Canada Needs a Strategy Against Islamic State

Under the newly elected Liberal government, Canada’s contribution to the U.S. -led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will likely take another turn.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Canadians that if he was elected, his government would pull the CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft from the coalition and review its position. Trudeau did put emphasis on the fact that Canada would remain a key ally in the fight against Islamic State.

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jets taxi on the runway in Kuwait during Operation IMPACT on November 13, 2014. Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND
Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 fighter jets taxi on the runway in Kuwait during Operation IMPACT on November 13, 2014. Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND
General Jonathan Vance, Canadian Forces CDS
General Jonathan Vance, Canadian Forces CDS

That said, the role of Canada in the coalition still has to be reviewed and Trudeau wants to focus on training missions. According to CBC, a source near Canada’s Chief of the Defense Staff, General Jonathan Vance, said he placed six different options on the table for the cabinet to study, including a strong role for the Canadian Special Operation Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) as well as regular army troops.

Sources [according to CBC] say the wide-ranging recommendations to cabinet include:

  • Retaining surveillance and refuelling aircraft in Kuwait;
  • Sending up to 150 special forces to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters;
  • Using regular Canadian army trainers for Iraqi security forces;
  • Training Iraqi troops in nearby Jordan;
  • Training Iraqi police and increasing humanitarian assistance;
  • Using elite Joint Task Force 2 commandos in black ops in Iraq and Syria like Canada did in Afghanistan.”



But what should Canada do against the Islamic State?

Militarily, Canada gained exceptional experience in Afghanistan when they trained and mentored the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Both special operations and conventional troops have had the opportunity to share their experience and expertise with local national forces. This experience, valuable to many local soldiers, is still being used despite Canada’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Myself with Afghan National Arym soldiers in the summer of 2009
Myself with Afghan National Arym soldiers in the summer of 2009

Quite frankly, having operators from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) training peshmerga fighters while regular Canadian army trainers focus on Iraq’s conventional forces would prove very effective and, to calm the population’s worries, involve Canada in a non-combat role. The vast amount of resources held by the U.S. -led coalition could contribute to the success of local forces fighting for its own territory while providing logistical and military support.

CSOR operators training Iraqi soldiers
CSOR operators training Iraqi soldiers

That said, Joint Task Force 2 should take part in direct action (DA) operations against high value targets (HVT); minimizing the collateral damage while inflicting heavy logistical and operational harm to IS, most notably to the local cells who are working independently. The same HVT could then share valuable intelligence that could lead to further DA, once again minimizing collateral damage.

JTF2 Assaulters in Kandahar, 2002.
JTF2 Assaulters in Kandahar, 2002.

As for the CF-188, Canada’s contribution to the coalition airstrike is so minimal that it should be ruled out. Nevertheless, refueling and surveillance mission flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force should remain in Kuwait and keep contributing to the U.S. -led coalition by providing targets and keeping allied aircraft in the sky for a longer period of time.

Consequently, removing the fighter aircraft and providing more military training and assistance would be Canada’s best option. As a matter of fact, Canada’s expertise in training foreign soldiers have proved valuable in Afghanistan whereas the high level cost of maintenance of fighter aircraft in Kuwait could be used to provide much-needed training and non-lethal equipment.

Although the effort should be spearheaded by the Canadian Forces abroad, a domestic intervention is also a necessity. While soldiers are deployed and contribute—directly or not—to the U.S. -led coalition, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has an important role to play in Canada.

As a matter of fact, especially with the influx of Syrian refugees coming to Canada, law enforcement agencies will have to closely monitor possible radicalization and homegrown terrorism. That said, the majority of refugees are seeking a new life where they can live safely and has no intention to commit any kind of criminal act. However, in today’s world, especially with the quick growth of both lone wolf and terrorist-organized attacks, law enforcement has to keep their guard up.

The Liberal government needs to act on both front; abroad and at home. Although many dismisses the possible terrorist-organized attacks and blame mentally ill people acting as lone wolves, there is still a possible threat and Canadian authorities definitely needs good policies and directive from the government to have enough tools to protect Canadians at home.

Canada needs better deradicalization programs and closely work with the Muslim Association of Canada to track and deal with radicalized Imam. Closely working with the Association also brings in a cultural and religious background into possible future programs that could prevent homegrown terrorism, radicalization and break the stigma related to Muslims.

There are many factors to take into consideration when elaborating a plan of action against a threat and enemy. Canada, like many other countries in the world, places its citizens security at the top of its list and to keep them safe against a threat such as Islamic State, a solid plan of action by both the military and law enforcement agencies is primordial.

The Liberal government and its leader Justin Trudeau will have to keep an open-minded attitude and listen to its national security advisors and generals to set up the best possible plan for Canada while supporting its allies.




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Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.