Ottawa tasks trailblazing female officer with leading extended training mission in Iraq

Canada will stick around an extra year to command the NATO training mission in Iraq — and has appointed a woman who saw combat in Afghanistan to lead it, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Wednesday.

Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan served in a combat role in Afghanistan

Lt.-Col. Jennie Carignan speaks to area resident Yar Mohammad about a retaining wall project near his village along the Tarnak River in the Dand Distrct of Kandahar province in August, 2010. Carignan, now a brigadier general, has been assigned command of the NATO training mission in Iraq. (Dene Moore/The Canadian Press)

Canada will stick around an extra year to command the NATO training mission in Iraq — and has appointed a woman who saw combat in Afghanistan to lead it, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Wednesday.

Roughly 250 Canadian soldiers provide headquarters, security and transport services for the other alliance nations helping the Iraqi government rebuild its defence institutions and military.

The extended command will last until November 2020. Sajjan, speaking at a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels today, said Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan will be promoted to major-general and take over the command this fall.

Carignan currently is the 2nd Canadian Division and Joint Task Force East commander, based in eastern Quebec.

In a statement, Sajjan described Carignan as "an accomplished leader." He also expressed delight at the extension and cited it as a demonstration of Canada's leadership and commitment to a stable, peaceful and prosperous Iraq.

One of the few

Carignan is one of fewer than a dozen women currently serving at the general officer rank in the Canadian military. She has served in a number of top staff posts, including chief of staff of the army.

She was the commanding officer of 5 Combat Engineer Regiment and led a task force of engineers in Kandahar in 2010.

Carignan enlisted in 1986 and is considered a trailblazer for Canadian women serving in combat roles. Over the last three decades, the military has opened more and more jobs to women that previously had been restricted to men.

She has been quoted in multiple interviews about her experiences and the challenges of gender integration in the ranks.

Carignan also has been at the forefront of commentary on the military's attempt to stamp out sexual misconduct in the ranks. She recently penned an online opinion article for the Department of National Defence's army news section.

In that opinion piece, published Dec. 17, 2018, Carignan wrote the military has accepted inappropriate conduct in the ranks for too long:

"We tolerated these behaviours in the past as being 'part of the culture.' In fact, these behaviours should never have become part of our culture."

According to many within the army, Carignan has a tough-as-nails reputation and no qualms about firing subordinates who fail to meet expectations.

Carignan will relieve Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the current training mission commander.

There are roughly 580 NATO trainers on the ground in Iraq, including the Canadian contingent, says a defence department backgrounder.

The trainers focus on educating Iraqi military instructors, who in turn train their own forces in bomb disposal, armoured vehicle maintenance, civilian-military planning and medical care.

The alliance also advises the Iraqi defence ministry on institutional reform.

Canada maintains a separate contingent of special forces troops in northern Iraq, who advise and assist local security forces in counter-terrorism operations against pockets of Islamic State extremists. While they've been defeated on the battlefield, Islamic State is still conducting a guerrilla-style campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.


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