Plan to withdraw jets 'remains the same': Sajjan
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says the Liberal government’s plan to end withdraw Canadian fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq "remains the same," after CF-18s provided air support when Canadian Special Operations Forces on the ground came under fire.
"We are still committed to ending airstrikes and readjusting our mission so that we can have a meaningful contribution," Sajjan told reporters in London, England, on Friday.
“I am aware that our CF-18s played a significant role, and they just happened to be on station at that time. But the plan remains the same.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he is committed to his election pledge to withdraw six CF-18s from combat, and adjust Canada’s role training local ground forces.
Now, the Liberal government considering when to withdraw its six CF-18s from combat, and how to adjust Canada ground training mission of local forces.
Canadian Armed Forces Maj.-Gen. Charles Lamarre told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday night, that Canadian troops were involved when ISIS militants launched a surprise attack using suicide bombs, mortars and artillery east of Mosul on Wednesday.
Canadian Forces assisted Kurdish fighters with covering fire from the ground, while two CF-18s were called in to launch airstrikes, along with U.S., British, and French warplanes.
Lamarre called the 17-hour battle, "the largest event that the Canadian Armed Forces training up north have been involved in."
He would not say how many of Canada’s 69 Special Operations Forces were involved, or what type of weapons were used. And while there were no Canadian casualties, he said Kurdish security forces "sustained a number of losses."
On Friday, Sajjan told reporters at Canada House in London that the Kurdish forces’ actions, and the Canadian special forces trainers’ ability to provide supporting fire, is evidence their training mission is already successful.
“What this actually showed was that the assist and advise mission is working, where the Kurdish forces were able to launch a successful counter attack – which is not easy to do… To be able to quickly launch a counter attack shows the effectiveness of a fighting force," he said.
When CTV News' Todd Battis asked whether the involvement of Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets means they are still needed in the area, Sajjan said it just so happened they were queued up and ready to go at the time.
"Very fortunately, in this case, our CF-18s were there. But it could have easily been any number of nations’ jets in that area," he said.
"I’m very happy that it also goes to show the great capability of our F-18 pilots."
The Opposition Conservatives said Friday, that the battle near Mosul “clearly illustrates” the need for Canada to maintain its air combat role in the fight against ISIS.
"It’s clear that the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, including our CF-18 fighter jet pilots, are helping to win the fight against jihadi terrorism, stopping ISIS atrocities, and saving lives,” Conservative defence critic James Bezan said in a statement. "This is the very reason why our CF-18 jets have to stay in the fight against ISIS."
Foreign Affairs critic Tony Clement called Liberal policy to withdraw the fighter jets "completely incoherent," and said the Government still hasn’t given a “clear plan” for what the mission will look once the jets are withdrawn.
Sajjan was asked whether the attack changes the Liberal government’s decision to withdraw our CF-18s from the region or other aspects about how Canada will contribute to the fight against ISIS. He said the government would not be rushed into making any decisions.
The minister added that all decisions on Canada’s future in the region have to be made carefully because -- as this incident shows -- even though Canada is involved in only a training and assist mission, it is still a conflict zone.
'Line in the sand'
Former commander of Canadian Forces in Kandahar Pat Stogran said, however the mission is defined, Canada has "definitely drawn a line in the sand."
"The fact of the matter is, the training and assistance is delivered very near the front lines," Stogran told CTV News Channel on Friday. "(Canadian Forces) are vulnerable to these types of attacks, so whether we like it or not, they are in combat."
Stogran said the Liberals’ pledge to withdraw CF-18s "will not affect the outcome on the ground at all" and that having special forces on the ground has a bigger impact.
"The CF-18s don’t make a big impact, I dare say that the coalition is much happier with our air-to-air refuelling capability and the surveillance aircraft we’re putting in there, but certainly the troops on the ground will make a world of difference," Stogran said.
He also said the outcome of the 17-hour battle was "encouraging," because it indicated that the Kurds are capable of defending themselves. However, the former commander said he was "alarmed" by reports that ISIS fighters were able to mount a "surprise" attack of that scale.