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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ottawa Appears Likely to Extend Military Mission in Iraq

By: Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star

Ottawa appears likely to extend Canada’s military deployment in Iraq by several months as the fight for Mosul continues and then consider a longer-term plan for the counter-Daesh mission, the Star has learned.

The mission, which includes some 200 special forces soldiers on the ground near Erbil, plus air force crews operating reconnaissance and refuelling aircraft, was due to wrap up at the end of March.

Ottawa will consider what kind of military contribution is needed if Canada decides to recommit to the counter-Daesh coalition in Iraq.
Ottawa will consider what kind of military contribution is needed if Canada decides to recommit to the counter-Daesh coalition in Iraq. (RYAN REMIORZ /THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)
But with Iraqi and peshmerga forces still fighting to reclaim Mosul and surrounding territory from Daesh insurgents, the federal government now seems likely to extend the mission by several months, a source told the Star. A final decision is expected shortly.

During the extension, the government will consider what kind of military contribution is needed if Canada decides to recommit to the counter-Daesh coalition.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan declined Tuesday to say what the government may do next but did say that consultations are ongoing with allies.

“That’s what we’re doing now is making sure that we’re talking to our coalition partners, looking at the situation on the ground. It is very fluid, and we just want to make sure that we have the right resources,” Sajjan told reporters on Parliament Hill.

“We will continue to look at any type of adjustments so that we are a responsible coalition partner,” he said.

The mission was originally launched by former prime minister Stephen Harper in the fall of 2014 and included deploying troops to northern Iraq in an advise-and-assist role to train peshmerga troops and dispatching an air-to-air refueller, reconnaissance aircraft and six CF-18 fighters that join in coalition bombing campaigns.

After taking power, the Liberals ended the bombings by the CF-18s but boosted the number of troops on the ground. More recently, Canada has taken over command of a military hospital in Erbil to treat casualties from the ongoing offensive launched by local forces to beat back Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL).

Though it’s ostensibly a non-combat mission, Canadian troops have several times engaged in firefights with Daesh insurgents to protect themselves or the Kurdish troops they are with.