ISIS mission debated in House after airstrikes end
Michael Shulman, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, February 17, 2016 7:12PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 17, 2016 9:56PM EST
Canada’s changing role in the coalition efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria faced renewed scrutiny Wednesday, as the Liberal government’s plan sparked a heated debate in the House of Commons.
Canada’s six CF-18 Hornets ended airstrikes against ISIS as of Feb. 15, and will depart the region in the coming weeks.
"I'm proud of the efforts of our CF-18 aircrews and all those who supported airstrike operations," said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in a statement.
"I appreciate greatly their contribution and that of all members who have deployed on Operation Impact."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week that he would triple the size of the military’s "train, advise and assist effort" on the ground. Canada currently has 69 special forces trainers assisting local troops as part of the mission.
The government also plans to make new contributions to the fight against ISIS in the form of additional medical personnel and equipment such as small arms and ammunition to assist Iraqi security forces.
On Wednesday, Trudeau opened up the debate in the House by saying there is an "important role" for Canada to play in the fight against ISIS.
"(ISIS) stands against everything we value as Canadians and poses a direct threat to our people and to our friends," said Trudeau.
"Our government understands the need for sustained efforts working with our international partners to enable local forces to defeat those terrorist."
Trudeau said the Liberal government has put together a "robust" and "comprehensive" plan in consultation with its allies and other experts.
The prime minister said the new training resources for Iraqi security forces will allow them to "take the fight directly to ISIS to reclaim their homes, land and future."
"We must take action in a way that will deliver durable results on the ground to help restore peace and stability to this war-torn region," said Trudeau.
"The one thing that will ultimately defeat (ISIS) … is local troops taking the fight directly to those people who have taken and invaded their homes, their lands and their communities.
In addition, to the extra training resources Trudeau touted the new plan's measures to ensure chemical, biological and nuclear safety, as well as its humanitarian aspects.
The mission will cost $1.1 billion over the next three years, including security, humanitarian and development assistance. In particular, the humanitarian mission includes $840 million to provide water, shelter, health and sanitation. An additional $270 million will go towards helping countries deal with the waves of refugees fleeing the region.
The prime minster also faced numerous questions about the decision to pull Canada's six CF-18s from the mission.
However, Trudeau was steadfast in his decision to keep the election promise.
"The airstrikes have been effective in a measure of impact against (ISIS), but the question is always, What can Canada do that other countries can't offer to the same degree?"
Meanwhile, interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose said the decision would "blunt the sharp end of the spear" in Canada's fight against ISIS and has disappointed its allies.
"While I applaud the commitment to continue diplomacy and development, I question how such goals can be achieved without basic peace and security for people of Iraq and Syria," said Ambrose.
"How can Canada continue to claim to be a major partner in the fight against (ISIS) when it is eliminating the very contribution that most directly protects innocent civilians suffering on the ground."
Ambrose said the Kurdish government has "repeatedly" asked Canada to maintain its airstrikes. She added its international partners have echoed those statements. More than 60 nations are part of the U.S. coalition against the extremists.
Ambrose added that ISIS is seeking to institute a "brutal and hierarchal system of control" in the region, which puts women and children at risk of sexual enslavement and encourages the murder of religious minorities and gays and lesbians.
"It has as its aim the destruction of democracy and the equal treatment of citizens," said Ambrose.
"This is an ideology worth fighting with every tool at our disposal."
Ambrose acknowledged that the ramped-up training measures are "valuable," but said it is not enough.
"We support diplomatic efforts, we support political efforts, we support humanitarian efforts all those things were being done, but we were also fighting and we should be part of the fight and now were out because of him," she said.
In contrast, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair voiced his concerns about the increased presence of Canadian trainers on the ground in the region. Mulcair said the new plan amounted to an "expansion" of Canada's role into a "combat mission."
"The reality is that the new mission actually blurs these lines even more by replacing planes in the sky with boots on the ground," said Mulcair.
"This government is placing Canadian forces personnel deeper into front line combat … Let's be clear, this is not classroom training."
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance offered a similar assessment following the plan's initial announcement, calling the strategy "riskier overall" and saying that military trainers will likely face "engagements" with ISIS militants.
Mulcair said the government should instead be focusing its efforts on increasing humanitarian support for victims, cutting off oil funds that fund terrorist activities and working with domestic faith communities to counter radicalization.