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C-17 set aside for Mali mission extension

OTTAWA - The massive Canadian C-17 transport plane that's currently ferrying French war supplies to Mali 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 in the north African country.

The transport, which is attached to 429 Squadron out of CFB Trenton, has been flying vehicles and equipment between France and the Malian capital of Bamako in a deployment Prime Minister Stephen Harper said would only last a week.

Defence sources say the overseas command running the operation has not been notified of an extension; a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the government's commitment has not changed.

That commitment is set to expire Thursday, but Harper is expected to announce an extension any day now.

Setting aside the single C-17 Globemaster III for three months does not automatically mean a government extension would last that long, but it gives both the air force and the Conservatives flexibility to deal with an evolving crisis.

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