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Canadian troops supporting Kurds in fight to free Mosul from ISIS

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Time for straight talk about Canada’s Iraq mission — it’s war

Post by Guest on Thu 17 Nov 2016, 16:44

Michael Den Tandt: Time for straight talk about Canada’s Iraq mission — it’s war

Michael Den Tandt

November 17, 2016 4:02 PM ET

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 16, 2016.

Harjit Sajjan, a former cop, intelligence expert and Afghan war veteran, got the rock-star treatment when he was appointed minister of defence more than a year ago. He was lauded as a “bad-ass,” who made all his predecessors in the job look like pencil-necked bureaucrats. A photo of him in combat fatigues went viral.

Since then, he has presided over a series of miscues — some apparently his doing, some possibly not. Inquiring minds wonder to what extent Sajjan remains in tune with his boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the broader aims of a Liberal government for which military affairs have until now seemed an afterthought.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Canadian military personnel are at war with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. They have been for two years. Yet no one in this government will say so.

Until last February, Canada’s Iraq war included bombing runs by a flight of CF-18s. Since then, it has included firefights on the ground involving special ops soldiers whose numbers have tripled since the outset, to about 200. How many firefights? We don’t know. No one in the Defence department is saying.

This week, Gen. Jonathan Vance, the country’s senior soldier, told a parliamentary committee Canadian troops have taken pre-emptive action, firing before they or their allies are fired upon. Canadian special forces have deployed anti-tank weapons to destroy explosives-laden vehicles headed for Kurdish lines, according to their commander, Maj.-Gen. Mike Rouleau.

To be clear: any Canadian effort in the international fight against ISIL, however limited, is welcome. It is morally and strategically necessary that this country oppose genocide, slavery, mass murder and mass rape. We should be doing more than we are. The difficulty is in the hypocrisy of our public and political discussion about this mission — to which no political party has been immune.

For just as Canada’s soldiers in Iraq are not acknowledged to be at war by the Trudeau government, neither were they acknowledged as being at war — on the ground, anyway — by the Conservative government. How this can continue, month after month, in a democracy that is ostensibly transparent about its military, is anybody’s guess.

The Liberals made the wrong choice in 2014 when they set themselves against the Harper government’s decision to participate in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. From that flowed the ill-conceived, never properly explained Liberal campaign policy of pulling the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-18s from the fight. This was an affront to the Liberal party’s Pearsonian tradition and also the spirit of the Afghan mission, which the Chrétien and Martin governments launched.

The reason for the shift, plainly, was electoral. How better to cast yourself as an antidote to the “warlike” Harper Tories, those dastardly George W. Bush Republicans in sheep’s clothing, than to symbolically beat swords into ploughshares? And how better to court New Democrat supporters with a pacifist tilt?

And yet, there was also U.S. President Barack Obama to worry about, and his clearly expressed desire for Canadians to remain in the Iraq fight, and the imperative of keeping the bilateral relationship solvent and the Canada-U.S. border lubricated.

Hence, a rabbit from the Liberal hat: a revamped mission more dangerous than the bombing mission, due to the increase in the number of deployed ground troops, yet framed as humanitarian; capacity-building, peace operations, anything to avoid calling it what it is, which is modern war.

The irony here is that killing ISIL terrorists before they commit mass murder is a humanitarian act. It is self-defence by the civilized world, and no different morally from the defensive act of the soldier who fires on the inbound vehicle loaded with artillery shells. In that respect the entire debate about combat versus non-combat, on all sides, is false.

The irony here is that killing ISIL terrorists before they commit mass murder is a humanitarian act

Does Sajjan, professional soldier, understand all this? Of course. He hinted early in his tenure that, left to his own devices, he would have left the CF-18s in place. But he has been reduced in the House of Commons to wanly repeating talking points, seeking to justify a position that with each passing day is more at odds with reality.

In essence, it is to avoid answering specific questions about the Iraq mission or a pending UN-mandated military mission to Africa, citing the complexity of the situation or the need for operational secrecy. But, as Conservative defence critic James Bezan noted Wednesday in question period, “Mr. Speaker, we are getting tired of waiting for those answers.”

With Donald Trump headed for the White House and vowing to wipe ISIL off the map, this seems a particularly bad time for Canada to be anything but clear about its role in the war against Islamism, whether in Iraq or Africa. The constant shilly-shallying has undermined Sajjan.

The government would help him, and itself, by talking straight — as the Conservatives are quite rightly demanding.


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Canadian troops supporting Kurds in fight to free Mosul from ISIS

Post by Bruce72 on Mon 17 Oct 2016, 22:40

Canadian troops are supporting Kurdish fighters as they push toward the Iraqi city of Mosul, says Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Kurdish and Iraqi military forces launched the much-anticipated offensive Monday in a bid to free Iraq's second-largest city from the clutches of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The operation is seen as a key moment in the fight against ISIS as the city of more than 1 million is the extremist group's last bastion in Iraq.

Local media reported that the Kurds, whom Canadian troops have helped train over the past two years, freed several villages during the drive to Mosul. At least six Kurdish fighters were killed and 16 others wounded during the first day of fighting.

Speaking outside the Commons, Sajjan said he was "very proud" of the Iraqi security forces for mounting the operation. "And I'm especially proud of the fact that our Canadian Armed Forces have played an important role in this."

Asked what role the Canadians are playing, Sajjan said: "Exactly what they've been doing before. Making sure that the Iraqi security forces on the ground are able to conduct their operations effectively."

The offensive comes two weeks after the deputy commander of Canadian special forces, Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe, revealed his troops were spending more time at the frontlines as a result of the campaign against ISIS shifting from defence to offence.

As a result, Canadian soldiers had engaged in a number of firefights with ISIS. Dawe would not provide specific details, though he insisted Canadian soldiers had only fired to defend themselves, allied forces or, in some cases, civilians.

While the Liberal government withdrew Canada's fighter jets from Iraq and Syria earlier this year, about 170 special forces troops continue to work with Kurdish forces in the north of the country.

Their mission has been billed as "non-combat," though the government says they can shoot in self-defence. Some critics have accused the Liberals of tailoring the definition of combat to fit with promises made during last year's election campaign.

Officials have since clamped down on the amount and type of information provided about the mission.

The long-awaited offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group began Monday with a volley of U.S. led coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery bombardments on a cluster of villages along the edge of Iraq's historic Nineveh plain east of the militant-held city.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters led the initial assault. By the end of the day they had retaken some 200 square kilometres, according to the president of Iraq's Kurdistan region. Peshmerga commanders on the ground estimated the offensive retook nine villages and pushed the front lines back eight kilometres.

But the hold appeared fragile and the g  ains largely symbolic. Some of the villages were so small they comprised no more than a few dozen homes, and most were abandoned.

And though some troops were less than 30 kilometres from Mosul's edges, it was unclear how long it would take to reach the city itself, where more than 1 million people still live. Aid groups have warned of a mass exodus of civilians that could overwhelm refugee camps.

Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014 as the militants swept over much of the country's north and central areas. Weeks later the head of the extremist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

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