The airstrike campaign in Iraq that Canada is preparing to join will not completely eradicate the threat from ISIS forces, says Canada’s chief of defence staff, who did not rule out Canadian participation in a mission to train Iraqi soldiers.

Gen. Tom Lawson briefed reporters on the status of Canada’s mission against ISIS, which the federal government announced earlier this month.Six CF-18s, one air refueller and two surveillance aircraft, as well as about 600 personnel, are expected to all be in theatre before the end of November.

Lawson was asked about reports out of the United States that Washington has asked NATO partners to consider a training mission for the Iraqi Army, and whether Canada would consider participating.

He responded that the idea was an “important part” of discussions held earlier this week with his counterparts from nations participating in the airstrike campaign. He called the airstrikes part of “the emergency response to blunt the attack” of ISIS in Iraq, and acknowledged that more will likely have to be done.

“Simply bringing airstrike power to bear will not deal with (ISIS) properly,” Lawson said. “And there’s broad recognition that it will be Iraqi forces who will be putting the pressure on (ISIS) components in the coming months and there is a requirement to bring them to a level of readiness to be able to do that.”

Part of such a mission includes the ongoing “advise and assist” mission being carried out by Canadian special operations personnel with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, he added. But nations that are forming the coalition conducting airstrikes against ISIS recognize that broader military training “will be the next part of the strategy,” Lawson said.

Lieut.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, Commander of Canadian Joint Operations, added that part of the “critical path to greater success” against ISIS “is the ability to rehabilitate, to the extent necessary, the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Security Forces, get them on their feet and be able to conduct ground operations.”

That would take “a training effort” he said, and it is “not unexpected” that the United States is “looking to trusted partners” for help.

Neither Lawson nor Vance said directly whether Canada is considering expanding its own operations to include direct training of the Iraqi Army.

Pilots will limit collateral damage

Both Lawson and Vance said it would be premature to speculate on when Canadian planes will start dropping bombs on targets.

Canadian personnel will be joining a mission already underway, and there is a process for joining a mission in progress, Vance explained.

“At this stage, it would be premature to say when they’ll drop their first weapons,” Vance said. “We guarantee we’ll tell you when they do.”

Asked what measures are in place to prevent or limit the number of civilian casualties, Vance said there are specific procedures and regulations in place to get the “right weapon in the right spot with right limit of harm in place.”

The Aurora surveillance aircraft will play a large role in assessing targets on the ground. But in the end, the pilots will have the discretion to abandon their mission if the situation changes while they are airborne.

“Even if the target’s been well assessed and seems to be very valid, the pilot has to assure that the conditions haven’t changed in theatre,” Lawson said. “So they are given discretion to bring their weapon back if they believe unreasonable collateral damage may occur.”