Skip to main content

A photo released by the Sabratha Municipal Council on Feb. 19 shows the site where U.S. warplanes struck an Islamic State training camp in Sabratha, Libya.

Canada's top soldier said this country will end up playing a role in Libya, where Western concerns are growing about the increasing strength of Islamic State forces, and he isn't ruling out military action.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance mentioned this at a security and defence conference in Ottawa on Friday. Earlier that day, U.S. fighter jets carried out air strikes in Libya, targeting what the Pentagon said was an Islamic State training camp.

Gen. Vance said the international community is taking a keen interest in Libya right now.

"I don't know whether we will be involved militarily, but we will certainly be involved somehow," Gen. Vance said of Canada at the Conference on Security and Defence.

"Libya sits at a crossroads of some very important and dangerous things that are happening that are affecting Europe, it's affecting Africa, it's affecting even our forces deployed at the [multinational force] in Sinai," the general said, referring to Canadian soldiers deployed as part of a peacekeeping force around the Sinai peninsula.

Asked later about Gen. Vance's remarks, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada is still studying the matter. He also said he's been talking to NATO allies about Libya.

"When we have further discussions, and if there's a need, and where Canada can bring in a certain capability that can assist part of the coalition, we will consider it at that time."

Asked what the options might be, Mr. Sajjan said it's too early to say.

"It's better to get a good understanding of what's happening and what's needed and then look at what we as nations are good at, that we can provide and that's how we're going to be approaching this."

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing Friday that the Islamic State fighters in Libya targeted by U.S. warplanes in an overnight strike posed a threat to the United States as well as its interests in the region.

"We've made clear that we need to confront ISIL wherever it rears its head," Mr. Cook said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

"They have posed a direct threat to the United States, they have encouraged attacks against the United States and our allies and we're going to continue to confront it to protect our national security," he added.

The facility targeted was linked to Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian blamed by his native country for attacks last year on a Tunis museum and the Sousse beach resort, which killed dozens of tourists.

Both manned and unmanned aircraft were involved in the strike, the Pentagon spokesman said, declining to further specify the type of planes used.

The training facility was in a rural area with some buildings nearby, Mr. Cook said, adding that the United States believes there are other similar training camps remaining in Libya.

Separately, Gen. Vance, the man responsible for fulfilling the Liberal promise to withdraw from combat operations in Iraq, is trying to beat back any notion that Canada's expanded, more dangerous ground role in that country constitutes "combat."

He warned Canadians not to "fall into the trap" of describing the Iraq mission as something other than a support operation.

The Liberal government pledged during the 2015 federal election campaign to "end Canada's combat mission in Iraq" and this includes withdrawing CF-18 fighters from the U.S.-led air strike campaign against Islamic State militants.

At the same time the Trudeau Liberals have enlarged the role of Canadian special forces soldiers helping Kurdish peshmerga troops fight the so-called Islamic State on the ground in northern Iraq. The number of elite Canadian Armed Forces personnel will rise to about 220 from 69 and Mr. Sajjan has warned this revised commitment will be riskier for Canada's troops.

Critics such as the New Democratic Party call this more extensive deployment an "open-ended combat operation."

The "advise and assist" role that Canadian soldiers are playing will include visiting the front lines with the Kurds, as it has for the past 15 months, and will place troops from Canada in a theatre of war where they may have to defend themselves from enemy attack.

Canadian soldiers will also be expected to paint ground targets with lasers to assist air strikes from the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State forces.

Nevertheless, Gen. Vance is adamant Canadians shouldn't call this combat.

"I am the expert in what is combat," Gen. Vance said to hearty applause from the military crowd gathered to hear him speak.

With a report from Reuters