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Defence Minister talks about plans for Iraqi training
Posted on Feb 17, 2016
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The cost of tripling the number of Special Forces personnel deployed to “advise and assist” Iraqi troops in the fight against Islamic State militants is approximately $300 million, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Feb. 17.

“We looked at what the coalition needs and then we costed that out,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill on the eve of a House of Commons debate on the expanded ground mission. “It wasn’t based on ‘what’s the cost and then how we need to work back from there?’ This is based on the realities on the ground.”

Sajjan also explained the government’s decision to deploy four Bell CH-146 Griffon tactical helicopters in support of the ground troops. “It gives them flexibility to be able to transport troops back and forth, emergency medical evacuation if needed.  It gives them just a much more ability to be able to do the job better.”

Overall, he said, the CAF element of Canada’s support, which also includes humanitarian aid, “is not going to be changing too much.” In addition, “we were able to add in a lot of additional capability without actually increasing the cost much.”

Enhanced intelligence gathering is a key element of the Canadian mission and Sajjan said that while “there’s a lot of capability” he wasn’t going into detail for obvious security reasons.

“The last thing you want to be able to do is show your hand to Daesh [an Arabic pejorative for the militants] and let them know what type of capability you are bringing in, but we have very unique capabilities […] theatre-wide for the entire coalition.”

On the impending parliamentary debate – having been criticized in the House the previous day by the Conservatives for not doing enough against the militants and by the New Democratic Party for not withdrawing all personnel – Sajjan said it “doesn’t matter” whether the opposition parties disagreed with the government’s changes in how it supports Operation Impact.

“The realities on the ground dictate what type of plan you’re going to bring to the table, and so what we’re actually providing is what the coalition needs right now,” he said. “That’s why the coalition commander (U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove) stated to me […] ‘your plan is forward-looking’.”

A short while later, Manitoba MP James Bezan, the Conservatives’ defence critic in the House, suggested that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “trying to frame this in his own ideology rather than looking at what Canadians really want.”

Bezan told reporters that public opinion polls “over and over again for the past year” had shown that Canadians not only wanted to keep the six Boeing CF-18 Hornet fighters in the operation but also to expand the air combat role.

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Ken Pole

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