OTTAWA — Canada’s military mission against Islamic State extremists has cost close to $300 million so far, the Toronto Star has learned.
The first six months of the mission, which began in October 2014, actually came in under original estimates at $70 million — some $52 million less than defence planners had originally projected, defence department spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier told the Star.
Those numbers will be published Monday when the defence department releases its 2014-15 departmental performance report.
The costs for the current 12-month period won’t be confirmed until after March 31, when the fiscal year ends, Le Bouthillier said.
However, the Star has learned that the mission is on track to cost just over $200 million in the current fiscal year, bringing the cost of the air and ground campaign to close to $300 million.
These are incremental costs, which don’t include the regular operating expenses, such as salaries.
The previous Conservative government dispatched the military to join the coalition fight against Islamic State extremists in the fall of 2014. It started with a small team of soldiers on the ground in northern Iraq acting as advisers to local Kurdish fighters.
The mission was expanded in October 2014 when the Tories announced they were deploying six CF-18 fighter jets to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq. As well, a CC-150T air-to-air refueller jet and two CP-140 surveillance aircraft were also sent to the region. In addition to the trainers, another 600 personnel at several airbases in Kuwait are involved in supporting the air campaign.
Since they began operations, the aircraft have flown a total of 2,048 missions and by Dec. 31, 2015, the CF-18s had dropped 546 precision-guided munitions.
The previous Conservative government initially rebuffed demands to provide a cost estimate for the mission, insisting that the true price tag would be known only months after it wrapped up and all the bills had trickled in.
However, then-defence minister Jason Kenney announced in February 2015 that the cost of the mission would be $122 million until March 31, 2015. However, Le Bouthillier said the actual costs rang in lower because of changes around the logistics — accommodations, communication and transportation — in addition to flying hours.
As well, the government’s decision in March 2015 to extend the mission by another year delayed the costs of moving equipment and personnel back to Canada, he said.
Kenney later estimated that the extended mission would cost $528 million. While that’s higher than what has been spent so far, that estimate also included the cost of restocking spare parts and wear and tear caused by the mission. Those are costs the department is still expecting to pay.
In its assessment of the mission costs, the parliamentary budget office estimated that a 12-month combat mission could cost between $243 million to $351 million.
The report estimated that aircraft operations made up 55 per cent of the costs, followed by supply flights (13 per cent), food and accommodations (9 per cent) and ammunition (7 per cent).
The mission is about to change and that could mean savings. The Liberals have promised to end the airstrikes by CF-18s, a costly operation that involves munitions, fuel, wear and tear on the fighters and a sizeable ground contingent.
The Liberals have mused about a larger training force but have yet to public confirm their next steps in the ISIS fight.