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Commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces, Major General Mike Rouleau, holds a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday November 16, 2016 to give an update on Canada's ongoing strategy to counter Daesh in Iraq. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces, Major General Mike Rouleau, holds a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday November 16, 2016 to give an update on Canada's ongoing strategy to counter Daesh in Iraq. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Call Canada’s Iraq mission by its real name: It’s war Add to ...

Last fall, it was one of the Liberal election campaign’s most prominent promises. To quote the platform: “We will end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq.” Simple, straightforward, clear.

A year later, however, Canadian special operations soldiers are very much on the ground in Iraq. There are about 200 of them, a number that has roughly tripled since the Harper government. And those troops are clearly in combat – regularly shooting at and killing the enemy, and themselves being shot at – though Ottawa goes to great lengths to keep the details scarce. That is because the Trudeau government continues to maintain that the combat mission it expanded is actually the combat mission it ended. It’s Orwellian.

There are good reasons for Canadian troops to be in Iraq: assisting our allies, notably the United States, training Iraqis, and defending against the forces of the so-called Islamic State. And when it comes to ISIS, there are compelling arguments that can be made to justify sending Canadians into war against it.

Related: Canadian forces providing crucial support in battle to recapture Mosul

Read more: A guide to the battle of Mosul, and why it matters in the war against Islamic State​

Last year, however, the Liberals made their arguments against a combat role. And then once in office, they promptly reversed the policy, without revising their reasoning.

The problem is not the mission itself. It’s the government’s hypocrisy about the mission, and its extreme economy of information about what Canada’s soldiers are actually doing.

That the government continues to insist that what looks like combat is anything but is hardly surprising. The campaigning Liberals spent a lot of time splitting hairs, saying that they weren’t against our allies fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, or even against Canada helping our allies to do so – just so long as Canadians didn’t do any of the actual fighting. The line was fuzzy, but in 2015, the Liberals nevertheless stressed that they were drawing it. Again, that platform promise: “We will end Canada’s combat mission.”

The subsequent change of course, while simultaneously claiming the original promise is being fulfilled to the letter, breeds distrust and cynicism about the way the government operates and the contortions military leaders must go through to stay consistent with the Liberal’s outmoded campaign message. It’s time for Ottawa to talk about our war in the truthful language it deserves.

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