February 17, 2016 5:52 pm
Updated: February 17, 2016 7:19 pm

MPs square off over retooled ISIS mission as airstrikes end

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OTTAWA – As MPs in the House of Commons thrashed out their conflicting views of how to prosecute the war against militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Canadian military quietly acknowledged Wednesday its bombing campaign has come to a conclusion.

The end to combat missions comes just days ahead of the Feb. 22 deadline set by the Liberal government when it announced the re-tooled mission last week.

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A statement from National Defence said the campaign ended on Feb. 15. The Defence Department’s website listed two strikes the day before – both in Iraq.

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Two CF-18s bombed an Islamic State fighting position in the vicinity of Fallujah using smart bombs.

Four days before that, two CF-18s attacked an ISIL weapons cache near Al Habbaniyah, in central Iraq. Additionally, on the same day, two CF-18s attacked an ISIL fighting position near Ramadi.

Statistics released late Wednesday by National Defence show the jets conducted 251 raids – 246 in Iraq and five in Syria.

Under the terms of the revised mission, Canada will leave an aerial refuelling tanker and two CP-140 surveillance aircraft behind to help the U.S.-led coalition continue the bombing mission.

National Defence says the fighters will soon make their way home, but did not give a specific timeline.

The news came as debate about the Liberal government’s proposed new anti-ISIL mission began with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touting his plan to replace CF-18 fighter jets with a bigger contingent of soldiers to train local forces.

The Conservatives, who under Stephen Harper drafted the original mission to send Canadian fighter-bombers into battle, condemned the changes as a step back from the fight.

READ MORE: U.S. military: Airstrikes hit ‘hundreds of millions’ in Islamic State cash

The NDP is asking for a clearer definition of the new effort, seeking to know if Canadian trainers will be in harm’s way and urging the government to spell out an exit strategy.

The government is stressing a broader approach, including more humanitarian aid and help for refugees.

Trudeau says the training mission is the right role for Canada in the right place.

“Our goal is to allow local forces to take the fight directly to ISIL, to reclaim their homes, land and future,” he told the Commons.

“We will be more significantly involved in counter-terrorism measures, improving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security in the region.”

Trudeau rejected the notion that Canada is backing away from the fight.

“We believe there is an important role for Canada to plan in the fight against ISIL, a role that we can play, a role that we must play.”

Trudeau characterized the fight against ISIL as defending peace and democracy against “terrorism and barbarism.”

“ISIL stands against everything that we value as Canadians and poses a direct threat to our people and our friends.”

He said the government’s revamped mission will be robust, comprehensive and effective and will deliver results on the ground.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose begged to differ.

“There are times in the life of a Parliament, and in the history of this House, when providence calls upon us to lead,” Ambrose said.

“Lead by conviction, lead by a responsibility we collectively have to the Canadian people and lead by fighting evil – and, sadly, today is not a day of leadership.”

Withdrawing from the bombing campaign means pulling a vital component out of the U.S.-led coalition effort against ISIL, she added.

“To blunt the sharp end of our spear is not in keeping with the contributions of our allies,” she said. “We know, too, thanks to poll after poll, that it’s not what most Canadians want us to do.”

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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