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Canada Canadian warplanes launch air strikes against Islamic State militants

A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jets arrive at the Canadian Air Task Force Flight Operations Area in Kuwait on October 28, 2014 in this Canadian Forces handout photo received October 29, 2014.

HANDOUT/REUTERS

Canada has made its mark on the battlefield in Iraq with CF-18 warplanes dropping their first bombs in this country's combat mission there.

Canadian fighter jets attacked Islamic State militant targets near the city of Fallujah on Sunday, Ottawa said.

It's not clear how much damage the CF-18s caused. The military says it requires two days, until Tuesday, before it can tell Canadians what was achieved.

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The air strikes by two CF-18 fighters are part of the U.S.-led coalition that is trying to beat back the advance of jihadi extremists in Iraq.

This is the first fighting that Canadians have done since Prime Minister Stephen Harper set the country on the course to war in Iraq this October and the Conservative-dominated House of Commons authorized a six-month aerial combat deployment to the Middle East.

The "strike demonstrates our government's firm resolve to tackle the threat of terrorism and to stand with our allies against [Islamic State] atrocities against innocent women, children and men," Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement.

Canadian government sources said the 230-kilogram, laser-guided bombs hit their intended targets but a damage assessment is not readily available yet.

The planes carried out a four-hour-long mission and were resupplied with fuel in the air by Canada's Polaris refuelling aircraft.

All aircraft returned safely to Canada's base of operations in Kuwait, where 600 Canadian Armed Forces members are now deployed to support the mission.

Surveillance planes will scour the bombed target site and the military will prepare a damage assessment that will be relayed to Canadians in a Department of National Defence briefing Tuesday.

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Canada is part of a U.S.-led coalition of more than 40 countries trying to beat back extremists who have cut a path of destruction across parts of Syria and Iraq.

Both Official Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau opposed the decision to send CF-18s to the fight, saying Canada should be focusing on humanitarian aid.

U.S. warplanes have been pounding Islamic State forces for months.

Targets have included training camps, machine gun firing positions, bunkers, ammunition caches, armoured vehicles and tanks.

The aim is to halt the advances of militants and open up room for Iraq security forces to fight back on the ground.

Baghdad's existing forces, which benefited from a decade of training assistance by the United States, nevertheless fell apart when Islamic State fighters overran parts of Iraq earlier this year.

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Canadian forces flying in Iraq will remain under Canadian command. Canadian Joint Operations Command will oversee the targeting choices for the CF-18s, and the Royal Canadian Air Force pilots will have final discretion on whether to release their bombs.

The Canadian military says bombing targets are expected to grow more difficult to find because many readily identifiable ones have already been hit or militants have taken cover.

Air strikes are only part of the effort that will be required in Iraq.

Top Canadian military commanders have said nations will be called upon to conduct large-scale training of Iraqi forces for as long as a year – even after the coalition blunts the attack power of Islamic State fighters.

This suggests Canada's military involvement in the Iraq conflict could stretch far beyond the six-month commitment made by Mr. Harper's Conservative government.

Canada's contribution to the battle against the Islamic State also includes nearly 70 special forces soldiers in northern Iraq. Canadian military officials say they are helping train Kurdish peshmerga fighters and members of the Iraqi military on battlefield communications, planning and intelligence gathering.

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