by Shaun McDougall, Forecast International.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked Parliament to extend military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria by 12 months, and also to expand the scope of operations to include strikes against targets in Syria. The Canadian Forces have been operating under a six-month mandate that ends at the end of March. Ottawa’s current air combat mission, dubbed Operation IMPACT, includes CF-18 fighters conducting air strikes, CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft, and an aerial refueling capability provided by the CC-150 Polaris tanker. Currently, Canadian aircraft are limited to operations in Iraq. Canada also has 69 Special Forces troops in Iraq to help train Kurdish fighters. Harper’s request would extend both the air combat mission and the Special Forces training mission.
Urging lawmakers to approve expanding the scope of the mission to include targets in Syria, Harper said the terrorist group’s “fighters and much of its heavier equipment are moving freely across the Iraqi border into Syria, in part for better protection against our air strikes.” Canada will not seek the consent of the Syrian government to expand the scope of the mission.
The intention of Canada’s mission would remain unchanged – to degrade the ability of ISIS to engage in military movements of scale, to operate bases in the open, to expand its presence in the region, and to propagate attacks outside the region. There is currently no end-game, however, making it difficult to measure the success of the mission. U.S. officials have suggested that defeating ISIS could take three years of sustained operations, raising questions about how long Canada would be prepared to continue its mission. Opposition lawmakers have said they will oppose Harper’s recommendation, though the Conservative majority will be able to approve the motion.
Operations in Iraq and Syria could come into play as Canada prepares for federal elections in October 2015. The majority of Canadians currently appear to support military operations against ISIS, in part because of a recent pair of domestic attacks in Ottawa and Quebec. That sentiment could change as operations drag on, particularly if it is difficult to provide concrete measures of success. After all, it was only one year ago that Canada ended its prolonged presence in Afghanistan, which had become a much more contentious issue at home.