Canada now involved in fight against ISIS, but are airstrikes enough?

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornets break away after refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, on Thursday, Oct. 30, over Iraq. Staff Sgt. Perry Aston, U.S. Air Force Photo/Handout via The Canadian Press

Canada is now actively involved in aerial combat against ISIS in Iraq, having dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on targets near Fallujah on Sunday.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said details about the damage caused by Canadian airstrikes would be revealed on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Free Syrian Army commander says Canada should be training ISIS resistance

A news release from U.S. Central Command on Monday said coalition members carried out four airstrikes around Fallujah on Sunday, taking out construction equipment — including five bulldozers and a dump truck —that ISIS was using to create “obstruction beams.”

It’s unclear whether Canada was the nation whose jets struck the construction equipment. A spokesperson for United States Central Command told Global News it would be up to the individual coalition nations to provide details and assessments of their participation in aerial bombardments.

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The news release did not mention Canada’s participation in the strikes near Fallujah, which ISIS took control of in January.


Canada is the latest nation to join the U.S.-led air campaign against the militant Islamist group, sent six CF-18 fighter jets, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes and a C-150 refueling jet to take part in the mission. The aircraft are all operating out of Kuwait.

“I think it’s good that Canada is engaged in this conflict,” said Dr. David Charters, a senior fellow at University of New Brunswick’s Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society. “[ISIS] has behaved in a way that is in violation of all the international norms.”

ISIS, also referred to as the Islamic State group after its self-proclaimed caliphate, controls swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and is reported to have slaughtered thousands of civilians.

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READ MORE: Is the world ready to deal with a generation of ISIS child soldiers?

While the U.S., with the assistance of five Arab nations, is hitting targets in Syria, Canada is limiting its role to the efforts to eradicate ISIS in Iraq.

“The real risk at the moment is of ISIS taking control of a pretty large area and getting to the point where it becomes a real threat to Iraqi regime, which is having trouble getting itself organized,” Charters told Global News.

He said that poses a “greater danger to the stability of the region.”

But focusing efforts on Iraq also presents the possibility of pushing ISIS back to one main front — Syria.

“I think to try and deal with the ISIS problem in Syria and Iraq, all at the same time, in the context of also trying to manage how you respond to the Syrian civil war, makes it so complicated that any efforts will be dissipated,” Charters said.

READ MORE: Activists say coalition airstrikes on Syria have killed 500 people (Oct. 23)

So far, no nation in the international coalition has committed ground troops to go into battle with ISIS fighters.

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Many have offered logistical support or supplied weapons to Kurdish fighters who are facing ISIS on the frontlines, in both Iraq and Syria.

During a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande in Ottawa on Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the international air strikes have proven effective but acknowledged they alone will not defeat ISIS.

Harper said Iraqi forces and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters “will have to act on their own territory.”

READ MORE: French president says Canadian Parliament was ‘defiled’ by last month’s attack

“There’s no pretense here that our contribution is going to turn the tide of war against a very determined and skilled foe,” said Dr. Elliot Tepper, a distinguished senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and a senior research fellow at the Centre for Security and Defence Studies.

“But if we free up some resources from the fighting force in Iraq, it means there are more fighting forces to go into Syria,” where ISIS has centred its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Tepper questioned whether the current aerial campaign needs to be taken to a different level — rather a different altitude.

“What may well be required is the capacity to strafe troops on the ground. To do that, you have to be at a much lower altitude and therefore much more in harm’s way.”

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Tepper said ISIS, which he called a “demonic force,” is one of the “best equipped insurgency or terrorist groups in the history of the world,” having procured weapons that were once supplied to Iraqi forces by the U.S., but later abandoned.

READ MORE: Activists say Islamic State fighters seize airdropped weapons

There are also reports ISIS has obtained “heavy duty” weaponry left over from the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, that fell into the hands of extremists after the NATO intervention — which Canada took part in.

“If you’re after a very fluid group of fighters, who stream this way and that way, dropping bombs on fixed positions isn’t going to be sufficient,” Tepper said.

“Strafing, at some point, is likely to be required in order to further degrade the capacities of ISIS and I’m not sure that there’s any forces in the region, ours or others, that are capable or willing to undertake that activity.”

BELOW: An interactive look at Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets

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With files from The Canadian Press

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