By Scott Taylor
In the early, heady days last fall, when Canada first deployed CF-18 combat planes to battle ISIS militants in Iraq, there was keen media interest in the conflict. The good guys were off to smite the evildoers and the Conservative government felt that a six-month timeframe ought to do the trick. Once our flyboys actually started dropping their explosive ordnance, the early reports of their success against ISIS seemed a little exaggerated.
One early attack near the city of Fallujah destroyed a bulldozer and a couple of dump trucks. Military officials told the media that ISIS had intended to use this construction equipment to dam up the Tigris River in order to flood entire communities. In other words, thanks to the RCAF, a genocide was averted. ISIS may have attained an almost mythical status for their capacity to commit atrocities, however, it would take a hell of a lot more major engineering equipment to even attempt to dam the mighty Tigris.
As the weeks dragged on into months of the coalition air campaign, officials explained that the dearth of actual targets engaged by the RCAF was due to ISIS having been contained. The failure of ISIS to provide the allies with clearly identified combat vehicles or troop formations led Canadian officials to claim that this meant ISIS was now “on their back foot.” This is an old boxing axiom which means you have your opponent off-balance and in a defensive posture — i.e. right where you want him.
That was the situation on March 30, 2015 when the Conservative government voted to extend the Iraq commitment by another 12 months and to expand the target area into the sovereign territory of Syria. One of the claims made for Canada to violate international law by bombing targets in Syria was that it was necessary in order to continue the downgrading of those ISIS forces which had been forced to retreat into Syria. Now, our pilots were going to seek them out in their hidey holes.
Victory seemed ever so nigh. Then came the unexpected ISIS offensive in mid-May against the Iraqi government forces in the city of Ramadi. Despite desperate allied air intervention, ISIS captured the city, and along with it, a last arsenal of U.S.-supplied weapons, ammunitions and combat vehicles. Turns out that if ISIS was on their back foot, it was only to wind up for the Ramadi haymaker blow. At the most recent technical briefing, hosted by DND last Friday, it was acknowledged that during the three months since the Conservatives authorized themselves to bomb targets in Syria, only three such missions have been launched.
The reason given for the paucity of the bombing attacks is the fact that the allied air force has very few actual spotters on the ground to clearly identify ISIS targets. This would also explain why the allies mistakenly thought ISIS forces in Iraq had retreated into Syria when they were in fact planning a massive offensive. All of this brings us back to the earlier claims by Canadian officials that our participation in the air campaign had successfully contained ISIS. That would come as a bit of a shock to the residents of Ramadi, who now find themselves toiling under the black flag of ISIS.
If one pulls back a little from the immediate Iraq and Syria situation, it becomes quite clear that ISIS is anything but contained. In war-ravaged post-Gadhafi Libya, ISIS has quickly become a dominant force amidst the anarchy which pervades. The April 19 brutal mass decapitation of kidnapped Ethiopian Coptic Christians firmly established ISIS as the big boy on the block in Libya. Then we have the June 26 beach attack against tourists in Tunisia, which appears to be a harbinger of an ISIS offensive to destabilize that nation as well. There is also the good news-bad news story that U.S. drones have killed Shahidullah Shahid, the ISIS commander in Afghanistan. The good news is that they killed him, the bad news is that ISIS is now present in Afghanistan.
If Canada is committed to another nine months in Iraq at a total cost of $500-million to not even “contain” ISIS, it is time to review our strategy.