Col. Daniel Constable, the commander of Canada's joint task force fighting against ISIS in Iraq, says his aircraft are finding few targets to strike.

Speaking from the Canadian base in Kuwait, Constable said that the aircraft under his command have carried out only two airstrikes in 68 sorties flown.

Those sorties include all flights by Canadian Forces, including six CF-18 strike aircraft, two Aurora reconnaissance planes and a Polaris refuelling aircraft, since their arrival in Kuwait on Oct. 30.

Operation IMPACT

A Canadian Forces CF-18 fighter in Kuwait taxis in preparation for takeoff on a morning mission over Iraq during Operation Impact on Sunday. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

Constable briefed the media by teleconference Thursday, following Tuesday's airstrike against an apparent artillery installation north of Baghdad belonging to fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

He said the latest strike was on an artillery piece that was firing on Iraqi ground forces from a treeline near Bayji, Iraq. 

Bayji is a city about 200 kilometres north of Baghdad that has seen fierce fighting between ISIS forces and the Iraqi army.

Moving target

Constable said the target, which may have been a howitzer, was destroyed by a laser-guided bomb, and there was some indication the ISIS gun crew may have also been killed, but that could not be confirmed.

ISIS fighters were the only ones operating in the area, he said.

He also did not say who called in the airstrike, although one of Canada's Auroras was in the area.

Cockpit video first posted on the Canadian Forces website shows a strike by a laser-guided bomb on a vehicle that appears to be towing a piece of wheeled artillery. 

Capt. Melina Archambault of the Combined Joint Operations Centre told CBC News later Thursday that the gun had been hooked on to the vehicle between the time it was first detected by aerial surveillance and the time the CF-18 arrived.

On the video, the vehicle appears to sustain an almost direct hit while travelling on a dirt road between fields. Capt. Archambault could not specify the type of vehicle destroyed.

ISIS 'changing their tactics'

The slow tempo of airstrikes is a reflection of ISIS changing tactics since the current bombing campaign began, said Constable. 

"ISIL are now changing their tactics, they're hiding their targets, and that's one of the reasons it's harder to find targets — they're camouflaged."

Forces sometimes hide armoured vehicles in buildings, or even bury them in sand, when the other side enjoys air superiority. 

Operation IMPACT

A Canadian Forces CP-140M Aurora long-range patrol aircraft in Kuwait prepares for a mission on Saturday. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

"They're moving away from tanks, into civilian-type vehicles," said Constable, adding that the change makes targeting more difficult, because "we want to be very deliberate. We are very confident we had no civilian casualties or collateral damage in either strike."

Constable added that the lack of airstrikes is not an indication that the airstrikes aren't working. Forcing the enemy to hide weapons it was previously using offensively constitutes progress, he said.

"Thanks to the airstrikes, Iraqi forces now have the confidence to move to offence. ISIL is now in a defensive posture. We are very confident that we are having an impact."


By the numbers

Canadian forces have taken part in 68 sorties in support of the coalition mission against ISIS. Here's a breakdown:

  • CF-18 Hornet fighters have conducted 46 sorties, firing munitions in two of those.
  • CC-150T Polaris aerial refueller conducted 10 sorties, delivering some 418,000 pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft.
  • CP-140 Aurora aircraft conducted 12 reconnaissance missions.

Source: Department of National Defence


Constable added that the two Canadian Auroras and the Polaris have helped other coalition aircraft with both refuelling and aerial surveillance and intelligence gathering.

Constable was asked whether ISIS was simply waiting the coalition out, and would emerge with its armour and heavy equipment intact once Western countries end their operations. He said that strategy would not be successful.

"If they are thinking about waiting us out, they're allowing us to do exactly what we want to do, which is to continue to degrade and disrupt them, and that buys time for the Iraqi forces to transition to offensive operations."

BAYJI IRAQ LOCATOR MAP

Mobile users, view a map of the air strike location here.