By: Lee Berthiaume, The Globe and Mail
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has ruled out sending Canadian troops into Syria as the clock ticks down on Canada’s current mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Military planners have been drawing up options for the next phase of the fight against ISIL, after the Trudeau government extended the current mission for another three months in March.
The hope was that the battle for the city of Mosul would be over by the new deadline on June 30, at which point the international community would have a better idea of how the next chapter was shaping up.
ISIL continues to hold out in parts of Mosul, but Sajjan said Friday that the government is looking at how the mission should change to better support the fight against the extremist group.
Yet Sajjan closed the door on sending troops into Syria, offering a clear “No” when asked if that option was on the table.
“Right now, as Canada, we’re focused on Iraq and we’ll continue that focus to make sure we reinforce some of the gains that we have made and make adjustments where it’s necessary,” he said.
That is despite the presence of several hundred U.S. troops in Syria and the fact that Canadian surveillance planes and a refuelling aircraft have flown missions over the country for the last several months.
Their efforts have fed into the larger U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria.
Canada also has about 200 special forces operating alongside Kurdish and Iraq forces in northern Iraq, including inside Mosul, as well as medical personnel and a helicopter detachment in the area.
Sajjan said Canada remains committed to the fight against ISIL and supporting Iraq, where there are fears the extremist group will go underground and resort to more traditional terror attacks after Mosul.
That will require different training and support from the international community, which to this point has been largely focused on helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces fight ISIL as a regular military force.
There are also concerns about Iraq’s political future, with several potential conflicts bubbling just beneath the surface as the threat posed by ISIL appears to be receding.
The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region announced earlier this month that a referendum on independence will be held on Sept. 25, setting up a potentially explosive standoff with Baghdad.
Much of Canada’s military support in Iraq has gone to the Kurds.
Sajjan also said the Trudeau government continues to weigh a request from NATO to send police trainers to Afghanistan.