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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Canada in Iraq: CDS Vance to Provide Trudeau with Options

David Pugliese had  a good piece today in the Ottawa Citizen, discussing Canada's possible future role in Iraq against the Islamic State (ISIS). The new Liberal government plans to end Canada's bombing campaign, but no end date has been determined yet. 

Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, then-Commander of Canadian Joint Operation Command, holds a technical briefing on combat strikes against the Islamic State at National Defence Headquarters last fall.
General (Then Lt. Gen) Jonathan Vance (former Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command) holds a technical briefing on combat strikes against ISIS at NDHQ in Ottawa in the fall of 2014.

Article Written by David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, October 22, 2015 (page A13)

Military planners are working to come up with scenarios for the new Liberal government on how Canada can contribute troops to train Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State, even as Canada winds down the bombing campaign.

Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau this week reaffirmed his intention to have Canada pull out of the bombing against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and instead focus on troops to train Iraqi soldiers.

Canada already has 69 special forces soldiers training Kurds in northern Iraq. It is unclear at this point whether an expanded training role would mean boosting the size of that special forces contingent or whether it would see regular troops helping improve Iraqi skills.

There have been initial discussions among planners at Department of National Defence headquarters but little can be done until a Trudeau government takes power. The cabinet will be sworn in Nov. 4.

“We would engage Canada’s military in something we’ve demonstrated tremendous ability at in Afghanistan and elsewhere: training up local troops doing the fighting on the ground,” Trudeau said during the election campaign.

The U.S. is conducting a training mission in Iraq and has more than 3,500 troops there. Troops from Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Finland all have been involved in training Kurdish forces.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed Canada to the Iraq war a year ago. Six CF-18 fighter jets, surveillance and refuelling aircraft, as well as 600 personnel are involved in the bombing mission.

It will be up to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance to present the options to Trudeau’s government.

Just 10 months ago, Vance — then a lieutenant general and in charge of the Iraq operation — was asked by journalists what would happen if the Canadian bombing mission ended early.

Vance answered that the coalition would adapt. “They have the capacity to react if a partner in the coalition leaves the mission,” Vance said in January. “It is possible to set priorities but we are very important at the present time in the mission, very important in the coalition, but they can change their method, their targeting and the priority of targets if one partner or another leaves the mission.”

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said the impact of Trudeau’s decision to leave the bombing campaign will be blunted by Canada’s decision to commit more training troops.

“If it had been a complete pullout from the mission, then our allies would not have been happy,” said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University.

There have been concerns in the U.S. that the bombing campaign has had a limited impact. ISIL has retreated from about 25 per cent of the territory it seized in Iraq but it still continues to hold large areas of the country.

In late August, Harper acknowledged the effect had been less than envisioned. “The intervention has had the effect of largely stopping the advance of (the Islamic State), particularly in the north of Iraq and to some degree in other parts of Iraq and Syria – not maybe as much we’d like,” he said.

The Conservatives also committed the RCAF to expanding the bombing mission to Syria starting in April. At the time, Defence Minister Jason Kenney incorrectly claimed Canada was needed because it was one of the few nations in the coalition that had smart bombs.

Canada has only conducted a small number of bombing missions in Syria because it doesn’t have enough information about targets on the ground.