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Trudeau Tells Obama He's Pulling Canada Out of Bombing Campaign Against the Islamic State

On the heels of his major election win, Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday that he will end the bombing campaign in a “responsible way."
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
October 20, 2015, 10:55pm
Image via Canadian Armed Forces

Justin Trudeau, who won a sweeping majority government on Monday, will pull Canada's fighter jets out of Iraq and Syria just over a year after Ottawa began the bombing campaign.

Canada's new prime minister informed President Barack Obama of his decision over the phone on Tuesday afternoon, he told a press conference in Ottawa.

While Trudeau said that the American president understood his need to follow-through on his promise to withdraw Canada's air force from the mission, the White House nevertheless indicated on Tuesday morning that it wanted Canada to continue dropping bombs.

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In the White House's read-out of the call, there is no mention of Trudeau's decision to pull Canada's CF-18 fighter jets.

While Trudeau wouldn't give a timeline, he said he would bring Canada's planes home in a "responsible way."

The leader of the Liberal Party, who won a staggering victory on Oct. 19, had promised repeatedly during the campaign that he would withdraw Canada's offensive capabilities from the fight against the Islamic State (IS) militants.

Currently, Canada has seven CF-18 fighter jets committed to the coalition air campaign, as well as two Aurora surveillance aircraft and a handful of strategic lift and refuelling planes.

The Liberal explanation for the decision has long been that there are more effective uses of Canadian resources in the region, such as in training and humanitarian programs.

"We have to be part of the training of the local troops on the ground in order to carry the fight effectively against ISIS," Trudeau told the CBC in an interview during the campaign.

Defeated Conservative leader Stephen Harper went after Trudeau for his comments, suggesting that withdrawing from the mission would hurt Canada's reputation amongst its allies as well as giving IS more license to operate.

Canada's fighter jets have flown 1,046 sorties, with only a fraction of those resulting in bombs being dropped on the militants.

While Canada's firepower has been relatively underutilized in the fight, the Canadian Air Force has lauded its surveillance planes as being one of the more crucial parts of the Canadian contribution.

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While he didn't comment on it specifically on Tuesday, Trudeau has previously said that he would keep Canada's special forces in place in northern Iraq. Roughly 69 members of Canada's elite special operations force, Joint Task Force 2, are currently training Kurdish militias in the region. They, in the past, have helped paint targets for coalition airstrikes and, in some cases, returned fire on IS militants.

Some skepticism has been directed at Trudeau's plan to expand training programs in the area.

Jason Kenney, the outgoing Minister of National Defense, told VICE News in September that the Canadian military has already assessed an expanded training mission for the Iraqi Security Forces, but ultimately decided not to, as progress in training Baghdad's forces has been "disappointing."

Kenney opened the door to training more minority militias, like the Yazidis and Assyrian forces.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling