OTTAWA — Canadian fighter pilots in Iraq have enjoyed a “target rich” environment in recent days as offensive moves by the Islamic State has left the militants exposed in the open, a Canadian military official says.
Canadian fighter jets have stepped up their strikes at Islamic State targets to beat back their efforts to reclaim lost territory, navy Capt. Paul Forget, of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, told a briefing Thursday.
“They has been an increase lately in ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) offensives and as such they are exposing themselves more which provides a bit of a target-rich environment allowing our fighters to be able to drop our weapons on them,” Forget said.
In a five-day stretch ending Jan. 12, CF-18s dropped precision-guided munitions against ISIL targets six times. The targets include heavy weapons, vehicles, tactical units and buildings used by ISIL, Forget said.
There have been eight strikes by Canadian fighters since Jan. 1, and 22 in all since combat operations began in late October. Many of the recent strikes, in which ordnance is dropped on targets, have been in support of operations by Iraqi security forces on the ground.
Forget said the number of daily missions flown by CF-18s has not changed — with one day off a week for aircraft maintenance — but what has changed is the availability of targets.
“The tempo hasn’t really changed. We haven’t increased anything,” he said.
“It’s just that the targets expose themselves more recently, which allows us to undertake more strikes.”
Forget said the recent offensive efforts by the Islamic State have failed, thanks to counter moves by Iraq security forces on the ground, supported by the coalition air strikes.
“We are providing cover to any of their offensive and defensive operations against ISIL forces,” Forget said of Canada’s support to Iraqi forces.
Those offensive moves by the Islamic State come just a week after another Canadian military official said ISIL fighters were on their “back foot, in a defensive mode and unable to do those successful counter-offensive operations.”
While Forget said that while coalition efforts have blunted ISIL’s objective to take over territory, it’s expected they will continue to attack.
“Although we have been successful in stopping that initial advance, that doesn’t preclude them from their desire . . . of regrouping and launching offensive operations,” Forget said.
Canada joined a multi-national air campaign in October to push back Islamic State extremists who were moving on large parts of Iraq and Syria. As well, a small team of Canadian special forces soldiers is on the ground in Iraq as advisers to train Iraqi and Kurdish fighters.
By Jan. 14, Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft had flown 335 missions since operations began in late October, including 214 sorties by CF-18s. Also operating out of an airbase in Kuwait is a CC-150T aerial refueller and two CP-140 Aurora reconnaissance aircraft.