By Scott Taylor
Last week there were media reports that the Canadian Special Forces troops in Iraq have taken on a new role. Up until recent days our soldiers had been directly involved in the allied push to drive Daesh – also known as ISIS – from the city of Mosul.
The Canadian trained Kurdish militia were very much a part of that major offensive which began last October. The mandate for our troops was that of a non-combat training mission, but videos soon appeared on the internet of our Special Forces operatives doing some very combat-like things. The military top brass bent over backwards attempting to explain how firing rocket launchers and sniper rifles at Daesh targets was not combat, because, for lack of any other logical argument, the generals said it wasn’t combat.
If the fear was that a public backlash would force the Liberal government to rein in our Commandos and put them back in the rear area training centers – they needn’t have worried. Despite the fact that our troops have no authority to engage in combat, the public sentiment seemed to be that if our soldiers were eradicating evil doers such as Daesh, then no harm, no foul.
Now however, as the big battle for Mosul moves into its third phase, it turns out that our Canadian trainers have a new job. Well away from the embattled streets of Iraq’s second largest city, our Special Forces personnel are engaged in surveillance operations on the Syrian-Iraq border.
It seems an odd juncture to move our soldiers away from the main fight, but from all accounts the battle for Mosul started ugly and has gotten progressively nastier. Despite outnumbering the Daesh defenders by an estimated 15:1, it has taken the allied force five months to recapture just the eastern half of Mosul. Even this snail’s pace was only maintained through the liberal use of airstrikes. Due to the dense population of this urban center, and the fact that Daesh fighters have no qualms about using innocent civilians as human shields, the result has been a shocking number of civilian casualties.
This is of course explained by allied commanders as a necessary tactic, and the resulting collateral damage is in fact the fault of Daesh, not the allied warplanes. One cannot help but note the hypocrisy of this rationalization when compared to how the Russians and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists were demonized for using similar airstrikes against the rebels in Aleppo. If Putin and Assad were to blame for the civilian deaths in Aleppo, then the U.S. led coalition are guilty for the loss of innocent lives in Mosul. You can’t have it both ways.
For the loose alliance of ground forces battling their way into the besieged city – including the Canadian trained Kurdish militia – the fight has been tough. The Daesh fanatics have used a combination of suicide attacks and booby traps to exact a staggering toll on their attackers.
In response the allied forces have turned Mosul’s recapture into an exercise in revenge. An account by Adnan R. Khan in a recent Maclean’s magazine noted “The grotesque signs of payback are rapidly emerging in east Mosul; mutilated bodies left to rot on the rubble heaps of the city, men with hands bound behind their backs, legs lashed together, faces half blown off.” Khan’s report also detailed how Iraqi soldiers had lashed a decomposed body to a utility pole “as a warning sign to any Daesh sympathizer.”
These actions are of course all in violation of the Geneva convention, and are in fact reminiscent of the atrocities committed by Daesh that made them so terrifying in the first place.
Some may claim that the Daesh evil-doers deserve only rough justice, but if the troops we trained mete out of the same level of barbarity, when will the cycle of revenge be stopped?
Our soldiers may in fact be well away from the Mosul battle, literally looking the other way, but it will be sheer folly if the international alliance fails to prevent another round of revenge bloodletting.