Canada to cease airstrikes against ISIS by Feb. 22
Canada will cease airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria by Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday.
The CF-18 fighter jets will be pulled from the mission, but one refuelling plane and two surveillance aircraft will continue to participate. Ottawa will also triple the size of what it calls the “train, advise and assist effort” in the region. Currently, 69 special forces trainers are assisting local troops on the ground.
Canada’s new contribution to the fight against ISIS will include additional medical personnel and equipment such as small arms and ammunition to assist Iraqi security forces.
"The people terrorized by (ISIS) don't need our vengeance, they need our help," said Trudeau.
Trudeau made the announcement alongside Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.
Asked whether Canadian military trainers will engage in front-line operations or on-the-ground combat alongside local security forces, Trudeau said, “this is a non-combat mission.”
But during a technical briefing with reporters on Monday, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said military trainers will likely face “engagements” with ISIS militants, and called the new strategy "riskier overall."
"In my view, it's a non-combat mission in that we are not the principal combatants here,” Vance said. "I want Canadians to know that we will be involved in engagements as we defend ourselves or those partners who we are working with.”
Vance said Canadian military personnel will be marking targets as part of their work with Iraqi security forces.
“There’s no mistake about it -- we are in a conflict zone,” Sajjan told CTV’s Power Play later on Monday. But he said the “most critical” piece of Canada’s contribution will be “professionalizing” the Iraqi security forces so that they can “hold the ground” for future stability in the region.
The ongoing mission, known as Operation Impact, will be extended for another two years, with a review scheduled in March, 2017.
Trudeau said the mission will be put to a debate and a vote in the House of Commons next week.
Details of Canada’s revised ISIS mission came as Sajjan prepares to attend a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels this week.
Peter Cook, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, said later on Monday that the U.S., who is leading the coalition against ISIS, welcomes Canada's new "contributions."
Trudeau has been under pressure to keep the CF-18 fighter jets in the combat mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But he has repeatedly said that he won’t back down on his election promise.
Trudeau said Monday that “some” people think the government should use “heated, over-the-top rhetoric” when talking about ISIS. But he said that would only accomplish “precisely what our enemies want us to do: they want us to elevate them, to give in to fear, to indulge in hatred."
“We know Canada is stronger, much stronger, than a threat posed by a group of murderous gang of thugs,” he said.
Trudeau said his decision to pull the CF-18 fighter jets was guided by a “desire to do what Canada can do best” to assist affected regions.
“For us, this is the right approach,” he said.
Increased training efforts are “very much appreciated by the Iraqi government,” he added.
In a statement, interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose called the withdrawal from the combat mission a “shameful step backward” for Canada.
“This was (Trudeau’s) first major foreign policy decision and he ended our combat mission against ISIS – the greatest threat to humanity,” Ambrose later told CTV’s Power Play. “Mr. Trudeau doesn’t think this is our fight and I think he’s wrong.”
Ambrose said that Trudeau “never gave a good reason” for pulling the fighter jets and letting Canada’s allies “do the heavy lifting.”
She said she supports the government’s diplomatic, humanitarian and training efforts, but she also supports “degrading and defeating the threat of ISIS.”
“And that happens with military intervention.”
Over the next three years, the government will be spending more than $1.1 billion on the entire mission, including the costs of security, humanitarian and development assistance. The humanitarian mission includes $840 million to provide water, shelter, health care, and sanitation. Another $270 million will be provided to assist countries that are helping refugees from the region.
With files from The Canadian Press