Canada plays taxi for French troops

Credits: JEROME LESSARD/The Intelligencer/QMI Agency


OTTAWA — After a rocky start, a one-week Canadian mission to carry French troops and military equipment to Mali to fight Islamist forces is underway.

Even though the short-term mission is supposed to stay far from any battles, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says there's still danger.

"You're right to suggest that when a conflict is underway that it is not always predictable, but there is no intention here to be within the conflict zone," MacKay said at CFB Trenton Tuesday.

The mission was delayed by about four hours when the original C-17 transport plane set to leave for France had a mechanical breakdown.

That left the bulging, grey behemoth grounded and forced its 35 crew members to transfer to another plane.

A British C-17 bound for France had similar problems Tuesday, according to the BBC.

France already has 750 soldiers in Mali, but wants to increase that number to 2,500 while it continues air strikes against Islamists who impose Sharia law and threaten to over-run the former French colony, sending Christians fleeing.

West African countries are also scrambling to prepare 3,300 regional troops as part of the UN-mandated plan to hit back against Islamist forces.

On the diplomatic side, Canada is pushing Mali to return to democracy and allow free, fair elections.

"The coup in March 2012 undermined Mali's progress as a democracy and provided Islamist extremists with a window that has had devastating consequences," said Rick Roth, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

- with files from Jerome Lessard, Jessica Murphy, Reuters

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