Above: Personnel deployed with Canada’s Operation Presence in Mali pose for a group photo with Royal Canadian Air Force CH-147F Chinook 147311 at a small arms range near Gao on January 2, 2019. Canada is to begin withdrawal of its MINUSMA support next month. Canadian DND/Cpl Ken Beliwicz
CANADA’S MINISTER of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, confirmed in an announcement on June 14 that the country’s contribution to Mission Multidimensionnelle Intégrée des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation au Mali (MINUSMA – United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) operations in Mali will begin to wind down in July. This follows the announcement on January 31 by Romania that it will take over MINUSMA support later this year with the deployment of four Romanian Air Force IAR330L Pumas. These will replace the Canadian Air Task Force (ATF) at Gao, Mali, under Operation Presence, which comprises three CH-147F Chinooks and five CH-146 Griffons, one of each of which acts as a spare.
Canada joined the MINUSMA operation in July 2018 to provide medical evacuation by air of injured personnel, while also supplying transport and logistics support. Since then, Operation Presence personnel have carried out ten medical evacuations, while Canadian helicopters have accumulated more than 3,000 flying hours, transported more than 6,400 passengers and delivered more than 370,000lbs of cargo. Canada says that this phased approach will ensure a smooth and efficient transition process between the Canadian and Romanian rotations. A small CAF transition team will be deployed to assist Romania in its preparations to commence operations and Canada has offered to provide four C-17A aircraft flights to assist Romania to deploy their personnel and equipment to theatre. This approach is intended to minimize disruption in the availability of critical capabilities to MINUSMA forces and help set up the Romanian rotation for operational success.
Despite Canada’s positive comments about the planned transition, UN officials are concerned that the Romanian contingent will not be fully operational until nearly two months after the Canadians have left Mali. Detailing the planned deployment in March of this year, Romanian Defence Minister, Gabriel Les, said seven Pumas were being upgraded by IAR Ghimbav to cope with the harsh conditions in Mali, although only four would be deployed, with the remaining three retained at home as reserves and for aircrew pre-deployment training. He said that three helicopters had already been upgraded at that time with new avionics and that the remainder would be completed by October. Although the Pumas will deploy in late July, they are not expected to be operational until October 15. This is what concerns the UN, as it will leave a gap during which there will not be any medevac helicopters available. The Romanian deployment is scheduled to last for a year, split between two six-month rotations, each involving 120 personnel.