In The Media

Expert says ISIS can’t be defeated without Syria offensive; Kenney demurs

by Amanda Connolly

March 16, 2015

Canada’s attempts to fight ISIS in Iraq won’t be successful unless the government and other coalition members are willing to dedicate resources to fighting the militants in their home base of Syria, one defence analyst suggests.

“I think a good analogy might be the Afghan/Pakistan situation — completely defeating the Taliban was always going to be difficult so long as they could just go over the border into Pakistan and regroup and come back,” said David Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. “I think we’re facing a similar dynamic — they’re able to take safe haven in the parts of Syria that the Assad government does not control and until that situation’s rectified, you’re never going to completely be able to get rid of that threat.”

The government’s mandate for the Iraq mission expires April 7 and it is poised to present its case to Parliament in the next two weeks for an extension and possible expansion of the anti-ISIS mission. While ISIS has suffered significant setbacks from coalition airstrikes and combat operations by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, it maintains a strong presence in Syria amid the chaos spawned by that country’s four-year-old civil war.

On a teleconference Monday afternoon with reporters, Defence Minister Jason Kenney danced around a question of whether Canada would consider expanding the mandate to Syria when it presents its plans for the future of the mission in the coming weeks.

“The government has not taken a final decision on the extension of Operation IMPACT,” he said. “(We are) trying to assess how Canada can contribute meaningfully to the fight against the genocidal terrorist organization, what unique capabilities we have … we need to be flexible as we consider our options.”

The government laid out clear conditions for the terms of Canada’s anti-ISIS mandate last October — it would not involve ground combat and it would only take place in Iraq.

More importantly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper specified that any activity in Syria would only come at the invitation of the Assad regime.

However, it appears no more likely now than it was six months ago that Bashar al-Assad will invite Canadian bombers into Syrian airspace and that raises the question of whether Canada should consider adjusting its original mandate to allow for air campaigns in ISIS-controlled parts of Syria.

The United States and four Arab members of the anti-ISIS coalition (Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates) are currently conducting air strikes in Syria aimed at obliterating the militants and their resources there but fellow coalition members such as Britain, Germany, France, Australia and Turkey have held back, restricting their participation to Iraq.

Perry says Canada’s reluctance to engage in air strikes in Syria is likely due to a combination of factors: namely, a lack of political will and a serious case of not wanting to break away from the pack too soon.

He says given the government drew a clear line in the sand on its conditions for engaging in Syria, making the case to the public for flouting them could prove challenging in an election year, particularly one in which the Prime Minister has made terrorism and the Iraq mission priorities.

“I definitely see the overall strategic merit and I think it’s 100 per cent necessary to take action in Syria if you actually want to provide for the security of Iraq,” he said, underscoring that for the Harper government, though, that calculation has a political price. “It would be viewed through a different lens – that one way or another, you’re dealing with the Syrian regime, which you’ve said in many different forums you’d prefer to be gone.”

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