In The Media

Canada PM Trudeau Reaffirms Withdrawal From Combat Role Against ISIS

by Paul Vieira (feat. David Perry)

Wall Street Journal
November 16, 2015

Canada’s new government says it plans to stick with its election pledge to withdraw from a combat role against Islamic State, despite a push by allies to step up military efforts after the Paris attacks.

At the end of the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Antalya, Turkey, which was dominated by talk of strengthened global effort to battle terrorism, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday reaffirmed his government’s intention of scaling back its military presence in the fight against Islamic State.

He said he would carry through with his campaign promise to withdraw Canada’s six fighter jets from the U.S.-led mission in Iraq and Syria aimed at defeating Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks in the French capital, which killed 129 and left hundreds injured.

Mr. Trudeau told Canadian reporters Canada would still have a “serious military role” in the Middle East and in the fight against ISIS, but with a focus on training local troops.

“Canada is resolute in doing its part against the fight against terrorism and against ISIS,” Mr. Trudeau said, adding any end to Canada’s bombing efforts in Iraq and Syria would be done in conjunction with its allies and in a responsible manner. He said no G-20 ally asked Canada to reconsider.

The Canadian leader’s pledge to end its bombing missions is at odds with remarks by other G-20 leaders about the need to expand efforts against ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that Washington would intensify all elements of its strategy against ISIS, but ruled out having U.S. troops on the ground engaging in combat. French President François Hollande told the country’s lawmakers that France “is at war” against Jihadi terrorists, and vowed to coordinate further airstrikes on ISIS strongholds.

The Paris attacks pose an early, and significant, foreign-policy dilemma for Mr. Trudeau, who swept to power in parliamentary elections last month and sworn in as Prime Minister less than two weeks ago. At present, Mr. Trudeau is leaning toward fulfilling campaign promises on foreign policy as opposed to adjusting to events in Paris and elsewhere, from Beirut and Ankara.

The optics for Mr. Trudeau “look very problematic for a government that’s come to power promising that, Canada is back, and one of the first things Canada does is be offside with its major alliance partners,” said Kim Richard Nossal, an expert in international relations and defense policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

As part of the U.S. military mission against ISIS, Canada’s six fighter jets have taken part in nearly 200 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, or a fraction of the over 8,000 conducted to date as part of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS mission. There are 600 Canadian military personnel deployed to the Middle East, among them 69 members of a special forces unit that help train Iraqi security forces and offer strategic advice on Iraqi military operations.

The current mandate for Canadian forces, introduced by the former Conservative government, runs until the end of March. Mr. Trudeau declined Monday to offer a timetable on the end to Canada’s bombing mission.

David Perry, senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said in lieu of fighter jets Canada would have to “deliver on its commitment to provide substantial additional resources to do something else.” This would likely entail more military personnel on the training front to help Iraqi forces, and offering help to France in its counterterrorism efforts in northern Africa.

Mr. Trudeau came to power in part because he offered a shift in tone and style from the previous Conservative government, under former prime minister Stephen Harper. Part of the Liberal platform included a less confrontational tone on foreign affairs. Along with an end to Canadian airstrikes in the Middle East, the Liberals pledged to bring in an additional 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of the 2015.

The Conservative Party, which lost power in last month’s national vote, has urged Mr. Trudeau over the weekend to break his promise on withdrawing fighter jets given the heightened concern over terrorism. The premier of the resource-rich province of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, wrote to Mr. Trudeau to urge him to suspend his plan on Syrian refugees given the Paris attacks.

“If even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee resettlement process, the results could be devastating,” Mr. Wall said. A spokeswoman for Canada’s Immigration Minister said the government remains committed to its refugee pledge, and it would be accomplished without compromising security.

A similar debate is under way in Europe in the aftermath of Friday’s attacks in Paris, as there’s concern the continent isn't doing enough to protect itself from terrorists who might infiltrate the thousands of migrants arriving daily from the Middle East.


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On today's Global Exchange Podcast, we turn our eyes to the Indo-Pacific, as we assess Canada's naval presence in the region, and the recent deployment of MV Asterix to take part in various multilateral exercises with Canada's Pacific allies. Join our host, Dave Perry, in conversation with CGAI Fellow Matthew Fisher, as they discuss Canada's naval presence around the Indo-Pacific, Chinese military build-up throughout the East and South China Seas, the successes of MV Asterix's recent deployment in the Pacific, and a future for the Canadian Navy in an increasingly militarized Pacific environment.


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