Six Canadian fighter jets leave Alberta for Kuwait
COLD LAKE, Alta. -- Soldiers stood on rooftops at an Alberta military base Tuesday to wave farewell to the pilots of six Canadian fighter jets as they took off on an international combat mission against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.
Shortly after the CF-18s roared overhead in formation at CFB Cold Lake, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson paid tribute to a soldier killed at home.
Nicholson called the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., a "senseless act" that will only strengthen the military's determination.
"As we deploy our CF-18s and Hercules aircraft, all Canadians should be proud of our men and women in uniform who are dedicated to providing safety and security whenever they are called upon," Nicholson told reporters at the base.
"Our Canadian Armed Forces members represent the best of Canada, and to have one die in such a senseless act only strengthens our resolve."
Police in Quebec say a car was driven deliberately into Vincent and a fellow soldier on Monday. The driver was shot and killed by police after a chase. The second soldier is expected to survive.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has said the act is clearly linked to terrorist ideology.
"We are aware the suspect was known to police and authorities and had become radicalized, although the circumstances of the situation remain under investigation," Nicholson said.
"It underscores the threats that remain at home and abroad. ISIL presents a threat abroad and a threat to Canadians."
The CF-18 Hornets that took off from Alberta are heading to Kuwait, which will serve as Canada's base of operations during the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
About 600 personnel -- along with the jets, two surveillance planes and an aerial tanker -- are to be based in Kuwait. Canada has also shipped about one million kilograms of military supplies to Iraqi security forces, who it is also helping train.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has committed to the mission dubbed Operation Impact for six months.
Reporters were kept at a distance so there could be no identifying photographs taken of the pilots as they filed across the tarmac into their jets. Family members were also kept away from the media.
It was part of an effort to protect those left behind from attacks by ISIL members or sympathizers, said base commander Col. Eric Kenny.
"We're very sensitive to discussing the names of members that are deploying. We want to also make sure that we're keeping the family members out of the media so that they feel they have the protection they need."
Neither Kenny nor Nicholson would say if any other new measures have been taken in response to Monday's hit and run.
"I'm happy with the Force protection measures that we've put in place and we will continue to assess it as we move forward," Kenny said.
Nicholson said the government is monitoring security closely.
"Rest assured that the safety and well-being of Canadian Armed Forces personnel is this government's primary concern," he said. "At the same time, we encourage our members to always remain vigilant."
It will be several days before the jets actually arrive in Kuwait, Kenny added. They are expected to be ready to fly missions by the end of October.