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Politics Canadian jets carry out final air strikes against IS targets

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Canada is not currently at war, but is involved instead in “a conflict that has high risk” with the so-called Islamic State.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's fighter jets have conducted their last air strikes against Islamic State militants as the Trudeau government withdraws the aircraft to fulfill a campaign promise.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan made the announcement during a Commons debate on the changes the Liberals are making to Canada's contribution to the fight against Islamic State.

He also warned Canadians on Wednesday night that the revised mission will be more dangerous.

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Mr. Sajjan said the CF-18 mission ended on Feb. 15. The last strikes by Canadian flights took place on Feb. 14, when two CF-Hornets struck an Islamic State "fighting position" near Fallujah in Iraq, the military said.

Last week, the Liberals unveiled a refashioned commitment to the U.S.-led military campaign, one that includes a bigger and riskier training mission. The number of Canadian special-forces advisers will climb to 207 from 69 in the expanded military deployment.

"Please keep in mind: This is a dangerous armed conflict, and this mission carries inherent risk to our men and women in uniform," Mr. Sajjan told the Commons on Wednesday during a debate on changes to the mission.

"This mission will be riskier than air operations," Mr. Sajjan said.

Most Canadian Armed Forces members deployed to the Mideast in the original mission established by the former Harper government were posted in the relatively safe environs of Kuwait City because they were supporting the air combat mission from there.

A much larger percentage of CAF personnel will now be posted in northern Iraq, much closer to the front lines of the battle with Islamic State forces.

As Mr. Sajjan put it Wednesday, "Our people will be in close proximity to the dangers inherent in the region."

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During the more than 15 months that Canadian jets fought against Islamic State, they conducted 251 air strikes, hitting 267 fighting positions, 102 pieces of IS equipment and vehicles and 30 bomb-making factories and storage facilities, the military said.

Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose criticized the withdrawal of the planes. "Bombing runs by Canadian fighter jets have provided vital cover for those battling [IS] on the ground. The Kurdish government, whose forces have been most effective in retaking ground from [IS], have repeatedly requested that Canada's bombing activities continue," she said. "If not this mission, then which mission?"

Mr. Sajjan said the United States is happy with Canada's new contribution. "From the coalition perspective, there is sufficient air power to continue pressing [IS] positions and to hamper their movements," he said.

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