In The Media

Paris attacks test Liberal pledge to end ISIS combat mission

by Bruce Campion-Smith (feat. David Perry)

Toronto Star
November 14, 2015

ANTALYA, TURKEY—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at a G20 leaders’ summit that has been overshadowed by the brazen terror attacks in Paris, a killing spree blamed on Islamic State extremists that will test the commitment of the new Liberal government to end its combat mission against the militants.

Friday’s co-ordinated attacks in Paris — and the global response — are certain now to push security to the top of the agenda as the leaders of the world’s 20 major economies gather in this resort city for a summit that begins Sunday.

Trudeau did not speak to reporters here Saturday. But a spokesperson said that the attacks would not change the Liberal government’s stance on two key pledges – a promise to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees and a vow to end the combat mission.

“On Syrian refugees and humanitarian assistance, we believe we can achieve our target safely and responsibly,” the spokesperson told reporters Saturday.

Still, the murders put a sharp focus on the Liberal election pledge to withdraw CF-18 fighters from their mission bombing extremists in Iraq and Syria at the very time other allies look to step up their fight following the Paris attack.

French President François Hollande called the attacks an “act of war” conducted by Islamic State militants. And he said that France would be “pitiless” in its response.

France’s allies responded with tough talk as well.

The heads of state of the European Union vowed to “do what is necessary” to defeat extremism. “We will face this threat together with all necessary means and ruthless determination,” the leaders said in a statement.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged her country’s support for France, saying, “together with you, we will fight against those who have carried out such an unfathomable act against you.”

Still, by Saturday night, the Liberal government was standing firm on its pledge to end the combat mission that began just over a year ago under the Conservatives.

“We remained committed to shifting the mission away from the bombing mission,” an official from the prime minister’s office told reporters.

The spokesperson, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Canada has a role in fighting the Islamic State “scourge.”

“But that role must serve our national interest and constitute the most effective use of our resources,” he said.

As Trudeau’s first international trip since becoming prime minister, the G20 meeting was meant to mark his debut on the world stage.

Instead, the attacks in Paris have provided Trudeau with a swift and sobering introduction to the terror file at a time when the Liberals were already promising changes on this front, ending the combat mission abroad and rewriting parts of the Conservatives’ controversial anti-terror legislation.

Security was already on the agenda here, put there by summit host Turkey which been suffering the effects of the violence in its two southern neighbours. The civil war in Syria and the terror campaign by the Islamic State group in Iraq has pushed more than million refugees to seek refuge in Turkey. Also on the agenda was the financing of terrorist groups.

“I suspect that we will spend more time talking about those issues than we might have otherwise,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters.

Defence analyst Dave Perry conceded that the optics of pulling out CF-18s at this time are “troublesome” but said Canada’s military can play other, potentially more valuable roles in the Islamic State fight.

“I think it’s false argument to say that if we aren’t doing that, the government isn’t making a contribution,” Perry said Saturday.

He noted that air power alone was never going to defeat extremists and that it would always require well-trained local forces to reclaim territory in Iraq.

He said there is “ample room” for Canada to add to the 70 military trainers it already has in northern Iraq as well as step up its logistical support, providing, for example, transport aircraft to help move troops and supplies.

“There is clearly a need, I think, to improve the capacity of the local security forces,” Perry said in a telephone interview.

He also said Canada could withdraw the fighters but leave two reconnaissance aircraft and an air-to-air refueller in the region to continue to assist the air campaign.

As debate swirls about their role, the CF-18s have been in action in recent days. On Friday, two CF-18s struck an Islamic State compound and two separate Islamic State fighting positions near Ramadi. On Thursday, two CF-18s struck an ammunition dump and a fighting position as part of efforts to seize militant supply route.

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