OTTAWA - Canada is preparing to dispatch fighter jets to Iraq on a military mission against Islamic extremists that Prime Minister Stephen Harper hails as “noble and necessary.”
As the Conservative government privately considered its options Tuesday, Harper publicly left little doubt that Canada would soon be joining other nations in the escalating battle against the Islamic State fighters.
“I believe that the mission undertaken by our allies . . . is of necessary actions and of noble actions,” Harper said in the Commons.
“When we think something is necessary and noble, we do not sit back and say only other people should do it. The Canadian way is we do our part.”
But the prime minister also vowed that if Canada commits to a combat role, it would not be a long, protracted battle, as leaders in Britain and Australia have warned.
“We will obviously look carefully at steps that we believe would not leave us there in a quagmire for years,” he said.
Asked how he would define victory, Harper said the goal would be to cripple the Islamic State’s capacity to continue a “genocide” against people in Iraq and Syria and plan attacks against Canada.
“The government will act. We will act with our allies to make sure those capacities are degraded in a way that they will not continue to be a threat to this country,” he said.
Canada is weighing a recent U.S. request for additional help in the battle against the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda splinter group that has been claiming territory in Syria and swaths of Iraq.
On the table is a proposal to send CF-18 fighters to join ongoing airstrikes, along with possible contributions of air-to-air refueller aircraft and CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance planes.
The government also must decide whether to extend the ongoing non-combat mission by a small team of military advisers in northern Iraq that is due to end on Saturday.
Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff, and other senior advisers briefed cabinet members Tuesday morning. “All of the advice has been given to government,” Lawson told reporters as he left the meeting.
Canada’s next steps in Iraq dominated question period as NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau quizzed the prime minister about the timeline and scope of the military’s possible expanded role in Iraq and its exit strategy from the conflict.
“When will the prime minister table his Iraq plans in the House for study, a full debate and a vote?” Mulcair asked.
Harper said later that a decision was expected within the coming days.
“If we are planning any kind of a combat mission, including an aerial combat mission, there will of course be a debate and a vote in this House,” the prime minister said.
If the government decides to deploy CF-18s, those jets — and the supporting elements — could be in theatre quickly, said Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, a former CF-18 pilot and squadron commander.
He noted that the Royal Canadian Air Force already has CF-18s on a mission in Lithuania, which could be moved to the Middle East.
“They could react very, very quickly,” Hawn told reporters.
He also dismissed suggestions that the aging fighters aren’t up to the job.
“They’re perfectly fine. They’ve been updated. The airplanes are perfectly capable,” Hawn said.