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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Canada in Iraq: 33 Airstrikes by RCAF Since Election

Despite the looming stand-down of at least the CF-18 component of Air Task Force Iraq, the Liberal promise to bring home the CF-18s following the election has not slowed down the RCAF in its efforts to degrade ISIS's progress in Iraq. (Syria is another story completely - Canada has hardly been involved)

As of 15 December 2015, Air Task Force-Iraq conducted 1878 sorties:
  • CF-188 Hornet fighters conducted 1201 sorties;
  • CC-150T Polaris aerial refueller conducted 325 sorties, delivering some 19,056,000 pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft; and
  • CP-140 Aurora aircraft conducted 352 reconnaissance missions.
While Stephane Dion said earlier in December that the Government's looming announcement of the CF-18 withdrawal from the US-Led Coalttion was "week away," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said it will not be before the end of 2015. So the RCAF members supporting the CF-18s will be spending Christmas in Kuwait.

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An RCAF CF-18 is refueled by an RCAF CC-150 Polaris over Iraq on November 7, 2015. Photo: CAF Combat Camera 

During the 2015 Election, the Liberals made it seem that if elected, one of the first actions they would announce was the end to Canada's participation in the bombing campaign. That has not happened, despite Prime Minister Trudeau's phone call to President Obama within 48 hours of being elected signalling the CF-18 withdrawal.

Since October 22nd, the RCAF has conducted 33 Airstrikes against various ISIS positions in Iraq. The RCAF airstrikes also played a role in the retaking of Sinjar from ISIS, and has been actively supporting Iraqi forces in their fight for Mosul.

The delay in announcing the CF-18 withdrawal seems to be around what exactly Canada's role in the fight against ISIS will be. Coalition Allies have asked Canada to keep its CC-150 Polaris and CP-140 Aurora aircraft in the campaign. The coalition needs the aerial refueling and surveillance capabilities more than it needs Canada's meager 6 CF-18 fighter jets. The rest of the coalition can make up the pin-sized hole that will be left when the CF-18 do eventually leave - which will be no later than March 2016 - as that is when the current mandate ends.

The surveillance is key to selecting targets for the Air Campaign, and Canada's surveillance aircraft have state of the art equipment that is capable of seeing at night and in poor weather.  As none of the US-led coalition allies actually have their fighters stationed in Iraq or Syria, refueling the fighters and bombers is key to ensuring their safe return; so the allies would prefer if Canada's tanker would stay in the region.

Perhaps Minister Sajjan is looking at if Canada could deploy additional CC-150s or CP-140s to help fill the obvious gap in capabilities for the coalition.

Canada is also planning an additional training mission - to boost the number of trainers on the ground in Iraq. No details have been made public about this process yet.