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Is Canada doing enough to fight ISIS?

WATCH ABOVE: The strategy in Syria and Western Iraq by the administration of US President Barack Obama came in for criticism on Sunday. Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chided Obama for not having any strategy against ISIS

Since the United States began launching airstrikes against ISIS last August (and as other nations, including Canada) joined the mission over the months that followed, the militant group has compensated for its losses with some very big gains.

In the past week, ISIS took control of the key Iraqi city of Ramadi and the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights this week said ISIS now controls “50% of Syria.”

And on Friday, the organization said the last Syrian government-controlled border crossing to Iraq fell into ISIS’ hands.

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READ MORE: ISIS hunts down opponents in newly captured Syrian town

The losses are calling into question whether the strategy to “degrade” or defeat ISIS is working and if it’s time to rethink how to proceed.

University of Calgary political science professor Michael Zekulin said there’s been no change in how the strategy is working because it wasn’t working to begin with.

“At best it was going to contain [ISIS],” he told Global News. And while that was a good goal at first, as ISIS was rapidly expanding in both Iraq and Syria last year, Zekulin thinks it’s clear we’re not degrading them – as the Canadian government says the airstrikes are meant to do.

“It’s sort of like sticking your finger in a hole in the wall. You’re going to stop the water, but you’re not plugging the hole permanently,” he said.

He described ISIS as a “dynamic” organization that is adapting to efforts to thwart it and it’s as much a social movement as it is a terrorist group — a movement that continues to grow and spread.

READ MORE: Does Quebec have a young extremist problem?

Governments involved in the U.S.-led coalition don’t necessarily see the strategy as falling short.

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After speaking at the Canadian Club of Toronto on Wednesday, Defence Minister Jason Kenney acknowledged the recent gains ISIS made to reporters but said the international coalition is by no means losing the battle.

Kenney said things would be much worse without the likes of Canada being involved in military efforts to counter the extremist group that controls swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

“Just imagine if we weren’t there, how much more territory they would have claimed,” he said. “They were basically unstoppable in Iraq last summer, but since Canadian and other coalition air forces and other military assets have come to bear, they have lost significant territory, capabilities and resources.”

READ MORE: Harper announces extra money for RCMP and border services to fight terrorism

He acknowledged the defeats in Ramadi in Palmyra, but didn’t indicate there needed to be any change in direction — at least not for members of the coalition like Canada.

The U.S military, meantime, said it’s “confident” Iraqi forces can retake Ramadi.

But, Zekulin pointed out that Iraqi soldiers, in some cases, are “running away” from contingents of ISIS fighters they actually outnumber, as was the case with Ramadi.

“The Iraqi military which has been trained or is being trained by Western forces… coming face to face with these ISIS fighters and are just melting away.”

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READ MORE: ISIS killed hundreds as it took Iraq’s Ramadi

He said it’s a “controversial” discussion, but it’s going to take foreign ground troops to make the necessary strides to really make a difference in the war against ISIS. Right now, that support is coming from Iran in the form of supporting Iraq’s Shiite militias.

Aside from the airstrikes, Canada has a small contingent of special forces on the ground to train local forces in Iraq — primarily Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who are defending their territory, in northern Iraq, against ISIS.

READ MORE: Report card on war against ISIS says Harper government ignoring key concerns

The government insists those troops are not involved in active combat, but there have been a number of incidents involving Canadian soldiers exchanging fire with ISIS fighters in the field.

What Canada is doing is proving that it’s “doing something” and that is “on par with what a lot of other states are doing” and following along with the same plan, Zekulin opined.

But if it’s the U.S. plan we’re following, even people who used to be key players in President Barack Obama’s administration don’t have much better to say about the anti-ISIS strategy.

“We don’t really have a strategy at all. We’re basically playing this day by day,” Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense under Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, said this week.

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