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Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance is shown in his Ottawa office during an interview, on December 14, 2015. The latest government figures, contained in federal departmental performance reports for the last budget year, show a shortfall of 5,293 part-time soldiers, sailors and aircrew in the primary reserve. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

The Canadian Press

The general responsible for fulfilling the Liberal promise to withdraw from combat operations in Iraq is trying to beat back any notion that Canada's expanded, more dangerous ground role in that country constitutes "combat."

Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance began a much-watched address to a military and security conference in Ottawa Friday warning Canadians not to "fall into the trap" of describing the Iraq mission as something other than a support operation.

The Liberal government pledged during the 2015 federal election campaign to "end Canada's combat mission in Iraq" and this includes withdrawing CF-18 fighters from the U.S.-led air strike campaign against Islamic State militants.

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At the same time the Trudeau Liberals have enlarged the role of Canadian special forces soldiers helping Kurdish Peshmerga troops fight the so-called Islamic State on the ground in northern Iraq. The number of elite Canadian Armed Forces personnel will rise to about 220 from 69 and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has warned this revised commitment will be riskier for Canada's troops.

Critics such as the New Democratic Party call this more extensive deployment an "open-ended combat operation."

The "advise and assist" role that Canadian soldiers are playing will include visiting the front lines with the Kurds, as it has for the past 15 months, and will place troops from Canada in a theatre of war where they might have to defend themselves from enemy attack.

Canadian soldiers will also be expected to paint ground targets with lasers in order to assist air strikes from the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State forces.

Nevertheless, Gen. Vance is adamant Canadians shouldn't call this "combat."

"The spectrum of warfare, the spectrum of conflict, contains a great number of gradients of activity, of things you can do inside conflict zones," he told the Conference of Defence Associations.

He dismissed the notion that he's trying to shape the definition of what constitutes combat to fit the Liberal government's desire to call Canada's revised Iraq commitment a "non-combat" deployment.

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"I reject it. I am the expert in what is combat," Gen. Vance told the crowd to hearty applause from the military crowd gathered to hear him speak.

The Chief of the Defence Staff declined to take questions from media following his address Friday.

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