Trudeau’s Military Plan Against Islamic State

The Canadian government has finally came forward with a plan against the Islamic State. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept his election promise and announced the withdrawal of the six Canadian CF-18 from the bombing mission.

According to CBC, “Canada’s new contribution will total more than $1.6 billion over the next three years and include:

  • $264 million to extend the military mission in Iraq and Syria for one year until March 31, 2017.
  • $145 million over three years in non-military security efforts, such as counter-terrorism initiatives.
  • $840 million over three years  in humanitarian assistance.
  • $270 million over three years to “build local capacity” in Jordan and Lebanon, where there are a large number of refugees.
  • $42 million to redeploy staff and equipment to the region over the course of the new military commitment.
  • An increased diplomatic presence in the region.”

CBC also wrote that “Vance said Canada’s renewed military commitment includes:

  • Training, advising and assisting Iraqi forces conducting military operations against ISIS.
  • “Transporting and providing” small arms and ammunition to help Iraqi security forces.
  • Deploying a “small” contingent of helicopters to support Iraqi forces with medical evacuations.
  • An increase of “multinational targeting efforts” against ISIS.
  • Offering a team of strategic advisers to the government of Iraq.
  • Additional Canadian Forces members in Jordan and Lebanon to help with “capacity-building efforts.”

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) speech was carefully written. I felt like General Jonathan Vance was walking on eggshells while announcing Canada’s new military plan against Islamic State. In fact, General Vance felt uncomfortable discussing the possibilities of having casualties even if the proposed plan is a non-combat mission.

On February 22, the CF-18 mission will end as they will come home after successfully conducting 3% of the coalition’s airstrike. Canada dropped its first bomb on November 2, 2014. Although many argue the small amount of Canadian airstrike is insignificant, two CF-18 helped fend off an attack on Canadian operators from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), and its Kurdish counterparts last December.

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-18 fighter jets taxi on the runway in Kuwait during Operation IMPACT on November 13, 2014. Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND

Canada will also keep its CC-150 Polaris aerial refuelling aircraft and two CP-140 Aurora aerial surveillance aircraft in the coalition. What really bothers me is that we are withdrawing our fighter aircraft to switch to a non-combat role but we keep an aerial tanker to support the coalition aircraft.

By keeping the CC-150 Polaris, Canada is indirectly contributing to the airstrikes. Even if bringing the CF-18 home was an electoral promise, I do believe Trudeau’s decision was a pure political move and cannot be fully justified due to the CC-150 Polaris role. Basically, Trudeau is bringing home an asset that could prove invaluable to ground troops.

A Canadian CC-150 Polaris and CF-18
A Canadian CC-150 Polaris and CF-18

I am a firm believer in keeping the CF-18 within the coalition, especially now since more Canadian ground troops will be deployed. They might be targeted and engaged in firefight, meaning our fighter aircraft would prove invaluable in case of close air support (CAS) request. Of course other coalition’s aircraft can be directed to provide CAS to Canadians, but there is nothing better than having your own aircraft over you for air cover.

Refocusing Canada’s role within the U.S. -led coalition, Trudeau announced a shift toward a training-focused presence on the ground. The 69 special operations’ trainer in Northern Iraq will be tripled to continue training Kurdish and Iraqi troops against Islamic State. The number should reach between 150 to 300 troops, according to a source who requested to keep its name undisclosed.

CSOR Providing Training To Iraq Security Forces
CSOR providing medical training to Iraq security forces

Another 230 soldiers will also be deployed to join and take part in coalition missions.

The deployed soldiers will provide training to local forces. Canada acquired an unprecedented expertise in training local soldiers in Afghanistan over the course of its 12 years mission. By providing much-needed training to local forces, Canada is expecting Iraq and the Kurds to take the fight to Islamic State.

Medical and weapon training will be taken care of by Canadian soldiers. Canadian helicopters will also be deployed to assist Iraqi soldiers in medical evacuation (MEDEVAC).

I do believe in training local forces. However, if we want to achieve our goal, the Canadian population had to understand and agree that it may take time and blood might be spilled. Time and blood is very bad for public opinion so I am worried about the actual training mission.

That said, Canada’s plan to train local soldiers is something I agree with and I believe it will be very successful. I had the honor to train Afghan soldiers in 2009 right on the frontline and we had a positive impact on their daily operations. I know it will be the same in Iraq but I hope the Canadian government will provide our soldiers with the necessary tools and asset so they can conduct their mission safely and successfully.

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is currently in Brussels discussing the intervention against Islamic States with its NATO counterpart.




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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.