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Justin Trudeau has set Feb 22nd as the date by which Canada will pull its six fighter jets from the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, while tripling the number of forces training local ground troops in Iraq. Is this the right strategy for defeating ISIL?


John Capobianco:

The Prime Minister made a significant election promise during the campaign to essentially cease any combat mission against ISIL and instead commit to increasing ground troops. Well, he did just that as of his announcement this week. The PM, alongside his Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs Minister, released details of his ISIL strategy in keeping with his promise.

The PM stated that the airstrikes will end by February 22nd, which means he will be pulling six fighter jets from the mission. However, to counter any negative criticism that Canada is pulling away from its commitment on the war against ISIL, the PM instead will be tripling, from 69, the number of Canadian Forces helping, on the ground, to train the local fighters to counter ISIL.

The problem I have with this strategy is that our country made a strong commitment to our international partners, including the US, that we would stand shoulder to shoulder with them to fight this horrific enemy of ours, and by pulling away from combat missions it seems we’re retreating at a time when we need to be more resilient, given their recent attacks.


Marit Stiles:

Well, I would start by saying that it is good to have a little more clarity about what the government's plan is regarding the ISIS mission. Unfortunately, there are still many questions.

First of all, what we know right now about Canada's new role in the ISIS mission is that they have chosen to dramatically increase the number of Canadian Forces personnel on the ground.

Unfortunately, what we don't know is what exactly they will be doing there. We've been told they will be so-called "advisors", with some in a "battlefield context" and others working to "enhance in-theatre tactical transport." Now admittedly I'm no military expert, but I think NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Helene Laverdiere was right on the money when she raised red flags about the potential for mission creep.

The Liberal government is trying to walk a very muddy thin line, trying to appease folks who are opposed to Canada pulling out entirely, while trying to live up to their campaign commitments. And in doing so, they find themselves in a very mushy middle. What does this mean for our troops on the ground? They are blurring the lines and that's cause for concern.


Richard Mahoney:

I think John has framed the question fairly: the Liberal Party promised in the campaign to change the combat mission to one more focused on training of local troops engaged in the fight, as well as enhance diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. The object is not only to fight ISIL but, as it is with the effort to bring in refugees, to focus our efforts to help those most affected by the crises.

This week the government made good on that commitment by announcing a significant increase in resources to train local troops, who are on the front lines of the battle and always will be. There is no public support in Canada, or the US for that matter, to send troops directly into combat, but we are part of an international effort to help stabilize the situation and stop ISIL.

At least as importantly, the government of Canada announced this week it will work with experienced Canadian, local and international partners to deliver $840 million in humanitarian assistance over the next three years to support the basic needs of those hardest hit by the conflicts, including for food, shelter, health care, water, sanitation and hygiene.

Finally, the only solution to the crises in the region in the long term will be a political one. So the government also announced enhanced diplomatic efforts to help foster a political solution, including efforts to help Iraq achieve national reconciliation, which is a big cause of the growth of ISIL. I think it is a fine balance of international leadership that does more than just make us feel good, but rather it helps move towards a solution.


John Capobianco:

The PM drew a line on this issue during the campaign and stuck with it despite significant criticism from not only the right, but even from some blue Liberals who felt we should always support our international partners on military missions against our enemies, especially when attacks happen on our own soil. So I gave him credit for now sticking to his pledge.

This kind of commitment and changing of policy is not easy since it can often be emotional. Sending our men and women in harm’s way, whether it’s a combat mission or an on-the-ground training mission, is always risky and never taken lightly.

Marit's comments about the government walking a muddy line are quite accurate in that there seems to be an attempt to suck and blow at the same time with this strategy.

The challenge is that, and this is where I disagree with Richard, recent polls actually show support amongst Canadians when asked about the bombing mission against ISIL. Taking away or pulling back our fighter jets at exactly the time we need to show our international comradery is exactly the wrong message to send to our enemies. At a time of constant threatening attacks, including to Canada, retreating is not a sign of strength.

I do support humanitarian aid and training, but that alone will not stop this ongoing threat to our freedom.


Marit Stiles:

Call me a starry-eyed idealist (all together now) but I don't think that the polls, per se, should determine our foreign policy direction. I do, however, think that the last election sent a pretty strong message about a general direction most Canadians wanted to take (i.e. not Conservative) and that they were indeed looking for change in foreign policy.

But my concern is always that the old adage remains true: Liberals tend to run on the left and govern on the right, and for that reason and the rather muddy description of what these now tripled on-the-ground forces will be doing, I and many others are a bit nervous about the potential for mission creep.

So, what can the Liberals do to make this work best and to alleviate concerns about the potential for mission creep? The answer lies in transparency and accountability. They can learn from the Harper government’s mistakes. Come to Parliament. Allow for proper and open debate about the ISIS mission. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation and to share information. Allow the opposition to take a close, critical look and be prepared to answer, if not necessarily agree, with their concerns.


Richard Mahoney:

John and Marit talk about the government walking a thin line. My view is that this is a complex problem that requires a sophisticated response.

One of the challenges with the Harper response to ISIL, and to terrorism in general, is that they tried to make this about politics. They talked about fighting terrorism and fighting for our future as a people. And sent six planes. We are fooling ourselves to think that that is a major contribution to the fight. It is modest.

That is not to take away anything from our troops working over there, but it is what it is. Even the U.S. effort is modest in comparison to what they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that is because most of our citizens don’t support an enhanced combat role. So the bombing mission ends, as promised. The government’s and the country’s view of ISIL is unequivocal: they must be defeated.

The announcement this week was an intelligent, well thought out example of ways Canada can help in this effort. And for those that doubt that, such as the Conservatives, there is this: our allies to the South think we are on the right track.


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