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Canadian troops spending more time at front lines in Iraq as future of mission is unclear

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Re: Canadian troops spending more time at front lines in Iraq as future of mission is unclear

Post by Bruce72 on Thu 06 Oct 2016, 22:26

Personally, I support secrecy and the withholding of information surrounding this mission. I feel it's imperative that our special forces have anonymity to operate effectively.

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Re: Canadian troops spending more time at front lines in Iraq as future of mission is unclear

Post by pinger on Thu 06 Oct 2016, 22:13

Mission now more dangerous for Canadian soldiers in Iraq, military says as it defends increased secrecy

The Canadian military says northern Iraq has grown more dangerous for hundreds of special forces soldiers deployed there and Ottawa will no longer be divulging basic details about Canada’s mission to help the Kurds fight Islamic State militants.

Military leaders said Canadian troops have engaged in firefights with Islamic State fighters on “several instances” since January, and while the leaders declined to say how often this happened, an official later suggested the number of exchanges of fire was less than 12.

The military leaders said Canadians fired on Islamic State in self-defence, in defence of their Kurdish allies or to protect noncombatants and that no Canadian soldiers were injured. “The mission has changed since the spring. It’s gone from a more defensive posture to a more offensive one,” Brigadier-General Peter Dawe, deputy commander, Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, told reporters.

The military said that, as the fight against Islamic State forces evolves, the Canadian soldiers are spending less time in classroom settings training the Kurds and more time “overseeing execution of operations” on the battlefield.

This means Canadian troops are spending more time at the front line in a mission that Ottawa insists is an “advise-and-assist” operation and not a combat deployment.

“We are more engaged on the line – there should be no doubt about that – and, by extension, the risk has increased to our troops simply by virtue of time spent at the line and the work we’re doing now in a more dynamic and fluid environment,” Brig-Gen. Dawe said.

The military said it will no longer be telling Canadians – as it did in 2015 – how often Canadian troops are at the front line, what sectors they are deployed in, how often they paint targets to call down airstrikes for coalition forces or precisely how many times they engage in firefights with the enemy.

The Trudeau government promised an end to Canadian combat operations in Iraq in the 2015 election campaign. After taking power, the Liberals ceased aerial bombing in the region, but committed to tripling the number of special forces soldiers on the ground whose job is to help Kurdish fighters take on Islamic State troops.

The Liberals and the military are emphatic that what they call an advise-and-assist mission in northern Iraq is not combat even as they now refuse to provide the kind of information that might help voters judge how risky and hostile operations have become there.

Canadian officials are citing the risk that Islamic State militants could use details of Canadian operations against this country’s troops or their Kurdish allis.

“We’re dealing with a very crafty and well-informed enemy,” Brig.-Gen. Dawe said. “I’m very concerned with operational security notwithstanding perhaps what has been said in the past. Things have been evolved.”

Separately, the military says they foresee the fight against Islamic State will take a long time even though the U.S.-led coalition assisting Iraq has managed to recapture territory and box in the jihadists.

“The overall coalition campaign against Daesh has evolved, moving from degrading to dismantling and ultimately to defeat Daesh,” Lieutenant-General Stephen Bowes, commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, told reporters, using another name for Islamic State.

The terrorist group is expected to resort to guerrilla tactics to prolong the fight against Kurds and Iraqi government forces.

“Daesh remains a capable entity and still controls substantial areas of Iraq which it defends aggressively ... [and] defeating Daesh will take many years as it will likely revert to asymmetric and insurgent tactics as it loses territory,” Lt.-Gen. Bowes said.

The Kurds and their allies are still preparing for a bid to retake Mosul, a stronghold for Islamic State in northern Iraq.

Canada ended its bombing campaign against Islamic state after the Trudeau government took power but Canadian military spy planes are still gathering battlefield intelligence for coalition partners. Canada is also offering medical support for the fight against Daesh and providing lethal aid to Iraqi forces in the form of small arms and ammunition.
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Canadian troops spending more time at front lines in Iraq as future of mission is unclear

Post by Bruce72 on Thu 06 Oct 2016, 19:27

Canadian troops spending more time at front lines in Iraq as future of mission is unclear

'We are more engaged at the line.... and by extension the risk has increased,' says Canadian general

Lt.-Gen. Stephen Bowes, left, and Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe speak as the Canadian Armed Forces provides an update on Operation Impact in the Middle East during a press conference at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canadian special forces troops are spending more time at the front lines of northern Iraq and have been involved in several firefights with Islamic State extremists, but new figures suggest their involvement could come to an abrupt halt next year.

National Defence estimates it will spend $305.8 million on the military campaign up to the end of the next budget year, CBC News has learned.

But the majority of the cash will go out the door in the current fiscal year, with only $41.9 million set aside for 2017-18, something a defence expert says is an indication the Liberals are considering pulling the plug on the mission.

Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe refused to discuss specifics, even though some of the information the military might consider critical — regarding the size and scope of the Canadian mission — was quietly tabled in Parliament late last month.

As of Sept. 8, there were 596 Canadians engaged in the campaign against ISIS operating in four different countries, a little more than a quarter of which were taking part in special forces activities.  

Dawe said his troops are doing more hands-on advising and assisting of Kurdish fighters than they had been in the past, and they have exchanged fire with extremists at various times over the last several months.

He refused to be drawn into specifics, other than to say there were no Canadian casualties.

"The mission has changed since the spring," Dawe said. "We are more engaged at the line. There should be no doubt about that. And by extension the risk has increased."

The country's operations commander says he fully expects that once the upcoming battle for Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, is over, ISIS extremists will begin a new insurgency campaign.

The Pentagon said much the same thing earlier this week and suggested some Iraqi forces will require further training in guerrilla warfare in the years to come.

Future in question

Whether Canada sticks around next year is an open question that will be debated when the Liberals conduct a review of the mission next March, said Lt.-Gen. Steve Bowes.

While he didn't address the budget numbers, Bowes said the military's "posture is not oriented towards" an extended mission.

Defence analyst Dave Perry, of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said recent commitments of 600 troops for peacekeeping, likely in Africa, and a battle group of 450 soldiers in eastern Europe to counter a resurgent Russia could very well set the stage for Canada's exit from Iraq.

"Until the government decides what it wants to do, the military is going to plan to withdraw," he said. "What those numbers say to me … $41 million seems like withdrawal money."

At least 2,000 Kurdish troops have been put through the Canadian portion of the multinational training program, and Dawe said the U.S.-led coalition has switched from a defensive posture to a more offensive one.

Mosul was overrun by Islamic State extremists in 2014. The coalition, with the help of U.S. air power, has been inching its way up to the city limits, taking villages and high ground that will eventually be useful in clearing the once-thriving centre.

Canadians have helped plan and execute some of those battles, but Bowes said they have not initiated combat and have only returned fire on several occasions to protect themselves or civilians.

"It's the Iraqis that are in combat. Let's be clear on that," he said.

Information blackout

Both Bowes and Dawe refused to provide details about the engagements fought by special forces advisers, citing operational security and warning the Islamic State could use even the smallest fragments of information to predict troop patterns and movements.

They held to that line even though much of the data would be considered out of date and devoid of context.

"We don't want to give them an edge," said Dawe. "We don't want them to know how often we're at the line."

The information blackout stands in stark contrast to previous briefings where the former Conservative government allowed the military to publicize limited details of firefights, including the friendly fire incident that took the life of Sgt. Andrew Doiron in March 2015.

The military was also forthcoming, previously, about helping Kurdish fighters guide in coalition airstrikes on extremist positions.

Dawe conceded on Thursday that assisting in airstrikes has continued, but once again refused to provide details.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper's government faced a political firestorm after the revelations of gun battles and airstrikes. Opposition critics used that to paint a narrative of Canada being involved in combat, contrary to government assurances.

The Trudeau government is even more determined to be seen as avoiding combat, Perry said.

But he added it's unclear to him if political optics are driving the secrecy or whether sanitized information, as the original disclosures were, now present a clear and present danger.

"I don't quite follow why that information was disclosable last winter but longer is," he said.

The Liberals ended airstrikes last winter and reconfigured the deployment, promising to triple the number of military trainers and intelligence assets, insisting those elements were better suited to the evolving campaign.

The government also added helicopters and will soon deploy a military hospital to help treat wounded Iraqi troops.

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Re: Canadian troops spending more time at front lines in Iraq as future of mission is unclear

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