Cost of Canada's C-17 in Mali $18.6M, general says

The Canadian taxpayer is absorbing $18.6 million to provide and sustain a C-17 military transport plane to help support the French military intervention in Mali.

MPs to hold take-note debate on Mali next Tuesday

MPs were told Thursday that it is costing about $19 million for the Canadian Forces C-17 that has been ferrying French military equipment to Bamako, Mali, in support of a French counter-insurgency mission. (Sgt. Matthew McGregor/DND handout/Canadian Press)

The Canadian taxpayer is absorbing the roughly $18.6 million to provide and sustain a C-17 military transport plane to help support the French military intervention in Mali.

The massive cargo-lifter was dispatched roughly three weeks ago and has completed 13 airlift missions to Bamako, the capital of Mali. Its mission is due to end Feb. 15.

A parliamentary committee was briefed Thursday on Canada's military, humanitarian and diplomatic efforts in Mali.

The government suspended direct aid to Mali following a coup in that country last year. But earlier this week International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino pledged $13 million in new money to support humanitarian relief in the region.

The main focus of Canada's direct effort at this point remains military, with approximately 40 troops deployed in support of the C-17's operations.

Maj.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, head of the  military's high-level Strategic Joint Staff, told MPs that one aircraft is responsible for moving to Bamako more than 350,000 kilograms of French military equipment, including armoured vehicles, medical supplies, freight and ammunition.

Vance said the Canadian airlift was a key enabler for the French mission.

"Generally speaking, we can say that the French offensive operations were mounted extremely quickly, very professionally and indeed have been very effective to this point in time, and over a very short period, have served to ... stop the southern advance of the rebels," Vance told MPs.

"They've been successful because they have been able to bring to bear an over-matched capacity against the Islamist rebels, as a result of the international community and Canada bringing the equipment and material to bear rapidly, so they could do that."

Military action not a 'silver bullet'

Vance  told MPs the French and Malian militaries, alongside nomadic Touraeg groups, have been successful at routing the Islamist forces and pushing them back into the mountains along Mali's northern border with Algeria.

"There have been some attrition of hardened terrorist elements, and attrition of some Islamic extremist rebel groups," he said.

Maj.-Gen. Jonathan Vance told MPs on the House of Commons foreign affairs committee Thursday that French-led military action against insurgents in Mali is not a 'silver bullet' against terrorism. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Even so, the general warned that military effort would not be sufficient in clearing Mali and the region of its extremist threat.

Vance previously commanded Canadian forces in Afghanistan and has a long history of fighting counter-insurgencies.

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

As CBC News first revealed, the Canadian government has also deployed special forces troops to Mali, to provide security at the embassy in Bamako.

Vance said he was reluctant to discuss their mission due to operational security reasons.

"I can assure you, first of all, we are not involved in any combat operations," he told MPs. "We are not doing any force protection at the airport, we do protect our plane, the actual asset itself, when it's on the ground, but we don't have armed troops stationed there at the airport.

"At the request of [the Department of Foreign Affairs], we are supporting with embassy and consular security, and I just need to leave it at that."

Take-note debate next week

The government has maintained Canada's involvement in Mali would not extend to a combat mission.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan announced after question period Thursday that MPs will hold a take-note debate on Mali next Tuesday.

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair has supported the government's decision to offer the assistance of the C-17 and said he supported efforts to provide security to Canadian assets, such as the embassy and its personnel, in Mali.

But Mulcair has said any further expansion of the Canadian mission would require consultation with Parliament.

Other special forces soldiers from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, based in Petawawa, Ont., are in neighbouring Niger, training local forces there.

Those soldiers are due to participate in an annual regional counter-terrorism exercise sponsored by United States Africa Command.

With a file from Julie Van Dusen