Canada will lead a NATO training mission in Iraq until November, 2020, after the federal government approved an extension to the operation.
News of the extension comes as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and his counterparts from other NATO countries are in Brussels to discuss the fight against the Islamic State.
Canada has 850 military staff in Iraq and the surrounding region involved in that effort against IS, including 250 who are training the Iraqi military as part of the NATO mission.
The extremist group remains a threat despite having lost of all its territory in Iraq and Syria, where it continues to conduct suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks.
Canada has been leading the NATO training mission since last July and was set to hand over the reins to another country at the end of this month, but will now lead until November, 2020.
Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan, who upon promotion to major-general in the coming days will become Canada’s highest-ranked female army officer, will assume command of the NATO mission from Major-General Dany Fortin.
“Our message is clear: Canada is ready to lead and stand with our allies,” Mr. Sajjan said in a statement.
“We know that combatting threats to global stability reinforces security and prosperity at home and this is why we are happy to work with NATO and continue our command role of NATO mission Iraq.”
The extension is only the latest involving the Canadian military in Iraq. The federal government previously promised to keep the other 600 troops in the region until March, 2021.
Among them are special-forces soldiers and medical staff in Iraq, trainers in Jordan and Lebanon and crews with transport planes in Kuwait.
While most of Canada’s effort in Iraq involves working with Iraqi government forces, officials for Iraq’s semi-independent Kurdish region have said they would also welcome Canadian military assistance.
Canadian special forces trained and advised the Kurdish peshmerga forces for three years in defending their region against IS before working together to free large swathes of territory from IS’s grasp.
But Canada suspended and then ended its work with the peshmerga after an outbreak of violence between them and Iraqi government forces in October, 2017, over control of oil-rich territory in the north of the country.
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