Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, on May 7, 2020.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada is staying in the fight against the Islamic State for another year, though exactly what Canadian troops will be doing in Iraq and the surrounding region over the next 12 months remains largely shrouded in secrecy and uncertainty.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Tuesday that Canada will keep up to 850 troops there until next March. The extension came one day before the mission, which began in October, 2014, was set to end.

The extension coincides with growing concerns about Iran’s influence in Iraq, with Tehran backing numerous Shia militia groups that have largely displaced IS as the main threat inside the country.

Story continues below advertisement

It also follows a steady withdrawal of Canadian troops from the region over the past year, with the military having scaled back operations in a number of different areas.

The Defence Department says there are currently about 500 service members in the region, but will not provide more details, citing operational security.

The Liberal government previously set a cap of 850 troops several years ago, and Mr. Sajjan did not indicate whether Tuesday’s mission extension would actually result in more troops being deployed. Nor did he offer details on the specific makeup of the mission.

“We have the flexibility to put the resources in for what is needed given the current situation,” Mr. Sajjan told reporters during a virtual news conference after the mission extension was announced.

“As the situation changes, we’re able to make the necessary number changes. So we’re not drawing down. What you’re seeing here is what’s actually needed. And we can easily change things based on the situation on the ground.”

The last-minute nature of the extension and lack of transparency around the military mission did not sit well Tuesday with opposition critics.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan noted the previous Tory government, which launched the anti-IS mission, held technical briefings with the military to keep the public and parliamentarians up to date on the effort.

Story continues below advertisement

“And since that time, there’s been almost nothing coming from the government in the form of technical updates,” Mr. Bezan said. “There is an ongoing ambiguity of what the mission purpose is, how our forces are conducting themselves.”

Thomas Juneau, a University of Ottawa expert on the Middle East, said Canada has a poor record of openness when it comes to talking about military missions and explaining the reasons for decisions.

However, he added, “to announce that mission with no detail like that 24 hours before it expires is really a serious lack of transparency.”

Mr. Bezan and Prof. Juneau nonetheless supported the government’s decision to extend the mission, in part because of the importance of ensuring IS doesn’t regroup and the need to protect Iraq from Iran, but also because of the message it sends to the U.S. and allies.

“This is a good mission. It’s a good mission for Iraq and it’s good for Canada to be involved in the mission,” Prof. Juneau said. “To decide now not to renew would have sent a really negative signal to the Biden administration in the U.S.”

Canada announced Tuesday it was pledging $49.5-million in emergency humanitarian aid to Syria, which remains in conflict following a civil war and the rise of IS.

Story continues below advertisement

In addition, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said his department will adopt a new policy to help more Yazidis and other survivors of IS reunite with their families in Canada.

Canada first deployed special forces soldiers and CF-18 fighter jets to Iraq more than six years ago when the international community scrambled to stop IS as it conquered large parts of Iraq and Syria.

While the mission evolved several times over the ensuing years, which included withdrawing the CF-18s and adding hundreds of military advisers to a NATO training mission in Iraq, official updates have been few and far between.

That includes exactly how many special forces troops remain in Iraq, and what they are doing. Military officials provided far more detail about their activities at the start of the mission, but have become largely silent over the years.

Mr. Sajjan did confirm Tuesday that Canadian special forces are continuing to operate from the northern city of Erbil, which has come under attack several times over the past year from Iran and its militia proxies. But the minister would not provide further information.

“Obviously, I can’t get into the details of it, but their work is absolutely vital,” he said. “More importantly, what they end up doing is actually preventing a lot of incidents from occurring, and making sure the hard-fought gains by the Iraqi security forces are not lost.”

Story continues below advertisement

NDP defence critic Randall Garrison said he was particularly concerned about the lack of information around the Canadian special forces, beyond the government’s repeated assertions that they are “training, advising and assisting” Iraqi security forces, due to the danger of Canadian troops being drawn into combat.

“I don’t have any more clarity on that at this point than we’ve had before. So those concerns remain.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies