Canadian special ops helping Iraqis roll up remaining ISIS opposition, says Vance
Canadian special operations troops have been accompanying Iraqi forces on security operations as the last pockets of Islamic State resistance are mopped up, Canada's top military commander said today.
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, told a House of Commons committee that almost no fighting is taking place in northern Iraq right now and the Islamic State has lost 98 per cent of the territory it conquered and occupied in 2014.
The operations taking place now are less hard-power military actions and more intelligence-driven counter-terrorism missions, he said.
And while those operations still involve risk, Vance said Canadian troops have not recently taken part in any gun battles with the remaining extremists — who have either gone undercover or fled to remote regions along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
"We are with them to a point, but stop short of the actual conduct of the operation on the objective," he said, comparing the Canadian special ops soldiers' role to Emergency Response Team officials backing up police officers on a raid.
Some of the operations, Vance said, involve uncovering and disposing of suspected ISIS weapons caches.
The highly-trained special operations troops have been in northern Iraq since 2014, "advising and assisting" Kurdish forces on conventional military skills after much of the region was overrun by ISIS. The Canadians were present on the frontlines as Iraqi forces, including the Kurds and Iranian-backed Shia militia, pushed extremists out of Mosul, the country's second-largest city.
The battlefield defeat of ISIS means the threat has evolved, not vanished, he told MPs..
"We are mentoring, training and advising Iraqi forces as they deal with [and] when they find out about any ISIL activity," said Vance, using the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an alternate version of ISIS's name.
His remarks came as defence ministers from the top 13 nations contributing to the anti-ISIS coalition met in Ottawa.
Vance testified about the future of Canada's mission in the war-torn region, known as Operation Impact.
The mission is up for renewal at the end of March and the Liberal government is said to be still mulling its options — even though it signed on last summer to lead a NATO military training mission in Baghdad, a commitment that involves up to 250 soldiers and helicopter crews.
Several opposition Conservatives pressed the defence chief to say when he thinks it will be time to bring the troops home and end Canada's involvement in Iraq.
That's a hard question to answer, Vance said, because much will depend on when the Iraqi government feels secure enough to ask western militaries to leave.
Canadian military intelligence officers in Iraq have been involved, along with allies, in tracking the movements of ISIS foreign fighters and leaders, he said.
The information is passed along to other allies involved in actively tracking down suspected war criminals.