POLITICS

Harper: ISIL Fight Far From Over

08/31/2015 02:52 EDT | Updated 08/31/2015 04:59 EDT

OTTAWA — With difficult economic data set to dog the Conservatives this week, expect party Leader Stephen Harper to pivot to the other topic that's been a stalwart of the election campaign — security.

There's been little discussion so far about the Canadian military mission against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria even though the broader issue of the crisis in the region was touched upon earlier in the campaign.

At an election rally on Monday, Harper was asked about the mission and he responded by saying he intends in the coming days to discuss the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He also suggested the battle was far from over.

"The intervention has had the effect of largely stopping the advance of ISIS, particularly in the north of Iraq and to some degree in other parts of Iraq and Syria — not maybe as much we'd like," he said.

It's been a year since the plight of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a mountaintop by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant fighters moved the U.S. to start pulling together countries for an air war designed to stop ISIL from taking over more land in Iraq.

Canada joined the fight in October 2014 for an initial six-month mission, which was expanded this March for up to a year. Canadian fighters are now also bombing ISIL positions in Syria.

Things on the ground are better, Harper said.

"A year ago, they were literally on the verge of sweeping over the entire region, so at least that has been halted."

Canada has six CF-18s, an aerial refueller, two surveillance planes and about 600 personnel involved in the air war, as well as 69 special forces training Kurdish fighters. In recent days, according to the Defence Department website, Canadians bombed an ISIL ammunition cache and boats used to transport ammunition, as well as ISIL fighting positions.

Canadians have also been accused of killing civilians during a bombing run in January though a U.S.-led investigation found no substance to those allegations.

U.S. military information suggests that as of April, ISIL maintained control of about 70 per cent of the space in Iraq it had a year ago, while its influence in Syria remains largely unchanged.

Harper called radical fighters taking over what he called "ungoverned" parts of the world a growing phenomenon.

"To protect our country, we are going to have to have a long and sustained strategy with our international partners," he said.

Security has been a key election theme for the Conservatives. Earlier this month, Harper slammed his opponents' desire to focus on humanitarian help as little more than "dropping aid on dead people."

But the main theme of Harper's week is still expected to be the economy, with new data coming Tuesday likely to show Canada was in a technical recession in the first half of the year.

Harper began the fifth week of the campaign watching three-year-old Lysander Konstantinakos, son of the Conservative candidate for Ottawa-Centre, sing his ABCs during a photo op at the family's downtown Ottawa home.

Harper's main message Monday, while delivered in front of party faithful, was aimed at voters listening to another ABC refrain — Anyone But Conservatives.

"When Liberal and NDP politicians make expensive promises, the dollars don't grow on trees," he said.

"They end up coming out of the pockets of middle class families and we Conservatives are not going to go down that path."

Harper is scheduled to campaign in the Toronto area on Tuesday.

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