06/27/2017 13:02 EDT | Updated 06/27/2017 15:17 EDT

Canadian Sniper's Record Kill In Iraq 'Entirely Consistent' With Non-Combat Mission: Trudeau

NDP leader says incident has set off alarm bells.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau drinks water during a news conference in Ottawa on June 27, 2017.

A Canadian sniper's record-breaking kill of an Islamic State militant is entirely in keeping with this country's "advise and assist mission" in Iraq and something worth lauding, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

At a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, Trudeau was asked to explain how Canada's mission in Iraq can still be considered non-combat when a member of the special forces reportedly killed someone from more than 3,500 metres away.

"Our special forces are there, they're killing Islamic militants. Why not just say they are part of the combat?" a reporter asked.

Trudeau responded that the mission in northern Iraq has "always had an element of defence" of Canadian troops and coalition partners. It is "integral" Canadian forces continue to defend themselves and allies, even in an advise and assist capacity, the prime minister said.

"What happened there is, first of all, something to be celebrated for the excellence of the Canadian Forces in their training and the performance of their duties," he said. "But also something to be understood as being entirely consistent with what Canada is expected and Canadians expect our forces to be doing as part of the coalition against Daesh."

Trudeau gave much the same answer a little earlier while responding to a question in French. He said the kill was "completely in keeping" with what Canadians are taking on in the coalition against the extremist group.

"And it will continue to be that way," he said.

Why have you not declared that the current military operation is now a combat mission? Why has there been no debate in the House of Commons regarding this change of mission?NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair

The Globe and Mail reported last week that an unnamed member of Canada's Joint Task Force 2 shattered the world record for the longest kill shot in military history. The confirmed kill bested a 2009 record from a British sniper by more than a kilometre.

A military insider told The Globe the staggering feat "might never be equalled."

But NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised alarms, stating in a letter to Trudeau Friday that the episode called into question his government's claim that Canadian forces are not involved in direct combat.

"Will you now confirm that Canadian troops have engaged in ground combat since your government took office?" Mulcair wrote.

"Why have you not declared that the current military operation is now a combat mission? Why has there been no debate in the House of Commons regarding this change of mission?"

Gen. Vance: 'We don't have to be shot at first'

National Defence officials told both The Globe and The Canadian Press last week that Canadian troops do not "accompany leading combat elements, but enable the Iraqi security forces who are in a tough combat mission."

This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the role Canadian troops are playing on the ground in Iraq, and the threat of so-called mission creep. In 2015, the then-Conservative government was pressed about firefights between soldiers and ISIS militants.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, confirmed at a parliamentary committee last November that Canadian troops have been permitted to fire first against ISIS militants, and not just in self-defence.

"We don't have to be shot at first," Vance said at the time. "We can take the first shot if it is to save lives."

200 special forces in Iraq

Canada's mission, which was extended for three months in March, is set to expire at the end of June. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has already said, however, that Canada will continue to play a role in the fight against ISIS.

There are presently 200 Canadian special forces in Iraq training Kurdish troops.

With files from The Canadian Press

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