‘I think we’ve got it right’
Canadians warn against Trump pressure to change strategy for fighting ISIL
Two senior Canadian generals have defended the current strategy for defeating ISIL in Iraq and Syria, which U.S. officials have put under review following scathing criticism by U.S. President Donald Trump.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis was in Iraq this week after Trump gave the retired marine general until the end of the month to come up with a plan for speeding up the campaign.
During last year’s presidential election, Trump repeatedly criticized the slow pace of progress and promised to introduce a new approach that would hasten ISIL’s defeat.
But brigadier-generals David Anderson and Stephen Kelsey say they are hardpressed to think of ways to improve the existing strategy, which they have watched unfold firsthand for the better part of a year.
And they worry that rushing to destroy ISIL could in fact undermine the progress that has been made in dealing with the root causes that led to the extremist group’s rise in the first place.
“I can’t think of a different way to do this that doesn’t create all the problems that have been there from the past,” Anderson said Monday, before Mattis’s unannounced arrival in Iraq. “I think we’ve got it right.”
Anderson and Kelsey are both based in Baghdad. And while they’re Canadian, each holds a key position within the larger international coalition for defeating ISIL.
Since last spring, Anderson has led a multinational team of military advisers posted inside the Iraqi defence ministry in Baghdad, where they have helped formulate and implement the current campaign strategy.
Kelsey has helped oversee the actual fighting on the ground, which is being largely conducted by Iraqi forces with significant assistance from Canada and other countries.
Mattis hasn’t said what changes he wants to see in the campaign plan, but reports suggest the options under discussion include putting more U.S. troops on the ground and having them do more of the fighting.
American troops, like the roughly 200 Canadian special forces in northern Iraq, have largely stayed out of the fight and instead provided training, advice and some battlefield support from behind.
A Canadian Forces door gunner keeps watch as his Griffon helicopter passes the Monastery of Mar Mattai/St MatthewMonday in northern Iraq.