Canadian warplanes are poised to start striking targets in Iraq, with the government saying bombing of Islamic militant forces should begin very shortly.
“They haven’t launched strikes yet, but it could happen at any moment,” one government source said.
Six Canadian CF-18s are now operating out of an airfield in Kuwait, as are a refuelling tanker aircraft and two surveillance planes.
The CF-18s and surveillance aircraft will fly with other countries’ planes, and are already operating in tandem with other nations. “The mission has begun. The Auroras have been up in the air. The CF-18s have been up in the air,” a government source said. “They just haven’t dropped bombs yet.”
Six hundred Canadian Armed Forces personnel have also set up camp in Kuwait, some sleeping in tents, some in structures, ready to support a combat mission that is authorized to operate for six months.
The Harper government at first called the staging base “Camp Canada,” but sources say using this name is now being discouraged because the Kuwaiti hosts are leery of highlighting a Canadian presence in the Arab country. “They want to make it clear this not Canadian territory; this is their territory,” one source said of the Kuwaiti government.
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.
Canada flew an extra CF-18 to Kuwait to be used as a spare if the need arises. Only six are authorized to fly with the coalition missions.
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 earlier this year.
Canadian forces 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 the Royal Canadian Air Force pilots will have the final discretion on whether to release their bombs.
The Canadian military says bombing targets are expected to grow 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.
Top 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 Mr. Harper’s Conservative government.
Canada’s contribution to the battle against the Islamic State also includes nearly 70 special forces soldiers in northern Iraq. Canadian military officials say they are helping train Kurdish peshmerga fighters and members of the Iraqi military on battlefield communications, planning and intelligence gathering.Report Typo/Error