Several dozen Canadian special ops forces will deploy to Iraq as part of a military adviser mission that the federal government announced on Friday, CTV News has learned.
More than 100 members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) will take part in the new mission. The regiment regularly trains and advises foreign militaries on counter-terrorism efforts.
The federal government announced the adviser mission as a NATO summit in Wales drew to a close on Friday.
Canada’s decision to send the advisers to Iraq is “not without risk,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Friday, but is necessary to help Iraqi forces hold back the advance of Islamic State militants, he said.
They will join U.S. soldiers to advise the Iraqi government on how to halt the further advance of IS extremists in the country’s north.
Canadian soldiers will provide “strategic and tactical advice to Iraqi forces” before they engage in operations against Islamic State, according to a news release.
Harper said the decision followed a request for Canadian advisers from U.S. President Barack Obama.
The initial commitment is for 30 days, Harper said, and the mission will be reassessed after that.
Canadian soldiers will not see combat, but the mission is not without risk, he said.
“This is not a combat mission and our role is clearly defined. Canada is joining our allies in providing critical advice to forces in northern Iraq as they continue to hold back the terrorist advance,” Harper told reporters.
“But while this mission is low risk, it’s not without risk. Our men and women in uniform are ready to answer this call, and I thank them for always being prepared to defend Canadian values and interests in a dangerous world.”
The mission follows a commitment of millions of dollars to humanitarian efforts in Iraq, as well as two RCAF transport aircraft that have delivered military supplies to Kurdish forces.
Harper was asked about the potential danger Canadians may face in Iraq, and replied that both the government and the Canadian Forces have evaluated the risks.
“We think the risks are acceptable and manageable, but the risks do exist,” Harper said, adding that while he doesn’t think the risks are enormous, “the risks are very real.”
Harper did not directly address a question about potential “mission creep. However, he did hint at further Canadian involvement in Iraq by noting that he expects Canada’s allies “are going to look at further steps to respond to this threat.”
Canada will “evaluate those as we’re made aware of the plans,” he said.