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Politics Canadian warplanes begin Iraqi combat mission; weather frustrates strikes

A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jet from 409 Squadron taxis after landing in Kuwait on Tuesday, October 28, 2014.

DND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's war in Iraq has begun with CF-18 fighters flying combat missions over the Mideast country and surveillance planes scanning the terrain with the U.S.-led coalition looking to beat back Islamic State militants there.

As of Friday, no bombs had been dropped by Canadians although the military said that could change quickly.

Colonel Daniel Constable, commander of Canada's Joint Task Force Iraq, said Royal Canadian Air Force's CF-18s, surveillance planes and a Polaris refuelling tanker all began missions Thursday.

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Fighters also flew more combat missions Friday, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, operating from Canada's staging base in Kuwait.

Two CF-18s flew a six-hour mission Thursday all the way to the west of Baghdad.

On Thursday and Friday, bad weather hampered the CF-18s' ability to launch air strikes as their laser-guided munitions were frustrated by the clouds and poor conditions.

The military is preparing to change the CF-18s' munitions to GPS-guided bombs in a matter of days and the planes will be able to drop these munitions even if the weather and visibility are poor. CF-18s are expected to be equipped with Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which Canada used in Libya, some time next week.

Canada's Polaris tanker has been refuelling coalition aircraft, delivering nearly 50,000 pounds of fuel on Thursday alone. The RCAF's Aurora surveillance plane flew a six-hour intelligence-gathering mission over northwestern Iraq. The surveillance plane helps coalition partners scout the battle space and pick targets.

The CF-18 planes are expected to fly six out of every seven days, with one day set aside for maintenance and repair.

About 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel are deployed in Kuwait, some bunking in tents and some in structures. The camp is still under construction, with soldiers building communication links and maintaining the aircraft that are part of Operation Impact in Iraq.

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Canada is part of a U.S.-led coalition of more than 40 countries trying to beat back extremists who have cut a path of destruction across parts of Syria and Iraq.

U.S. warplanes have been pounding Islamic State forces for months.

Targets have included training camps, machine-gun firing positions, bunkers, ammunition caches, armoured vehicles and tanks.

The aim is to blunt the advances of militants and open up room for Iraq security forces to fight back on the ground.

Baghdad's existing forces, which benefited from a decade of training assistance by the United States, nevertheless fell apart when Islamic State fighters advanced this year.

Canadians flying in Iraq will be part of the coalition led by the United States, but will remain under Canadian command. Canadian Joint Operations Command will oversee the targeting choices for the CF-18s, and pilots will have the final discretion on whether to release their bombs.

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The Canadian military says bombing targets are expected to become more difficult to find because many of the readily identifiable ones have already been hit or militants have taken cover.

But air strikes are only part of the effort that will be required in Iraq.

Canadian military commanders have said nations will be called upon to conduct large-scale training of Iraqi forces for as long as a year – even after the coalition blunts the attack power of Islamic State fighters.

This suggests Canada's military involvement in the Iraq conflict could stretch far beyond the six-month commitment made by Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

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