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Sorry, Kurds, Canada Has No Guns to Give

The Minister of Defence says the Canadian military might ferry another country's arms to the Peshmerga fighters, but its shelves are bare.

by Justin Ling
26 March 2015, 4:00am

Photo via Flickr user DVIDSHUB

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

After months of questions over why Ottawa won't wrap up some of its extra weaponry and send them to the under-equipped Kurds, Defense Minister Jason Kenney has finally offered a clear explanation: We have none to give.

"We do not have operable surplus equipment in our inventory that we can send over there," Kenney told VICE on Wednesday afternoon.

The Canadian government revealed Tuesday that Canadian planes would be expanding their mission against the Islamic State into Syria. Conspicuously missing from that announcement was additional humanitarian, defensive, or offensive aid for Canada's partners and allies.

Kinetic weaponry has been a big ask from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Their laundry list includes tanks, armored personnel carriers, Humvees, anti-tank missiles, and more.

So far, about 1.6-million pounds of military aid has made it to Iraq, mostly small arms and ammunition, transported by Canada's C-177 Globemaster planes. Some of that is surplus defensive gear destined for the Iraqi Security Forces, while the rest of it is Albanian and Czech weapons, mostly Kalashnikovs and grenades.

The AK-47s that Canada is ferrying were had been stockpiled after the fall of the Berlin Wall and were on the brink of being decommissioned when they were tapped to be donated to the Kurds.

The KRG say those weapons are grossly inadequate to actually help them push back the Islamic State.

But the Kurds aren't the only ones who say that better weapons are required to fight the Islamic State.

Mirza Ismail, Chairman of the Yazidi Human Rights Organization International, says Canada and the international community aren't doing enough to help his people. He was invited to a press conference with the Foreign Affairs minister on Wednesday morning and appeared behind Kenney as he spoke to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons.

"We want Canada to supply direct arms," Ismail told media. He says the KRG hasn't done enough to protect the Assyrians and Yazidis from the Islamic State threat, and they have been loath to share their weaponry with other fighting forces.

While there was celebration when Kurdish forces liberated the Sinjar mountains in Syrian Kurdistan last December, there are still as many as 10,000 who remain on the mountain, some of them by choice. Given that Islamic State fighters still control territory at the foot of the mountain, Yazidi fighters have formed their own militias to defend themselves.

"We have more than 7,000 fighters now," says Ismail. He says that air strikes are helping—Canada will be joining those air strikes in a matter of weeks—but he says they still lack heavy weapons and bullets. "If you don't have ammunition, what can you do?" he says.

Kenney says Canada upping military aid to forces within Kurdistan isn't out of the question, it has simply become a question of logistics. Ottawa would either need to procure or purchase new weapons, or find a country with surplus and use the Royal Canadian Air Force's strategic transport planes to ferry the weapons.

"We are open to possibly providing further airlift to bring munitions to the Peshmerga," Kenney told VICE. "We're in ongoing discussions with allied countries about what further we can provide in that respect.

"We continue to be open to this," he said.

Kenney added that Canada has already contributed significantly, and that other states—ones that are sitting out the training or airstrikes missions—may be better suited to contribute arms.

Germany, for example, is contributing 40 troops to train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, but it is not dropping bombs. It is, however, equipping some 4,000 Kurds with guns, anti-tank missiles, and armored vehicles.

Opposition leaders Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau, who oppose the bombing campaign, both said that Canada should consider kicking in more military aid.

Mulcair took questions outside of the NDP caucus room on Wednesday, before Kenney spoke, and said he would like to see more of the Soviet weapons make it into the hands of Kurdish fighters, especially because United Nations resolutions have called for international aid to help fighters in the area defend themselves against the Islamic State.

Trudeau basically shrugged off the question after his Liberal caucus meeting, saying that if Canada doesn't have weapons to send, then it simply doesn't have weapons to send. He added that he supports sending whatever support we can.

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