Last Friday it was announced that Canadian fighter jets had performed their first operational flights over Iraq, targeting forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). However, as of date no bombs have yet been dropped.
Canadian air forces are being housed at an undisclosed air base inside Kuwait, where strict security around western military bases has been tight. Even special permission is needed for military personnel to leave. This recent update is but one in an ongoing series of events in Canadian foreign policy as resources are mustered by the national government to respond to the insurgency.
Canada was first mentioned in a video speech by ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani on September 21st earlier this year, when he advocated for supporters to attack citizens and military personnel alike in western countries. Shortly after the video was released, Prime Minister Harper reacted, stating that Canada would not be “cowed by threats” from ISIS.
While Canada had already been involved with a U.S. led coalition against the insurgency, this event prompted the government to react more concretely.
On October 3rd Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird tabled a motion in Parliament expanding Canada’s military involvement against ISIL. The unedited text stated that the House of Commons would:
“Support the Government’s decision to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIL, and terrorists allied with ISIL, including air strike capability for a period of up to six months;”
Subsequently the document stated that no troops were to be deployed for ground combat operations.
Four days later a motion of 157-134 was passed in the House in favour of sending Canadian air forces overseas. The movement was criticized by New Democrat opposition leader Thomas Mulcair who accused the Conservative government of “plunging Canada into a prolonged war without a credible plan to help the victims of ISIL.” Both the NDP and the Liberals have objected to placing military commitments above humanitarian responses.
Canada has so far committed six CF-18 jet fighters, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes and a C-150 refuelling jet along with 600 personnel to assist in efforts against ISIL. It has also sent $15 million for security purposes to the coalition.
To date, 62 countries have provided military support or supplies, including France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the U.S. Much of this support comes in the form of air strikes against ISIL as well as training, weapons and supplies for the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces.
One of the concerns for Canadian military craft in the area will be Chinese-manufactured FN-6 heat seeking missiles that are shoulder launched. Such weapons were believed to have been provided to Syrian rebels by Qatar or Saudi Arabia at an earlier date, although they have now fallen into the hands of ISIL. While the Canadian CF-18s and the Aurora’s can fly higher than the range of the missiles, an Iraqi Army Mi-35M attack helicopter was reportedly shot down by the same weapon earlier this month.
Currently the fear is that ISIL fighters will acquire Russian made SA-24 anti-aircraft weapons (which the Iraqi government has recently received) which have a much greater range and are capable of reaching higher altitudes. Should this occur then the situation for Canadian and most other western aircraft may become significantly more dangerous.
Only time will tell if these efforts abroad will be sufficient, or if further Canadian resolve and resources will be needed in the fight against ISIL.
Featured Photo by Pierre Gazzola