By David Pugliese, Post Media News
Canada is contributing one of its large C-17 military cargo planes to deliver supplies to the capital of Mali following a request from France.
A tweet by the president of Mali forced the Conservative government to admit Monday that it has committed Canadian military forces to help support the war against al-Qaida-linked rebels in that country.
Several hours after Postmedia News published an article Monday on the commitment of Canadian military logistical support to Mali's military, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged that Canada was indeed involved.
"Today our government received a specific request from the French government for heavy-lift aircraft to assist in the transport of equipment into the Malian capital of Bamako, a location that is not part of any active combat zone," Harper said in a statement.
"The government of Canada will support our allies in this request and will be providing one RCAF C-17 transport aircraft in a noncombat role to support operations for a period of one week. The RCAF aircraft will not operate in any combat zone."
Harper stated that, "at no time will Canadian Armed Forces members be participating in direct action against insurgent forces in Mali."
The social media service Twitter proved too much for the Conservative government's strict message control policy on the information it releases to the news media and public.
Mali's President Dioncounda Traore used his Twitter account Sunday to announce that the United States, Canada and Great Britain had agreed to provide logistical support to Mali and French military forces fighting the rebels.
The president's announcement came less than a week after Harper said Canada would not provide any direct military aid to Mali.
French warplanes continued their bombing attacks Monday against Islamic insurgents but rebel forces continued to capture more territory, moving closer to the capital of Bamako.
Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria agreed Saturday to send soldiers in support of that military action designed to help Mali's military fight back the advancing insurgents.
Liberal defence critic John McKay questioned why Canadians are learning about a military deployment into a war zone from the Twitter account of a foreign leader.
"It's offensive that we have to learn about a potentially major foreign and military policy initiative this way," said McKay.
McKay said the Conservative government's failed attempts at controlling the message on the Mali mission will lead to further questions about whether the statements by the prime minister actually reflect the full extent of Canada's military contribution.
"You have to wonder why they just can't be straightforward on these important issues," he added.
The Defence Department would not provide many details about the military contribution other than what Harper announced.
"As operational planning is still under way, it would be premature to discuss any further details at this time," DND stated in email Monday. "We will provide more details as they become available."
Although the RCAF C-17 has been committed for only a week, Harper opened the door to the idea that time period may be longer. "We will obviously after a few days analyze how that is going and talk with our allies, but this is intended to be of a short duration," he told reporters in Montreal.