12/04/2014 05:09 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST

CF-18s step up sorties against ISIL; military confident no civilian deaths

OTTAWA - The Canadian military is confident that no civilians have been killed to date as a result of its airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a spokesman said Thursday.

That assurance came as the country's joint operations command revealed details of two additional bombing missions that took place on Nov. 28 and Nov. 30.

In the first strike, CF-18 jet fighters attacked targets near the city of Hit in the restive, Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, where Iraqi troops — supported by Shia militias — recently sought to liberate the market town 130 kilometres west of Baghdad.

The warplanes followed up with another mission two days later near Mosul, the embattled country's second largest city.

Navy Capt. Paul Forget said an enemy vehicle and mortar position that had been harassing Iraqi forces were destroyed in the precision-guided bombing.

The question of civilian casualties has come up at every briefing and Forget moved Thursday to dispel any lingering doubts, saying there has been no indication of so-called "collateral damage."

The bombing run near Mosul came as coalition planners debate the next phase of campaign against ISIL, which will involve some form western military training for Iraqi troops and police, many of whom fled in the face of an extremist offensive last summer.

Forget said a major planning conference took place at MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa, Fla., where the issue was discussed in detail.

When asked, Forget said there was Canadian representation at that conference, but was unable to say what the federal government's position might be.

"I can assure you Canada's interests are fully represented within the coalition," he said.

"The training of Iraqi forces is something that has been a subject of debate for some time now. It's not up to me to speculate whether Canada will engage in such a capacity."

It is a question the Harper government has also repeatedly refused to answer.

U.S. officials, speaking on background to Washington Post, were more forthcoming, saying in a published report that the Pentagon has decided against trying to rebuild weak or underperforming Iraqi divisions.

Instead, they are looking at building a smaller, more lethal force.

On paper, the Iraq military numbers over 400,000, but a recent U.S. analysis suggests it's likely there are fewer than 80,000 active-duty soldiers.

A leaner, highly trained force would be able to take on ISIL, the U.S. officials said. The problem is, it would do little to bring stability to the entire country, which is riven with sectarian violence and shaky institutions.

Canada has 69 special forces troops advising Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. They are not engaged in active combat, nor allowed to help direct airstrikes from coalition jets.

Other nations, notably the U.S., are considering augmenting their special forces presence, and perhaps even allowing them closer to the fighting.

Forget wouldn't speculate on what the Harper government might do.

"Currently," he said, "that portion of the mission is being run in accordance with the mandate assigned by the government."

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