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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks during a conference on foreign affairs in Ottawa on Jan. 29, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks during a conference on foreign affairs in Ottawa on Jan. 29, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa plans to broaden scope of revised mission against Islamic State Add to ...

The Trudeau government’s rewriting of the Canadian commitment to the fight against Islamic State will encompass four countries in the region, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion says.

The Liberals have come under increasing pressure to explain how they will maintain a strong contribution to the effort despite a promise to pull fighter jets from the region, and in the wake of the deadly November attacks in Paris by Islamic State.

“The plan that we will announce will not be strictly only about Iraq,” Mr. Dion said after a meeting with his American and Mexican counterparts in Quebec City. “We will see what we can do for Syria and other countries, and I mention especially two countries that we need to help to be sure they will stay stable because they are so key for the region, and they are affected by all the difficulties that are coming from the civil war in Syria and the situation in Iraq. I am speaking about Lebanon and Jordan.”

Mr. Dion said the Liberals will announce this revised commitment soon. It’s widely expected the plan will be unveiled within the next week or two.

Canada’s current commitment, which expires March 31, includes CF-18 fighter jets bombing Islamic State targets in the region, as well as nearly 70 special forces soldiers offering military to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the U.S.-led coalition risks paving the way for another generation of conflict with jihadis if it can’t shrink the appeal of Islamic State. “Today, we are dealing with the son of al-Qaeda,” he said, referring to the terrorist group that dominated the region before Islamic State. “If we don’t get the next piece right – the next piece is not the military piece, it’s that political piece – we will be dealing with the grandson of al-Qaeda.”

He also defended himself against critics who have questioned the length of time taken to unveil Canada’s revised commitment to the fight against Islamic State. “I get questions about … why aren’t you coming up with a plan. I want to make sure I have a good understanding of the situational awareness [first] … so that our contribution to the coalition is meaningful,” he told an Ottawa conference Friday.

There are signs that Canada is losing influence in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State – because the Trudeau government has resolved to withdraw fighter jets from the campaign, and because it has yet to announce what new role it will play.

“Regrettably, in Iraq, a stick is needed,” Mr. Sajjan said. “But that stick will only buy you time to figure out the real problem.”

Mr. Sajjan said coalition forces need to identify and address the “original grievance” in the region that helps build support for Islamic State. “Find me a crisis of this magnitude, where coalitions need to be put together, I will find you a grievance which started it all.”

This prompted a rejoinder from former Conservative defence minister Jason Kenney, who took to Twitter to say: “ISIS’s only grievance is that the world does not succumb to its fanatical effort to create a pre-medieval caliphate.”

The Liberal plan will likely see Canada expand military training beyond Kurdish Iraq to include Baghdad government forces. The plan to pull jet fighters from the battle, in keeping with a campaign promise, is taking place over the objections of Canada’s allies.

Mr. Sajjan said a key question is how to ensure the Iraqi army – which fell apart when faced with the advance of Islamic State forces in 2014 – can rebuild effectively. “We have to look at how this situation was created – where the Iraqi forces on the ground weren’t able to hold that ground, to making sure that training is done well.”

He said the country’s exclusion from several key U.S.-led meetings on the campaign against Islamic State is no big deal. He said the one that counts is the meeting of NATO defence ministers next month in Brussels. “The real coalition meeting that’s actually coming up on Feb. 11 – we will be talking a lot about this.”

He said that, while Canada will consider sending military engineers into the region to rebuild areas shattered by fighting, that is a decision for a later date. “When the situation is right, we can have those [discussions]. Right now we are not there yet.”

Mr. Sajjan criticized how countries have handled security threats over the past decade, suggesting mistakes were made that exacerbated conflict.

“Should we be patting ourselves on the back … from a security perspective around the world. I think we can say things have not gotten much better. Things have gotten worse.”

He also criticized early actions by allies in Afghanistan, saying mistakes were made there that prolonged the conflict – a remarkable statement for a NATO defence minister to make.

“Some of our development strategies of the coalition partners early on in Afghanistan helped create the corruption that fuelled the insurgency,” said Mr. Sajjan, who served in Afghanistan as a Canadian soldier on three postings.

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