By: Mathew Fisher, National Post
Canadian Brigadier-General David Anderson is to command a coalition team — including as many as 12 other Canadians — that is to work with Iraq’s security ministries in Baghdad as they prepare battle plans for the long-anticipated offensive to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant out of Mosul and northwestern Iraq.
Lt.-Gen. Steve Bowes — who commands all Canadian troops on operations at home and abroad — revealed the key appointment, during an interview with the National Post, in which he discussed details of what Canada’s new mission in Iraq and the region will look like when it becomes operational in July.
Anderson’s name was later confirmed to the Post by Commander Nathalie Garcia.
Anderson served with the infantry in Afghanistan before commanding an army brigade in western Canada. He is to be responsible for ensuring that “the lines of communication and the intents and actions fire both ways,” said Bowes, who runs Canadian Joint Operations Command.
Four RCAF Griffon helicopters being sent to Iraq are to be deployed exclusively with elite Canadian Special Forces Operations Command troops who are advising and mentoring Kurdish peshmerga forces, Bowes said.
Canada was conducting “a ground-air threat assessment” so the helicopters would be able to react to whatever ISIL might try to do to them, said the three-star general, who served two tours in Afghanistan. “They will certainly go with a defence suite.”
Griffons that Canada deployed to Afghanistan were armoured and equipped with lethal Gatling guns manned by door gunners.
Matthew Fisher/Postmedia NewsLt.-Gen Steve Bowes
Bowes confirmed that, as has been the case since the Harper government first sent military advisers to Iraq in late 2014, only elite and secretive Canadian special forces commandos — rather than conventional forces — would assist the Peshmerga, whose front-line troops are dug in on a strategically important ridge that looks down on Mosul and the Tigris River Valley.
Although the Trudeau government withdrew the RCAF’s Kuwait-based CF-18s from combat operations over Iraq and Syria last month, the number of Canadians helping Iraq fight ISIL is to grow to 830 from about 600. The exact locations and jobs of those Canadians who are to be based in Iraq and neighbouring countries was discussed recently at a conference with U.S. Central Command and partner nations.
“A lot of positions were vacant within the coalition structure. We are picking up some of them,” Bowes said.
“At the moment, in what they call the building partner capacity sites, they are oversubscribed in trainers and undersubscribed in troops to train, but the mission will evolve. So, in a year’s time, who really knows.”
The Canadian Forces were aware of reports ISIL has been using chemical weapons but his troops had excellent equipment and training to deal with such threats, the general said.
“The enemy, ISIL, Daesh (its acronym in Arabic), has shown an ability to metastasize and change tactics and we try to keep abreast of them,” he said.
“For example, how they have been converting dump trucks, putting armour plates on them and creating vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. That shows the degree to which they are capable of taking anything and changing it into a weapon.”
Brig.-Gen. Shane Brennan, who led a Canadian team that mentored Afghan security forces in Kandahar, is to be the next public lead of Joint Task Force-Iraq. Like the previous three JTF-I commanders, who were from the RCAF, Brennan, who is an army officer, is to be based at an airfield in Kuwait that serves as the joint coalition headquarters.
Some of the Canadians being sent to the Middle East are to join another Canadian Afghan vet, Brig.-Gen. Greg Smith, on the staff of a U.S. army major-general in Baghdad. Others are to be part of an expanded Canadian intelligence capability or tasked with supporting troops in Iraq by expanding the logistics footprint in Kuwait.
Sgt Donald Clark, Army NewsFour RCAF Griffon helicopters being sent to Iraq are to be deployed exclusively with elite Canadian Special Forces Operations Command troops who are advising and mentoring Kurdish peshmerga forces, Bowes said
“The mission is complex, as you can imagine, with people all over the place,” Bowes said. “What we have to go through is a very human process of identifying the people and matching them to the positions and then giving themselves sufficient time to prepare themselves professionally with pre-deployment training.”
As well as weapons and other specific military training, those troops selected for what the defence department calls Operation Impact would undergo cultural training specific to their assignments with the Iraqi Kurds or Iraqi Arabs.
“Be mindful that ours is a small mission,” that should not be compared with the much larger combat operation that Canada undertook in Kandahar, Bowes said, adding that not only the military was involved in Iraq but there were “significant whole-of-government initiatives underway in Ottawa to support the mission.”
Bowes was upbeat about the somewhat expanded ground duties that Canada was taking on in Iraq.
“No fears and nothing that keeps me awake,” Bowes said. “What I think about a lot is whether I am doing everything I can to enable the chief (Gen. Jon Vance) and other leaders to ensure that our (political) leadership in this country understands the environment in which we have deployed personnel.”
The general’s mornings began early, reading reports from international news organizations such as Al-Jazeera before attending classified briefings with his staff who monitor everything from volcanoes to terrorist attacks and conflicts and potential conflicts worldwide, especially in eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“You can’t just look at northern Iraq, or Baghdad or Kuwait in isolation,” he said. “You have to be able to look at the region. You have to be able to monitor what is going on around it and understand how things can shift. On the political level this is an extraordinarily complex part of the world.”