Canada to propose helicopters for U.N. Mali mission: sources

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada, under pressure from allies to boost its commitment to peacekeeping, will propose offering helicopters for use by U.N. forces in Mali and could later provide troops to work as trainers, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which came to power in 2015 and quickly promised to make 600 soldiers available for peace operations, last year said it would consider sending soldiers to Mali but has repeatedly put off a decision amid fears of casualties.

The stalling has irritated other nations, which say it could harm Canada’s efforts to win a seat on the Security Council.

Canada is prepared to send six helicopters for use by the 10,000-strong U.N. force in Mali, which is helping deal with a militant threat, said the sources, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

More than 80 members have been killed since 2013, making Mali the world’s deadliest peacekeeping operation.

Canada is hosting an international peacekeeping conference later this month and officials are preparing a special meeting on the sidelines to discuss the needs of the Mali mission, both in terms of providing troops and helping train local forces, the sources said.

One option for Canada would be to send soldiers to act as trainers, a role they are already playing in northern Iraq, said one source. They could either be based in Mali or nearby nations.

Although Ottawa has sent three separate fact-finding missions to the Mali region, Canadian officials said they have yet to take a final decision on whether to send troops.

“We realize there is growing impatience for a final decision,” said a Canadian source familiar with government thinking.

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters that “when it comes to peace support operations... we will make sure that we take our time to make a responsible decision.” He declined to give further details.

Defense experts said that given the scale of the Mali challenge, they doubted whether even 600 Canadian troops could make a difference on the front lines.

A senior diplomat from a nation involved in peacekeeping said the Canadian government should have studied the Mali mission carefully before publicly discussing the possibility of sending troops.

“If soldiers start coming home in coffins, it’s debatable whether Sajjan could give a coherent explanation of why Canada was there in the first place,” said the diplomat.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by David Gregorio and Dan Grebler