Trudeau Pulls Jets But Adds Troops to Canada's IS Mission

  • Prime minister fulfills campaign pledge to cease bombing runs
  • Government triples number of soldiers training Iraqi forces

Canada is adding 180 soldiers and C$1.6 billion ($1.2 billion) in aid and military spending to its fight against Islamic State militants, while withdrawing its planes from coalition airstrikes.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau detailed the new mission Monday, following through on a campaign pledge to halt bombing runs by Canada’s fighter jets while expanding the country’s focus on training Iraqi security forces.

“In any mission, you need to make choices. We can’t do everything,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. Airstrikes, he said, “do not on their own achieve long-term stability for local communities.”

The six jets Canada has in the region will end their campaign no later than Feb. 22, Trudeau said. One refueling aircraft and “up to two” surveillance planes will remain active, while an unspecified number of helicopters would also be dispatched, the government said.

Canada will increase the number of military personnel on the ground to 830, from 650 earlier, while tripling the number of soldiers training Iraqi security forces. The troops will also provide rifles, machine guns, light mortars, other small arms and ammunition to local forces -- the first time Canada has done so as part of its Islamic State fight.

Non-Combat Deployment

This expanded aid and training mission will be reviewed by March 31, 2017, though Trudeau said the deployment will last at least two years. He was flanked at the press conference by Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

“We will be supporting and empowering local forces to take their fight directly to ISIL so that, kilometer by kilometer, they can reclaim their homes, their land and their future,” Trudeau said, using an alternate abbreviation for the Sunni Muslim insurgent group.

Canada was already training Iraqi security forces in the region, and the measures announced Monday mean the mission will be “relatively the same as what we’ve been doing thus far, just on a broader scale,” General Jonathan Vance, Canada’s top soldier, told reporters at a subsequent briefing. Canadian forces are there for training but will find themselves in occasional “engagements” and casualties are possible, Vance said.

The C$1.6 billion in funding includes C$1.1 billion in humanitarian aid over three years to Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, the government said. Of that funding, C$130 million was already pledged to go to the region, while roughly C$980 million is new, according to the foreign-affairs ministry.

Obama ‘Understands’

Trudeau said he had discussed Canada’s changing mission with U.S. President Barack Obama several times, and Obama “understands the decision that we took.”

Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose criticized the move. Trudeau “is taking a shameful step backward from our proud traditions by pulling our CF-18s and Canada out of a combat role against the greatest terror threat in the world,” the Conservative lawmaker said in a statement.

The prime minister defended his decision to end air strikes by saying Islamic State militants are legitimized when Western powers respond with rhetoric, and that the region will be best-served by expanded humanitarian aid.

“We know Canada is stronger -- much stronger -- than the threat posed by a murderous gang of thugs,” he said. “The lethal enemy of barbarism isn’t hatred, it’s reason.”

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