Justin Trudeau is laying out a rough timeline for withdrawing Canada from a combat role against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, saying he will recall CF-18 warplanes before Ottawa’s mandate for the mission concludes at the end of March.
The Prime Minister is adamantly sticking with his pullout plan even as the Group of 20 summit he attended in Turkey was seized with how to step up military pressure on the Islamic State jihadists, who claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly terror attacks in Paris. Although G20 host country Turkey had placed terrorism and the issue of refugees fleeing terrorism on the official agenda of the summit, the Paris attacks changed the tone of the gathering and dominated the public comments of world leaders.
Mr. Trudeau is also facing pressure at home to rethink returning CF-18s to Canada, with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall calling for the Forces to keep bombing IS targets. Some politicians are also expressing reservations concerning the federal government’s plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.
Mr. Trudeau said the Oct. 19 federal election was a vote to bring home the fighter jets. The Liberals ran on a promise to “end Canada’s combat mission” in Iraq and instead focus on “training of local forces” there.
“I think one of the things that Canadians have expressed, certainly over the past months and within the election, [is] that they wanted to see a ceasing of the bombing mission,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters at the Group of 20 summit in the city of Antalya.
He said he feels Canada can make more of a difference on the ground as trainers.
“Canada has developed significant expertise over the years, particularly in Afghanistan, in training local troops, at helping empower local militias and armies to take the fight directly to insurgents and terrorists and that’s exactly where I think – a number of people feel, certainly I feel – that Canada has its greatest benefit to the coalition against [Islamic State].”
This is the first time the Prime Minister has set a timeline for bringing home the jet fighters. The end of March, 2016, is when a parliamentary motion on the anti-Islamic State mission passed by the former Conservative government expires, leaving as much as 4 1/2 months for the Canadian Armed Forces to prepare for the warplanes’ exit.
The Kurdish peshmerga troops, however, who are fighting Islamic State in northern Iraq and are Canada’s main partners in the region, are now appealing to the Trudeau government for weapons and equipment.
“We hope that Canada will continue to play an important part in the coalition against [IS] and will provide weapons and training,” Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the United States, said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
“The peshmerga are not equipped like a modern army and need everything, from basic tactical equipment to ammunition and arms to heavy assault vehicles. Weapons systems like the MILAN rocket have saved countless peshmerga lives. Battlefield medical kits, helmets, winter tactical gear, night-vision binoculars are in great need. Armoured vehicles are also critical to protecting Kurdish forces as we take the fight to [IS]. We also need medical training for frontline peshmerga and mine-clearance and counter-IED equipment.”
On Monday, French President François Hollande appealed for a unified coalition including the United States and Russia to eradicate Islamic State militants. After declaring that “France is at war,” he said he would meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow shortly “so we can unite our forces to achieve a result that has taken too long.”
Mr. Trudeau took part in a closed-door discussion of G20 world leaders Sunday that stretched on past midnight local time as countries, including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, focused directly on how the world should respond to Islamic State.
Many world leaders spoke of increasing their military efforts in the wake of Friday’s terror attacks in Paris.
But Mr. Trudeau told reporters he was never asked to reconsider his pledge to end the bombing campaign.
In a separate communiqué on the terrorist attack, the G20 leaders said they “condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the heinous terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November and in Ankara on 10 October,” describing them as “an unacceptable affront to all humanity.”
The final communiqué called for countries to boost intelligence-sharing, cut off terrorist funding and strengthen border security in Europe.
Meanwhile, Canadian warplanes continue to bomb what the military describes as Islamic State targets. CF-18s have launched at least 16 strikes since the Oct. 19 election and 193 in the region since last fall.
France’s ambassador to Canada, Nicolas Chapuis, insists his country is not critical of Mr. Trudeau’s plan to withdraw CF-18s, noting that the Prime Minister is emphasizing Canada will remain committed to the effort against Islamic State through other means. Mr. Chapuis said other contributions, not just airstrikes, are welcome.
With reports from Campbell Clark in Ottawa and ReutersReport Typo/Error
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