On Target: CF-18 withdrawal no great loss to allies in Syria

By: Scott Taylor

 Six CF-18 fighter jets sit on an airfield. The Liberals have kept their election promise and changed the mandate of Canada's participation in the fight against Daesh and ISIS. (Combat Camera)

Six CF-18 fighter jets sit on an airfield. The Liberals have kept their election promise and changed the mandate of Canada's participation in the fight against Daesh and ISIS. (Combat Camera)

Last week Canadian fighter pilots flew the last of their combat missions against Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria. This cessation of bombing fulfilled an election campaign promise by the Trudeau Liberals and, predictably, set off the usual howls of indignation by the warmongers.

One of the most laughable arguments put forth was that old chestnut about how Canadians didn’t simply quit fighting the Germans during the Second World War. No siree, we kept on fighting and bombing until the job was done and by golly we should do the same now, they harrumphed in unison.

To even think of comparing the military might of Hitler’s Nazi Germany (and his numerous European allies) to the ragtag fanatics known as Daesh is ludicrous. Not to mention the fact that Daesh controls only its own Sunni Arab, self-proclaimed tiny caliphate, not the vast swaths of foreign soil which Hitler’s legions captured and occupied.

Canada’s military objective, along with the Allied powers in the Second World War, was clear and concise: The unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The current campaign against Daesh is nowhere near as clear-cut.

The U.S.-led alliance has spent 17 months bombing around the edges of the Daesh caliphate. After fighting counterinsurgencies for more than a decade in both Afghanistan and Iraq, these nations — including Canada, which is also contributing to the anti-Daesh effort — are loath to put any more ground troops in harm’s way.

Given the primitive composition of Daesh forces — mostly light infantry with a smattering of heavy weapons and armoured vehicles — a single NATO standard armoured division could carve through the entire Daesh caliphate in less than a week. However, as the U.S. occupation force learned the hard way, this same Sunni Triangle is impossible to subdue by shear force.

If Daesh is driven from the field as formed units, they will simply melt into the shadows and resume their tried and true tactics of ambushes and improvised explosive devices. It is this collective lack of will on the part of the alliance to engage Daesh if it means incurring casualties that makes the warmongers’ warnings all the more meaningless.

Some have claimed that the withdrawal of Canada’s CF-18 combat planes will “undermine the coalition.” To put this in perspective one need only look at the raw data.

Over the past 18 months, the U.S.-led air alliance has dropped over 32,000 bombs on Daesh targets in Syria and Iraq. Of that impressive total, the Canadian flyboys unleashed only 606 — slightly less than two per cent of the allied total. In that year and a half, the boundaries of the Daesh caliphate have remained relatively unchanged.

It is true that allied airpower prevented Daesh from capturing the Syrian town of Kobane, and that allied combat planes were instrumental in allowing Iraqi security forces to recapture the city of Ramadi last December. However, allied planes were overhead in May 2015 when Daesh fighters first seized Ramadi from demoralized Iraqi security forces, and at the end of the day, both Kobane and Ramadi were left in smouldering ruins. To paraphrase Vietnam-era U.S. Gen. William Westmoreland: In order to save those cities, we had to destroy those cities.

With Canada’s fighter jets coming home, the Liberals have extended a sop to our anti-Daesh allies by promising to triple the number of military trainers we are committing to northern Iraq. This is seen by our military planners as a safe option because everyone knows that it is important to reinforce success.

To date, the most effective anti-Daesh fighters have been the Kurdish militia. Therefore, it would seem to make sense to support the Kurds. The problem with this equation is the fact that the Kurds are not fighting Daesh for the sake of containing the evildoers. The Kurds are fighting to establish their own independent state, which would eventually include large chunks of Syria and eastern Turkey. The Kurdistan the Kurdish militia are fighting to establish does not include the predominantly Sunni Arab territory currently claimed as the Daesh caliphate.

In other words, as much as Canadian soldiers train, bribe and cajole the Kurds, they are way too savvy to let themselves be used as cannon fodder to capture and occupy Sunni Arab territory upon which they have no long-term claim.

Canada is a babe in the woods when it comes to dealing with the complexities of this Middle East multi-factional conflict. We should not be arming or training anyone, and we were wise to quit the ‘bomb-around-the-edges’ club.