I would like to take this opportunity to update you on Canada’s mission to counter the Islamic State (ISIS).
In October 2014, and again in March 2015, the House of Commons debated and adopted a motion to deploy six CF-18 fighter jets, two surveillance planes, an aerial refuelling tanker, and 69 Canadians soldiers on the ground in Iraq to train Kurdish forces. I voted for both of those motions because I believe that air strikes against ISIS allowed us to effectively combat ISIS while minimizing risk. So, for the last year and a half, Canada has participated in the US-led coalition mission against ISIS.
However, the new government campaigned on a promise to withdraw our six CF-18 fighter jets from the air combat mission. In its stead, they proposed a new mission in a motion that was debated and adopted recently in the Commons. I did not support the motion and wanted to explain why.
While Canada’s CF-18s are being withdrawn from the air combat mission, four Griffon helicopters are being deployed in their stead and Canada’s aerial refueling tanker will continue to refuel coalition fighter jets that are conducting air strikes against ISIS. The new government will also be tripling the contingent of Canadians soldiers in northern Iraq and Syria, from 69 to over 200.
The withdrawal from the air combat mission and its replacement with a larger army contingent has increased the risks. Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, said, “it’s fair to assume that the risks will increase,” and that the new mission is, “riskier overall.” General Vance also confirmed that Canadian soldiers have been given authorization to shoot first.
The new government’s plan has not only increased the risk to Canadian forces in the region, but has also taken us out of the highly effective air combat mission against ISIS. For the last year and a half, Canada has been a key ally in the air combat effort, and the fifth largest contributor in the coalition. Air combat is not only more effective in identifying and striking targets, but it is also significantly less risky than land engagement. As former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “… any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into … the Middle East should have his head examined.”
Of course, this mission to combat this threat will be only one part of multi-faceted approach that will involve diplomacy, humanitarian aid, domestic intelligence and counter terrorism activities, and strengthening our citizenship laws.
In fact, under the previous government, Canada was already one of the leading humanitarian donors in the region. Canada was both providing humanitarian assistance while conducting coalition air strikes – a strategy far less risky and more effective than the new mission proposed by the current government.