Canada is extending its military mission in Iraq and the Middle East for a year.
Defense Minister Anita Anand announced the 12-month extension on Thursday evening, just hours before the current mandate expires.
This comes even as Canada has steadily reduced its military footprint in the region as the focus in Iraq, in particular, has shifted from defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to countering the influence growing in Iran.
The Canadian Armed Forces, which first deployed troops to Iraq in October 2014 as ISIL threatened to take control of the country and neighboring Syria, previously had more than 800 troops in the region.
The Canadian mission at various times included fighter jets, transport and surveillance aircraft, helicopters as well as military trainers and special forces troops working alongside Kurdish and Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIL.
But the mission has since shrunk in size and importance as worries about ISIL have been replaced by fears about Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and the region, and other crises and threats such as that Russia, China and the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
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In February, Canada had only about 300 members of the Armed Forces assigned to what is called Operation Impact, with about 250 intelligence, logistics and command personnel in Kuwait, 50 trainers in Jordan and in Lebanon and only a handful of soldiers in Iraq.
“The Canadian Armed Forces has been working with partners and allies since 2014 to improve the capabilities of Iraqi security forces,” Anand said in a statement.
Canada extends its anti-ISIL mission in Iraq for a year
“The Canadian Armed Forces also provided training and capacity building assistance to the Jordanian Armed Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The decision to extend Canada’s military mission in Iraq comes as the Armed Forces are asked to provide additional troops and equipment to Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that it is struggling with a lack of staff.
It also coincides with a political stalemate in Baghdad following repeated failures to elect a new president and escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, with the latter launching ballistic missile attacks in the region in recent weeks.
Bessma Momani, one of Canada’s top Middle East experts at the University of Waterloo, said the decision to extend the mission comes at a critical time for Iraq as the country teeters toward collapse amid of a proxy war between the United States and Iran.
Although Canada’s contribution is largely symbolic at this stage, Momani said, “Now is not the time to step aside. It just sends all the wrong messages. Iraq is far too fragile to pull out right now.
Canada’s mission has largely escaped the public eye, but it has had its share of controversy over the years. These include questions about whether Canadian troops were in combat and concerns about the selection of Canadian-trained Iraqi troops.
The Liberals have also been criticized for withdrawing Canadian fighter jets after taking power in 2015, while Canada’s partnership with Iraq’s Kurdish minority has put that country in an awkward position over Kurdish calls for Iraqi independence.
A Canadian soldier was killed while participating in Operation Impact. sergeant. Andrew Doiron died after Kurdish forces mistakenly shot the Canadian special forces member. Three other Canadians were injured in the “friendly fire” incident.
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