Will Canada send more troops in Iraq to establish a training mission that would mirror the mentorship done earlier in Afghanistan?
The answer remains a mystery but Canada will continue to participate in the effort against the Islamic State.
In fact, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Rob Nicholson has confirmed that Canada will stay in Iraq on a longer-term role.
The current mandate will end on April 7, but Minister Nicholson was clear that Canada will not “stands on the sidelines.”
While I agree with a training role in Iraq, it should be conducted through Operational Mentoring & Liaison Teams (OMLT). These OMLT teams were very successful in Kandahar and when I deployed in 2009, I was part of one of those teams.
What makes it particular is that while you train the local soldiers, you are also participating in the combat operations—creating a strong bond between the OMLT teams and the local soldiers. You live, eat, fight, grieve and you learn to understand their own values and traditions making it easier to fully cooperate with them.
Canada was doing great with those teams in Kandahar, before they moved to Kabul in a non-combat role. Both the expertise and the relationship we had with the Afghan soldiers was clearly demonstrated during combat operations.
During firefights, we would fight alongside the Afghan soldiers while helping them manage this situation through their non-commissioned officers (NCO) and by coordinating the available ISAF assets.
Since Canada have been actively taking part in the air campaign against the Islamic State, having troops on the ground alongside Iraqi soldiers would ensure a possibility to properly use the air assets. As a matter of fact, having small teams of mentor with the Iraqi soldiers could also enable the use of coalition’s artillery and drones—two great assets that has clearly demonstrated their efficiency in Afghanistan.
It was not uncommon for us to call in artillery strikes and helicopter support while we were conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. Many Canadian soldiers have learned valuable experience in doing so and could very well use that prior experience to help the Iraqi soldiers on the battlefield.
The Canadian special operations teams could also keep providing valuable assets such as joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) who would guide the surgical aerial bombings on Islamic State targets. Meanwhile, the same special operators could also provide teams to quickly deploy and snatch high value targets (HVT) or even rescue hostages / prisoners of the Islamic State.
If Canada is not ready to commit hundreds of soldiers, operators from the Canadian Special Forces could very well undertake the OMLT job both in the rear echelon and directly on the battlefield.
Yesterday, Sergeant Andrew Joseph Doiron, a member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, was killed by Iraqi Kurdish security forces in a friendly fire incident. Three other Canadian soldiers were wounded in incident but their conditions are stable.
The Canadian Forces should also extensively use soldiers from the Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) and Civilian-military Cooperation (CIMIC) to put emphasis on reconstruction and anti-propaganda strategies. The PSYOPS soldiers could also establish a strong bond between them and the regional leaders—giving them the opportunity to learn about the area and the civilian opinion about the ground operations.
Having said that, the Canadian Forces are ready to intervene regardless of what the mission will be after April 7, whether is a combat mission or not. The Royal Canadian Air Force will most likely continue their bombing runs and could very well be extended to Syria.
It is still too early to know what the Canadian Forces role will have in Iraq but I do believe they will have a training role. We will soon know if Canada will engage in combat operations through that training mission or not—only time will tell!
(Featured Image courty of CANSOFCOM / DND. CSOR Operators training Nigerian soldiers)