The Current

Journalist Murray Brewster on Canada's role in battle for Mosul

According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian special forces are in Iraq to train and "empower" against ISIS, but it's not playing out that way. CBC's Murray Brewster, embedded with the troops, says he saw them doing much more than that.
A gunner from the Iraqi special forces jumps onto his vehicle to take his position as troops engage ISIS fighters in the Arbagiah neighbourhood of Mosul, Nov. 11, 2016. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)
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The offensive to wrest Mosul away from ISIS militants has been underway for more than a month now.

According to CBC embedded journalist Murray Brewster, who recently returned from Northern Iraq, Canada needs to decide what role it wants to take in the battle for Mosul  — and decide fast.  

"If [Canadian troops] are fired upon by ISIS, they return fire," Brewster tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Lt.-Col. Steven Hunter said Canadian Forces will fire preemptively if they see evidence that ISIS fighters are massing to launch an attack against Kurdish or Iraqi positions.

Soldiers have been using anti-tank rockets and calling in airstrikes against ISIS positions. One of their main targets: "Frankenstein suicide bomb trucks," says Brewster, large explosive-laden armoured vehicles that ISIS militants have been using to try to break through the frontlines.

Brig. Gen. Peter Dawe stands overlooking the front lines in northern Iraq and explains the kinds of situations where Canadian troops will engage in combat with ISIS. 2:41

Brewster says that while Canadian Forces do not have a defined position on the frontlines, they are playing an integral support role for Kurdish forces fighting in the month-long battle for Mosul.

"It was an incredible sight. You could actually hear the battle raging," Brewster tells Tremonti.

"We couldn't quite see into Mosul because of the ground mist, but you could hear the explosions," adding that the fighting has reduced the terrain just outside the city to a scorched, empty wasteland. 

An unidentified Kurdish soldier looks out for ISIS fighters at the front on Zardek Mountain, northwest of Erbil. (Murray Brewster/CBC)
According to Brewster, it appears that Kurdish and Iraqi troops will retake Mosul imminently, but Canada has to decide what it's next role will be because a lengthy guerrilla conflict will likely follow ISIS's conventional military defeat.

He says the Liberal government has been uncomfortable highlighting the combat role Canadian Forces are playing, claiming the political narrative has been spun.

But Brewster has no doubt ISIS understands Canada's position.

"I'm pretty sure that ISIS is very clear about the role that Canadian troops are playing."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch and Sujata Berry.