Canadian jets hitting few targets in Syria
More missions flown over Iraq, Levant as bombing campaign against ISIL grinds on
The Canadian military reported 18 new air strikes against targets belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but none in the latest round involve missions over Syria.
In the three months since Parliament granted an expansion of the air campaign, only three attacks have been conducted against what the Harper government sometimes described as the heart of the extremist movement.
The U.S.-led coalition has stepped up both the level of bombing and the public relations campaign since Islamic State forces dealt a surprise blow to the Iraqi government and seized took control of the strategically important city of Ramadi.
Canadian navy Capt. Paul Forget says it’s clear that the tempo of CF-18 missions has increased along with its allies, but he offered no explanation for the dearth of Syrian missions.
“All air strikes, whether in Syria or Iraq, are assigned by the targeting cell (at coalition headquarters in Qatar),” he said.
“Those strikes are assigned to various nations for a variety of reasons.”
Earlier this year, the country’s top military commander, Gen. Tom Lawson, attributed the low number of strikes in Syria to the fact, unlike Iraq, there were few friendly forces on the ground to help pinpoint targets.
Forget would not say whether that factor continues to limit Canadian involvement in the campaign.
Much of the debate about extending and expanding Canada’s combat mission in Iraq was focused on the advisability and the legalities of bombing ISIL in Syria.
New Democrats warned before the extension was approved in March that taking out ISIL targets in Syria would only strengthen the hand of Syrian President Bashar Assad to wage war on his own people.
The last Canadian raid in Syria took place in early June near the eastern city of Al Hasakah, which was at the time a hotly contested area where forces loyal to Assad fought a pitched battle against extremists.
The Harper government was quick to deny that the mission benefited the Syrian regime in any way. Canada has the option to accept, or reject, the targets handed to it by the coalition. Forget couldn’t say how many times that may have happened, of at all.
Dave Perry, an analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, noted that the tempo of Canadian air strikes, while increasing, still doesn't match the intensity of last winter.
But Forget indicated that the majority of the recent bombing runs were “dynamic in nature,” which in military-speak means the jets pounced on a target or opportunity rather than attacking a pre-planned target.
It is a sign of how fluid the situation is on the ground, he said.
The technical briefing at National Defence headquarters is the first update on the war in several weeks and made very little reference to the roughly 69 special forces soldiers who are training Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.
RCAF CF-18 Hornets depart after refueling over Iraq in this file photo.