On Target: Liberals dithering on Iraq and Syria file

By: Scott Taylor

The Liberal government vowed to end Canada’s participation in the allied airstrikes against Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria as an election promise. (combat camera)

The Liberal government vowed to end Canada’s participation in the allied airstrikes against Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria as an election promise. (combat camera)

At present, the Liberal Party is taking flak for failing to announce any clear commitment for Canada’s future involvement in the War on Terror.

During the election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to end Canada’s participation in the allied airstrikes against Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria. Despite maintaining that to be their stated intention, since the Oct. 19 election, the RCAF has continued its bombing missions from its operating base in Kuwait. Just last Thursday, the Defence Department reported to the media that Canada’s CF-18s had successfully bombed a Daesh explosives factory inside Syria.

It is indeed a strange conundrum for our government to insist it will halt the bombing, and in the next breath trumpet the success of our RCAF flyboys. Even if Canada does bring home the six CF-18 combat planes currently assigned to the U.S.-led air armada engaging Daesh targets, there is a strong likelihood that the RCAF would continue to contribute air-to-air refuelling planes as well as reconnaissance aircraft.

To offset the withdrawal of our CF-18s, the Liberals have stated from day one that they will beef up the scale our current training mission in Northern Iraq. The problem with this scenario is that the local inhabitants our troops are arming and training believe they are fighting to establish an independent Kurdistan.

One could argue this is a noble cause until you realize that the borders they envision for their new state include significant chunks of territory within the existing boundaries of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. It has also been reported recently by Amnesty International that the very same Kurdish recruits our soldiers have been arming and training have embarked upon some rather unsavoury campaigns of ethnic cleansing against Arabs, Yazidis and Turkmen living in Kurdish territory. In other words, we are creating a new regional monster to contain the Daesh monster in Syria and Iraq.

A revitalized Kurdish separatist movement in eastern Turkey has already set that region ablaze with violence that threatens to plunge that NATO nation into a full-blown civil war.

If there is a reason the Liberals appear to be dithering on the Iraq and Syria file it is because there really is no clear-cut solution that will not potentially escalate the violence and suffering. In the end, any lasting solution will require a redrawing of the regional map and the elimination of Daesh by the Sunni Arabs themselves. None of that can or will be influenced by Canada for the simple reason that, in matters pertaining to this lit powder keg, we do not have a seat at the Big Boy table.

Libya is an entirely different kettle of fish. In 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring, Canada could not wait to jump into the fray. Although we had previously had very little direct link to this oil-rich North African nation, for some reason the Harper Conservatives really wanted President Moammar Gadhafi ousted.

To lead the NATO alliance against Gadhafi, Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard was put in command of the air campaign, which also included Canadian combat planes. Under Bouchard’s able command, NATO blasted the Libyan rebels to victory, which culminated in Gadhafi being brutally killed in the streets. Canada prided itself so much over this triumph that an elaborate victory parade and flypast was staged on Parliament Hill.

However, back in Libya things were not so rosy. Once they were done with Gadhafi, the fractious Libyan rebels used the guns and ammo supplied to them by NATO to keep fighting each other. Numerous tribal militias, human traffickers and Islamic jihadists have been battling for control ever since, and Libya has truly lapsed into a failed state.

To make matters even worse, the power vacuum that is Libya soon attracted the attention of our old friends Daesh. These whack-jobs now have an estimated 3,000 fighters contributing to the armed anarchy.

Last Thursday, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti announced that Italy, along with the U.S., Britain and France, is considering a military interaction to stabilize Libya. If such an action does materialize, then Canada should stop dithering, pull out of Iraq and Syria, and demand a lead role for the Libyan mission, including combat troops on the ground.

We botched the first intervention against Gadhafi and we owe it to the people of Libya to commit to a second and ultimately successful intervention to oust Daesh.