​Justin Trudeau Is Going to Need a Better Explanation for Ending ISIS Bombing Mission

The new prime minister is sticking with his promise to end the Canadian bombing of ISIS despite the Paris attacks and the recent success of the mission.

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Nov 16 2015, 9:33pm

There is no good reason why Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government is ending Canada's commitment in the fight against the Islamic State.

No, there seriously isn't.

Especially in light of the attacks on Paris, renewed calls for Canada to continue playing a role in the fight against ISIS are coming from all sides. But Trudeau has refused to change his position, preferring the political bumper-sticker of "promises: kept!" instead of making rational, thoughtful policy decisions based on current events.

Trudeau has been consistent on his opposition to the bombing mission since 2014. When asked about it back then, Trudeau uttered the flowery, but empty answer:

"I continue to believe that involving ourselves in humanitarian, in refugee support and in non-combat military missions around training, around local support for the military, around logistics, perhaps around medical support, continues to be the best way for Canada to engage," he said.

But Trudeau isn't leader of the third party anymore. He's prime minister. And his unwavering belief that he needs to stick to the politically-motivated statement he made 13 months ago, despite the overwhelming change on the ground since then, is not an attractive quality in a leader.

The prime minister has been dogmatic, however. On Monday, he reiterated the idea that there are more useful things for Canada to be doing than airstrikes, repeating his line that more local training needs to be done. But Trudeau's logic is ultimately pretty shallow, and neglects a lot of the information coming from the ground.

Stalemate Broken

This past summer, optimism for the mission was low. The word "stalemate" was thrown around an awful lot.

When I asked Brigadier General Lise Bourgon, who commands Canada's operation in the region, during a press conference in June, she was startlingly pessimistic.

"Right now, it's not our fight," she said. "We're supporting the Iraqi Forces. What we're doing is a stopgap. We're allowing them the time to get trained so that they can come back and do the full attack and regain their territories."

And that mission did not appear to be going tremendously well.

ISIS, that team of evil assholes motivated partly by religious whack-jobbery and partly by ruthless self-interest, were pretty effective. They captured Ramadi, in Iraq, by crippling the Iraqi military's resolve through a wave of suicide attacks, before storming the city. Other times, they've simply walked into undefended cities and towns in Syria. Sometimes, they've conscripted ex-Saddam commanders or Sunni militias into weird franchise agreements to extend their influence.

It seemed impossible to stop these guys. The government of Iraq looked weak. The Syrian state was non-existent.

But over the course of the past year, the Iraqi army has actually managed to make some progress. Militias in northern Iraq and Syria have professionalized. The Kurdish Peshmerga have made amazing gains and brought stability and normalcy to the war-torn north.

The fight isn't over, no. But it's not hopeless.

And, yes, it's thanks in part to the Western airstrikes.

ISIS Defeats

In the past few days, Kurdish forces made an incredible advancement: they recaptured the Sinjar mountains, the location of a brutal massacre in 2014 that led to the deaths of as many as 5,000 and the enslavement and kidnapping of hundreds more. A new report identified that mass murder as genocide.

Re-taking Sinjar, forcing ISIS militants to scramble down the mountain in fear, signified an important ebbing of the tide for the militant organization, and may well be a blow for the morale of the Islamic State—a group totally dependant on the mythos that it has created for itself online, and in the media.

And now, the Iraqi army says it's getting ready to re-capture Ramadi.

A big part of the success has come from airstrikes. Capturing Sinjar was only made possible, and Ramadi will only be re-taken, thanks to coalition airstrikes. That includes Canada.

Two of our CF-18s joined the mission in Sinjar. In the process, they took out a weapons cache and a fighting position. Our planes have also hit Ramadi and Haditha in recent days. The week prior, we took out five IS fighting positions, and two compounds.

Not to mention the fact that we're also doing some pretty advanced airborne surveillance of the area to set-up strikes and avoid civilian casualties thanks to our CP-140 Auroras. Then we're ferrying supplies with our strategic transport aircraft, which is always useful.

And the Islamic State is freaked out. They know these strikes are working. They claim to have smuggled a bomb onto a Russian jet, blowing it up over the Sinai Peninsula. They've taken responsibility for a series of suicide bombings that claimed 40 lives in Lebanon. They were behind the carnage in Paris.

That is a huge change in tactics from ISIS. Previously, their message was clear: come to Syria. If you can't, carry out attacks at home.

The Islamic State is now dispatching terrorists from its enclave in Syria to the West, with the expressed purpose of trying to break the will of coalition partners. The choice of targets is no mystery: Russia recently began targeting ISIS assets in Syria; Lebanon—especially Hezbollah—has been a part of the Arab coalition against the terror state; while France has been running bombing campaigns for over a year.

The change in tactics likely comes from a place of desperation, not strength.

The tables could turn once more, for sure. It's already flipped back and forth several times.

One thing for sure is that the attempt to try and dissuade Western nations from continuing the bombing campaign doesn't seem to be working. Except for Canada.

This is Not Iraq, 2003

And here's ultimately the most important part of the bombing missions—they're exposing the Islamic State as an inherently weak organization. While they've mounted an effective ground campaign, and they've generally done a good job of morphing their operations to diffuse the utility of the airstrikes, they've not proven themselves sustainable in the long-term. Their ability to expand has been reduced. Their ability to provide basic resources to their captive populations is being weakened by the strikes. The propaganda value of their faux-state is being weakened by their losses.

But for whatever reason, Trudeau wants to end the mission. And he's utterly failed to mount a good argument as to why.

Now, some are drawing comparisons to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite there being virtually no reasonable connection. The West isn't knocking-over some two-bit dictator to install a friendly democracy, it is offering air support for a democratically-elected government and local forces. This is not an invasion. It isn't a ground war. It is logistical air support.

Supposedly, the Liberal Party believes in the responsibility to protect—the doctrine that says, faced with genocide, the Western world has an obligation to act—but can't explain why it doesn't apply here.

Then there's this idea that the Americans can just do it themselves. Nevermind that it was the Americans who asked us to contribute, as having an assortment of personnel, commanders, and perspectives is probably a pretty good idea. Leaving the Americans to do things alone is rarely a good idea.

Now, it's France asking us to increase our contribution. And we're ignoring them.

Yes, we've only flown two percent of the bombing sorties in the mission—12 percent, however, of all non-US coalition strikes. That amounts to nearly 200 airstrikes. But that's actually quite significant. We only flew 10 percent of the bombing missions in Yugoslavia and Libya, and both times it was heralded as exceptional and disproportionately large.

From a resource perspective, we're contributing more than Italy, who actually sent more planes to Libya than we did, and we're contributing almost the exact same amount of resources as Australia.

Why Not Both Ways?

If you keep pushing Trudeau on this, he seems to revert to this idea that if we stop bombing the Islamic State, then we can do more humanitarian and training of local forces. That argument, like any pair of jeans made in North America, falls apart pretty easily.

Surely we can do both? And we have been doing both.

It's not even clear we can contribute more trainers to the mission in Iraqi Kurdistan. There's been no indication that the Kurds need more than 70 special forces trainers.

Training missions with the Iraqi Security Forces, meanwhile, keep proving fruitless. The Americans have sunk exceptional amounts of time and resources into that shitshow, as some of those soldiers end up running away and leaving their weapons behind.

And Trudeau hasn't actually said who he plans on training.

When I spoke to Jason Kenney during the campaign, he said they were already studying an expansion of the training program, possibly with the intent of preparing the Yazidi, Assyrian, and Christian militias for a more active combat role. Trudeau could start there, although that is almost certainly a low-resource need that could be done without ending our airstrikes.

Meanwhile, we're already contributing a pile of humanitarian aid to the region, and Trudeau has already announced that more is coming.

So here we are, at the end of the article. And what's the take-away?

Our allies, the Kurds, are being attacked from all sides. Religious minorities we claim to want to protect, like the Yazidis and Assyrians, are at constant risk from the Islamic State. Moderate groups in Syria are watching their state get torn between radicalized groups in one corner, a genocidal regime in another, and a terror state in the other. The Iraqis, once so close to building a stable regime, are desperately trying to regain the trust of its population, stave off economic destruction, and fight death squads with no concern for the rules of war.

And Canada is pulling out of the best option we have to start remedying those issues.

Justin Trudeau made a bonehead commitment a year ago, for entirely political reasons, and doubled-down on it during the campaign. Now, despite everything that has happened over the past year, he's refusing to even reconsider it.

For a government promising to operate based on evidence-based policy, that's pretty stupid.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter.

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