On Tuesday, six Canadian CF-18 combat aircraft were deployed to Kuwait from an airbase in Cold Lake, Alberta, as part of Operation Impact, Canada's contribution to the growing air armada being arrayed against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and its first combat mission in Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Whether omen, coincidence, or intentional, the departure of these jets has been ominously bracketed by the murder of two Canadian soldiers. A radicalized Muslim convert named Martin Couture-Rouleau ran down two soldiers in a parking lot on Monday morning. One of them, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, has since died from his injuries. Couture-Roleau was later shot and killed by police.
This morning, a gunman opened fire on a Canadian soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. The gunman then went to the country's parliament building, where witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots inside. The suspect was killed after an exchange of fire with a parliamentary guard. Three different shootings were reported, but Ottawa police later confirmed only the incidents at the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill.
At the moment, it is unknown whether this was the work of one gunman or several.
While it is also unclear to what degree the assaults are connected to the Islamic State's recent call for supporters to kill Canadians, among others, "in any manner or way however it may be," the incidents invite speculation that the Islamic State has attacked Canada before Canada has had a chance to strike the terrorist group.
Operation Impact kicked off after an October 7 vote in Canada's parliament authorizing six months of airstrikes against the Islamic State. The main part of the deployment is the six CF-18 jets (also known as the CF-188), which are the Canadian version of the US Navy's F-18 Hornet. Canada has almost 80 of these jets in service. In addition to the combat aircraft, Canada is sending two CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft, one CC-150T Polaris tanker for aerial refueling, and roughly 600 military personnel for support and logistics.
Beyond the air assets and support being moved into the region, Canada is also supplying about 70 personnel to augment American efforts to train and organize the Iraqi security forces.
Due to strong domestic opposition and a lack of UN Security Council approval for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Canada was not directly involved in the US-led coalition that deposed Saddam Hussein.
Canada has been a strong coalition partner in Afghanistan, and stepped up its contribution to the International Security Assistance Force operating in the region during the recent Iraq war, which allowed the US to divert some of its forces from Afghanistan to the fighting in Iraq. The country's involvement in the fight against the Islamic State reflects the larger role in global security issues that its leaders have adopted over the last few years.
The country has traditionally had a strong engagement with the US, exemplified by its participation in the North American Aerospace Defense Command and its deep involvement with military exercises like the annual Rim of the Pacific war game (RIMPAC). But Canada's recent effort to assert Arctic sovereignty in the face of Russian militarization, the increasing frequency of Russian bombers testing Canadian air defenses, and growing tensions over a possible security crisis in Eastern Europe have put significant pressure on Canada's defense community.
Now the potential connection to global instability highlighted by these attacks on Canadian soil is likely to cast a new, grim light on the ongoing debate about Canada's military future.
Follow Ryan Faith on Twitter: @Operation_Ryan
Photo via Wikimedia Commons