OTTAWA — Canadian special forces soldiers in Iraq have twice more exchanged fire with extremist fighters as they step up their exposure to front-line action.
At a briefing Monday morning, navy Capt. Paul Forget revealed that Canadian troops came under attack twice in the last week as they scouted front-line positions with local fighters.
“In both cases, Canadian special operations forces, again acting in self-defence, effectively returned fire, neutralizing the threat,” Forget told reporters.
Forget said the circumstances were similar to an incident disclosed last week. At the time, the soldiers were examining the local terrain “near the front line” when they came under fire. Forget said the soldiers only returned fire in self-defence and he said there were no injuries to Canadian personnel.
Forget said the incidents mark an evolution — not an escalation — of Canada’s ground mission in Iraq.
And he suggested there could be more firefights because the changing nature of the training mission.
In the early days, Canadian soldiers were teaching the Iraqi security forces the basics of warfare. But as they gained fighting skills, Forget said soldiers are teaching the local troops tactical battlefield techniques.
“The role of our specialists was initially to show them some basic aspects. At this point we are in a position to advise them, assist them in a combat zone,” Forget said.
The Defence Department also revealed last week that Canadian soldiers have also been involved in directing airstrikes on ground targets, in some cases using a laser to designate the objective to ensure an accurate hit.
In the last week, CF-18 fighter jets have stepped up the pace of their attacks and conducted 12 airstrikes. Forget couldn’t say whether Canadian troops were involved in helping these recent bombing raids.
Monday’s revelations are sure to fuel questions in Parliament on Monday about Canada’s evolving military role that opposition politicians say involves more front-line action than the government first implied when it dispatched soldiers on the “noncombat” mission last fall.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair last week accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of misleading Canadians about the nature of the mission.