NATO summit ends with pledge of more Canadian trainers for Iraq

The Trudeau government ended the NATO leaders summit in Warsaw on Saturday by pledging to contribute additional military trainers to Iraq for the alliance's program to improve the ability of security forces in that country to detect and defuse roadside bombs.

$465M to be spent in Afghanistan on defence, women's rights and meeting 'basic needs'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, shakes hands with Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan upon arriving at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

The Trudeau government ended the NATO leaders summit in Warsaw on Saturday by pledging to contribute additional military trainers to Iraq for the alliance's program to improve the ability of security forces in that country to detect and defuse roadside bombs. 

The promise came just hours after the Western allies also agreed to send surveillance planes to monitor the airspace over Syria and Iraq. 

Talk of a more assertive Russia and the consequences of placing a brigade of troops in eastern Europe faded into the background as instability across the Middle East and North Africa dominated day two of the summit. 

On the way out the door, Canada announced it would be part of an established NATO program to train Iraqi soldiers in disposing of improvised explosive devices.

Training moves into Iraq

It began last spring at training camps in nearby Jordan, but the alliance recent received permission from the government in Baghdad to carry out instruction inside the war-torn nation.

Contributing to the program fits within Canada's framework of helping to defeat the Islamic State, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. But he wasn't able to offer many details, including how many troops would be needed, when they would leave and where they would be based.

"The fact is from the beginning we have always talked about the broad range of activities we can do in support of the local troops," said Trudeau.

A defence official speaking on background said organizationally it is separate endeavour than the revamped mission, which was announced by Trudeau last February.

No Canadians to defuse bombs

It was the second time in as many days that Trudeau gave the military some marching orders. On Friday, he formally announced the deployment of roughly 450 troops to Latvia for an open-ended mission of deterrence against an assertive Russia, a mission the prime minister insisted his government embraced.

"We have consistently demonstrated a willingness to contribute, to deploy our troops in various places, and the opportunity to be part of the multinational framework by the leading efforts in Latvia was exactly something we saw as an opportunity for Canada to contribute security and stability, defence and deterrence at a time where that's very much necessary," he said.

It would not involve deploying Canadians to defuse bombs, but rather to train Iraqi soldiers to do the work themselves and to tutor their instructors, the official said.

The size and scope of the contribution has yet to be determined, but the official said the NATO-funded program would be on top of the special forces contingent training Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

NATO's secretary general, Jen Stoltenberg, also revealed Saturday that a handful of the alliance's advanced early warning patrol aircraft — AWACs — will soon be cruising the international skies close to Islamic State territory.

"We discussed the turmoil to the south of the alliance, including the situation in Syria," he said. "Of course it is of a great concern, the turmoil, the violence, the fighting."

It has an ominous ring, especially in light of Russia's scaled back, but ongoing, bombing campaign in Syria.

Planes in the air over troubled region

"The plan is to have the planes flying over international airspace and over Turkey. That will enable them to look into both the airspace of Iraq and Syria," Stoltenberg said.

There will be a new NATO-led naval presence in the central Mediterranean, which migrants have been using a highway to get to Europe, often times with tragic and deadly consequences.

Early Saturday, Canada announced it will spend $465 million to help cover the bill for Afghan security forces and to pay for development assistance over three years. The cash represents a renewal of funding programs that are set to expire next year.

In 2012, the former Conservative government committed a total of $557 million.

Money for Afghan security, humanitarian projects

Some of the money went towards an international fund that pays for security forces, including the fledgling Afghan army. Another allocation paid for Canadian-directed humanitarian and development projects.

A statement by the Prime Minister's Office says $195 million will be spent on security forces and $270 million is planned for development assistance. The breakdown represents a reversal of how the money was apportioned by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, something that a defence expert says should not be a surprise.

"Obviously this government wants to look more as a peacekeeping, development and supporting (government), than hard security," said Steve Saideman, a professor at Carleton University.

"This balance makes sense from this government."

But he says security cannot be given the short shrift given the enormous casualties Afghan forces are suffering in the face of a still-lethal Taliban insurgency.

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Canada has poured billions of dollars into Afghan security and development, but, unlike the U.S., it has not produced very many clear-eyed public assessments of the effectiveness of that aid.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion promised that will change.

"There are critical assessments done by Canada," he said. "I take your point that we have to improve it. Prime Minister Trudeau has been very clear. He wants more accountability."

Separately, there are also indications that Canada and other NATO members who do not meet the threshold two per cent gross domestic product spending level faced a tongue-lashing behind closed doors.

U.S. President Barack Obama, much as he did in Ottawa a week ago, warned member nations  must "step up" and do better.

He said NATO leaders had a "very candid conversation about that."


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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