ATF Mali


Air Task Force Mali

Air Task Force Mali (ATFM) operated from 15 January – 3 April 2013 in support of Operation SERVAL, the French military intervention in Mali.

Due to a deteriorating situation in the African nation of Mali, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 2085 calling upon member nations to assist Malian forces in the re-establishment of security within their borders.  In response to a direct appeal from the Prime Minister of France, Canada agreed to provide strategic airlift support between France and Mali with the proviso that the commitment would be for a limited time and not involve combat.  Between 15 January and 3 April 2013, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Detachment, consisting of a maximum of 43 personnel and one CC-177 Globemaster III (702 and 703 at different times) conducted almost daily flights between various points in France and Bamako, the capital of Mali.  By the end of the operation, ATFM had a 93% serviceability rate having conducted 46 chalks, totaling 530.6 flight hours, resulting in the transport of 1.5 million kilograms of cargo and 777 French personnel.



15 January 2013 to 22 January 2013

1st Extension:  23 January to 15 February 2013

2nd Extension:  16 February to 22 March 2013

3rd Extension:  23 March 2013 – 3 April 2013

Location Europe; France; Africa; and, Mali
Operational Context Airlift support to Allied forces (France) in support of UN Security Council Resolution 2085
Operation Name No Canadian mission name.  However, ATFM operated in support of Operation (Op) SERVAL (France)

1.  Support French strategic lines of communication (SLOC) through the provision of airlift

2.  Demonstrate Government of Canada (GoC) support of allied efforts to re-establish security and democracy in Mali

Canadian Forces Contribution


Royal Canadian Air Force Contribution

1 x CC-177 Globemaster III

Maximum personnel (at any one time):  43

Total personnel:  111 (from six separate Wings)


20 December 2012:  UNSC Resolution 2085 authorizing member countries to intervene in Mali released.

13 January 2013:  Planning body established at 8 Wing, Trenton, to examine a possible transport operation.

14 January 2013:  Canadian Prime Minister issues a public statement indicating that Canada will support the French operation to Mali through the provision of a CC-177 aircraft and personnel.  He emphasises the non-combat role and limited duration of the commitment.

– Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Tasking Order for Air Mobility Support to French Strategic Lines of Communication (SLOC) released.  Operation is to last from 15-22 January 2013.

– Canadian Joint Operations Centre (CJOC) issues tasking order to Canadian Joint Force Air Component Commander (CJFACC), 1 Canadian Air Division (1 CAD).

15 January 2013:  CJFACC issues taking order to 8 Wing, Trenton.  1 X CC-177 from 429 (Transport (T)) Squadron (Sqn) and necessary personnel to deploy to France for one week.  Contribution to be referred to as Air Task Force Mali (ATFM).  The Detachment Commander (Det Comd) is Major (Maj) W. Church, 429 (T) Sqn.

– After a ragged start (serviceability issues resulted in an aircraft (a/c) change), a CC-177 and 36 personnel depart 8 Wing, Trenton, for Istres-Le Tubé, France.  It would be part of an airlift force consisting of C-17s from the Royal Air Force, the United States Air Force and the United Arab Emirates.

16 January 2013:  ATFM arrives at Istres-Le Tubé, France, and discussion on how best to support Op SERVAL begin.

– Approximately nine hours after arrival, DetComd declares ATFM Operationally Ready (OPRED).

– (1845Z) Chalk 1[synonymous with flight] departs Istres-Le Tubé, via Evreux, France, for Bamako, Mali.

18 January 2013: Anticipated move to Evreux, France, no longer required.  Istres-Le-Tubé will remain as the Main Operating Base (MOB) for the remainder of the deployment.

24 January 2013:  ATFM extended to 15 February 2013.

26 January 2013:  ATFM conducts a high priority

support mission for France, picking up a/c sensors at Mont-de-Marsan, France, and delivering them to Bamako.

27 January 2013:  Due to a perceived higher threat, an incremental increase in security posture authorized.  Tactical Air Security Officer (TASO) personnel now permitted to openly carry C7s (rifles) and pistols.

3 February 2013: Chalk 17 – ATFM delivers its one millionth pound (approximately 454000 kilograms (kg)) of cargo.

5 February 2013:  Members of Parliament take part in a four hour “take note” debate on the conflict in Mali and Canada’s contribution to Allied efforts.

15 February 2013:  ATFM extended to 22 March 2013.

16 February 2013:  ATFM informed that deployment phase of Op SERVAL complete.  Transition to sustainment phase takes place with a requirement for fewer flights.

24 February 2013:  A Replacement-in-Place (RiP) for Rotation (Roto) 1 takes place relieving those personnel who anticipated only a week-long deployment.  Ops resume with Chalk 29.

12 March 2013:  The United Kingdom (UK) withdraws its C17s, ATFM surges with daily flights to make up difference.

22 March 2013:  ATFM extended to 31 March 2013.

31 March 2013: A CC-177 is deemed unserviceable (u/s) in Bamako, forcing the crew to remain overnight (RON).

2 April 2013:  Chalk 46, last ATFM flight, departs Bamako for Istres-Le Tubé, France

3 April 2013:  ATFM departs Istres-Le Tubé for 8 Wing, Trenton.

Units with Deployed Personnel

429 (Transport) Squadron, 8 Wing, Trenton

8 Air Command and Control Squadron, 8 Wing Trenton

2 Air Movements Unit, 8 Wing Trenton


One (1)


46 chalks in 76 days

1.5 million kg of cargo, 777 French personnel transported

530.6 flight hours

93% serviceability rate


Incremental:  $14,879,000

Total:  $23,349,000

Mission Commencement


On 14 January 2013, Prime Minister (PM) Stephen Harper in a statement to the press set the broad parameters of the mission:


Last week I pledged that Canada would work diplomatically with our allies on how best to address the situation in Mali.  While the Government of Canada is not, and will not be, considering a direct Canadian military mission in Mali, Canada is prepared, consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution, to provide limited and clearly defined logistical support to assist the forces that are intervening in Mali.


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.


At no time will Canadian Armed Forces members be participating in direction action against insurgent forces in Mali.


That same day, the Strategic Joint Staff (SJS) at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) released a Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Tasking Order reflecting the mission as outlined by the PM.


Soon after being notified of the operation, Air Task Force Mali (ATFM) was established at 8 Wing, Trenton.  The Canadian CC-177 Globemaster would operate as part of an allied airlift effort that would include military Globemasters from the United States Air Force (USAF), the Royal Air Force (RAF) and one from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A planning group, with input from the 429 (Transport) Squadron ((T) Sqn) Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant-Colonel (LCol) J. Stark, Wing Operations Officer (WOpsO) LCol J.G.C. Roy and the Wing Command (WComd) Colonel (Col) S.G. Friday, was established on 13 January 2013. Their planning efforts reflected an original mission mandate of one-week; hence it was treated primarily as a Temporary Duty (TD) period with limited effort put into planning for long-term Host Nation Support (HNS) or personnel rotation requirements.


At 1 Canadian Air Division (1 CAD) Headquarters (HQ), 17 Wing Winnipeg, a similar effort was underway.  Planning focus, as reflected in a 1 CAD tasking order issued on 14 January 2013, was on supporting a mission for the limited timeframe of one week.  All support functions (communications and information systems (CIS), accommodations, food, fuel, etc.) were predicated on the short duration of the mission.  Therefore, no permanent, long-term arrangements were put in place as would have been for a named mission.  As national level support was to be provided and coordinated by 1 CAD, support resources and personnel were drawn from across the RCAF.   For example, 8 Air Communication and Control Squadron (8 ACCS), 8 Wing, Trenton, was tasked to provide communication and information services (CIS) resources and a technician as part of the ATF.  In all, 111 personnel from six different Wings would become part of the operation with the bulk of them drawn from 8 Wing.




Air Task Force Mali consisting of one Globemaster and 36 personnel, under the command of Major (Maj) William (Bill) Church, a pilot with 429 (T) Squadron, was scheduled to depart Trenton in a CC-177 as soon as possible.  A flurry of planning took place during the weekend of 12-13 January, but Monday all was in place.  In a nutshell, the ATF was to “go to France, tap into the allied flying operation and support the French.”   Like all RCAF transport squadrons, personnel were up to date with all the necessary deployment training, medical requirements, etc., as short-notice deployments are often the norm. Scheduled to depart early on Tuesday, 15 January, the “serviceability gods,” who seem to have a fickle appreciation of the timetables of governments and militaries introduced an unexpected “gremlin” into the mix that necessitated an aircraft change and the ATF finally departed later that day.


It had initially been determined that the RCAF would operate out of Istres-Le Tubé, France (hereafter referred to as Istres).  Utilized by the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) and referred to as Base Aérienne 125 (BA 125), it is a multi-purpose airfield situated northwest of Marseille from which operated strike aircraft and tankers.  It was not a transport base.  Upon arrival, it was obvious that a prior reconnaissance visit would have been beneficial to sort out basic logistic, administrative, and operational details prior to the ATF arriving.  Not only does this save time and money in the long run, it also allows the deployed personnel to focus on the mission at hand.  However, as the deployment was to last a mere week, the need for a recce visit was considered and dismissed.  After all, once the Government of Canada has declared that a mission was to last seven days in total, it would never change its mind.


To account for any unforeseen circumstances, the ATF deployed “fat;” with a few extra personnel to assist as required.  When the C-17 arrived at BA 125 it was the middle of the night and the French appeared a bit surprised at the arrival of the Canadians.  Two members of the Base operations staff boarded the aircraft and after a short conversation, Maj Church turned and beckoned to one of his officers whose first language was French.  Church was tired and although fluent in his second language, he wanted to confirm what had been said.   Church thought that he had “missed something in translation” because “it sounded like he just told me there’s nothing here and we went to the wrong base.”  His fellow officer quickly confirmed Maj Church’s fear – the transport operation was indeed being conducted from another base.  Recognizing that little could be done at such a late hour, Maj Church arranged for accommodations for the detachment and resigned himself to a long day ahead.


Commencing early in the morning of 16 January, and continuing for the next 18 hours, Maj Church and his personnel were engaged in discussions with French authorities to determine in more detail what was required by the French to assist with their Strategic Lines of Communication (ie. movement of cargo and personnel).  It soon became apparent that their needs were far different from what had been forecast.  Maj Church noted that “Most significantly, French logistic needs dictated that there was (initially) no airlift requirement from Istres, and that the CC-177 had to move to Evreux, France to pick up loads.”  This would necessitate a move of the Detachment.


Even as Maj Church was sorting out basing requirements, the detachment was declared operationally ready a mere nine hours after arrival and undertook it first flight to Bamako, Mali, via Evreux.  In all, the ATFM undertook only two chalks [flights] via Evreux as by 19 January, it had been decided to use Istres as the Main Operating Base for the airlift effort and from date forward, all flights originated from BA 125.


Command and Control


Normally most CF missions would come under the command and control (C2) of the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), commanded at this time by Lieutenant-General (LGen) S.A. Beare.  However, given the short-duration of the mission (initially one-week) and the RCAF-centric force generation (FG) and force employment (FE) requirements, it was decided that C2 would come under the Canadian Joint Force Air Component Commander (CJFACC), Major-General (MGen) J.J.P. St-Amand, located at 1 CAD HQ, Winnipeg.  Still, it was the intention of the Commander CJOC that would be treated as a recognized (i.e., “named”) operation.


Commander CJOC had delegated Operational Command (OPCOM) to CJFACC with Tactical Control (TACON) residing with Maj Church as the ATFM Detachment Commander (Det Comd).  To properly support the operation a Support Coordination Team Mali (SCTM) was established within the Canadian Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at 1 CAD.  It consisted of representatives from the various A-staff branches, the Capability Directorates and the CAOC Mission Support Division whose Chief, LCol J.J.L Sabourin, chaired the Team and became the de facto Principal Desk Officer for the operation.


Alongside the established chain of command was “informal” connectivity between the detachment, 429 (T) Squadron and 8 Wing.  These informal communication links permitted the passage of information both of an operational nature and to keep families informed, permitted key personnel such as the CO of 429 Squadron and the Comd 8 Wing to maintain their situational awareness, and allowed routine maintenance and administrative issues to be dealt with in an expeditious manner.


The fluidity of the situation during the first twenty-four hours placed a premium on flexible C2 and emphasized the importance of face-to-face dialogue and personal relationships.  The direct linkage between the Det Comd and key staff at 1 CAD allowed unanticipated changes to be dealt with quickly and efficiently.  It also greatly enhanced coordination with CJOC.


Based on the original appreciation of the mission a Liaison Officer (LO) was to be placed with the Armée de L’aire Headquarters at Lyon, France, and maximum use made of an existing Canadian LO at the RAF Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood, a suburb of London in the United Kingdom, to coordinate efforts with the RAF who were also providing Globemaster support to the French.  Within hours of being on the ground, the Det Comd arranged for LO’s to be placed with the French operations staff at Istres-Le-Tubé and inside the Centre Multimodal de Transport (CMT) at BA 107 near Villacoublay, France.  The placement of the latter LO was instrumental in improving coordination with the French and improving overall situational awareness of the mission.  So successful was the placement of the Canadian LO that the Commander of the CMT, recommended that the other airlift contributing nations do the same.


The flexibility accorded by the C2 arrangements with 1 CAD permitted the Det Comd to deal with unanticipated demands such as an urgent request made by the Commander, CMT, on 26 January for the delivery of much needed aircraft sensors from Mont-de-Marsan, France, to Bamako.  As well, on 25 February, the UK Detachment requested assistance in transporting British troops to Mali, but initial instructions restricted ATFM to the transport of French troops only.  The UK Detachment then produced a copy of a Canada-UK Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the provision of mutual logistic support which resulted in the ATFM Det Comd seeking clarification and, ultimately, permission from 1 CAD to transport British personnel.




The maintenance facilities and loading equipment at Istres were not optimized to support CC-177 transport operations.  However, within a week the most significant issues had been dealt with via a combination of Allied-provided and French resources. Due to the erratic flight schedule, it proved impractical to operate from the base with respect to accommodations and meals.  Personnel were concentrated at a nearby local hotel that in addition to accommodations provided additional space utilized as an operations and planning area.  The initial confusion with respect to operating bases at the beginning of the Canadian deployment actually proved to be a boon.  As the Canadian detachment was already on the ground in Istres, it had first pick of hotels and selected one with a restaurant – important for a mission that was running 24 hours a day.  Although the dinning facilities were not open all the time, the hotel staff were kind enough to allow the Canadians to make use of basic amenities such as a fridge in which to store food.  And, unlike the other Allied contingents, all of the RCAF personnel were housed in the same establishment, a short 10-minute drive to the base.


The Canadians established a good working relationship with the hotel owner, and he permitted ATFM to “tap” into the hotel’s internet system, greatly increasing reliability utilizing the Light Communication Suite (LCS).  The LCS kits, with their ability to encrypt message for transmission via unclassified links, proved ideal.  However, there was an administrative challenge as the anticipated short duration of the mission meant that key personnel deployed without the necessary approval to access material via the Consolidated Secret Network Infrastructure (CSNI).  Again, the flexibility of the C2 arrangements with 1 CAD permitted the issue to be resolve via several phone calls. Given the dispersed locations that the ATFM functioned from, personal I-phones and government issued Blackberries were important to coordinate activities.


Conduct of Operations


Flying operations commenced approximately nine hours after arrival at Istres-Le Tubé.  The first two chalks were required to proceed to Evreux to pick up cargo, return to Istres-Le Tubé for fuel and then proceed on to Bamako International Airport in Mali resulting in flight times in excess of 13 hours.  After 18 January, the route was fixed as Istres-Le Tubé to Bamako return (4300 nautical miles or 7964 kilometers (km)) for a flight time of approximately 10.5 hours.  Lack of over-flight clearances from Spain (there are Spanish islands on the direct flight path) and Mauritania resulted in approximately an extra half hour of flight time each way.  Due to the perceived short duration of the mission this issue was not resolved for some time.


On average, it took about three hours for the Mobile Air Movement Section (MAMS) to load the aircraft at Istres-Le Tubé.  While this was taking place, the arriving aircrew would debrief the maintenance personnel and the departing aircrew completed flight planning for their flight.  This meant that aircrew working on a 32-hour cycle (16 hours on duty / flying and 16 hours off) while the movement and maintenance crews worked on a 16 hour cycle in which they had to complete their military duties, eat, sleep and take care of administrative requirements.  The pace of operations was taxing on both equipment and personnel and meant that the Det Comd had to keep a close eye on fatigue levels to ensure a safe operation.


It became common knowledge in French circles that [the]  Canadians were working to maximum capacity, keeping the single CC-177 flying.  In late January 2013, during a visit the French Defence Minster [Jean-Yves Le Drian] remarked [on] the UK, US, and UAE C17s on the ramp, and said ‘This is very impressive, all these C-17s.  Where are the Canadians?”  In reply, one of the attending senior officers quipped, “Oh, they’re flying, because they’re always flying.”


The maintainers did an outstanding job working out of makeshift facilities.   They were given access to a “long-in-the-tooth” hangar – not necessary a new experience for RCAF personnel.  It has reputedly been built by the same engineering group that had constructed the Eiffel Tower and, as such, had been declared a heritage building.  Although its existence was guaranteed by its heritage designation, successive base commanders had spent little on updating the building.  And a building that had once housed First World War bi-plane aircraft was just a bit small for a C-17.  Nevertheless, it provided shelter, office space and, although shared with the American contingent, was most welcome.


When Canada purchased the CC-177s, it bought into a “virtual fleet” concept.  Globemaster parts are registered as part of a world-wide inventory and if the RCAF requires a specific item in Estes and it is held by an American base in, for example, Hungary, then it can be transferred quickly; provided the Canadians have a higher priority requirement.  However, getting a part through French customs, despite the fact that it was needed to support a French mission, turned out to be a bit more problematic.  Paperwork must be completed correctly and efficiently!


The initial tasking called for the deployment to last one week, but there were numerous extensions.  According to a report in the Globe and Mail on 22 January 2013, French President François Hollande called Prime Minister Harper and made a personal appeal to extend ATFM’s mission.  Accordingly, on 24 January, it was announced that Canada would extend its mission until 15 February.  With only one day remaining on this extension, Canada announced on 14 February that the mission would continue until 15 March.  Finally, on 22 March, a final Fragmentary Order (FRAG O) was issued extending the mission until 2 April 2013.


These unanticipated extensions to the mission resulted in several administrative challenges with most stemming from the belief by CJOC that this was a temporary, short duration mission.  As such, all of the administrative processes and linkages normally associated with a long duration, named mission were not immediately put in place.


As well, the constant uncertainly about when the members of detachment could expect to go home impacted morale.  It was an ongoing challenge for the Squadron Warrant Officer (SWO), Warrant Officer Kelvin Brown.  Major Church made sure to keep the members of his team informed as events changed.  However, it became sort of running gag that ceased being funny as his team had to keep planning for redeployment home while simultaneously planning to continue operations for a non-specified period.


The flights to and from the French Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Bamako, were long, but uneventful and RCAF personnel spent little time on the ground.  Not only was this in accordance with mission guidelines, but for every vehicle transported on the aircraft the French “assigned a driver on the airfield, who would immediately head north towards the front.  No vehicles, equipment, nor personnel were corralled…as all was needed elsewhere and was immediately dispatched.”


The FOB was a smaller, more austere version of the Allied base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, but just as hot.  Facilities for maintenance and personal comfort were minimal.  The crew planned for a three-hour stop at Bamako; enough time to offload the aircraft, pick up cargo if required and refuel.  As can be appreciated, there was a significant amount of air traffic arriving and departing the airfield, each requiring basic servicing such as fuel.  To make sure that they received their gas in a timely manner, Canadian aircrew began to carry French chocolate bars which they liberally handed out to Malian ground personnel.  As a result, fuel trucks would often be seen moving into position near where the RCAF aircraft would be parked.  Once, refuelling on an Air France aircraft was halted, so that the fuel bowser could be ready for the Canadians when they finished taxiing.


The last flight of the deployment departed Istres on 31 March 2014, with 85,200 pounds (37421 kg) of sustainment cargo from France for Mali.  And, as luck would have it, an unserviceability issue resulted in the aircraft and crew remaining at Bamako until 2 April when they departed for France.  While they were trying to resolve the problem, the flight crew caught a nap on the aircraft, but when it became clear that they would need to remain overnight, they moved to accommodations in the nearby town.  Arrangements were made for a part to be flown down on an incoming flight from France along with “care package” containing some necessary items such as extra underwear.  Finally, on 2 April, the CC-177 was in on its way back to Istres.


The flowing day, a re-deployment flight left for Trenton, bringing the mission to a close.




The Air Task Force Mali mission was deemed a strategic success, demonstrating the willingness of the GoC to support an ally during on-going counter-terrorist operations.  From a CAF / RCAF perspective, the mission highlighted the flexibility of implemented C2 arrangements whereby the CFJACC had OPCOM of an air-centric operation.  The initial belief that this would be a short-duration deployment resulted in support issues being dealt with as they arose rather than via established processes and procedures.  This reactive approach was apparent over the course of unplanned, yet not necessarily unexpected, mission extensions.


The experience was summed up best by Major Church; “We were just a 40-person team flying our asses off.”



hy square brackets?