Canada takes part in just 3% coalition airstrikes against ISIL: Fight doesn’t match Tory rhetoric
by Lee Berthiaume (feat. David Perry and Stephen Saideman)
August 11, 2015
Despite Conservative warnings about the “horrific” threat posed by the ISIL, new figures show Canadian military aircraft have conducted less than three per cent of all coalition missions in Iraq and Syria.
The war against ISIL figured prominently on the campaign trail Monday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a stop in Markham, Ont. to pledge that a re-elected Conservative government would provide more assistance for religious minorities and refugees in the Middle East.
Harper went on to criticize Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair for promising to end Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIL, saying that humanitarian aid alone won’t solve the crisis.
“What is happening in the areas controlled by (ISIL) is really something we have not seen in millennia. It’s just beyond horrific,” he said, adding, “We are a country that can contribute militarily and in the humanitarian sense, and we are doing both.”
But a Citizen analysis raised questions about whether Canada’s military contributions in the fight against ISIL match Harper’s warnings.
Defence Department figures show Canadian military aircraft have flown 1,320 sorties, or individual missions, over Iraq and Syria since last year. That accounts for 2.7 per cent of the 47,705 total sorties flown by coalition aircraft since the war against ISIL started.
Comparing Canada’s contribution to other allies is difficult because each participating country reports differently. But defence expert David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says Canadian aircraft flew about six per cent of all coalition missions during the war in Libya, and about 10 per cent in Kosovo.
Canada has six fighter jets, two surveillance aircraft and an air-to-air refuelling plane tasked with fighting ISIL in Iraq and Syria. It deployed a similar contingent to bomb Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s troops in 2011, and started with six fighter jets bombing Serbian targets in Kosovo in 1999, before expanding to 18.
Perry said he was surprised that Canada hadn’t done more in Iraq and Syria, and wondered why Canadian military aircraft would have done more to topple Gadhafi when the Conservative government has identified ISIL as a much more dangerous threat.
“They (Canadian fighter jets) were flying at a rate of a little bit under three sorties a day in Iraq and Syria, and in Libya the figure was closer to four,” he said. “I’ve never really heard anything expressed in operational terms that would indicate they’re flying at a reduced rate for a particular reason.”
Asked to comment on Canada’s contribution and whether it matches the prime minister’s warnings about ISIL, Conservative spokesman Stephen Lecce said that under Harper’s leadership “Canada is taking action to confront those who threaten us with moral clarity, strength and resolve.
“We are proud of our men and women in uniform who undertake difficult missions to protect the security of our homeland, and the security of innocent women and children who face the daily barbarity of ISIS. Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines.”
Defence officials have previously said that a U.S.-led command centre is responsible for assigning missions to all coalition aircraft. Canada is the only Western ally besides the U.S. flying missions in Syria, and Perry said a lack of intelligence inside that country could explain why Canadian aircraft aren’t flying more.
But it could also be a question of money, Perry said. Canada is spending less on defence as a percentage of gross domestic product, the most common measure, than at any time since the Cold War. One impact is the Royal Canadian Air Force has had to dramatically scale back the flying hours for its aircraft.
The military could also be taking it easy on the aircraft. The fighter jets and surveillance aircraft were supposed to be replaced in the coming years, but the Conservative government has since pushed those plans back until at least the next decade.
Perry said coalition officials have admitted they don’t have as many aircraft as they would like.
In addition to Canada and the U.S., the countries conducting bombing operations against ISIL include Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Carleton University defence expert Stephen Saideman said there are more countries bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria than there were attacking targets in Libya, “but yes, the reality does not match the rhetoric.”
Canada also has several dozen soldiers on the ground in northern Iraq training Kurdish forces to fight ISIL.