OTTAWA — The House of Commons formally took Canada out of the combat mission against the Islamic State in a vote on Tuesday, but it comes as senior U.S. military commanders warn that the planned campaign to free Iraq's second-largest city will likely require more western military help, not less.
Thanks to the Liberal majority in the House, a motion in support of the reconfigured mission was passed by a margin of 178-147.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper, who presided over the launch of the original mission against ISIL, was on hand to vote against the motion.
The CF-18 fighter jets deployed to the Middle East in 2014 ended their bombing runs last month after the Liberals opted to focus instead on training local security forces and helping to rebuild the shattered region.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, regarding the ISIL motion. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
The new mission increases the complement of military personnel to 830 people, up from 650, to provide planning, targeting and intelligence expertise.
The "train, advise and assist" mission also triples in size, including additional medical personnel and equipment including small arms, ammunition and optics to assist in training Iraqi security forces, mostly in the Kurdish north.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted from the outset that the mission does not constitute combat, although military officials have acknowledged Canadian trainers will likely face "engagements" with enemy combatants.
Sajjan: Troops can defend themselves
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the rules laid down for trainers will give them the right to shoot first at extremists in a limited set of circumstances that fall under the umbrella of self defence.
"If there is a threat posed, our troops have the ability to defend themselves," he said. "There are many different aspects on how the rules of engagement can work."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wasn't buying it.
"The minister is trying to put lipstick on a pig," he said. "What we have here is a combat mission. We know it's a combat mission. We've been describing it as such since the beginning and it's an insult to the brave women and men in uniform to call it anything but."
Both Sajjan and the country's top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, say the highly trained troops will not be allowed to accompany Kurdish forces into battle, nor undertake offensive operations.
The policy stands in contrast to the U.S., which has deployed roughly 200 elite U.S. Army Delta Force commandos, who conducted a recent mission that led to the capture of a high-level ISIL commander.
"What we have here is a combat mission. We know it's a combat mission. We've been describing it as such since the beginning and it's an insult to the brave women and men in uniform to call it anything but."
— Thomas Mulcair
American special forces operators are expected to carry out more such missions in the run-up to the long-awaited battle to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Dunford, said last week that he expects American troops "would do more in Mosul" than they did in Ramadi — in central Iraq — because of the size and complexity of the operation.
There is also the fact that extremists have spent the last 18 months fortifying the city.
Vance agrees with Dunford's assessment and said Canadian trainers, in anticipation of the coming battle, will be taking responsibility for Kurdish fighters over a wider section of the front — north and east of the occupied city of one million residents.
He said Canadians will be doing more in terms of helping plan the operation and offering advice.
According to Vance, the Kurdish forces under Canadian supervision will provide a "backstop" to prevent ISIL fighters from fleeing the area.
"They've got eyes on the city, and as we support them ...we'll be contributing just as Gen. Dunford described," he said.
But the Americans have also offered to send in Apache gunships to aid ground troops — a suggestion the central government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad has rejected.
Vance also gave more detail about earlier suggestions, made in early February, that Canadian troops would provide more specialized training to existing Kurdish units. He said the trainers will take a battalion — roughly 600 — local fighters and give them advanced weapons and infantry courses.
The Canadians will also provide them will small arms, he said.
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Her'es a look at some of what's been said — recently and otherwise — about Canada's evolving role in the U.S.-led mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which was officially retooled by the new Liberal government. (Information from The Canadian Press)
"Our efforts should better reflect what Canada is all about; defending our interests and freedoms alongside our allies and working constructively with local partners to build real solutions for the longer term." — Trudeau, announcing a larger training and development mission and the withdrawal of CF-18 fighter-bombers.
"ISIL would like us to see them as a credible threat to our way of life and to our civilization. We know Canada is stronger — much stronger than the threat posed by a murderous gang of thugs who are terrorizing some of the most vulnerable people on earth." — Trudeau.
"Left unchecked, this terrorist threat can only grow, and grow quickly. As a government, we know our ultimate responsibility is to protect Canadians and to defend our citizens from those who would do harm to us or our families." — Former prime minister Stephen Harper on Oct. 3, 2014, as he announced in the House of Commons a plan to send Canadian aircraft to fight in Iraq.
"Canadians did not invent the threat of jihadi terrorism and we certainly did not invite it; nor, as this global threat becomes ever more serious, can we protect ourselves, our communities, by choosing to ignore it. That is why a strong majority of Canadians have supported our government's mission against ISIL. Canadians understand that it is not merely in the wider interests of the international community, but specifically in Canada's national interest." — Harper on March 24, 2015, telling the Commons of a plan to extend and expand the mission.
"It is important to understand that while airstrike operations can be very useful to achieve short-term military and territorial gains, they do not, on their own, achieve long-term stability for local communities. Canadians learned this lesson first-hand during a very difficult decade in Afghanistan where our forces became expert military trainers renowned around the world." — Trudeau on Monday.
"Along with our allies and through the auspices of the United Nations, Canada should provide more help through a well-funded and well-planned humanitarian aid effort. The refugee crisis alone threatens the region's security, overwhelming countries from Lebanon to Turkey, from Syria itself to Jordan. Here at home, we should significantly expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war the opportunity to start a new life in Canada." — Trudeau as Liberal opposition leader in the Commons, March 2015.
"Our allies want us in the fight against ISIS, that is clear. This is a despicable terrorist group. And Canadians want us in the fight against ISIS because it is our fight and that is clear. When our friends and our allies are attacked, it is our fight and when our values are threatened and our country is threatened and our friends are threatened, it is our fight. And when human rights are trampled and human dignity is trampled, then it is our fight." — Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.
"The prime minister likes to say he cares about diversity, but there is nothing that threatens diversity more than ISIS — whether it is the rights of women, cultural and religious freedoms, or the rights of gays and lesbians." — Ambrose.
"The Canadian announcement is the kind of response the secretary has been looking for from coalition members as the United States and our coalition partners push to accelerate the campaign against ISIL ... the United States is willing to lead the coalition in the fight against ISIL, but the barbaric group poses a threat to every nation, so every nation should join this fight. If countries are unwilling or unable to contribute militarily, then they should consider the important non-military ways they can contribute to this effort." — Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook during Monday's Department of Defense briefing.
"We are concerned that the Liberal government has chosen to place Canadian Forces personnel deeper into an open-ended combat military mission in Iraq — a mission that fails to even define what success would look like. And while we welcome the government's announcement today of increased humanitarian assistance to the region, we are concerned that this aid is being linked to the military mission." — NDP MP Helene Laverdiere.
"I commend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for committing to increase humanitarian and military aid for the nearly 4.6-million Syrian refugees who have been displaced by five years of brutal war in the region." — Green party Leader Elizabeth May.
"As a founding member of the coalition, Canada has been a valued and willing partner in the mission to degrade and destroy (ISIL) and has played an important role across all lines of effort." — Bruce Heyman, the U.S. ambassador to Canada.
"We're pleased Canada is continuing to invest and play a leadership role in educating and protecting children affected by crises in Syria and Iraq." — David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada.