Canada's top military commander is in Saudi Arabia for two days of talks with other defence chiefs allied against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, a meeting that comes as the Harper government appears set to extend this country's deployment in the Middle East.
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General Tom Lawson, Canada's chief of defence staff, is in Riyadh along with counterparts from 26 of the countries in the U.S.-led coalition seeking to hammer out a new strategy for combatting the Islamic State, which still controls significant portions of Iraq and parts of Syria.
The meeting is drawing international headlines but Canada's Department of National Defence is staying mum on the get-together, saying the travel plans of Gen. Lawson are kept quiet for security reasons until trips are concluded.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney has signalled in recent days that Ottawa is leaning toward extending Canada's military involvement in Iraq.
"Our government is inclined to continue playing a meaningful role in the fight against this genocidal terrorist organization. We believe Canada should not stand on the sidelines. However, we have not yet made a final decision," he told The Globe and Mail earlier this week.
The Saudi Press Agency, an arm of the Saudi government, said Wednesday the meeting will also discuss the war in Syria, where hundreds of thousands have died in the past four years.
The role of Western countries in training the Iraqi military will be a major issue of deliberation. Top Canadian military commanders last year predicted countries intervening in the Iraq conflict will be called upon to conduct large-scale training of Iraqi forces for as long as a year – even after a U.S.-led coalition blunts the attack power of Islamic State jihadis there.
Mr. Kenney announced Monday he's seeking authorization for funds to cover the first six months of Canada's Operation Impact mission in Iraq, saying it will cost taxpayers more than $122-million for the deployment. Canada's budget watchdog the Parliamentary Budget Office suggests the true cost could exceed $166-million.
The funding sought from Parliament would cover the bill until early April for Canada's aerial combat mission based out of Kuwait – six CF-18 fighters – as well as the costs for surveillance flights and refuelling aircraft in the U.S.-led coalition that currently dominates the skies over Iraq and parts of Syria.