Cana­dian jets hit­ting few tar­gets in Syria

More mis­sions flown over Iraq, Le­vant as bomb­ing cam­paign against ISIL grinds on

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

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.

CP PHOTO

RCAF CF-18 Hor­nets de­part af­ter re­fu­el­ing over Iraq in this file photo.

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