POLITICS

Attacks In France, Tunisia, Kuwait Part Of Global Jihadist Threat, Says Jason Kenney

06/27/2015 07:00 EDT | Updated 06/27/2016 05:59 EDT
Friday's attacks on a French chemical plant, a resort in Tunisia and a mosque in Kuwait are further proof of a global security threat, says Defence Minister Jason Kenney.

"This just confirms something that's been evident for a long time — that we can see what I call an arc of jihadist violence. We cannot be naive about these threats," Kenney said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House. 

Kenney believes "at least some" of the attacks were co-ordinated.

"I think it's rather obvious. Any reasonable person can infer that," he said.

He added that he doesn't have "actionable intelligence" on specific co-ordination, but that Canada will be monitoring the security situation closely.

"Every intelligence agency is working very intently right now in determining whether there are other potential threats associated with these attacks," Kenney said. "If there's an elevated threat assessment, obviously our national security infrastructure will respond."

"The attack in France in particular demonstrates that these groups also seek to project their twisted violence into Western democratic countries," he added.

ISIS gaining ground in Syria, says Kenney

Friday's attacks came on the same day at least 145 civilians were reported killed by Islamic State militants in northern Syria.

ISIS is expanding its hold in Syria, and coalition forces — including Canadian CF-18s — are having trouble identifying targets, Kenney said.

"Since this March we've included eastern Syria as an area for aerial targets against ISIS, but there aren't a lot of identifiable targets, because we don't have intelligence from the ground," Kenney said.

As a result, "the Americans and our air force are being very cautious in our targeting protocols to avoid civilian casualties or collateral damage" — and that is reducing the effectiveness of the coalition fight against ISIS in Syria, he said.

On Thursday, ISIS militants launched a two-pronged attack on the northern Syrian towns of Hassakeh and Kobani. 

"The situation in Syria does look bleak," Kenney said. "No one's going to tell you there are any grounds for optimism in Syria today."

Kenney said the only solution he sees to the violence in Syria is a "new Syrian political consensus that is secular, that is tolerant, that has the strength to oppose effectively the campaign of violence of groups like ISIS."

But when asked if there's any sign such a political settlement is possible, Kenney answered, "No."

'This is not the Cold War'

Kenney was speaking from Kyiv in Ukraine, where he met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko among other military leaders before moving on to Yavoriv to meet with a group of Canadian trainers.

Kenney's Ukraine trip followed the NATO summit in Brussels, where he met with defence counterparts.

Although Syria and Iraq were discussed, the main item on the summit agenda was Russia, Kenney said.

"Eastern European NATO allies are, I would say, somewhat anxious about the aggressive posture of Vladimir Putin's Russia," he said.

NATO's response is to triple the size of its rapid response force from 13,000 troops to 40,000. The force is designed to move quickly if the delicate state of affairs between Russia and the West crumbles amid Russian provocation. 

Canada will contribute 1,650 soldiers to Europe this fall to take part in NATO's largest military exercise since the Cold War, and will also send five staff officers to work at NATO's six new command centres in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

But Kenney was clear the military escalation is not a sign of a new Cold War.

"This is simply a heightened posture by NATO, a message of deterrence to Mr. Putin, so that he does not miscalculate. It's really to say, 'Don't even think about doing that.' That's the message we're sending."

Kenney also ruled out creating a permanent base for the Canadian military in eastern Europe, but called the trainers in Ukraine "the first long-term deployment we've had since the end of the Cold War."

"We shut down our bases in Europe in the mid-'90s and we're not looking at re-creating a permanent presence or bases," he said.

"It's extremely expensive for us to do so. But we do think it's important to have some Canadian presence. I see us probably maintaining something of that nature for the foreseeable future."

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