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Canadian soldiers in Kuwait train for combat against Islamic State. The country’s current mission in Iraq and Syria expires March 31. (OP Impact, DND)
Canadian soldiers in Kuwait train for combat against Islamic State. The country’s current mission in Iraq and Syria expires March 31. (OP Impact, DND)

Canada to expand military mission against Islamic State Add to ...

The Liberal government will lay out its new role in the U.S.-led war against Islamic State next week that will include additional Special Forces, a non-combat air component and participation in an enlarged training mission, sources say.

The long-awaited announcement will be made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan attends a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels next Wednesday and Thursday, where the battle to defeat Islamic State militants will be a key topic.

“We’re talking about days,” International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a telephone conference call with reporters from London on Thursday, where she was attending a donor conference on Syria. “We really want to announce a holistic approach, and this includes all our contributions in terms of military, in terms of diplomacy and in terms of humanitarian assistance and development.”

The federal cabinet met Tuesday with General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, to put the final touches on the government’s military and diplomatic response, which will include a substantial humanitarian package for the region.

Sources say Canadian Special Forces are expected to continue training Kurdish militia, and the number of trainers will more than double to about 150. CF-18s will be pulled out, but two CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft and a CC-150 aerial refuelling plane are expected to stay in place.

Canada is also expected to participate in a proposed NATO-led training mission that will set up shop in military camps in Jordan, Turkey and possibly Lebanon.

One proposal was for Canada to provide an army battalion.

“How they structure that battalion will determine the size. It could be anywhere between 500 to 1,000, but it is a pretty wide window,” a military source said. “It is not like going into Syria or Iraq and it is very, very low-risk for the government.”

As part of the humanitarian package, the Liberals are expected to provide $15-million in annual funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency – set up in 1950 to help Palestinian refugees – after the former Conservative government cut all $30-million in annual funding in 2009.

Canada’s current mission, which expires March 31, includes six CF-18 fighter jets bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, as well as 69 Special Forces soldiers offering military training to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

The Americans privately pressed the Liberals to keep the fighter jets in the air campaign, citing their high regard for the skills of Canadian pilots, sources say.

But Mr. Trudeau would not relent on his election pledge to end Canada’s bombing mission.

The Conservatives and other critics have panned the Liberals’ pledge to end the bombing mission, particularly after six Canadians were killed in mid-January by a terror group linked to al-Qaeda.

A survey conducted for The Globe and Mail found that a comfortable majority of Canadians want Canada to stay in the U.S.-led coalition and to participate in the ground-troops training of Iraqi Kurds and the air combat mission.

“There is no appetite to withdraw politically out of the fight” against Islamic State, according to pollster Nik Nanos, who surveyed Canadians on the series of options under consideration by the Liberal cabinet. “It is pretty clear that continuing the fighter-jet mission is comparatively the more popular option at this point in time.”

The random survey of 1,000 Canadians, conducted between Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 by Nanos Research Group, found that 29 per cent of Canadians believe Ottawa should provide fighter jets to the air war, and 20 per cent favoured military training of local Kurdish forces. Only 14 per cent supported ground training outside Iraq. Nine per cent said Canada should provide surveillance and refuelling aircraft.

“Only a very small minority of Canadians of less than one out of every 10 believe that we should get out of there and do nothing,” Mr. Nanos said.

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