Monday, February 22, 2016

Current Liberal Advisory on Iraq Criticized Tories on "Non-Combat"

Written by: LEE BERTHIAUME Ottawa Citizen

The Current Liberal Foreign Affairs Advisory also backed airstrikes against the Islamic State.

Less than a year before becoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy guru, Roland Paris blasted the Conservative government for not being upfront about the fact that Canadian troops in northern Iraq were indeed engaged in combat.

The comments were made in a January 2015 blog post written for the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, where Paris was director. They came after the Tories revealed that Canadian soldiers had been operating on the front lines with the Kurdish forces they were advising and assisting.

The Conservatives as well as senior military officers maintained the mission was non-combat, even though Canadian troops were calling in airstrikes and had engaged in firefights with Islamic State fighters. But Paris accused the government of “redefining” combat, and said Canadians deserved the truth.

“Our national government — regardless of the political party in power — must be forthright with Canadians about something as serious as putting Canadian soldiers into combat situations,” Paris wrote.

“Wars, especially long wars (as this one is likely to be), must be rooted in public trust. A lack of forthrightness erodes that trust.”

The Trudeau government is now presiding over the exact same type of mission. And like the Conservatives before them, they insist Canadians are not engaged in combat.

The fact the Liberals have followed the Conservatives in also using the term non-combat, even though Canadian soldiers are doing the same thing as before, has emerged as a political headache for the government after it promised during the election to end combat operations.

In his blog post, Paris raised and then answered nine questions about the Iraq mission. The first: “Is Canada engaged in ground combat?” His answer: “Yes.” Paris went on to accuse prime minister Stephen Harper and defence chief Gen. Tom Lawson of “walking a tightrope” in trying to explain why it isn’t combat.

Paris, who was appointed Trudeau’s foreign policy adviser in November, wrote that the Iraq mission had become a victim of “mission creep,” in which a small military operation slowly drags a country deeper into war.

“It became clear last week that the terms of Canada’s operation had changed,” Paris said. “Canada’s new front-line role — as well as our leaders’ redefinition of what counts as combat — unquestionably represent mission creep.”

As part of its new mission in Iraq and Syria, the Liberal government has ended Canadian airstrikes against Islamic State. But it has also tripled the number of soldiers assigned to work with Kurdish forces to 200, and will deploy helicopters to help move the troops and ferry equipment and supplies.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, has said there will be no change to what Canadian troops are doing there. This includes accompanying Kurdish forces to the front lines, calling in airstrikes and fighting Islamic State forces when necessary.

But the government and Vance insist the mission is non-combat. Vance rejected suggestions Friday that he was tailoring the definition of combat to suit the Liberal government’s needs, saying he was the “expert on what is combat,” and telling those who don’t like his definition: “Too bad.”

In his blog post, Paris said Canada was the first country to “tinker with the definition of ‘ combat’ and move ‘advisers’ into a front-line role.” And he said having Canadian soldiers on the front lines with the Kurdish forces they are “advising and assisting” was unnecessary.

“In the final years of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, for instance, our troops trained Afghan forces in military facilities behind the wire and did not accompany Afghan forces on tactical operations,” he wrote.

“Indeed, the U.S. military indicated last week that American troops currently in Iraq are not being deployed with Iraqi units to front-line positions. Rather, they are training Iraqis behind the wire at four major military bases.

“The assertion that deploying Canadian troops to the front lines is an inevitable element of advising and assisting is, therefore, misleading.”

Paris did support expanding Canada’s mission in northern Iraq, noting that Australia had about 200 soldiers on the ground. But he said such an increase in the number of Canadian trainers should be done “while simultaneously clarifying and tightening guidelines on the deployment of these forces to front-line positions.”

He also called for a redoubling of non-military assistance to address the root causes of instability in the Middle East and North Africa, and offered qualified support for Canada continuing to bomb Islamic State in Iraq.

“As long as Canada’s CF18s can play a useful role,” he wrote, “it is reasonable to continue this deployment, provided we remain convinced that the overall mission is achievable, and that there are not more compelling demands for the CF-18s when we have to make this decision.”

Canadian warplanes conducted their last airstrikes in Iraq and Syria last week.