Canada’s role in Iraq growing

November 16, 2016 by Stephen J. Thorne

kurd-fighter
A Peshmerga fighter holds a position in Northern Iraq.
Flickr U.S. Department of Defense
It’s looking more and more like Canada has exchanged its role in the air war in Iraq for a growing part in the ground war.

CBC confirmed this week what many had already surmised–Canadian troops tasked to advise Peshmerga fighters have taken preventative action against the enemy in Iraq.

While the government in Ottawa has insisted Canadian special forces only fire when fired upon, it seems their rules of engagement allow otherwise. Canadians have therefore shot at Islamic State extremists when they appear to pose an imminent threat to civilians and Kurdish allies.

Fulfilling an election promise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau withdrew Canadian fighter aircraft from the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria earlier this year, boosting the Forces’ logistical support, advisory and training roles instead.

Coalition aircraft fly in formation after receiving fuel from a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris while flying over Iraq during Operation IMPACT on June 16, 2016. Photo: Op Impact, DND KW05-2016-0078-043 ~ Des aéronefs de la coalition volent en formation après avoir été ravitaillés en vol par un appareil CC-150 Polaris de l’Aviation royale canadienne au¬¬ dessus de l’Irak, au cours de l’opération IMPACT, le 16 juin 2016. Photo : Op Impact, MDN KW05-2016-0078-043
Coalition aircraft fly in formation after receiving fuel from a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris while flying over Iraq during Operation IMPACT on June 16, 2016.
Photo: Op Impact, DND
While Trudeau insisted ground troops would not fight, the deputy commander of the special forces branch in Ottawa has acknowledged his troops have become increasingly involved in front-line skirmishes against ISIS.

“The mission has changed,” Brigadier-General Peter Dawe told the Toronto Star last month. “We are more engaged on the line. The risk has increased.”

There are about 200 Canadian special-forces soldiers operating in Iraq, often evacuating casualties from the front.

Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Hunter told CBC outside Mosul this week his troops have sometimes been the first to spot the enemy and, when it’s clear the Peshmerga can’t respond, the Canadians have shot first. In some cases, ISIS fighters were rallying behind trucks filled with explosives, readying for suicide attacks.

“Because they have demonstrated hostile intent, we’re able, through our rules of engagement, to use our own weapons systems to engage that kind of threat,” said Hunter, commanding the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.

Military leadership has said the fact Canadians are exposed to danger has encouraged trust between them and the Kurds they are tasked to train and advise –an experience not unlike the one Canadians had training members of the Afghan National Army. Robust rules of engagement only enhance the safety and security of the Canadians and those who accompany them.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Peshmerga of wantonly destroying Sunni villages. The Canadians have been asked to watch out for human-rights abuses, which would further require them to stay close to the front.

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