Right to self-defence during CAF training mission
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan confirmed Feb. 11 that all Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to “advise and assist” Iraqi security forces in the NATO-led Operation Impact will be able to respond “in kind” if they are attacked by so-called Islamic State fighters.
“The inherent right of self defence is always with Canadian Armed Forces,” he replied when FrontLine put the question during a teleconference from Brussels, where he had just concluded two days of meetings with his NATO counterparts. Declining to go into detail about specific rules of engagement, for acknowledged security reasons, he cited his own experience from three combat tours in Afghanistan, saying that “I can assure you that our troops will always have their right to self-defence.”
Asked whether expanded Canadian training to Kurdish elements of the Iraqi forces could “empower them to break away from Iraq and form an independent Kurdistan”, Sajjan essentially demurred. He replied that he had been assured by his Iraqi counterpart “just a few hours ago” that “he was very happy with our support for the Peshmerga to the North.”
He also said the government’s decision to triple its presence on the ground in Iraq, to approximately 210 personnel, did not mean any significant changes in the Special Operations “advise and assist” mission. However, while again declining to go into details, he did says that the increase in numbers would include “some medical training as well”, a gap he said had been identified in December.
But NATO ministers evidently acknowledged that there still are other operational gaps in Op Impact and Sajjan once more avoided going into too much detail. “We were talking about the way forward and what’s needed”, including a desire for more training personnel.
There apparently was no discussion of the air campaign from which Canada is withdrawing its six CF-18 Hornets by Feb. 22, reducing its Royal Canadian Air Force commitment to a CC-150 Polaris tanker and one or two CP140 Aurora intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms which will be tasked with, among other things, target designation for other NATO fighters.
The defence minister also was asked why Canada had opted in Iraq not to deploy the “mentoring and liaison teams which were remarkably effective” in Afghanistan in setting up local security forces which, with coalition support, to stand up against Taliban extremists.
“What was done in Afghanistan was a need for that region, where we had to bring up the security forces from almost state-zero,” Sajjan replied. “In Iraq, the Americans spent many years training local security forces, which has allowed us a launching point for our training mission that doesn’t start from zero. This has allowed us to start out at a ‘capable’ level where the 'advise and assist' mission works extremely well. . . . At the end of day, it’s the local security forces that need to do this. We also have to be sensitive of the political issues of the region as well. Afghanistan was different.”
One reporter expressed concern about Canada potentially supporting the new Christian-led government of Lebanon which is supported by Hesbollah, which Canada keeps on its list of terrorist organizations. “I can categorically tell you that we don’t work with Hesbollah,” was the blunt reply. Instead, Sajjan continued, “we need to support the stable portion of the country.