An extended mission against ISIL could take a new tack

This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, militant website

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Defence Minister Jason Kenney says the cabinet is close to a decision on the future of the country’s military mission against the Islamic State. He says “various options” are being considered. Here are five possibilities drawn from defence experts and the existing record:

— Expand the bombing campaign into Syria:

The current air campaign in Iraq could expand into Syria, where the Islamic State has carved out considerable territory alongside other forces battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. and several Persian Gulf allies are the only forces conducting strikes there now. Navy Capt. Paul Forget, a spokesman for Canada’s operations command, said recently that adding Syrian targets would not be a stretch militarily.

David Perry, a senior analyst of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, says, however, it would involve a different set of a risk factors and could change public perception of the mission. It would also draw fire from the NDP, who say Canada should not be working alongside Assad.

— Increase the number of CF-18s

Expanding the air campaign into Syria might require sending more CF-18 fighter-bombers to augment the seven there now. Retired colonel George Petrolekas says the air force steadily increased its contingent of CF-18s during the Kosovo bombing campaign in the late 1990s. Petrolakas says Canada may have to send more planes anyway, to support Iraqi plans to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

— Authorize the special forces to go on the offensive:

The Harper government insists the current ground deployment as an “advise and assist” mission with Kurdish forces and not combat, even though special forces troops have guided air strikes and exchanged gunfire with Islamic State forces. The Canadians could easily switch from training to fighting, especially in missions targeting leaders, financiers and facilitators.

— Join U.S. and other allies in large-scale training of Iraqi forces

The cabinet could send Canadian troops to join U.S. Army soldiers and marines who are training Iraqi conventional army units. Petrolekas said much of the training Canadian special forces are doing with the Kurds, such as use of night vision and weapons, can be done with regular army troops.

— Send more military aid and specialized equipment.

Canada has flown in arms donated by other nations to Kurdish fighters and provided some non-lethal assistance of its own. But a new, potentially wide-ranging threat emerged over the weekend as Islamic State forces were thought to have used chlorine gas in an attack in Tikrit. Canada could respond with anti-gas training and equipment.

© The Canadian Press, 2015

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