May 24, 2015 2:22 pm
Updated: May 24, 2015 2:30 pm

Iraq coalition must shift to 24/7 air coverage to beat ISIS: former colonel


WATCH: George Petrolekas, a former adviser to chiefs of defence staff, says the international coalition fighting ISIS needs to increase air coverage to prevent the group’s fighters from moving freely in Iraq and Syria.

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OTTAWA — After watching ISIS seize Palmyra, Ramadi and take a strategic border crossing point between Iraq and Syria, a former adviser to Canadian chiefs of defence staff says increased air coverage might be the only way to contain the terror group.

“I think there’s a difference between the technological proficiency of the [coalition’s] air force and the size of that air force,” retired colonel George Petrolekas said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark. “They might be technologically superior, but there’s not enough of them to stop movement between the major centres the Islamic State controls.”

READ MORE: Syrian army preparing for counterattack against ISIS near Palmyra

Despite the coalition’s air force deployment of high-tech precision-guided munitions, ISIS troops appear to still have the freedom and ability to move about the territory it controls.

“The air campaign is certainly able to nibble at the edges, but it has not stopped [the Islamic State’s] ability to move between cities and to exert pressure in the places it wants to,” Petrolekas said, noting the fact the 170 coalition air craft are covering an area roughly the size of Great Britain.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney, however, pointed to what the coalition’s mission has so far accomplished since it launched in October.

READ MORE: Is Canada doing enough to fight ISIS?

The stated goal of the coalition’s mission in the Middle East is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The first, immediate, step toward that goal is to increase the number of aircraft available, in order to provide 24-hour coverage as opposed to coverage based on intelligence-identified targets, Petrolekas said.

“[ISIS] has lost about 25 per cent of its territory,” he said. “They have a lot of personnel and a lot of equipment, but we would never expect a campaign of this nature to move in a simple, straight line.”

WATCH: Defence Minister Jason Kenney says the coalition’s efforts against ISIS are paying off.

The political will to make this happen, however, will have to come from the United State, he said, since Canada simply doesn’t have the resources.

In the long term, he said, coalition members will look at whether the Iraqi army steps up to help make international investments worthwhile. Will it ever reach a point when the West takes a step back and says it’s not worth the resources?

“It may come to that, but it will only come to that if we review the strategy and say we’re not committed to provide ground forces, not prepared to destroy ISIS on our own, and if we don’t see regional members coming up and stepping to the plate,” Petrolekas said.

READ MORE: Canada should stay in anti-ISIS fight until group is no longer a threat, Kurdish rep urges

“Then we’ll have to, at some point, I think, ask whether we keep throwing money into a bottomless pit that is not delivering the strategic effect we want it to.”

The recent “set back” in Ramadi, Kenney said, highlights the need for the Iraqi government to “redouble its efforts to ensure unity and proper command on the part of the Iraqi security forces.”

U.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter had much harsher words about the takeover in Ramadi, saying it shows the Iraqi troops lack the “will to fight,”

Iraqi soldiers “vastly outnumbered” their opposition in the capital of Anbar province but quickly withdrew from the city in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, Carter said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The interview aired on Sunday.

Canada never committed to becoming involved in a ground war, Kenney said, and that hasn’t changed. The Conservative government has “no interest” in risking Canadian lives by taking part in ground operations, he said.

“The Iraqi army should be able to defend its own territory. We’re there to support them from the air, and I can tell you this, had we not been for the past several months, the situation would be far, far more grave than it currently is.”

— With a file from The Associated Press

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