Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will cease all coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by Feb. 22, while it beefs up its military efforts, including the number of special forces deployed on the ground to train Iraqi forces for the next two years.
"It is important to understand that while airstrike operations can be very useful to achieve short-term military and territorial gains, they do not on their own achieve long-term stability for local communities," Trudeau said during an announcement in Ottawa on Monday.
"Canadians learned this lesson first-hand during a very difficult decade in Afghanistan, where our forces became expert military trainers renowned around the world."
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Trudeau said while Canada will pull its six fighter jets from the bombing mission, it will also triple, from 69, the number of Canadian Forces members helping train local ground troops to fight ISIS in northern Iraq. It will also increase by 230 the 600 Canadian Armed Forces members deployed as part coalition mission.
Canada's military effort under Operation IMPACT will also include maintaining aircrew and support personnel for one CC-150 Polaris aerial refuelling aircraft and up to two CP-140 Aurora aerial surveillance aircraft. Canada will also send troops to mark targets for the coalition partners.
Canada's new contribution will total more than $1.6 billion over the next three years and include:
- $264 million to extend the military mission in Iraq and Syria for one year until March 31, 2017.
- $145 million over three years in non-military security efforts, such as counter-terrorism initiatives.
- $840 million over three years in humanitarian assistance.
- $270 million over three years to "build local capacity" in Jordan and Lebanon, where there are a large number of refugees.
- $42 million to redeploy staff and equipment to the region over the course of the new military commitment.
- An increased diplomatic presence in the region.
Trudeau was accompanied by National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and the Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau.
Canadian troops in combat or non-combat?
Trudeau said the government will put the new policy to a debate and a vote in Parliament, after the House of Commons resumes on Feb.16. He also pledged to review Monday's military commitment in two years.
'This prime minister is taking a shameful step backward from our proud traditions by pulling our CF-18s and Canada out of a combat role against the greatest terror threat in the world.' - Rona Ambrose, interim Conservative leader
"The military mission will be engaged for at least two years. In two years time, after regular updates throughout that period, we will once again reflect on the continuance of the mission ... and will include further debate in two years time in Parliament."
Interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose called Canada's withdrawal from the bombing mission against ISIS a "shameful step backward."
"Today, in his first major foreign policy decision, the prime minister has shown that Canada is not 'back.' In fact, this prime minister is taking a shameful step backward from our proud traditions by pulling our CF-18s and Canada out of a combat role against the greatest terror threat in the world," Ambrose said in a written statement.
Ambrose said increasing the number of special forces in a training capacity and the additional humanitarian assistance "are only designed to distract Canadians from the withdrawal of our CF-18s."
NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said her party is concerned that the Liberal government has decided to send Canadian troops on an "open-ended combat military mission in Iraq."
"Liberals are tripling the size of so-called advisers to the Iraqi military, with some forces working in a 'battlefield context' and others working to 'enhance in-theatre tactical transport.' Additionally, our forces will still be directly supporting the bombings through refuelling and targeting support," said Laverdière in a written statement.
"With so many unanswered questions, it is crucial that Canadians get better answers than we heard today."
Special forces to train Iraqi forces, mark targets
Trudeau's announcement comes as Sajjan is preparing to leave for Brussels, where he will meet with NATO defence ministers Feb. 10-11.
Canada's Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance said "this is exactly the right time" to pull Canada's fighter jets from the bombing campaign.
"There is sufficient air power available in the coalition to continue the air bombardments with the support of Canada's refueller and our targeting to ensure that mission continues," the top general told reporters following Trudeau's announcement.
Vance said Canada's renewed military commitment includes:
- Training, advising and assisting Iraqi forces conducting military operations against ISIS.
- "Transporting and providing" small arms and ammunition to help Iraqi security forces.
- Deploying a "small" contingent of helicopters to support Iraqi forces with medical evacuations.
- An increase of "multinational targeting efforts" against ISIS.
- Offering a team of strategic advisers to the government of Iraq.
- Additional Canadian Forces members in Jordan and Lebanon to help with "capacity-building efforts."
Vance acknowledged Canada's special forces will be in proximity to the frontline, but maintained his troops will continue to be there in a "non-combat" role.
"The success of Iraq is going to be through its forces on the ground and for us to provide them the training and the expertise to be able to do that ... is exactly where we need to be."
Vance said he was proud of Canada's "comprehensive" role in the wider effort in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
Obama welcomes new contributions
Trudeau discussed Canada's contribution to the global fight against ISIS during a telephone call with U.S. President Barack Obama today.
"The president welcomed Canada's current and new contributions to coalition efforts and highlighted Canada's leadership in the coalition," said a written statement from the White House.
The U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter was also pleased with Canada's decision to continue providing refuelling and surveillance support, calling it an "important" part of the campaign against ISIS.
"The secretary sees these as significant contributions and he appreciates the decision by the Trudeau government to step up Canada's role in the campaign at this critical time," said Peter Cook, a spokesman for the Pentagon in Washington.
Cook said the U.S. Secretary of Defence will be discussing the details of Canada's new contribution during his first bilateral meeting with Sajjan in Brussels this week.
Trudeau said addressing the crisis in Iraq and Syria will also require "a political solution."