Politics

Rick Hillier urges use of airstrikes or special forces to keep ISIS 'off balance'

Canadian airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are "valuable" tools, but there are also other ways of assisting in the fight, including the use of special forces and long-range artillery, says retired general Rick Hillier.

Former top general slams Conservative record on Syrian refugees, saying 'we wasted a huge amount of time'

Former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier weighs in on the fight against ISIS and the refugee resettlement plan 10:49

Canadian airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are "valuable" tools, but there are also other ways of assisting in the fight, including the use of special forces and long-range artillery, says retired general Rick Hillier.

"I personally would like to see the airstrikes continue because I think that's valuable," the former chief of defence staff of the Canadian Forces said in an interview Friday on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

I do think special forces on the ground, who do these very precise, surgical strikes would be a very powerful, capable thing to do.- Rick Hillier, ex-chief of defence staff

​Hillier told host Hannah Thibedeau he would like to see the fighter jets stay.

"However, if we do not do that, there are other ways of assisting. I'd like to see the special forces and maybe even long-range artillery with precision warheads to do those kinds of attacks, to keep [ISIS] leadership off balance so they can't plan, recruit, finance and project violence around the world like they've been doing."

"I do think special forces on the ground, who do these very precise, surgical strikes would be a very powerful, capable thing to do." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to withdraw Canada's six CF-18 fighter jets from the airstrike mission against ISIS and focus on training local ground troops instead.

"My belief is, if you're going to train, you're all in," Hillier said.

"When you send those units you've trained out to conduct operations, they'll learn a whole pile of lessons. If you've not been there with them as the trainers you can't help them improve and move to the next level."

Retired general Rick Hillier accused the previous government of wasting 'a huge amount of time' by not assisting Syrian refugees earlier in an interview with CBC News Friday. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press)

Regardless of the form Canada's involvement in the mission takes, Hillier says it's "essential" for the country to stay engaged.

"Every single ISIS leader should never have a single moment in their life when they're not worried about looking at the sky and having a missile come out and end their life, or go to bed and have that door blown in and have some commandos come in and capture or kill them," said the former top soldier, who commanded the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

"They should be worried because if they're not, they're going to have more time to plan. And I believe Canada has to be a part of that."

Russia-Turkey tensions 'worrisome'

Hillier also weighed in on the escalating tension between Russia and Turkey.

I've not dealt with Putin personally. He does seem somewhat immune to negotiation.- Rick Hillier

Relations between the former Cold War antagonists are at their lowest in recent memory after Turkey, a NATO member, shot down a Russian jet for allegedly breaching Turkish airspace on Tuesday.

"Is it worrisome? Yes, it is," Hillier said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of "significant consequences" after the plane was downed, while Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country has the right to take "all kinds of measures" against border violations

"I think Turkey was pushed to a certain degree. I'm not sure what other options they had … but obviously [Turkey] felt it was a solution. They are a member of NATO and I think we have to stand with them."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Canada's NATO ambassador to engage with allies to de-escalate tensions after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that had flown into its airspace on Tuesday. (Haberturk TV/EPA/CBC)

Trudeau has said that Canada will help to "de-escalate what is obviously a tense situation." 

It's a situation Hillier isn't sure will involve ready co-operation from Russia.

"I've not dealt with Putin personally. He does seem somewhat immune to negotiation," Hillier said. 

"But maybe he's not immune to the fact that finally, after several years of him pushing the boundaries … somebody's actually stood up to him in a way he perhaps did not expect."

'Thumbs down' for Conservative refugee response

The retired general, who called for 50,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas in a previous interview on Power & Politics, said the government's commitment to resettling 25,000 Syrians in Canada by March 2016 is a good place to start.

We pissed away three months that we could have been looking after those desperate people fleeing for their lives.- Rick Hillier

But Hillier had harsh words for the previous Conservative government's refugee record.

"The previous government — we pissed away three months that we could have been looking after those desperate people fleeing for their lives," he said.

"We did not do anything and so we wasted a huge amount of time. Thumbs down."

"Thumbs up to the current government, I've got to say that," he added of the Liberals' resettlement plan.

"As they try to shape themselves to govern the great nation of Canada, here they are engaging on this incredible endeavour, which great nations should do."

With a file from The Associated Press

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