Canadian special forces come under fire on Iraq front lines, 'neutralize threat'
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, January 19, 2015 2:55PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 19, 2015 7:15PM EST
Canadian special operations forces came under ISIS attack for the first time in Iraq over the last week, and returned sniper fire to “neutralize” the threat, senior military officials revealed Monday.
Brig.-Gen. Michael Rouleau provided details of the incident during a briefing for reporters in Ottawa, and said no Canadians were injured in the exchange.
According to Rouleau, special operations soldiers had just completed a planning session with senior Iraqi forces several kilometres behind the front lines.
As the group moved to the front lines to visualize what they had discussed, “they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine-gun fire” from Islamic State militants.
Both Canadian and Iraqi soldiers responded with sniper fire, “neutralizing the mortar and machine gun position,” Rouleau said.
“This is the first time that this has happened since our arrival and our reaction is wholly consistent with the inherent right of self-defence.”
A source told CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson that special forces personnel had been helping Iraqis plan an upcoming offensive operation, and wanted to have a first-hand look at the landscape. As they were studying the area, they came under fire.
Some 69 special operations forces are engaged in an advisory and training mission in Iraq, Rouleau said. They assist Iraqi forces as they plan their operations, and provide training on treating battlefield injuries and handling and firing weapons.
In a rare glimpse into special forces activities, Rouleau also said Canadians are “enabling airstrikes from the ground,” meaning they are actively finding targets for jets flying overhead.
But he said that does not mean Canadian ground troops are in a combat role.
“This is very much within the advise-and-assist regime,” Rouleau said. “We have the ability to help make the process involving the delivery of coalition aircraft kinetic effects better, safer, faster. We have those capabilities on the ground. We’re assisting Iraqi security forces who own the combat mission against ISIL.”
About 80 per cent of the special-ops work is done well behind the front lines. However, about 20 per cent is done at the front lines, Rouleau said.
While his assessment of the risk to these soldiers remains low, “low never means zero,” he said.
David Perry, an analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, said it’s important to note that Canada's mission in Iraq is “low risk,” not “no risk.”
“I think to be effective and to actually be providing some kind of assistance and training that's meaningful, you have to put yourself in a position where potentially you would come over fire," he told CTV News Channel.
At the same briefing, Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance said Canadian Forces are ready and able to remain in Iraq should the federal government extend Canada’s six-month airstrike mission.
To date, he said, Canadian planes have flown 358 sorties. CF-18s have conducted 28 airstrikes, the Polaris has delivered more than 3 million litres of fuel to coalition aircraft, and the Auroras have flown 67 intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.