A top military official says members of the Islamic State group are "fair targets" for Canadian air strikes but refused to say if any were killed during a Canadian attack targeting equipment near Fallujah on Sunday.
Lieutenant-General Jonathan Vance, Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command, said CF-18 fighter jets dropped laser-guided bombs on heavy engineering equipment and vehicles near Iraq's Euphrates River. The strikes were Canada's first since joining the U.S.-led combat mission against Islamic State militants in Iraq and did not result in any civilian deaths, according to the military.
Speaking at a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, Lt.-Gen. Vance said the targeted equipment was being used to divert water from the Euphrates River, in order to create flooding in some areas and force Iraqi security forces and civilians to use roads containing improvised explosive devices. The equipment was also being used by Islamic State militants to help them defend against attacks from Iraqi security forces, he said.
A battle damage assessment conducted after the strikes found that no civilians were believed to have been killed, Lt.-Gen. Vance said.
"Members of ISIL who are hit as the result of a strike would not be considered collateral damage. They're fair targets as combatants," he said, referring to the group by its former name, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
However, Lt-Gen. Vance refused to say whether any Islamic State combatants were killed and suggested that information on combatant casualties would not be provided in briefings on Canadian air strikes.
"The rules of engagement that I'm going to use in terms of combatant casualties, is I'm not going to stand before you and tie one aircraft strike to one set of casualties," Lt.-Gen. Vance said. "We will give you a sense, as I did, in terms of how [the Islamic State] is faring. … And I will, where we can, offer you indications of the broad effects of what happened. But in the case of individual strikes, I'm not going to be announcing the [Islamic State] casualties."
He later said the military is certain that Islamic State militants had repeatedly used the vehicles that were struck but they were not in motion at the time of the attack.
Canada is part of a U.S.-led coalition of more than 40 countries working to counter Islamic State militants who have taken control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq. Canada's contribution to the fight is being overseen by the Canadian Joint Operations Command, and pilots of the fighter jets have final discretion on whether to release their bombs. The Canadian mission does not include a combat role in Syria.
The deployment is set to last six months but could be extended.
A total of six CF-18 fighter jets, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes, a C-150 refuelling jet and about 600 Canadian Forces personnel are in Kuwait as part of the mission. In addition, close to 70 Canadian special forces troops are providing advice and training for security forces in northern Iraq.
Lt.-Gen. Vance said Canada has flown 27 sorties so far, including 18 by fighter jets. He said Islamic State militants remain intent on capturing Baghdad, but added that Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have made gains in the area surrounding the capital city and other parts of Iraq.
Lt.-Gen. Vance would not provide estimates of how much the mission or individual strikes are expected to cost, but said the military has provided the government with an estimate for the cost of the mission. "As the mission terminates and we're able to determine what all the costs were, that will be provided," he said.
He added that information about the cost of the mission would be provided at "appropriate intervals" determined by the federal government.