OTTAWA Canada is unlikely to commit troops to the French-led campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali because it is threatening to become a counter-insurgency operation similar to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Tuesday.
Last month Ottawa extended the loan of a C-17 military cargo plane to the French operations in Mali until February 15, while making clear it had no plans to contribute soldiers.
"I am very cautious about sending in potentially thousands of Canadian troops to Malian soil ... to what is already is amounting to a counter-insurgency. We're not at the drop of a hat going to get into another Afghanistan," Baird told a parliamentary committee.
Canada's appetite for military intervention is low following 10 years of military involvement in Afghanistan, ending in 2011, during which 158 soldiers were killed. Canada stayed out of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Baird also laughed off the suggestion that Canada could eventually provide troops to serve as peacekeepers.
"On one side we have a military government that took power in a coup last year and on the other side an al Qaeda affiliate. I don't think they're going to sign on for a peacekeeping mission," Baird said.
"It's very much going to be an insurgency on the ground like we've seen in Iraq and like we've seen in Afghanistan."
Rather than sending in troops Canada could support West African regional group ECOWAS, the United Nations and Mali's neighbors, Baird said. He did not give details.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway)