mali from getting worse.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadian troops involved in a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali will be well equipped and receive all necessary training. Trudeau defended his choice of mission in the House of Commons on Monday. The Canadian Press
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