Canada is offering a six-month air combat mission, but no ground troops, to fight Islamic jihadists in the Mideast, according to a motion tabled in the House of Commons today.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons on Friday that Canada's contribution will include one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and the necessary air crews and support personnel. The Prime Minister's Office said Canada is offering up to six CF-18 fighter jets to the mission, as well as one dedicated airlift plane to enhance the refuelling, air surveillance and transportation capacity of coalition members.
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Harper pledged to strike ISIS "where — and only where — Canada has the clear support of the government of that country." That doesn't include Syria right now, he said, but Canada would expand its airstrikes to include Syria if that changes.
Harper also said Canada is extending the deployment of up to 69 military advisers assisting security forces in Iraq, of which 26 are on the ground. That initial 30-day deployment was set to wrap up Saturday.
The mission calls for about 600 soldiers, according to the Prime Minister's Office. The CF-18s are expected to be deployed in the next three weeks.
It's not clear when the first Canadian airstrikes could happen. But André Deschamps, the former commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, told CBC News on Thursday that Canada flew its first air patrol over Libya in 2011 just 48 hours after the CF-18s took off from Bagotville, Que. They dropped their first bomb within 72 hours of leaving Canada.
Insurgents calling themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have swept into parts of the region, conducting a brutal campaign against religious minorities and other residents. ISIS, or ISIL, as the fighters are also known, has attracted foreign fighters to their cause, including Canadians.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair didn't explicitly rule out supporting the mission, but said he hopes his questions are answered during the debate next week, and said humanitarian aid and diplomatic measures should come before a military assault.
Mulcair expressed concern that Canada could be stuck in a "quagmire" in Iraq 10 years from now, and 20 years after declining to join the last Iraq war.
NDP fear mission to expand to Syria
Mulcair said he's concerned Canada could end up bombing Syria without the government going back to the House for further debate.
In an interview to air Saturday at 9 a.m. on CBC Radio's The House, the NDP leader said "no one's learning the lessons" of the past 12 years in the region around Iraq and Syria.
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"The break-apart, the horrible civil war... is related to that, so directly or indirectly we're going to wind up helping the Assad regime [if Canada bombs ISIS in Syria]. I think that that's a tragedy as well," Mulcair told the CBC's Chris Hall.
Mulcair also chastised Harper for referring to the election when urging the opposition parties to support the motion. Harper said in his speech that "there is rarely political upside in supporting any kind of military action, and little political risk in opposing it."
Mulcair called it undignified for Harper "to ascribe motives in that way," and said it was "unfortunate rhetoric on a day where we should have been elevating the tone and the debate in the House."
Despite the proposed time limit and lack of ground troops, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the party will not support the mission.
Pressed for specific reasons, Trudeau said it's clear Harper "is not interested in gaining the support of the opposition parties." He couldn't say under what conditions the party would support a mission. "The Liberal Party of Canada cannot and will not support this prime minister's motion to go to war in Iraq," he said.
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"The prime minister in his motion today once again relied on rhetoric rather than facts and information. He has no plan, he has not justified his case for going to war in Iraq, and therefore the Liberal Party cannot support it," Trudeau said.
The debate and vote on the motion are expected to come Monday or Tuesday.
The motion tabled by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird calls for MPs to support contributing "Canadian military assets ... including airstrike capability for a period of up to six months.
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It also notes "that the government of Canada will not deploy troops in ground combat operations."
Harper reiterated the government's belief that ISIS has "specifically targeted Canada and Canadians" by "urging supporters to attack Canadians," though some experts have questioned whether ISIS has the capacity to do so.
"Left unchecked, this terrorist threat can only grow and grow quickly. As a government, we know our ultimate responsibility is to protect Canadians, and to defend our citizens from those who would do harm to us and to our families."
An audio recording from ISIS last month urged Muslims to kill "disbelievers" in countries, including Canada, supporting the U.S.-led combat mission.
'Is this what they want us to do?'
Canada is already contributing humanitarian aid to people fleeing the fighting and airlifts of munitions to Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling ISIS fighters.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called for more than one day of debate, and said she supports the prime minister's intentions but opposes the mission because bombing countries hasn't helped in the past.
"Let's try to look at the lessons of history before we go to war again," she said.
It's not true that Canada doesn't stand by when atrocities happen, May said, pointing to massive conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries where Canada didn't try to help. And, she said, it's possible ISIS is trying to provoke confrontation with the West.
"Are we potentially doing exactly what this appalling, abhorrent, despised group wants us to do?" she said.