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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Colombia or Mali? Somewhere Else? Where are Canadian troops headed next?

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says the Canadian military will be able to take on a peacekeeping mission despite committing troops to a new and open-ended NATO operation in eastern Europe.

Sajjan said despite other ongoing missions the Canadian Forces has the capacity to do a peacekeeping operation.

“We are gathering information,” Sajjan told reporters during a conference call from Kuwait on Wednesday. “I’ve had certain briefings. We will be moving ahead on this because it’s very important to send a message that Canada will play a responsible role” in the world.

Canada is contributing troops to train Kurds in northern Iraq in their battle against the Islamic State or ISIL. It is also providing additional soldiers to the Iraq mission against ISIL.

In addition, Canada recently announced it would send around 450 soldiers to Latvia as NATO ramps up efforts in eastern Europe to counter what it considers an aggressive Russia. Canada will also keep a warship in the region and contribute fighter jets at different times to that NATO mission.

Those commitments have raised questions whether Canada would have military units available for peacekeeping operations. The Liberal government has promised it would re-establish Canada’s role in such missions after the number of troops committed to the United Nations has dwindled in record low numbers.

Sajjan said Canada must carefully examine where it might want to contribute for such a mission. “We have to have a need for impact,” he explained. “It’s not just about going somewhere.”

There have been suggestions that Canada could contribute to a peace operation in Colombia or in Africa. A mission to Mali has mentioned as a possibility.

Sajjan wouldn’t get into specifics. But he added: “Certain parts of the world haven’t got the right amount of attention and that’s why we’re looking at Africa.”

Sajjan arrived in Iraq early Monday to meet with his Iraqi counterpart Khaled al-Obeidi.

Sajjan’s visit also coincided with a trip to Baghdad by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who promised more American soldiers for the ongoing war against the Islamic State.

At the end of the recent NATO summit, Canada announced it would contribute to an alliance program to train Iraqi troops in the disposing of improvised explosive devices.

Sajjan said during his visit he also travelled to northern Iraq to meet Kurdish officials.

Sajjan said he is happy with the progress of the coalition mission against the Islamic State, noting the extremist group has suffered a number of serious setbacks on the battlefield.

But the Islamic State has also launched a new terror campaign, detonating bombs mainly in and around the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Last week its attacks killed more than 300 people. Additional suicide attacks continued on Tuesday and Wednesday, claiming at least another 19 lives.

Sajjan said the coalition expected that response because of the setbacks Islamic State has faced. “We expected additional attacks to come,” he explained. “We have prevented quite a few of them as well.”