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Friday, January 15, 2016

Matt Gurney: Canada’s ISIS mission isn’t broken, so the Liberals can’t figure out how to fix it

Two full months after the Liberals were sworn into office, having promised during the campaign to withdraw our CF-18 jets from direct combat operations against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, Canadian pilots are still in the fight. On Thursday, two CF-18 jets attacked an ISIL fighting position — troops, in other words — with smart bombs. The Royal Canadian Air Force provided little information beyond noting on the Operation IMAPCT website that the attack was “successful.” We leave it to the readers to fill in the blanks about what success means when dropping fragment-spraying high explosives on enemy personnel.

There was nothing unusual about Thursday’s attack. Indeed, the mission was the 11th successful airstrike conducted by Canadian jets since the new year began. With each mission flown, each bomb dropped, each ISIL unit reduced and offensive blunted, the incongruity of Canada’s current position becomes harder to ignore.

Try as the government might, it cannot come up with a plausible justification for ending the bombing mission.

Canada still intends to pull the jets out, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan reiterated this week. Why? Neither he, the Prime Minister nor any other member of the Liberal government has quite been able to articulate why. In fact, the Liberals, while insisting the jets will come home, have actually done an excellent job demonstrating why they should stay. In television appearances this week, Minister Sajjan said Canada didn’t want to create a “gap” in the coalition for pulling the jets out, and it was investigating ways the country could contribute more to the fight.

ISIL Handout / AFP, Getty ImagesCanada's CF-18s are providing valuable support in beating back ISIL

Let us make sure we have this straight: the Liberals want to pull the jets out of the coalition, but not in a way that creates a gap, and is investigating how to do more while pledging to honour its commitment to do less. One would like to believe this was all some sort of clever disinformation campaign, intended to confuse ISIL, and leave them wondering as to our next move. But the reality is less interesting, and sadder — the government simply doesn’t know what it’s doing.

More to the point, it doesn’t know how to do what it promised to do. The bombing mission they have pledged to end is the right role for Canada. The Liberals may insist that our relatively small share of the overall sorties — around 2 per cent of missions are carried out by Canadian fighters — is not considerable enough to be missed, but then again, fret that pulling the jets out would leave the coalition with gaps. Proposals to bulk up our ground training mission, intelligence gathering capabilities and to assist in rapidly evacuating wounded allied troops to proper medical facilities behind the lines all have merit. Likewise proposals to provide more humanitarian aid.

But try as the government, and the very capable Minister Sajjan, might, they simply cannot come up with a plausible justification for ending the bombing mission. It is effective, appreciated by our allies and supported by the public at home. If this were not the case, the government would have ordered the jets to stand down as quickly as they reinstated the long-form census. Yes, the mission was approved by Parliament to last until April, but the military answers to the Defence Minister specifically rather than to Parliament as a whole. And the minister, of course, obeys the wishes of the Prime Minister. Clearly, the Liberals are at an impasse.

We would have hoped this would be an instructive moment for them. Perhaps finding a way to reshape the Canadian military mission in the Middle East is proving so difficult because the current mission is already the right one. We are providing aid, we are training local forces and assisting them in battle, we are resettling refugees in Canada and, yes, we are contributing directly to the containment and destruction of enemy forces. You can fiddle with any of these components, but they all work best when they work together. The Liberals have already shown an admirable willingness to admit they promised too much on the refugee file. The time has come to abandon the increasingly untenable position that the jets must be withdrawn, and instead acknowledge that the prior government got this call right.

National Post