Canada to host anti-ISIL meet­ing

Ot­tawa weighs fu­ture of iraq mis­sion

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - COMMUNITY LISTINGS - Lee Berthi­aume

OT­TaWa — an idyl­lic es­tate on the shore of meech lake out­side Ot­tawa will be the scene Thurs­day when rep­re­sen­ta­tives from more than a dozen coun­tries gather to dis­cuss the war against the is­lamic state group and the fu­tures of iraq and syria.

The meet­ing, co-hosted by de­fence min­is­ter har­jit sa­j­jan and his amer­i­can coun­ter­part James mat­tis, comes as canada weighs its own role in the re­gion, where the is­lamic state of iraq and the le­vant re­mains a threat de­spite its bat­tle­field de­feats.

are centu.s. de­fense depart­ment re­port that said while isil has lost nearly all the ter­ri­tory it once con­trolled in iraq, it has started to dig roots as an “ef­fec­tive” in­sur­gent group — and that it could take “years, if not decades” be­fore the iraqi mil­i­tary can deal with it on its own.

canada ear­lier this year as­sumed com­mand of a NaTO train­ing mis­sion that in­cludes 250 cana­dian troops and whose aim is to train the iraqi mil­i­tary so that it can en­sure se­cu­rity and de­fend against threats such as isil.

but hun­dreds of other cana­dian sol­diers not as­signed to the train­ing mis­sion have con­tin­ued to fly trans­port and re­fu­elling air­craft, col­lect and an­a­lyze in­tel­li­gence and pro­vide med­i­cal as­sis­tance to coali­tion ef­forts against isil, also known as isis.

That as­pect of the mis­sion is set to ex­pire in march, and the ques­tion go­ing into Thurs­day’s meet­ing is whether the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will opt to keep those troops in iraq, change their mis­sion or be­gin to take them out of the coun­try.

“We want to be a re­spon­si­ble coali­tion part­ner,” sa­j­jan said Wed­nes­day when asked whether the gov­ern­ment will ex­tend the mis­sion in iraq.

“We’re do­ing the proper anal­y­sis and we’ll ad­just with the sit­u­a­tion.”

The meech lake meet­ing will in­volve rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 13 coun­tries lead­ing the fight against isil, whose cap­ture of large swathes of iraq and syria in 2014 and bru­tal tac­tics re­sulted in a mas­sive u.s.-led mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in­volv­ing dozens of coun­tries.

canada ini­tially de­ployed a hand­ful of spe­cial-forces sol­diers to help the Kurds in north­ern iraq de­fend against fur­ther isil in­cur­sions in septem­ber 2014, be­fore adding fighter jets, surveil­lance and re­fu­elling air­craft and more troops.

The mis­sion, now in its fifth year, has evolved nu­mer­ous times. That in­cludes the lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to with­draw cana­dian fighter jets from the re­gion in 2016 and a shift from train­ing Kur­dish forces to help­ing the iraqi mil­i­tary.

The lib­eral gov­ern­ment has given mil­i­tary com­man­ders per­mis­sion to de­ploy up to 850 cana­dian Forces mem­bers to the re­gion, though a mil­i­tary spokes­woman could not say Wed­nes­day how many are on the ground now.

The u.s.-led coali­tion against isil says the ex­trem­ist group has lost all the ter­ri­tory it held in iraq and still holds less than one per cent of the land it once oc­cu­pied in syria.

“Great progress has been made. daesh now does not con­trol any ter­ri­tory,” sa­j­jan said Wed­nes­day. “Now we need to make sure that we fo­cus on the ca­pac­ity-build­ing and the train­ing.”

yet a re­port re­leased by the u.s. de­fense depart­ment’s lead in­spec­tor gen­eral for over­seas con­tin­gency op­er­a­tions last month warned that “an ef­fec­tive clan­des­tine isis or­ga­ni­za­tion ap­pears to be tak­ing hold in both coun­tries.”

iraq’s deserts and moun­tains were found to have made it hard for the iraqi mil­i­tary to oust the last isil rem­nants, it added, al­low­ing the group to con­tinue at­tacks against iraqi forces, lo­cal com­mu­nity lead­ers and the coun­try’s power grid.

That, in turn, has weak­ened pub­lic con­fi­dence in the iraqi gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary, which is al­ready low amid anger and protests over a lack of wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and jobs as cor­rup­tion and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in bagh­dad have slowed post-isil re­cov­ery.

Po­lit­i­cal, eth­nic and re­li­gious di­vi­sions, as well as com­pet­ing in­ter­ests among var­i­ous for­eign ac­tors such as the u.s. and iran, have posed sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to sta­bi­liza­tion and re­con­struc­tion over the past year.

yet while canada and oth­ers have turned their ef­forts to train the iraqi mil­i­tary from fight­ing on the bat­tle­field to counter-in­sur­gency, the re­port quoted the u.s. de­fense depart­ment as warn­ing that it could take “years, if not decades” for the iraqis to be­come sel­f­re­liant.

“sys­temic weak­nesses re­main, many of which are the same de­fi­cien­cies that en­abled the rise of isis in 2014,” the re­port reads.

The as­sess­ment raises ques­tions about how long u.s. forces will need to re­main in the coun­try, it adds, “since the goal of that mis­sion is de­fined as the ‘en­dur­ing de­feat’ of isis.”

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