The Canadian commander of NATO‘s new mission to train military instructors in Iraq says he has a challenging job on his hands, but one that could be vital to promoting long-lasting stability in the country.
Maj.-Gen Dany Fortin will oversee a “train the trainer” mission, the mandate of which will be to teach Iraqi military instructors to impart key skills such as bomb disposal, combat medicine, equipment maintenance and logistics to their trainees.
Some 250 Canadians will be among Fortin’s approximately 500-strong contingent in the mission, which Canada committed to leading in its first year.
Fortin, who was named commander of the 1st Canadian Division in Kingston, Ont. in April, said the biggest challenge will be for NATO and Canadian personnel to mould their working methods to the needs of Iraqi forces.
“So we’re going to have to adapt a few of our processes so it makes sense to them, it fits with their values, their ideas… and I think that’ll be a bit of a challenge.”
WATCH: Trudeau announces Canada to lead NATO mission in Iraq
The training mission comes amid what Fortin termed a “turning point” in Iraq, with the Iraqi government keen to consolidate control and build up its military capacity after dealing several defeats to Islamic State militants with the help of Western coalition partners.
“We’re at a point where we collectively need to focus on stabilization efforts,” Fortin said. “Daesh now is no longer able to maintain control over large pieces of ground, unable to mount complex operations.”
WATCH: Freeland, Sajjan discuss new Canadian military mission in Iraq
However, the territorial losses suffered by Islamic State militants doesn’t mean the threat posed by them has disappeared altogether, Fortin cautioned.
“It’s a complex security environment in Iraq, there’s no doubt about it, it’s still very much dangerous,” he said. “There is still a threat that’s underground. It’s gone underground and it’s very much possible for isolated incidents to occur, so we have to be very safe.
“But I want to reassure Canadians that as a general, I have my eye on force protection, on medical coverage, on the morale and welfare of our troops — NATO troops as well as Canadians.”
Fortin said he anticipates deploying to Iraq in late October, and that the structure of the training mission will become more clear in the late fall once the needs of Iraqi forces are assessed.
— With files from Abigail Bimman