‘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.

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