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Justin Trudeau Won't Say When Canada Is Going to Stop Bombing the Islamic State

The prime minister says he wants to replace Canada's involvement in a coalition bombing the Islamic State with a plan that leans "more towards training of local troops," but he hasn't provided any other details.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Photo by Depo Photos/ABACAPRESS.COM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is unapologetic about his plan to put a stop to the Canadian air force's bombing campaign against the Islamic State, but still won't say when it will happen, or what he'll replace it with.

Speaking to reporters in Turkey, where world leaders gathered for the G20 summit, Trudeau repeated the same reasoning for his commitment to pull out of the international coalition fighting against the Islamic State: he promised it during the election campaign, and he'll be sticking to it.


"We made a clear commitment in the campaign to stop the bombing mission by Canadian jets and to replace it with a role for Canada that was still a serious military role, but leaned more towards training of local troops in order to bring the fight directly to ISIL," Trudeau said on Monday.

Trudeau has consistently repeated an iteration of that answer since being elected in October, indicating that he does not intend to buckle on his promise, even if it means ignoring calls for Canada's continued involvement by Washington, Paris, Erbil, and Baghdad.

Last year, Canada dispatched six CF-18 fighter jets, two surveillance and recognizance aircraft, a refueller, strategic transport aircraft, and hundreds of command and support personnel.

That mission is scheduled to continue until March, 2016, although the government could extend the mission if it chooses.

Some have speculated that Trudeau may simply wait until March, and choose not to renew the mission.

Related: Canada's Opposition Leader Urges Trudeau to Keep Bombing the Islamic State

Ottawa also sent a team of special forces operatives to do training near Erbil, the de-facto capital of Kurdistan, although reports emerged that they were also providing operational support for the airstrikes.

Trudeau indicated that he wants to continue that special forces mission, but has not yet answered what other local training he intends to provide.

Asked specifically about what new measure the government is considering, a spokesperson for the Minister of National Defense could not say, except to say that discussions were ongoing and that the eventual plan would mix humanitarian aid with training.


The Trudeau administration has few options in that regard.

The previous Conservative government told VICE News that it was looking at setting up training programs for Yazidi and Assyrian forces. It's unclear what the status of that plan is.

A report from February estimated the strength of one Yazidi militias at about 2,000 fighters. Another report from March estimated the Assyrians were in the process of training hundreds to fight to retake the Nineveh Plains.

Both religious minority groups also embed in the Peshmerga, although there is occasionally competition and distrust between the Kurds and other groups.

Overall, the Iraqi army and the Kurds are doing the vast majority of the fighting. Iraq has roughly 250,000 soldiers at its disposal — although an American commander told Al-Jazeera that, despite hundreds of trainers and advisers, work to prepare the Iraqi forces was coming slowly — while the Peshmerga number at around 100,000.

Related: France Just Can't Put Enough Boots on the Ground to Wipe Out the Islamic State

The former Minister of National Defense, Jason Kenney, said that Canada provided the number of special forces it was asked to provide, and added that his government decided not to contribute trainers to the Iraqi army, calling the American effort to do so "disappointing."

One Canadian, who is currently working in a Yazidi camp, says the population there is supportive of the coalition airstrikes, because they will — hopefully, ultimately — mean they can go home.


"IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] need airstrikes. Most of them have jobs but they want to go home," the Canadian said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Refugees need jobs," they added. "They can't really get them here so they try to go to Europe."

While many Iraqi IDPs receive financial assistance from Baghdad, the situation inside the camps are hardly desirable, and are conditional on international and domestic funding.

It is estimated that more than 250,000 Iraqis were displaced after the Islamic State captured Ramadi.

The bombing campaign has made that possible in some areas, but return to normalcy is still far off. Many Yazidis are afraid to return to Sinjar out of fear that IS left boobytraps in their homes.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling