Canadian fighter jets helped to destroy heavy engineering equipment that was being used to divert the Euphrates River to flood areas nearby while denying water to Iraqi civilians further away, Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance said Tuesday.

Vance, the head of Canadian military operations, said Canadian aircraft have flown 27 operations in the fight against ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIL), with the fighter jets flying 18 of those.

In one case, the Canadian Aurora surveillance aircraft participated in "the destruction of a key ISIL base," Vance said.

Shortly after Vance's briefing, senior defence officials also appeared before a House committee to take questions from MPs

On Sunday, two CF-18s targeted ISIS positions with laser-guided GBU-12, 500-pound bombs "in the vicinity of Fallujah," a large city in central Iraq about 70 kilometres west of the capital Baghdad, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement that day.

Jonathan Vance

Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, the head of Canadian military operations, will give a briefing on Canada's air combat mission in Iraq. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Vance says the four targets were near a dam west of Fallujah and consisted of heavy engineering equipment and vehicles.

"They were being used to divert water from the river to create flooding and displace the population in Anbar province while also denying water to other populations downstream," he said.

"The destruction of ISIL's equipment means, in this case, that they will not be able to use the river against the population in Anbar province."

The ISIS fighters were also using the equipment to develop defensive positions​.

No cost released

Vance wouldn't say how much the mission has cost so far, asserting it's up to the federal government to release those numbers.

How many bombs were dropped and whether any ISIL fighters were killed in Sunday's raid were also subjects Vance was not prepared to talk about, but he did say he was confident there were no civilian casualties.

Canada has six CF-18 fighter jets, as well as two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and a CC-150 Polaris operating out of air bases in Kuwait. The combat mission, which began with the first patrols last week, has been carried out under a blanket of secrecy with the Canadian military denying media access to the bases, citing security concerns of their Kuwaiti hosts.

Sunday's mission lasted approximately four hours, Nicholson's statement said, and included an air-to-air refuelling of the fighter jets by a CC-150 Polaris aircraft. All aircraft made it safely back to base.

The fight against ISIS, Vance said, "will be led by the Iraqis themselves and that is why we are actively supporting them."

He didn't speculate on how long the fight will take, but a top American commander — U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno — recently told CNN he sees it taking up to four years.

"It's absolutely clear Iraqi forces want to begin their offensive operations as soon as they can," said Vance, who added that he "honestly doesn't have a good answer as to how long [the overall campaign] will take."

Detailed planning is still underway among allies, who are considering a mission to train not only thousands of regular Iraqi army troops, but also local police officers and Iraq's version of a national guard.

A training mission could take between six months and a year, Vance noted.

The Harper government has yet to say whether it would consider taking part in such a training mission beyond the advise-and-assist role being played by a few dozen Canadian special forces troops in northern Iraq.

Thus far, Canada has not been asked by allies to consider joining bombing ISIL targets in Syria.


with files from Canadian Press