New Info Has Emerged About Canada’s Controversial Battle Against ISIS
On Wednesday, Canada's jets took out ISIS artillery that had been firing on Iraqi forces, making it the second Canadian strike on ISIS positions in the last two weeks.
Following another round of strikes on ISIS positions in Iraq, the Department of Defence says Canadian fighter jets are "very effective" in kneecapping the Islamic State's effort to reach Baghdad.
Wednesday night, Canada's jets took out ISIS artillery that had been firing on Iraqi forces.
This is the second strike on ISIS positions in the last two weeks. Since the mission began at the beginning of the month, the Royal Canadian Air Force has flown 68 sorties through Northern Iraq.
Canada's Operation IMPACT is a self-sustained effort—it consists of six CF-188 Hornet fighter jets, a CC-150T Polaris refueller, and two high-tech CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircrafts. Joining the aircraft, which are stationed at an ally base in Kuwait, are 600 Canadian Forces personnel.
Wednesday night, the Hornets flew their second sortie that saw action, hitting ISIS artillery just outside Baiji, a Northern Iraq town, just North of Tikrit and halfway between the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul and the government-held capital of Baghdad.
Baiji is a hotspot of fighting between Iraqi security forces and the ISIS soldiers. The artillery, says the Canadian Forces, had been tucked behind a tree line, firing at the Iraqis. Video footage released by the Department of Defence shows laser-guided bombs reducing the artillery to rubble.
"There likely were ISIL casualties, but we don't have any data on numbers or anything like that," said Colonel Dan Constable in a technical briefing the morning after.
This would make it the first time that Canadian Forces took out ISIS fighters since the campaign began.
The first strike, on November 2, pounded heavy machinery sitting on the banks of the Euphrates River, just outside Fallujah. That equipment, Lieutenant-General Jonathan Vance told reporters after the strike, was being used to re-route water from the Euphrates River: "to create flooding and displace the population in Anbar province while also denying water to other populations downstream. By flooding certain areas, ISIL forced civilians and Iraqi security force members to use specific roads where they had placed improvised explosive devices, or IEDs."
The Canadian mission's main goal to degrade and deter ISIS forces' ability to capture new territory in the region, while making it easier for the Iraqi forces to regroup and push the terrorist organization back. To that end, the leadership says they're succeeding.
"Our assessment is that ISIL is losing its freedom of movement," said Constable on Thursday. "They're hiding more. They're providing fewer targets, which also means that they're a less capable force. When you're on the defensive, when you're hiding, you're unable to have that freedom of manoeuvre that's critical to an offensive force."
In both strikes, the Canadian leadership say they're confident that no civilians were killed or injured.
Critics have contended that ISIS' changing tactics have made Canada's military contribution moot.
Jack Harris, the NDP' defence critic quizzed Major General Michael Hood on the mission in committee last week, after the first round of strikes.
"One of the early critiques of the notion of air strikes in Iraq, particularly given the large number of countries who had signed up to do that, was the perhaps very soon paucity of targets, that very soon you might 'run out of targets,'" Harris asked. "Are we in danger of being ineffective in a very short period of time?"
Hood returned: "Air power alone is not going to push back ISIL, but what it is going to do is it's going to deny them freedom of maneuver. So whether we're actually striking deliberate targets or targets that may arise over the course of events, the deterrent effect of air power being there and the success the coalition is enjoying in those strikes is having real effects."
Yesterday's strike appears to suggest exactly that desired effect.
Canada's mission is limited only to Iraq, where it is simultaneously ferrying aid and weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga, who it is also training, as well as outfitting the Iraqi forces with much-needed equipment.
Ottawa has all but ruled out expanding its mission to Syria, where it has called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, but has not endorsed a replacement government. The Harper Government's concerns of extremists coming to power in Damascus appear to have warned it away from becoming involved at all.
Given that, according to the Associated Press, ISIS has just struck a deal with its long-time rivals, the al-Nusra Front, Canada's concern that the more moderate Free Syrian Army doesn't have the support to take power in Syria appears to be well founded.
Back in Iraq, one particular area of pride for the Forces is the use of the Canadian-refurbished Auroras. The 30-year-old surveillance planes were primarily coastal surveillance crafts, until their quickly approaching technological irrelevance pushed Ottawa to retrofit the planes with new equipment. With a new top-of-the-line suite of surveillance equipment onboard—which Vance singled-out as "tremendous"—that were originally deployed in the Libya mission to scope out possible targets and identity civilians, the Auroras were reportedly requested directly by the Americans at the outset of the mission.
"The Aurora has aided in the assessment of targets through its role in battle-damage assessment, has acted as the airborne sensor directing—supporting the identification, analysis, and prosecution of targets inside Iraq," Constable told reporters.
While he couldn't confirm or deny it, it's possible that those Auroras were used to identify a high-level ISIS convoy that was struck near Mosul last week, reportedly injuring ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The allied command, Constable said, often tasks the Auroras to do reconnaissance on behalf of the entire operation.
During Vance's press conference, VICE asked specifically whether the Communications Security Establishment, or CSEC, was involved in intercepting data that could help Canadian Forces identify targets.
"You can imagine I'm not going to go into detail on something as sensitive as that," Vance said. "But we use all forms of intelligence at our disposal to try and understand both the battle space and the particular target that we wish to strike."