03/16/2015 04:15 EDT | Updated 05/16/2015 05:59 EDT

Canada's Iraq Mission: Cabinet Mulls Year-Long Commitment

OTTAWA - The federal cabinet is poised to decide on extending the combat mission against the Islamic State and should it be approved, several defence sources say it likely would involve a commitment of more than six months, possibly up to a year.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney wouldn't indicate on Monday which way the debate is going, but said a verdict will come in the very near future and that "we're considering various options."

He said it is a matter of looking at what meaningful contribution Canada can make to degrading the capability of extremists to wage their bloody campaign.

Kenney and other senior Conservatives have dropped broad hints for weeks that the threat posed by extremists in Iraq and Syria is not something that should be left unchecked by Canada — or its allies.

The parliamentary mandate of the existing mission is to expire within the next few weeks.

The question of duration for an extended commitment is simply a political calculation, one source said.

An extension of six months would require another evaluation and renewal in October at time when the government is expected to be campaigning for re-election.

The Harper cabinet doesn't need Parliament to authorize a renewed commitment at any time, but the Conservatives have sought all-party support in the House of Commons for such missions, even if they have rarely received it.

Kenney dampened speculation last week that the government would authorize an increase in the number of special forces troops, who are providing Kurdish peshmerga fighters with training and assistance, including the guiding of air strikes.

It's unclear whether cabinet would consider changing the scope of how the elite soldiers carry out their mission by authorizing offensive operations and commando-style raids into Islamic State territory.

Kenney was circumspect when asked about it last week.

The air force has six CF-18 jets bombing Islamic State targets along with two surveillance planes and an aerial tanker operating out of bases in Kuwait. The warplanes have been limited to targets in Iraq.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said his party would oppose any continuation of the mission that involved bombing raids into Syria, which he said would put Canada alongside Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"Of course, you're dealing with a very cruel dictatorship in that country and before putting our brave men and women in uniform at the beck and call of someone of that ilk, we'd really have to know what we're doing."

Defence analysts have said any potential Canadian extension would most likely resemble U.S. President Barack Obama's war resolution before the U.S. Congress, which removes geographic limits and softens the language about the employment of American combat troops.

Like Canada, the U.S. originally ruled out putting "boots on the ground" in the form of conventional combat forces.

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