Thursday, March 10, 2016

New Iraq Mission to Cost $628 million

By TIM NAUMETZ. The Hill Times 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, March 9, 2016 4:31 PM
UPDATED : Thursday, March 10, 2016 12:56 PM

The one-year extension of Canada’s military mission in Iraq with double the number of special operations soldiers and other new troop and air force elements following the withdrawal of CF-18 fighter jets will bring the cost of the operation over two years to $628-million by the expiry of the new mission in March, 2017, according to Department of National Defence planning documents.

The renewed and expanded mission under the Liberal government will cost a total of $263.9-million over the next year, 72 per cent more than the cost of the former Conservative government’s extension of the mission a year ago, despite the Liberal re-deployment of six Canadian CF-18 fighter jets that had been taking part in coalition air strikes against Islamic State fighting positions and installations since 2014, according to the documents the government tabled in Parliament Monday.

Under the previous government of prime minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Heritage, Alta.), spending estimates and plans and priorities tabled in Parliament did not break out costs for Operation Impact, the Canadian Armed Forces designation for the mission that began when Canada joined a coalition led by the United States in response to attacks by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq earlier in 2014.

But the planning documents Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings Hants, N.S.) tabled, which were prepared by the National Defence under new Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), included specific forecast and planned spending details for 16 identified “Major Canadian Armed Forces International Operations.”

An appendix in the document forecasts a planned cost for the Iraq mission of $416.9-million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which an explanatory note in the appendix says includes $153-million for the mission’s first extension “as approved in budget 2015, plus $263.9-million to support [the] extension to 31 March 2017.”

The report shows a separate cost of $211.7-million in mission costs for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, apparently including a period prior to the April 21, 2015, budget taking effect—which brings the total planned cost to $628.6-million from March 31, 2015, to the end of the Liberal extension. The first six-month term of mission began after a Commons vote in October, 2014.

The Commons majority of Liberal MPs approved the government’s February decision to extend the mission under new terms in a 178 to 147 vote on Tuesday.

Both the Conservative Party and the NDP voted Tuesday against the government extension—with the Conservatives accusing the Liberals of deserting coalition partners and abandoning “the fight” by withdrawing the CF-18s and the New Democrats taking the position that the government was ramping up combat elements of the mission by increasing the number of soldiers advising and training Iraqi security forces.

Mr. Harper was present for the vote, after having missed three of the 17 earlier House votes in the 42nd Parliament, and opposed the government motion.

The Iraq mission accounts for the lion’s share of the cost for all current Canadian military operations abroad, the National Defence plans show.

All of the international operations, with Operation Impact being the only one that includes combat elements among the 16, are forecast to cost a total of $325.3-million for the fiscal year 2015-2016 with a planned cost of $502-million for the fiscal year 2016-2017.

National Defence planned spending for its other areas of operations, including troop strength, sovereignty areas and international roles such as NATO and the U.S.-Canada North American Aerospace Defence Command, extends to 2018.

But the forecast for Operation Impact goes only to the end of the current fiscal year.

Mr. Trudeau said when he announced the mission extension Feb. 8 that the government intended to extend it for a further year, but would conduct a review before another renewal.

Although the new Canadian mission does not include CF-18 fighter aircraft, the government doubled the number of Canadian special forces soldiers attached near front lines with Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga troops to roughly 140, although a specific number has never been made public.

The Canadian soldiers, up to now deployed from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment near Petawawa, Ont., have also pinpointed targets for coalition aircraft, engaged with ISIL fighters who have either attacked them or posed a deadly threat and ought alongside Kurdish soldiers to repel a major ISIL offensive last December. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance told the House National Defence committee on Tuesday Canada’s rules of engagement allow Canadian soldiers to fire first—”engage in a hostile act”—if they believe ISIL combatants are preparing to shoot at them.

The government also approved the deployment of an unspecified number of troops to Jordan and Lebanon to contribute to security and maintained up to two Royal Canadian Air Force surveillance aircraft and an in-air refueling jet, with other new elements including Canadian Armed Forces helicopters to transport special operations troops near front lines or enemy-held areas, to reduce the chance of injury or death from the kind of concealed bombs—called Improvised Explosive Devices—that were responsible for a majority of the 152 Canadian troop fatalities in the Afghanistan war.

The government as well committed $840-million in humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon and a further $270-million rebuilding basic social services such as health, education, water and sanitation in the region, over a three-year period.

Those initiatives are planned to include Iraq and Syria, once fighting in those two countries diminishes to the point the assistance can take place, or if the conflict in the two countries ends. The CF-18 air strikes came to a halt by Feb. 22, and four of the CF-18s were redeployed to Romania for NATO duties.

The government said in February the increase in military resources in support of Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition would cost $264-million, plus a further $41.9-million in 2017 for redeployment of personnel and equipment.

It said a further $145-million over three years would be spent on counter-terrorism, stabilization and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security programming, and other measures to counter ISIL, including cutting off access to financing.