Canadian Army supports Mali mission by land, air
By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs
Mali, West Africa — Canada’s contribution to United Nations (UN) peace support operations in the West African nation of Mali will mainly involve air power, but the Canadian Army (CA) is playing a vital role in supporting the mission.
Operation PRESENCE-Mali includes an Air Task Force consisting of two CH-147F Chinook and four CH-146 Griffon helicopters. The Task Force will provide transport and logistics capability and will include a Forward Aeromedical Evacuation capability which will include a number of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel, who will support medical evacuations for UN forces on the ground.
Getting all the required vehicles, equipment and personnel in place is complicated by the fact that the UN’s airfield in Gao, Mali is too small for heavy-lifting transport aircraft like Canada’s CC-177 Globemaster – and that’s where CA support plays a key role.
Equipment and personnel alike are arriving at a military airfield, which is part of an interim staging location in another, undisclosed West African nation. Captain Gabriel Poulin is part of a 20-strong CA team from the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment (3 R22eR) that is on the ground there to provide Force Protection – what civilians would simply call security – for the transfer of those vital resources onto smaller transports that will carry them onto the Mali base.
Canada’s overall mission in the country is expected to last 14 months. The 3 R22eR’s commitment at the interim staging location will last until the end of August or until all the necessary resources are in place in Mali. The battalion will return to Canada once the mission is complete.
As is often the case when working alongside foreign militaries, Capt Poulin said there is a learning curve due to differing practices and procedures but, after nearly a month, things are running smoothly.
“So far, it’s going well. Like every challenge, the best way to mitigate it is to have open lines of communication with them. We just want to make sure that we respect each other’s operations. Basically, weekly meetings with key people within the host nation military is what is making those challenges go away.”
Capt Poulin said Force Protection provides a welcome sense of security in unfamiliar environments.
“Whenever we deploy personnel or have equipment in a foreign country, it’s obviously best to have some sort of protection there, even when the risk isn’t considered elevated. I think the majority of personnel feel more comfortable knowing that, if something does occur, we’re able to react.”
In addition to Force Protection duties, the CA is also supporting Op PRESENCE-Mali with engineers and technicians who are building temporary camps, door gunners who will serve on board the Griffons, and staff officers who will be working in the UN’s headquarters in Mali.
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