Canadian Soldiers Allowed to ‘Fire First’ in Iraq

CDS General Jonathan Vance
CDS General Jonathan Vance

Canadian soldiers in Iraq received the green light to shoot first if hostile intents are detected. Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance appeared before the House of Commons and said its soldiers are authorized to “engage a hostile act.”

“The rules of engagement … allow Canadian forces to defend themselves, [to] anticipate their defence so they can engage a hostile act … or an intent before it materializes,” Gen. Vance said. “In other words … we can anticipate to protect ourselves.”

Although the authorization has been given for defensive purposes, the Canadian soldiers will now have the ability to take the first shot to avoid possible casualties.

Canadian soldiers have been on the ground in Iraq since the fall of 2014 and rules of engagement have been modified since then.

General Vance told the House of Commons that “the right of self defence is paramount.”

Not a combat mission

The Department of National Defence is clear that it does not engage in offensive operations since it does not deliberately partake in offensive operations.

However, according to the Globe and Mail, “a spokesman for the Department of National Defence said soldiers have been in firefights with Islamic State opponents four times since the fall of 2014.”

That said, the Canadian Special Operation Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) has been actively training Kurdish troops near the frontline in Northern Iraq. As trainers doing ‘advise-and-assist’ missions, it is possible for Canadian troops to come under fire due to its proximity to the front line.

CANSOFCOM Operators from CSOR training Iraqi Soldiers
CANSOFCOM Operators from CSOR training Iraqi Soldiers

Engaging the enemy for defensive purposes does not mean combat mission, however. It is clear in the rules of engagement (ROE) that Canadian have the right to defend themselves.

Following the ROE and defending yourself is not a combat mission.

Canada also approved its special forces operators to direct U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets.

While the mission is not a combat mission, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan couldn’t give a specific timeline on the implementation of the Canadian plan against Islamic State.

“It’s difficult to be able to predict how the plan will work,” Sajjan said. “I’m hoping that the military plan will be effective so that the diplomacy and development plan can actually kick in … I’m hoping for next year. The earlier the better.”

By having the ability to fire first, Canadian soldiers will have the opportunity to stop direct threats before being hit. The ROE will be very specific and will guide the soldiers’ possible reaction on the ground, however. That said, firing first does not mean Canada will be engaged in offensive operations or combat missions.

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.