Pulling Canada’s CF-18 fighters out of the mission to fight ISIS was one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s marquee election promises, and in the long run, one of his most controversial.
As the Syrian crisis has become more pressing, it’s brought the questions of exactly what Canada should be doing in the region into sharp focus.
Tomorrow, we’re expected to find out just what Canada’s new plan will be.
Christian Leuprecht, a politics expert from the Royal Military College of Canada says it’s likely to focus on ground troops.
Leuprecht says Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been touring extensively meeting with allies and Kurdish leaders to try and hammer out a plan that makes the best use of Canadian capabilities, while also ensuring the country stays relevant internationally and keeps a seat at the table so to speak.
Leuprecht says there’s no doubt that pulling the jets out comes with a cost, optics wise: they’re a potent symbol with real capabilities.
But he says at the same time, the skies over Iraq and Syria are now starting to get “crowded,” as other allies and the Russians join the air war.
“You could also argue then that perhaps it is time for Canada to shift capabilities, and to explore where there is the most need and how Canada might be able to fill that particular need. And I suspect special operations forces will be one of those elements of discussion.”
Leuprecht also says Canada’s contribution from the skies may be somewhat overstated. He says jets often return from sorties with weapons unused, because ISIS has become so adept at hiding in schools, mosques, or other civilian centres.
“One of the things we learned in Afghanistan was to avoid collateral damage at any and all cost. So it also means the pilots haven’t been able to be as effective as they other wise might because ISIS has adapted its strategy.”
He says where the energy may be focused under the new Liberal plan is in significantly beefing up the presence of special forces troops who are training Kurdish fighters on the front line.
He says Canada has had a big impact in terms of assisting as Kurdish troops mount increasingly sophisticated operations against ISIS.
“So being there on the front lines, it’s kind of like being the masters there amongst the apprentices. And especially when things get a little bit dicey it’s very helpful to have that Canadian experience there.”
But he says it remains to be seen to what extent the government will either re-design or expand the mission on the ground.
LISTEN: Jill Bennett and Christian Leuprecht on the future of Canada’s mission against ISIS.