OTTAWA — The federal government says Canada is not part of a group of nations sending an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq to serve as advisers to local forces in their fight against Islamic State extremists.
A senior U.S. commander announced this week that unnamed allied nations working alongside the United States had agreed to send the additional personnel to speed training of Iraqi forces.
But a spokesperson for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said Wednesday that Canada was not part of this effort and that for now, the 69 Canadian soldiers currently working in Iraq would be the extent of Canada’s contribution to assist ground forces.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in September that Canada would dispatch a small team of special forces soldiers to help advise Iraq and Kurdish forces in their fights against Islamic State
That was followed by a decision in October to join the coalition air combat campaign striking at Islamic State targets. Six CF-18 fighters, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and a CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refueler began operations in the region in late October.
Operating from a base in Kuwait, the aircraft had flown a total of 175 missions, including 112 sorties by the CF-18s, by Monday.
However, military commanders have said the air campaign is only a stopgap until ground forces can be trained and sent into action to reclaim territory from the Islamic State extremists.
To boost those efforts, Lt.-Gen. James L. Terry, head of a U.S. task force overseeing military efforts in Iraq and Syria, announced that allied nations had agreed to commit additional troops, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Canada has held discussions with its allies about joining a larger training effort but military officials say it’s up the politicians to make any announcements about an expanded role.
“Should the mandate of that portion of the mission change, that will be announced by the Government of Canada. Currently that portion of the mission is being run in accordance with the mandate assigned by the government,” Royal Canadian Navy Capt. Paul Forget told reporters last week.
“The training of Iraqi forces has been something that has been the subject of debate for some time now. It’s not for me to speculate whether or not Canada will engage in such a capacity,” said Forget, who serves with the Canadian Joint Operations Command.