Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Is There a New Role for CAF in Iraq?

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch

The Canadian military is currently examining how it can contribute to a new NATO training mission in Iraq.

More NATO troops will be headed to that country but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says they will not be involved in combat.

A Canadian Forces Griffon helicopter passes the Monastery of Mar Mattai/St Matthew, February 20, 2017 in northern Iraq. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz ORG XMIT: RYR111
Most of the NATO effort appears to be aimed at training ground forces and police.

At the same time, the U.S.-led coalition is decreasing its air support in Iraq.

American and Iraqi air force commanders say the coalition will launch fewer airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces and instead focus more on training Iraqi pilots. Currently, Iraqi F-16 pilots are trained in America and the maintenance and security of Iraq’s F-16s is largely carried out by U.S. contractors.

In addition, Iraq’s air force will assume more of the “missions, duties and responsibilities” against any effort against the Islamic State, according to a statement released by U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

Will Canadian Forces planners consider a role for the RCAF in the NATO mission?

The RCAF still has a presence in the region as the Polaris refueller has supported coalition fighter jets. C-130J Hercules have delivered supplies. Griffon helicopters are also attached to the mission, although since Canadian special forces are on the sidelines when it comes to training Kurdish forces it’s unclear how much support the helicopters are providing. (Details about Griffon flights are considered secret for security reasons.)

Canada could offer to continue using RCAF C-130Js to support cargo runs for a NATO training mission. The Griffons could be used to support in-country transportation for ground forces.

The Liberal government has committed the Canadian military to the Iraq mission until next year.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has not given any indication when a potential Canadian NATO mission contribution could be decided.

On Friday, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance told reporters that work on various options is still underway. “We are working diligently on plans including conducting reconnaissance and examining various options that I would ultimately be able to bring to the minister,” he said. “The timeline is to try and stay as relevant and with the flow of this conflict as we possibly can. So, there’s no point in adopting certain postures before it’s time to adopt that posture. We’re looking at all options. We’re certainly going to make certain that we stay as relevant and useful to the ultimate success of this conflict that we can.”

(With files from the Associated Press)

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