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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a media availability at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 27, 2017.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau is praising a Canadian sniper who recently killed an Islamic State fighter from a record-setting distance, while rejecting the idea that Canada is in a combat mission in Iraq.

The Prime Minister's stand is exposing him to renewed questions over Canada's exact role in the fight against Islamic State, with critics stating there are clear contradictions in the official definition of the mission.

Mr. Trudeau, who came to power in 2015 with a promise to "end Canada's combat mission in Iraq," said the Canadian Armed Forces were simply providing cover to coalition partners in Iraq. As such, he said Canada is restricting itself to its "advise and assist" mission alongside Iraqi security forces.

Related: Canadian elite special forces sniper makes record-breaking kill shot in Iraq

"What happened there is, first of all, something to be celebrated for the excellence of the Canadian Forces in their training and their performance of their duties, but also something to be understood to be entirely consistent with what Canada is expected and Canadians expect our forces to be doing as part of the coalition against Daesh [Islamic State]," Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"The advise and assist mission that our Canadian Forces are engaged in in northern Iraq has always had an element of defence of, obviously, Canadian troops and of our coalition partners," he added.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who wants to force the government to bring back the mission to a vote in the House, said Mr. Trudeau's explanation makes no sense.

"It couldn't be clearer that we are now admitting that we are playing a combat role – indeed, the Prime Minister wants us to celebrate that combat role," Mr. Mulcair said in an interview. "You can't have people shooting people to death on the front lines and still claim this is not a combat mission."

He added he did not share the Prime Minister's view of the lethal Canadian intervention.

"It is certainly not part of my values to say that we should be celebrating the death of a human being, no matter what the circumstances," Mr. Mulcair said.

Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, said the government is trying to obfuscate the real situation in Iraq for "domestic political calculations."

"Prime Minister Trudeau's distinction between 'advise and assist' and 'combat' bears no relationship to the reality on the ground in Iraq," Mr. Byers said. "If the Prime Minister considers it necessary for Canadian soldiers to kill people, he should explain the reasons without engaging in political spin."

Canadian soldiers are not authorized to engage in direct combat in Iraq, but they can fire their weapons to protect themselves or Iraqi soldiers they are assisting, federal officials said.

Major-General Michael Rouleau told The Globe and Mail last week that a member of Joint Task Force 2 shattered the world military record with a confirmed kill at a distance of 3,540 metres. "This is an incredible martial achievement. Achieving a confirmed sniper shot at this distance is unprecedented," Gen. Rouleau said.

The Canadian sniper team had spotted Islamic State fighters approaching Iraqi security forces, who were unaware that they were about to be ambushed. Using a McMillan TAC-50 rifle, the sniper did not expect to hit the target at such a distance, but hoped his "harassing fire" would frighten the enemy combatants to flee. However, an Islamic State fighter was killed, which allowed the Iraqi security forces to continue their advance, Gen. Rouleau said.

Mr. Trudeau was speaking at a news conference to mark the start of the summer recess of Parliament, where he touched on a wide number of topics such as the state of the economy, Indigenous affairs and the future of Canadian peacekeeping. Mr. Trudeau said that he is still "determined" to provide Canadian troops for a UN peacekeeping operation, but he cautioned that he will not send them on a mission that is doomed for failure.

"Canadians expect us, if we are to send troops in Africa or elsewhere on a peacekeeping operation, that it will be done the right way, that we will be able to truly help, and that the mission will fit the high standards and the quality of service that is offered by our Canadian Armed Forces," he said.