Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Canada in Iraq: RCAF Ends Airstrikes

Written by David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
Published February 17, 2016

Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets stopped their bombing in Iraq and Syria on Monday, days before MPs started debating the value of the new military mission against the Islamic State.

The debate in the House of Commons on the Liberal government’s new Iraq mission started Wednesday. But the six fighter aircraft had finished their mission two days before.

“In accordance with Government of Canada direction, the Chief of the Defence Staff ordered the Canadian Armed Forces to cease airstrike operations in Iraq and Syria on February 15, 2016,” Canadian Forces spokesman Capt. Kirk Sullivan confirmed late Wednesday.

“The Hornets will depart the region in a phased approach in the coming weeks,” he added.

The Liberals unveiled Feb. 8 their revamped “non-combat” mission to battle ISIL in Iraq, including their plan to triple the number of Canadian special forces in the north of the country and withdraw the six fighter jets.

The Liberals had said the fighter jet mission would end by Feb. 22. The last bombing runs took place on the weekend in Iraq.

On Feb. 14, two CF-18 Hornets bombed an ISIL fighting position in the vicinity of Fallujah using precision-guided munitions. Four days earlier, two CF-18s attacked an ISIL weapons cache in the vicinity of Al Habbaniyah. The same day, two CF-18s bombed an Islamic State fighting position north of Ramadi.

The CF-18s flew their first mission on Oct. 30, 2014. They conducted 251 airstrikes, dropping 606 bombs, Sullivan noted. Only five of the bombing runs were in Syria, the rest were in Iraq.

Military officials said Wednesday night that the bombs destroyed 267 ISIL fighting positions, 102 vehicles or other pieces of equipment, and 30 improvised explosive device factories or storage facilities.

Canada will leave an aerial refueling tanker and two CP-140 surveillance aircraft assigned to the coalition bombing mission.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced criticism in the Commons for ending the fighter jet combat mission.

But Trudeau has insisted that Canada can make a more meaningful contribution through providing humanitarian aid and training Kurdish security forces fighting the Islamic State. That training will include directing airstrikes and if necessary eliminating enemy positions using other weapons.

That part of the mission hasn’t changed from when the Conservatives committed special forces to northern Iraq in the fall of 2014. But the Liberals have expanded in size of the commitment, increasing the number of commandos from 69 to a little more than 200.

The Canadian military is also looking at sending helicopters to Iraq to help with transport.

In the Commons Wednesday, Trudeau acknowledged the criticism from the Conservatives, who don’t believe the Liberal plan is doing enough to fight ISIL, and the NDP, who are worried Canada could be drawn into a war on the ground.

“We have one party that wants us to do much more in the fight against the so-called Islamic State, and the other party who wants us to do much less against ISIL,” Trudeau said.

But he noted Canada’s allies are happy with the Liberal government’s plan. That plan would see the number of Canadian military personnel increase from 650 to 830.

The Conservative’s interim leader Rona Ambrose said the Liberal plan falls significantly short. “The prime minister is wrong when he says his plan to deal with ISIS reflects Canadian values,” she said in the Commons. “Canadians value standing with our traditional allies, Canadians value helping the vulnerable and the threatened, and Canadians value showing true resolve against a brutal enemy.”

The revamped mission has earned kudos from coalition allies. The Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Peter Cook, praised the mission, describing it as the kind of response U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter had been looking for from coalition members. “The secretary sees these as significant contributions,” Cook told reporters, “and he appreciates the decision by the Trudeau government to step up Canada’s role in the campaign at this critical time.”