Canadians trade fire with ISIS as military waits on possible extension

The Canadian military has recently exchanged fire with ISIS fighters and conducted several more airstrikes as it awaits word on a possible extension of its mission in Iraq.

Military officials planning for both an exit or an extension of mission against jihadists

Capt. Paul Forget says Canada's work as part of the international coalition has degraded ISIS morale. (CBC)
  The Canadian military recently exchanged fire with ISIS fighters and conducted several more airstrikes as it awaits word on a possible extension of its mission in Iraq.

Capt. Paul Forget from the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Joint Operations Command said at a technical briefing at Department of National Defence headquarters in Ottawa that CF-18s had conducted 14 airstrikes and come under fire once since the last update on their status on Jan 26.

He said the work Canada is doing as part of an international coalition continues to affect ISIS.

  "[ISIS] leadership is struggling to sustain military efforts. Morale is steadily declining, particularly in areas of sustained coalition and Iraqi security forces operations," he said.

"Unable to claim any significant victories in recent weeks, [ISIS] is escalating displays of public brutality in an attempt to intimidate opponents and the local population. They are also resorting to the execution of their own members for fleeing from battle."

  Forget said he's not tracking the number of ISIS fighters killed by Canadians, but there's no indication of any civilian casualties from Canadian airstrikes aimed at targets such as heavy weapons, fighting positions and equipment. 

Kenney sees continued role

Similar briefings in the past have revealed that Canadian special forces have come under fire and returned fire while helping Iraqi forces with planning work on the front lines, and Forget said Thursday the recent incident was along those same lines, without getting into details for security reasons.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney told the CBC's Evan Solomon that while nothing has been decided, Canada is "open" to helping train Ukrainan troops. (CBC)

Those developments led to questions from opposition parties about whether Canada's role in Iraq, which was billed as air and logistical support, has changed in the middle of the six-month mission passed by Parliament.

  New Defence Minister Jason Kenney said on  CBC's Power and Politics on Wednesday that Canada will cooperate with coalition members but won't commit to a combat mission in Iraq.

"The government hasn't made a final decision on an extension of the mission, we are going to be considering that shortly and then making a decision about whether or not to go back to the House of Commons to seek endorsement of an extension, and if so what the nature of that extension would be," he told host Evan Solomon.

"[ISIS] is one of the most vile political, ideological movements of our time. It represents a clear danger to us and the entire civilized world, and that's why we will continue, I believe, to play a role in combating and containing [ISIS]."

The mission's six-month deadline will be reached in the first week of April, and Forget said the military has planned for a possible extension of the mission.

"That's just prudent military planning — to be prepared to support any government initiatives," he said, adding that plans for personnel and equipment to return to Canada are also in place and both are part of their normal process.