Canada is to end its participation in air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Syria and Iraq within two weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced
Following up on campaign promises he made last year to withdraw Canada’s jets, Trudeau said on Monday that his country’s contribution to the fight against ISIL would be extended until the end of March 2017 – but would be “a non-combat mission”.
“It is important to understand that while air strike operations can be very useful to achieve short-term military and territorial gains, they do not on their own achieve long-term stability for local communities,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.
“We will be supporting and empowering local forces to take their fight directly to ISIL so that kilometre by kilometre they can reclaim their homes, their land and their future.”
As well as training them, Canada will also arm the Kurdish forces with light weapons such as assault rifles, machineguns and light mortars, as well as optical systems for the weapons and ammunition.
The number of elite Canadian commandos helping to train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq will also jump from 69 to 230, bringing the total of Canadian soldiers deployed in the region from about 650 to about 830.
Canada will also provide $CAD840m ($609m) in humanitarian assistance over three years, and has allocated $270m to “build local capacity” in Jordan and Lebanon, which are hosting more than two million Syrian refugees.
While the country will pull its six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets from the bombing mission, it will keep its aircrew and support personnel for one CC-150 Polaris aerial refuelling aircraft and up to two CP-140 Aurora spy planes.
The US had asked coalition members to boost their military contributions in Iraq and Syria against ISIL after the deadly attacks in Paris in November. However, Trudeau, who was sworn in last November, had already promised to withdraw his jets during his election campaign.
Trudeau promised to put the new policy to a debate in parliament when the House of Commons resumes next week.
Rona Ambrose, leader of the official opposition and interim leader of the Conservative Party, denounced the plan to withdraw the fighter jets as “a step backwards for Canada”.
Helene Laverdiere, foreign affairs spokeswoman for the left-wing New Democratic Party, said Canada should focus on stopping the flow of arms, funds and foreign fighters, including improving anti-radicalisation efforts at home.
“We are concerned that the Liberal government has chosen to place Canadian Forces personnel deeper into an open-ended combat military mission in Iraq – a mission that fails to even define what success would look like,” Laverdiere said.
US President Barak Obama “welcomed Canada’s current and new contributions to coalition efforts and highlighted Canada’s leadership in the coalition”, the White House said in a statement without specifically mentioning Canada’s decision to halt air strikes.