OTTAWA—A mission by Canadian military explosives experts in Iraq has been extended to help the country clean up the dangerous remnants of the battle against Daesh.
|A Canadian Forces Griffon helicopter flies over a displaced persons camp near Erbil, Iraq on Feb. 20, 2017. Up to four Griffon helicopters remain in the region as well as two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, a CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refueller, and up to 200 special operations forces. (RYAN REMIORZ / THE CANADIAN PRESS)|
The Canadian soldiers — from the 2 Combat Engineering Regiment based in Petawawa — have been working since last fall as trainers at the Iraq Army’s bomb disposal school. That mission has now been extended to this fall, Brig.-Gen. Andrew Jayne, commander of Joint Task Force — Iraq told the Star.
“Every time the hostilities are over, the explosive remnants of war — not just mines — but unexploded ordnance are always a threat to the people, the soldiers,” Jayne said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Kuwait.
American military officials say that this month alone, Iraqi security forces have destroyed more than 100 improvised explosive devices and other types of explosives.
“There is quite a focus on helping the Iraqis deal with this threat. That’s why we think this is an important contribution,” Jayne said.
Canada’s military contribution to the fight against Daesh — known as Operation Impact — has some 650 personnel deployed in Kuwait and Iraq. It includes a medical facility in Erbil, up to four Griffon helicopters, two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, a CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refueller, and up to 200 special operations forces soldiers who advise and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
While Daesh has been defeated on the battlefield, commanders caution that extremist fighters, hiding in the civilian population, will likely now turn to terror tactics.
“There are still remnants of ISIS who reside in a cellular structure who seek to bring instability to local areas, in particular population centers,” said Brig.-Gen. James Glynn, the U.S. officer who serves as deputy commanding general of the special operations joint task force for Operation Inherent Resolve.
“And that remains as it has for some time the focus of the Iraqi security forces and their counterterrorism forces specifically,” he told a briefing earlier this month.
That was echoed by Jayne who said that while the defeat of Daesh “came earlier than expected” security challenges remain.
“That’s why the coalition continues to evolve,” he said.
“Daesh no longer hold ground in Iraq but we do need to continue to support and train their people to deal with the aftermath. Dealing with those explosive threats . . . is part of that. But there’s also training for other groups,” he said.
Senior commanders are preparing recommendations to put before Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, in the near future and a political decision on the make-up of Canada’s military commitments to Iraq are expected soon after that. The mission is due to end in March 2019.
“There remains a lot of work to do to ensure a stable and secure Iraq. We’ve been considering . . . as part of the process, how the Canadian Armed Forces is going to move forward within that context,” Jayne said.
Canada suspended the training mission by special forces operations last October after rising tensions and clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
While the counter-insurgency has changed, Jayne said Canada’s current contributions, such as the medical facility in Erbil, are still needed.
For example, he noted that the pace of operations by the Polaris air-to-air refueller to support patrols by coalition fighter jets has not slowed.
“Planes still fly and cover forces on the ground and our numbers of fuel delivered keep continuing to grow,” Jayne said. “I haven’t seen that rate drop off.”
He said it’s the same for the two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. “It’s nonstop. The aircraft go in, they pick up cargo, move it to the next location, pick up people,” Jayne said.
“I’m confident that the resources that we have here today are providing a valuable contribution,” he said.
Meanwhile, Canada is helping Iraq on the governance front too. Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, says he came away from a visit to Iraq optimistic about democratic reforms underway.
“Yes, security is still a threat but there’s a sense of optimism, a sense of promise, a sense of excitement,” the MP for Mississauga Centre told the Star.
Alghabra made a one-day visit to Baghdad where he was a keynote speaker at a conference on governance focused on a decentralized federal system of government in Iraq.
In his talks with local officials, Alghabra said he underscored the need for a governance system that lasts.
“Parliaments and politicians come and go but you need a system that works and you also need the population to have confidence in the system,” he said.
“The confidence really needs to be in the system as much as it is in the politicians,” he said Friday in a telephone interview from Istanbul.
He said he was encouraged by the steps taken so far as the government prepares a budget and sticks to a schedule for a parliamentary election in May.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of challenges. I don’t think anyone is underestimating those challenges,” he said.
“But not only did I see willingness but I saw a roadmap and a desire to implement that roadmap,” he said.