Canada will not be sending hundreds of peacekeepers to support a United Nations mission in Mali in the near future, officials said on Wednesday, a move likely to disappoint allies who want Canadians to play a role in the West African country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year promised to contribute up to 600 troops to peacekeeping operations and Canadian defense experts made three trips to Mali, where soldiers under the U.N. are fighting Islamist militants.
Canada said it would split its soldiers among various missions instead, with no more than 200 going to any one spot, and will offer transport aircraft and helicopters in a series of “smart pledge” initiatives. It will also help train peacekeepers.
U.N. officials downplayed concerns, saying that if Canada had pledged its troops and equipment to a single mission, like Mali, then those assets could not be deployed to support other missions in the region.
“This is exactly what we need, we need flexibility… we need to be able to allocate these resources where we need them the most,” Jean-Pierre Lacroix, a U.N. under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations, told reporters.
Lacroix said talks continue on how Canadian assets will be deployed, but added, “I‘m sure there’s a strong determination to turn this commitment into a concrete action on the ground.”
Earlier on Wednesday, a Canadian official told reporters the option of sending forces to Mali one day was still alive, but added the planning process took at least six months, “So you’re not going to going to see some kind of rapid deployment to any mission, let alone a complex one like Mali.”
Trudeau sidestepped questions about the likely international reaction at a news conference, saying the varied measures Canada was proposing would serve the U.N. better.
Unhappy allies this year said Canada’s bid for a U.N. Security Council seat could suffer unless Trudeau lived up to his promises.
“This approach will be a disappointment to some, and the Canadian government will have to work hard to overcome the credibility it has lost in not following through on its initial pledge,” said Jane Boulden, a security studies expert at Queen’s University in Kingston.
Government insiders said enthusiasm for the Mali mission faded as the extent of likely casualties and the complex nature of the conflict became clear. More than 80 members have been killed since 2013, making Mali the world’s deadliest peacekeeping operation.