The Canadian Armed Forces can, at least, be commended on its regular updates on the ongoing combat operations against ISIS fighters in Iraq. The problem is that, to date, the Royal Canadian Air Force task force deployed in Kuwait has not really achieved much success. As of last Thursday, the six CF-18 fighters, two Aurora patrol planes, and one C-130 refueling aircraft had flown a combined 68 sorties, but only actually attacked two targets.
The first was a construction yard near Fallujah, which resulted in the destruction of a few bulldozers and a dump truck. The military explained that such equipment could have potentially been used by ISIS fighters to either build defensive positions, or partially redirect rivers to create deadly flooding. To date, of course, ISIS has remained on the offensive, outside the Syrian village of Kobani in the north and around Baghdad itself, meaning it seems unlikely they are building bunkers in Fallujah. Nevertheless, we must accept the military hype at face value and believe that the loss of those bulldozers was a crippling blow to ISIS strategic aims.
The second strike was launched symbolically on Nov. 11, and this time the target was clearly ISIS fighters using a truck to tow an artillery piece. Footage released by the RCAF shows the precision-guided bomb tracking the ISIS vehicle, and then an obliterating flash as the pilot scores a direct hit. In true Canadian style, the official statement claims it was “likely” that ISIS fighters were killed in the blast. The one thing DND spokespersons know for sure is that there were definitely no civilian casualties in either of the two Canadian airstrikes.
Since Operation IMPACT—the deployment of the RCAF task force to fight ISIS—was announced on Oct. 17, analysts have estimated that the mission to date has cost Canadian taxpayers as much as $4.7 million. By extrapolating that amount forward to the end of the six-month proposed deployment duration, Operation IMPACT will cost as much as $90 million.
The rationale given by DND for the low ratio of sorties to combat strikes (34:1) is the fact that ISIS is not presenting them with clear targets. Surely, no one actually thought that once the U.S. and coalition allies vowed to launch an air campaign against them, ISIS fighters would continue driving around in open convoys, honking their horns, and waving their distinctive black flags?
It is true that with allied fighters roving overhead, ISIS’s mobility and maneuverability will be reduced, but without reliable ground forces to engage and defeat them, ISIS will remain in control of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
As for those groups opposing ISIS on the ground, this is where things get more than a little murky. The regular Iraqi army, trained and equipped by the U.S. during its 11-year occupation, has proven to be totally useless.
At the first appearance of ISIS last spring, the Iraqi army—through a combination of deceitful treachery and ill discipline—simply melted away, leaving a powerful arsenal of heavy weapons and armoured vehicles at the disposal of the extremists. In the north, Kurdish fighters have used the ISIS-created crisis to seize the oil fields of Kirkuk. This revenue stream will more than adequately sustain an independent Kurdistan, which is their ultimate goal. As such, despite a few contested villages like Kobani, the Kurdish fighters have no incentive to fight a bloody campaign to liberate the Sunni Arabs in central Iraq from the grip of ISIS.
In the south, the majority Shiite Arabs control the oil fields of Basra, and they have mobilized their militia to protect themselves against any further advances by ISIS. These Shiite militia are of course supported by Iran, which means that, by deduction, our RCAF task force is supporting Iranian interests.
Revealing just how disconnected he was to the complex situation on the ground last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured reporters that our pilots were battling ISIS, but were in no way involved in the conflicts in Syria.
If ISIS has captured vast swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory and is battling Assad’s loyalist troops, Kurdish separatist militia, and Iranian-backed militiamen, and we are battling ISIS, how are we not bombing in support of Assad, Kurdistan, and Iran? It would seem that we are spending an awful lot of military resources blowing up construction equipment in a conflict that our political leaders do not understand.