Canada’s fighter jets will be coming home from the Islamic State fight on Feb. 22, as the military ramps up its training mission in Iraq and Syria.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that Canada’s revised military operation will see the size of its training and assisting mission triple to 207 Special Forces from the current 69, and the total number of Canadian Forces personnel increase to 830 from 650. The mission will continue to be “non-combat,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“The Canadian Armed Forces will now be allocating more military resources to training Iraqi security forces. We will be supporting and empowering local forces to take their fight directly to [the Islamic State] so that, kilometre by kilometre, they can reclaim their homes, their land and their future,” he said.
The Special Forces trainers will continue to work near the front lines and paint military targets as a part of their “advise and assist” role. Mr. Trudeau said the Canadian troops will also provide local forces with “light arms.”
The government will keep two CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft and one CC-150 aerial refuelling plane in the mission, he confirmed.
On the humanitarian front, Mr. Trudeau announced more than $1-billion in aid and development support, including $840-million over three years in humanitarian assistance and $270-million for social services on the ground. “We will help them address basic needs, maintain and repair infrastructure, promote employment and economic growth, and foster good governance,” he said.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the humanitarian aid will not be tied to other aspects of the government’s strategy against the Islamic State.
Mr. Trudeau made the announcement on Monday morning in Ottawa alongside Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and Ms. Bibeau. He said the government will dedicate more than $1.6-billion over the next three years to the entire revised mission.
Canada’s current mission, which expires on March 31, includes six CF-18 fighter jets bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, and 69 Special Forces personnel training Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. The government wants to extend the mission until March 31, 2017, and Mr. Trudeau committed to bringing the revised mission to Parliament next week for debate and a vote.
The Liberals campaigned on the promise to withdraw Canada’s fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group, a commitment the Conservative opposition has urged the government to reconsider. The former Tory government originally committed the jets to the mission.
On Monday, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose denounced the government’s withdrawal from the combat mission as a “step backward for Canada.”
“Today, in his first major foreign policy decision, the Prime Minister has shown that Canada is not ‘back.’ In fact, this Prime Minister is taking a shameful step backward from our proud traditions by pulling our CF-18s and Canada out of a combat role against the greatest terror threat in the world,” Ms. Ambrose said in a statement.
She said the government’s decision is “inconsistent” with its role of ensuring Canadians’ safety and security at home and abroad, and she accused the Liberals of politicizing the mission during the election campaign.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Trudeau said that while he believes that there is a role for bombing in the short term, Canada can best help in other ways. He added that he spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who thanked Canada for its new approach.
“The lethal enemy of barbarism isn’t hatred. It’s reason. And the people terrorized by ISIL every day don’t need our vengeance, they need our help. The government of Canada’s new policy on the fight against ISIL is grounded in this belief,” Mr. Trudeau said, using an alternate name to refer to the Islamic State.
Canada has also committed $650-million in humanitarian aid for those affected by the Syrian civil war and $233-million in longer-term development assistance to countries hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, including Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.
The government’s announcement comes days before Mr. Sajjan attends a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday with his counterparts in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Defence Minister was not invited to two recent coalition meetings in Paris; he brushed it off, saying meetings are continually being held to discuss threats.
U.S. welcomes revised Canadian mission
The Obama administration welcomed the revised Canadian contribution to the anti-IS campaign Monday with carefully-chosen comments that avoided any direct criticism of Mr. Trudeau’s decision to end combat operations by pulling all six aging Canadian fighter-bombers from the conflict.
However, White House spokesman Josh Earnest made clear that President Barack Obama may seek more than the trainers and intelligence effort announced yesterday in Ottawa.
“We going to have continuing discussions with the Canadians about additional steps they can take to further enhance our counter-ISIL efforts,” Mr. Earnest said at the White House briefing. He also confirmed that Mr. Trudeau called Mr. Obama on Monday to explain Canada’s revised role. “Those new commitments are indicative of the kind of close relationship that the United States and Canada enjoy particularly when it comes to our mutual national security.”
The Pentagon put a more positive spin on the end of Canadian combat operations.
“There’s important news from north of the border,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook as he opened the daily Defense Department briefing, adding: “The Canadians are tripling their training mission in northern Iraq, doubling their intelligence effort as well as expanding their humanitarian and development effort.” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter “appreciates the decision by the Trudeau government to step up Canada’s role,” Mr. Cook said.
And the State Department said: “Canada has played an important role in the Coalition’s efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL and we welcome its announcement,” adding: “The new Canadian commitment is in line with our current needs, including tripling their training mission in Northern Iraq and increasing their intelligence efforts.”
With a report from Paul Koring in WashingtonReport Typo/Error