On Target: What does victory in Iraq and Syria even look like?

By: Scott Taylor

Justin Trudeau says Canada will significantly increase the number of military trainers deployed in theatre. (wikimedia commons)

Justin Trudeau says Canada will significantly increase the number of military trainers deployed in theatre. (wikimedia commons)

With the newly elected Trudeau government maintaining its promise to withdraw from the allied bombing campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, the Canadian government is under considerable pressure to prove its commitment to eradicating this evil entity of Muslim extremism.

The answer to that from the outset has been the Liberals’ stated claim that Canada will significantly increase the number of military trainers deployed in theatre. This will not be a difficult task, as we only have 69 Canadian soldiers based in Erbil, the Kurdistan capital, training Kurdish peshmerga militiamen.

Officially, Canada’s military personnel are assisting “Iraqi security forces,” but this would come as news to the peshmerga who fly the flag of Kurdistan, not Iraq, atop their trenches.

From the outset, Canadians have been extremely casualty-conscious about the military intervention against Daesh. Knowing that it possesses absolutely zero in the way of sophisticated air defence capability, the allied air forces have bombed with absolute impunity for 14 months. Literally tens of thousands of allied air sorties have been flown, and not a single casualty among the air crew.

Similarly, after more than a decade of lost blood and gold as a part of NATO’s failed mission in Afghanistan, Canadians were loathe to put combat boots on the ground in Iraq. “Trainers” became the compromise solution, with the Harper government promising the public that troops would conduct training well away from harm’s way.

That myth exploded March 6 when Kurdish peshmerga on the front lines opened fire on Canadian trainers, killing Sgt. Andrew Doiron and badly wounding three others. While the Defence Department did its best to explain this away as an unfortunate case of blue-on-blue friendly fire, no one could explain why supposedly rear-echelon Canadian trainers were on the front line that fateful night.

Of course, all of that happened well before the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut. With Daesh striking at soft targets well outside their contained, self-proclaimed caliphate, there has been a renewed international focus to eliminate the threat once and for all.

France has stepped up its bombing campaign, and British Prime Minister David Cameron convinced the British parliament to authorize the Royal Air Force to conduct air strikes on sovereign Syrian territory.

One of the first British bomb runs targeted the oilfield held by Daesh, apparently the group’s primary source of funding since it captured it in the spring of 2014. Of course, this raises the question of why Canada and other allied nations have not hit this oilfield much earlier, instead of blowing up dump trucks and bulldozers.

Nonetheless, if Canada wants to appear to be committed without making an actual commitment, then we are back to an increased training mission.

For the warmongering Colonel Blimps, they would prefer that Canada keep bombing. However, for soldiers on the ground — even if conducting rear-area training — it is still a foot in the door of a real shooting war. Now, their collective chorus is that training is something Canadian soldiers excel at.

As a former member of the Canadian Army, I may be a little biased, but it has long been my opinion that our soldiers are not among the best, they are the best in the world.

That said, I disagree with the argument that our troops have an excellent track record as trainers of foreign armies. For more than a decade, Canada sent tens of thousands of our best soldiers to Afghanistan to train, mentor or bolster hundreds of thousands of young Afghan males in the Afghan National Army. The Afghan units trained by Canadians were no different than those trained by either the United States or other allied nations: they deserted, sold their ammo and equipment to the Taliban and now, without NATO support, flee at the first sign of the enemy.

It is not that Afghans can’t fight — history has taught us otherwise — or that Canadians can’t train — just look at how professional our own soldiers are. Rather, it is that we cannot teach or instill a pride of purpose where none exists. None of those Afghan recruits wanted to fight and die for the corrupt regime that NATO installed in Kabul.

The same is true in Iraq and Syria. Training young men to kill when we have yet to establish what victory will look like is meaningless. More important than teaching them to fight is providing them with a cause worthy of fighting for.