By Scott Taylor
Last Friday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan made the long-anticipated announcement that Canadian troops are extending their mission to battle Daesh evildoers (aka ISIS or ISIL).
The official news release was a very craftily worded document that attempts to weave through the complexity of the current conflict: “Canada remains committed to defeating Daesh and responding to the needs of the people who have been displaced or devastated by war in Iraq, Syria and the region,” reads the opening sentence.
In this case the word region is used in lieu of the name Kurdistan, which is where Canadian combat troops and our military field hospital are currently located. But no one can officially admit this because Canada’s current foreign policy supports a unified Iraq once the Daesh evildoers have been defeated.
This is of course not the intention of the Kurdish fighters that our soldiers are currently ‘advising and assisting’ in the bloody battle to recapture the city of Mosul from Daesh.
Those Kurds proudly fly the flag of Kurdistan above their vehicles and outposts, and their leaders have openly stated they will not return to Iraq or submit to the authorities of the regime in Baghdad.
Senior Canadian officers took the bizarre decision to have our special forces trainers wear the flag of Kurdistan on their uniforms despite the fact it is the symbol of an unrecognized, breakaway state. Not to mention the fact that this symbol on our soldiers’ sleeves runs completely counter to our stated objective.
Again, the official announcement was extremely careful not to mention what our soldiers’ extended mission is hoping to achieve. Instead, it simply repeats what our contingent is fighting against — and that is, of course, Daesh evildoers.
The battle is now centered on Mosul, one of two remaining Daesh strongholds in Iraq. By all accounts, Daesh is putting up one hell of a fight. The offensive to liberate Mosul began last October and in five and a half months of combat, the U.S.-led allied coalition has only recaptured two thirds of the city.
The cost in casualties has also been high for the allies, with an estimated 5,000 allied Iraqi soldiers killed or wounded to date.
The progress made thus far is in large part due to the fact that the allies can call upon a vast air armada led by the U.S. — and to which Canada contributes air-to-air refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft.
The loose coalition of Iraqi ground troops, including the Canadian-trained Kurds, is also estimated to outnumber the die-hard fanatical Daesh by 10 or 15 to one.
To put Daesh resistance into context, it should be recalled that when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, they routed Saddam’s 300,000-strong army and captured the entire country in less than six weeks. During that one-sided campaign, the original U.S.-led four-country coalition killed an estimated 30,000 Iraqi soldiers for the loss of only 172 allied dead.
As the current Iraqi coalition force fights its way into the narrow congested streets of western Mosul, the U.S.-led airstrikes have only intensified. It is estimated that more than 2,000 allied bombs were dropped on Mosul in the month of March alone. Given the densely populated and steadily decreasing territory held by Daesh, these air attacks have been taking an alarmingly increased toll on innocent civilians.
One incident on March 17, initially denied but subsequently admitted to by the U.S. Air Force, resulted in the death of more than 130 Iraqi civilians in a single errant airstrike.
In addition to the mounting loss of civilian life, there have also been reports of atrocities committed by Iraqi coalition troops against suspected Daesh sympathizers.
So while our government announced a 90-day extension to the current deployment, the situation on the ground only continues to get murkier and bloodier. Pretty soon Canada is going to need to determine what our soldiers are fighting for — not just what they are fighting against. And that isn’t going to be easy.