In The Media

Canada to send more military trainers to Iraq in battle against IS: Trudeau

by Bill Curry and Steven Chase (feat. David Perry)

The Globe and Mail
November 17, 2015

Justin Trudeau says he will deploy more soldiers to Iraq as part of the Liberal government’s refashioning of Canada’s role in the battle against Islamic State.

The Prime Minister, who remains determined to withdraw from a combat role in the region and bring home CF-18 fighters, even after IS claimed responsibility for last week’s Paris attacks, said he will instead expand the military training Canadian soldiers are providing in Iraq.

He said the number of Canadian Armed Forces trainers on the ground will surpass the current contingent of 69 soldiers in northern Iraq.

Officials with the new Liberal government are in discussions with their U.S. counterparts to work out the exact details of Canada’s new role. Ottawa’s military contribution to the coalition against the Islamic State is under close scrutiny in the wake of the attacks.

“Obviously, we committed throughout the campaign and I’ve committed repeatedly to my allies that we were going to do more on the training front and that means obviously more than just 69 trainers,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters on a flight between the G20 summit that wrapped up Monday in Antalya, Turkey, and the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit that starts Wednesday in Manila.

“How many that will be, what form that will take, what kind of engagement we’re going to have, those are things that we’re going to work out, but I have reassured my allies and Canadians that, yes, we will be doing more.”

The French government responded to the terrorist attacks by escalating its bombing campaign in Syria and urging a grand coalition with the United States and Russia to eradicate the Islamic State.

The Prime Minister’s comments come one day after he confirmed Canada’s bombing mission in the region will come to an end before March, 2016, when the current parliamentary mandate expires.

This shifting role raises a number of questions the Prime Minister’s Office wasn’t prepared to answer Tuesday, including whether Canadian soldiers in Iraq will continue to be authorized to identify targets for air strikes as they were under the training and mentoring mission the former Conservative government launched in September, 2014.

“Details of Canada’s contribution will be determined as discussions continue within the government and with our allies on the role for Canada going forward,” PMO spokesman Olivier Duchesneau said.

Mr. Trudeau, whose decision to withdraw the CF-18s was challenged by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall this week, continues to face pressure to change his mind.

Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister in Paul Martin’s government, said he thinks the Prime Minister should reverse himself and continue the airstrikes.

“I know he made a promise but the circumstances do change – or they crystallize more so – and they have with the Paris attacks,” Mr. Dosanjh said.

Mr. Trudeau campaigned on a pledge to end a combat role in Iraq, but Mr. Dosanjh argues this wasn’t a central theme in the 2015 vote.

“From my perspective, the election wasn’t about bombing mission or no bombing mission. The election was about a change of government,” he said.

Canada has about 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel stationed in Kuwait, where they support the air-combat mission that includes surveillance aircraft and tankers.

Mr. Trudeau must come up with a revised contribution to the war against the Islamic State that doesn’t leave the impression Canada is quitting the fight, said David Perry, a senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

To bring back all 600 of the Kuwaiti-based airmen and air women and leave less than 70 soldiers in Iraq “would be a remarkable reduction” as other countries ramp up the battle against the Islamic State, he said.

Mr. Perry said Canada could deploy soldiers to southern Iraq to help Iraqi government forces get into better shape.

Even a year ago, Western allies were talking about the need for a new long-term training program for Iraqi government forces. The semi-autonomous Kurds in northern Iraq have proven capable of turning back Islamic State troops, but Bagdhad’s forces, which received years of training from the United States, nevertheless fell apart when faced with the advancing jihadis in 2014.

Retired colonel George Petrolekas of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute said Canada could better help local forces if Canadian soldiers continue to be allowed to identify targets for air strikes and accompany Iraqi troops into the field.

Lloyd Axworthy, a former Chrétien-era cabinet minister, said he would like Canada to focus on tracking the flow of funds by militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“I’d like to see Canada become a very major player in not just tracking individual ISIS cells, but tracking where the money goes so we can begin to provide tough containment,” Mr. Axworthy said.

He said consideration should be given to “opening up havens and corridors where aid can be delivered to people in Syria.”

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