Canada undecided on Mali extension, Foreign Affairs says

The federal government is still considering how to respond to requests for an extension of Canada's commitment to support the French-led military operation in Mali as the one-week tour of a C-17 transport plane in the West African country nears its end.

"No further decisions have been finalized," Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Rick Roth told CBC News on Tuesday.

Roth, press secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said any decision will not involve a Canadian combat role in Mali.

The Canadian Press reported Tuesday that the C-17 has been seconded from regular duty in Canada and elsewhere for the next three months.

The decision by air force planners offers further evidence the Conservative government is poised to extend its commitment to what observers say could be a prolonged battle against Islamic extremists who've dug themselves into the northern half of the former African colony.

Defence sources told The Canadian Press the overseas command running the operation has not been notified of an extension.

CBC News has learned that Canada is expected to extend its commitment to Mali, but the decision is still pending some final consultations with other allies involved in the conflict.

The current commitment is for one transport plane for one week ending this Thursday. To date, the C-17 has been involved in daily shuttles delivering heavy equipment to Mali's capital, Bamako, from a military base in France.

Last week, French President François Hollande made a direct request during a phone call with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for an extension of Canada's air transport commitment.

This week, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked Canada to help deliver African troops to the capital. France has more than 2,000 troops in Mali, while troops from neighbouring African nations have been arriving daily in the capital.

A spokesperson for Defence Minister Peter MacKay's office confirmed the scope of the mission could include moving troops as part of "logistical support," but Roth told the CBC that "Canada is not, and will not be, considering a Canadian combat role in Mali."

France is now in its 11th day of a military campaign to oust Islamist rebels from the northern regions of the country.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution in December calling on member states to help stabilize the country using mostly African-led troops.

The campaign was to begin later this year, but the plan changed suddenly when Dioncounda Traore, the interim Mali president, sent out an appeal to France over concerns Islamic rebel troops would begin a march toward Bamako.

The Mali ambassador to Canada, Traoré Ami Diallo, told CBC News last week she thinks the extension and expansion of Canada's mission to Mali will go ahead.

Diallo met with Baird Jan. 16, and said her sources tell her "it's done, the deadline will be extended."

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