Led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada’s government is shifting its role in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition. Pledging to end its efforts in the bombing campaign over Iraq and Syria, the Trudeau government has, instead, vowed to dedicate resources to training local security forces and funding humanitarian initiatives.
Under the previous government, Canada was among the first to join the aerial campaign against ISIS. Over the course of the last sixteen months, six Canadian jets launched 251 airstrikes, deploying 606 munitions, figures that amount to approximately three percent of all coalition efforts.
In the lead up to federal elections last fall, differences among party leaders helped facilitate a relatively robust discussion over Canada’s participation in the coalition’s efforts. As a candidate, Trudeau vowed to revise the government’s strategy and promised to ground Canadian fighter jets striking ISIS and, at times, civilian targets. In an interview with CBC last summer, Trudeau questioned the impact of Canada’s participation in the airstrikes and began to make the case for “training up local troops doing the fighting on the ground,” as Canada had done in Afghanistan.
Despite popular support for the air campaign among Canadians, Canadian military jets ceased airstrike operations on ISIS positions in Iraq or Syria on February 15. “Call us old-fashioned, but we think that we ought to avoid doing precisely what our enemies want us to do,” Trudeau said about the airstrikes, according to the BBC. “We are for what will be effective,” he added, as reported by The Huffington Post, “not for what will make us feel good to say at any given moment.”
In place of the fighter jets, the government plans to increase the number of military personnel on the ground to 830 (from the current 650) in order to triple an existing “train, advise and assist” mission with Kurdish allies in northern Iraq. “Given how the threat has evolved and the capacity of local security forces, the greatest needs are now for expanded training and intelligence capabilities,” Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said last week, according to The Huffington Post.
The deployment will further bolster operations between Canadian and Kurdish peshmerga forces, which began in 2014 and have made great strides. Last December, Kurdish fighters, supported by Canadian Special Forces, successfully repelled a large-scale offensive by ISIS-militants surrounding Erbil. “These actions illustrate the valuable contribution our forces are making to the (Kurdish Security Forces) and the fight against ISIL,” Minister Sajjan said, as reported by CBC.
In addition to these military contributions, the government is implementing humanitarian initiatives for those impacted by the war against ISIS. These efforts began last fall, when the federal government successfully spearheaded an ambitious resettlement program for nearly 25,000 Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Just last week, Ottawa committed to investing an additional $1 billion over the next three years to provide emergency relief to war-torn communities, as well as helping to deliver basic social services in Iraq and Syria.
According to Trudeau, the revised approach will “help address the needs of millions of vulnerable people while helping lay the foundations for improved governance, economic growth and longer-term stability.”