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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Video Appears to Show Canadian Special Forces in Battle Against ISIL Near Mosul

By: Ben Makuch, Vice News

New video released last week shows Canadian special forces setting up a mobile anti-tank rocket atop a Kurdish armoured vehicle, in one of the clearest pictures yet showcasing Canada's role on the frontlines of the war to retake Mosul from the Islamic State.

Screen grabs of the footage, broadcast by Kurdish news station Rudaw and posted to Twitter and Instagram, show several special forces, in desert fatigues with Canadian flag patches, helping set up what appears to be an anti-tank missile launcher. A cropped version of the footage—without the Canadian soldier—appeared in a nightly newscast.

Canadian SOF (CSOR) in — Abraxas Spa (@AbraxasSpa) October 24, 2016

New video appears to clearly show  a Canadian commando sets up an ATGM atop an armoured vehicle, with the Canadian flag patch visible on his left arm. Screenshot.
In recent months, Ottawa has become cagey in giving details about special forces operations in northern Iraq, especially when it comes to the battle to retake Mosul.

Recently, military brass has admitted that their special forces have been increasingly on the front lines—but only under an 'advise and assist' mandate

But the video, which shows the special forces setting up the missile for what appears to be an offensive attack against an Islamic State position in the distance, shows just how integrated Canadian personnel are to the fight.

Other sections of the video shows the special forces peering through what seems to be a Canadian-made scope, sitting on the armoured vehicle's machine gun.

The video appears to be from the Hamdaniya region, east of Mosul, where had been held by the Islamic State until recent days, when the Iraqi and Kurdish fighters pushed the terrorist group out of several towns in the area.

When asked about the photos, Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan told VICE Canada from a defense ministers meeting in Paris that while Canada has brought heavy anti-armour weaponry to Iraq, it's intended for self-defense.

"There is no secret here," Sajjan said in response. "Our troops have all the necessary equipment to be able to apply the rules of engagement, if necessary.

"I was actually very upfront from last year, when I visited the troops on the ground, that we need to bring some anti-armour capability in, where the previous government did not have this. So we brought the right resources in for our troops, in making sure that they could protect themselves, the partners they're working with, and other coalition partners as well."

A spokesperson from the Department of National Defence wouldn't comment on the Rudaw video featuring Canadian special operations forces.

"To ensure the safety and protection of our deployed personnel, the exact details of ongoing operations will not be disclosed," DND spokesperson Dan Lebouthillier told VICE Canada. "Our mandate has not changed. We are there to train, advise, and assist the Iraqi security forces and it is important at this time to let them do their work."

The covert role Canada's special operations forces play in the fight against ISIS in Iraq has been questioned in recent weeks, just as international forces ramp up an assault on Mosul. Both of Canada's elite soldier units, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment and Joint Task Force 2, are deployed in Iraq as part of the training mission.Media in Canada is particularly interested in the operations of special operations soldiers in Iraq since they were deployed in 2014, some calling for the Trudeau government to simply admit the country is serving in a combat role and directly engaging ISIS forces.

In an early October news conference, the Justin Trudeau government conceded Canadian special forces previously came under direct ISIS attack and returned fire, but that these occurrences were "sporadic in nature and have not resulted in any Canadian injuries." But in March 2015, a Canadian special forces member died in a frontline Peshmerga controlled position in what was deemed to be a friendly-fire incident.

At the same news conference earlier in the month, defence officials maintained the mission in Iraq was swiftly transforming into a more offensive engagement demanding Canadian troops travel to the frontlines with their Peshmerga counterparts. The Rudaw footage confirms just that: the Peshmerga forces on camera clearly show an entrenched frontline position, with heavy fighting and a large Kurdish force within direct sight of IS fighters.

Canada currently has 200-plus special forces stationed in Iraq advising Kurdish forces and calling in airstrikes.