Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

Corporealism XVIII: Body Politics in the Middle East

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

by

Howard Adelman

If I have characterized Daesh with reasonable accuracy, how should the West best fight this menace? Daesh is ensconced in eastern Syria and in western Iraq separated from the Turkish and Iranian borders by Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq controlled by Iraqi Kurds and its Peshmerga forces. Daesh also has a presence in an oil rich small area of Libya. Daesh first captured Rojava after the Syrian army retreated in 2012. The great victory was the capture of Mosul that allowed ISIL to declare a caliphate established in the summer 2014.  This key victory included the defeat of the Iraqi army which literally turned tail.

Since then, ISIS has suffered setback after setback and the number of militants identified with its cause and fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria is now estimated to have fallen from 31,500 to 25,000 altogether. (“The latest assessment about the number of fighters who are fighting on behalf of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria – based on an earlier assessment – was up to 31,500 fighters in that region of the world.  There’s a new assessment from our intelligence community that indicates that that number is now up to about 25,000 fighters.”  U.S. White House Press Secretary John Earnest 2 February 2016)

The key force that has limited the expansion of Daesh and that has itself expanded to fill the vacuum has been that of the Kurds of Northern Iraq and Syria who have won back Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit. Within Iraq, the Kurds now control disputed Kirkuk completely. In northern Syria, the Kurds much more than ISIS are being attacked by Turkish jets.

ISIS has been pushed back. The question is not its defeat but when and how and what part Canada and other countries in the West should play in its defeat. For the dilemma is a matter of “boots on the ground.” The West has relied on the Kurds with 120,000 experienced, battle-trained and determined fighters, largely equipped by the U.S. The other force countering Daesh has been a reconstituted Iraqi army, also trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies. In the meanwhile, Russia and Iran are supporting Assad and his re-equipped army with Russian air support. Those forces have captured large swaths of territory from the American-supported Syrian rebels who lacked any air support or significant amounts of updated equipment.

In this multi-faceted war with multiple sides with some parties on the same side really engaged in supporting opposite strategies on the ground – the Turks and the Americans. The point is that the defeat of Daesh must be seen within a much larger context. The thirty million Kurds have been seeking an independent state since the end of World War I where, in the divvying up of the Middle East among the Great Powers, they were left divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and to a small extent, Iran. They now have de facto independence in northern Iraq and in parts of Syria. They are also the major boots on the ground responsible for the pushback of Daesh. But what is in it for them to combat Daesh in Mosul? It is not a Kurdish city. So the Allies are buying time to retrain and strengthen the Iraqi army. But a strengthened Iraqi army to the south of the Kurds endangers their quasi-independence. So if ISIL totally loses, they are likely to lose the strategic advantage they enjoy currently.

The other major concern is Turkey, which views the rise of the Kurds as the greatest threat they face, not Daesh. Turkey is involved in widescale bombing of Turkish Kurdish territories as well as Kurdish-controlled area in Syria under the guise of the war against ISIL. This is the paradox. The boots on the ground best able to defeat Daesh supplied by the Kurds and those supported by the Turks respectively, each for very opposite reasons, has no reason to destroy Daesh. At the same time, the Kurds in Syria have consistently ignored Turkey’s threats – such as when Turkey insisted that the red line of the Euphrates was not to be crossed by Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria. The Kurds, like the Russians subsequently, ignored Erdoğan’s bluster, even when they were attacked by Turkish jets. In fact, in the battle over the Menagh airbase, the Syrian Kurds defeated the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has been a proxy on the ground for Turkey.

The problem is not the defeat of Daesh, but the political order that the allies want to emerge out of the wreck in Iraq and now the even much worse wreck in Syria. In Iraq, the Kurds are at their peak now. If the allies build up the Iraqi army now to defeat ISIL, then what will almost certainly follow eventually will be a war between the central government in Iraq and the Kurds. And the Kurds fear being abandoned once again by the West after they have done the main dirty work in stopping and pushing back Daesh.

If the Iraq situation were not complicated enough, the issue of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds exponentially increases the problem. When the revolution in Syria broke out in 2011, Turkey envisioned extending its influence southward. But Turkey has been thwarted at every turn – the rise of the Kurds in power in key parts of Syria along half of the border between Turkey and Syria, the increasing weakness of the rebels against Assad, the Russian support for Assad that has brought the two powers close to war with Turkey effectively now breaching Turkish air space almost with impunity.

More on the Kurds. They are not natural allies of the West; they have been allies of convenience. Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), may have been in jail since 1999, but he not only remains the titular head of the PKK in Turkey but the de facto head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) based in Rojava, Syria and in Kobani, Syria where the Kurds delivered a resounding defeat to Daesh. The Kurds even captured Tal Abyad on the Turkish border and sent chills up the spine of President Erdoğan. Turkey may be an ally of the U.S. and a member of NATO, but the Kurdish boots on the ground fighting ISIS, whatever their skills, courage and determination, have been helped enormously by American air cover, the very air cover the Canadian CF-18s have now backed away from providing. Further, the main spotters have not been the aircraft that Canada and other coalition partners have left in the air – they mainly confirm reports from the ground that come virtually exclusively from the Kurds who then mop up after the fighter jets have destroyed the identified targets.

The Tories have been dead right. The air strikes against ISIS have been highly effective. It is estimated that in the battle for Kobani, air strikes, leaving aside injuries inflicted, killed over 10% of ISIL militants on the ground in the months of fighting for Kobani. But that does not mean that Canada should continue participating in the air strikes. Or, for that matter, even advising and training troops on the ground. It depends on what Canada envisions as the outcome it favours and whether there is a realistic prospect of bringing about its preferred outcome.

The key factor is the de facto new quasi alliance between Russia and the U.S., two world powers that seem to once again dividing up the Middle East as spheres of influence by either side. Will the cease fire they have organized bring peace to Syria and on what terms? Shades of the end of WWI and WWII! The situation will become even more destablized when, as I anticipate, Turkey implodes under all the competing pressures and the series of failures in Turkish foreign policy under Erdoğan, matched by even greater political and economic crises at home. Kurdistan, with its apparent stability, is also seething underneath in a general context of a recession instigated in good part by the dramatic decline in oil prices compounded by corruption and nepotism.

I could go on. But my purpose here is not to lay out a political-economic and military analysis of that part of the Middle East, but merely to point to three main themes:

  1. The defeat of Daesh is not the main problem – that will come; it is just a matter of when, where and how.
  2. The defeat is not a matter of destroying an insurgency in a battle for hearts and minds, but destroying the army of a quasi-state.
  3. The main problem is regional stability; right now it is a balagan, in Hebrew, an absolute and total mess.

Begin with the immediate problem, the coming battle over Mosul and even perhaps Raqqa, the presumptive capital of the Caliphate. It is no secret that the coalition forces will be attacking Mosul, likely in the spring and certainly by summer. Will Daesh stand and fight to the last man and woman? Hardly likely. They have not done so thus far. And their sending out signals that they will is but the first rule of warfare – deceive your enemies. When claiming that you will stand to the last militant, plan a careful retreat, first of the political leadership and then of the military leadership, and finally, whatever militants can be saved while leaving enough to sacrifice as many civilians as possible in Mosul. Evidently, the political leadership has already relocated to Libya in anticipation of the next defeat. For the second rule of warfare is, when you know you have a significantly inferior force, evade direct conflict with the enemy.

Whatever Daesh suffers on the moral front, they clearly understand the basic laws for conducting war. The fact that they are ethically challenged is not only revealed in their cutting off of heads and the severe repression they practice about dress and social behaviour, but also in the moral deterioration already underway as the leadership deserts and the militants resort to corruption and smuggling civilians out of Mosul for US$500 a person. Daesh will leave behind sleeper cells to work behind enemy lines. For they realize they are at the mercy of fighter jets in the air and have to avoid open battles lest their backs be broken by the jet-fueled falcons and hawks patrolling the skies that will break their backs if they appear openly. Hence the rapid decline in missions and the ability of the coalition to release Canada from its commitment to supply six CF-18s.

In the battle against Mosul, the coalition partners have much to learn from the Israeli battles in Gaza with roughly the same population. However, the coalition has one major advantage. It can conduct a pincer movement as Kagame did in 1994 in Rwanda and allow the enemy to escape. I am convinced the allies will follow this pattern otherwise the costs to civilian lives in Mosul will be too high. A third law of warfare is that the best victories are based on building a golden bridge to allow your enemy to retreat. When they cross that bridge, attack them from the air on the other side.

The problem, to repeat once again, will not be to defeat ISIS in battle, but to win the war. And I have not read anywhere what a victory at that level will look like.  Further, unless victory in the war is envisaged, the battle may be won, but the losses will be much greater as has been the pattern in so many American wars from Vietnam on. The key problem is not victory in the battle over Mosul, but victory in the war in the Middle East. And the wars fought there, whether under a Democratic or a Republican commander-in-chief, have been disastrous because battles are being fought, not wars.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Israelis, it may be impossible to fight a real war because of diplomatic and other considerations. But that does not seem to be the case with the Americans. Except they no longer recognize what war they are fighting and what they are fighting for. Stopping ISIL is the least of their worries. The problem is that the lack of clear direction from the Obama administration is certainly far better than the mass hysteria, currently being whipped up by the Republican Party front runner. And it is not just The Donald that is the problem. He is just the loudest barker by far in the current American political circus on the Republican side. After all, it was overwhelmingly Republican state governors who announced that they would not permit Muslim Syrian refugees to enter their states. It was these Governors who initially completely ignored the laws of the United States and the Constitution.

I wrote on Friday that a core of politics is not inflaming emotions and passions. On shabat, on the day dedicated to peace, the real purpose of fighting any war has been determined. Further, the precedent must be set for skill, understanding and judgment to rule the roost. Instead, all three appear to be totally invisible on the Republican side and just barely on the horizon in the case of the current American administration in spite of its enormous efforts to reign in the war hawks.

So the coalition lacks strong and wise leadership that allows us to discern the overall goals and strategy. The U.S. was correct to release Canada from its responsibilities to continue contributing CF-18s from the war in Iraq and Syria because those jets were, in fact, no longer what was really needed. But why train Iraqi soldiers unless we want Kurdistan in Iraq eventually to be significantly reduced in size and even eliminated, and, if the course as set continues to be followed, eventually ending the dream of an independent Kurdistan. The chance to redeem just one of the major errors from WWI will be lost.

Should Canada back the Kurds, not just opportunistically as the Americans currently appear to be doing, but long term? I do not know. I am, however, convinced that unless we answer that key question, we cannot have a judicious and intelligent foreign policy in the area backed up by the limited military forces we are able to contribute. What about Turkey? Should we continue backing our formal ally Turkey which, under Erdoğan has been practicing a vicious anti-democratic policy over the last few years and one even far more dictated by a combination of whim and hysteria than even the U.S. Republicans are promising.

ISIS may be a much bigger threat than either al-Nusra and al-Qaeda because it is driven by a war strategy and not an insurgency, and it has brought sabotage and not just terror to the home fronts of its enemies. So ISIS as an organization needs to be extinguished. But let us not exaggerate the threat as U.S. Air Force General Phillip M. Breedlove, the supreme allied commander in Europe who dubbed ISIS an existential threat. The real threat is that America may be in the process of blowing up whatever degree of sobriety there is left in America and setting off a really-out-of-control wildfire. Do not light matches at home on shabat if your eventual goal is peace.

On the other hand, ISIL terrorists are not just out-of-control testosterone driven thrill-seeking teenagers. Their average age is 26. They are dedicated and sober, even if truly psychopathic martyrs for their cause. But the West in warfare can take advantage of that wish to die a martyr by making it convenient for them, without sacrificing a sense of security and swaths of civilians in exchange. They have largely been nihilistic mass killers alienated from institutions of order and cool rational judgment who use Islam as justification for their heated madness and cold compassion.

What about the NDP’s proposals to concentrate on cutting off the financing of ISIS and acquiring more intelligence on the movements of volunteers for ISIS? The latter is declining anyway. On gathering intelligence overseas, Canada lacks and in-depth capacity. As for cutting off financing that has already been underway led by the Americans and Canada is a bit player in that game.

What about the push to increase humanitarian and development aid even further? The reality is that Canada under the Liberals by ratio to population already contributes roughly the highest amount in both categories compared to the $5.1 billion in total dollars committed by the U.S. to emergency aid, the $3.3 billion EU, $3.6 billion from Germany, $1.75 billlion from the U.K., etc. As my opening paragraph indicated, the replenishment of fighters has largely been effectively staunched and ISIL which is no longer able to replenish its losses. I think these NDP suggestions look more like panic in search of a policy and a strategy, though the NDP is the only party calling for a consistent policy within an overall plan.

The real larger issue is how to contain the enormous ambitions of Iran and Russia, which has already checked Turkey. Obama has been counting on diplomacy since he is unwilling to contribute more American troops on the ground to the fight. In the meanwhile, Assad’s forces, reinforced by Iranians and Hezbollah volunteers and resupplied by Russia and provided air cover by the Russian air force, has been able to recover control of a great deal of territory and even totally encircle Aleppo, which had been under the control of America’s Syrian allies according to a study by the Institute for the Study of War in its 5 February Report. In addition, the military pressure on Kuweires Airbase has been relieved and the threat along the Mediterranean coast to the Russian fleet has virtually been eliminated, at great cost to the Turkish strategic aim of bringing down the Assad regime. Russia has emerged as a “hero” against Turkish military intervention in Iraq. Thus, Turkey’s ambitions in Iraq have been set back considerably.

The Russians and their allies conducted a very strategic operation to suck the rebels and other militants from urban areas into the open and to destroy them there, indicating that the rebels were more committed to saving civilian lives at the cost of strategic advantage, especially in comparison to Daesh. The biggest winners over the past year have been Assad, the Russians and the Iranians, though the losses on the ground for both the Iranians (143 officers alone from the rank of captain up) and their cannon fodder from Hezbollah volunteers has been huge in addition to the huge cost in dollars, which Iran could ill afford at this time, estimated at $6-12 billion per year, after having lost $450-500 billion since the sanctions took effect and while costs rise for its support of the Houthis in Yemen as Saudi Arabia directly supports the other side.

In my estimation, the current “peace” efforts offer an opportunity for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to recuperate and regroup from the recent strenuous efforts and unrestrained attacks on civilian populations, a justifiable concern that handicaps the West in the type of warfare being fought in Syria. There is clearly no comparable effort by the Western coalition to counter the Syrian-Iranian-Russian partnership and that coalition, not Daesh, has been the major victor over the last year of the war. The peace talks look to me more like a front to confer de facto victory to Assad and his backers.

So where does this put the various parties in the Canadian parliament, ignoring the separatist party in this assessment. The Tories appear to want to fight last year’s battles. The NDP seems determined to be irrelevant. And the Liberal policy may be the most delusionary since this is not a war for hearts and minds, but a typical power play by regional and international actors. If this assessment is anywhere near correct, how does it affect the development of an overall Canadian defence strategy and our deployment of troops in the Middle East? In the next blog, I will deal with the need for a revitalized defence policy and intervention policy for Syria and Iraq. Clearly it will be a sketch only since I have merely provided a caricature of what has been going on in Iraq and Syria rather than a detailed area by area analysis of this multi-sided competition for power and control in the region.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – The Liberal Policy

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

B. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – The Liberal Policy

Justin Trudeau positioned the Liberal Party stance between the NDP, insisting on no combat role whatsoever, and the Conservatives, insisting on the retention of the air fighter jet contribution. The Canadian contribution by the Liberals was set within the context of a humanitarian operation and the larger goal of fighting ISIS in a battle for hearts and minds, of which the military role was an adjunct rather than front and centre. “When we talk about the fight today, it is not just a military fight; it is a fight for the hearts and minds of those who are under pressure to join the Islamic State.”

The issue was how best to leverage Canadian military assets. The policy was broad in its geographical application – Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Jordan (border security, border monitoring, providing technical equipment and training facilities) – broad in the set of tools brought to the task – military and training, humanitarian programs ($870 million in aid over three years and resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees through government sponsorship alone by the end of 2016) and intelligence operations (re chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security), diplomatic coordination and development aid ($270 million over three years for promoting gender and sexual equality, protecting minority rights, mine and explosive clearance, etc.). The central message – a combat mission if necessary (versus the NDP), but not necessarily a combat mission for the fighter aircraft had been taken out of the equation (versus the Tories).

The Conservative response (to be explicated at greater length tomorrow) offered a great deal of humanitarian aid and helped refugees (???), but asked, why change the military mission in the sky? Air attacks have been successful, restricting ISIS to 25% of the territory it once held in Iraq. ISIS is weaker, more isolated. ISIS is also a threat to Canada. So the direct application of force is necessary, desirable and effective.

The Liberal response to the deployment of six CF-18s: perhaps before when ISIS was spread out; perhaps before, but not when Canada is only flying 2% of the missions; perhaps before, but not when the missions have been cut by a half or two-thirds; perhaps before, but not when the next major battle is for Mosul, a very large city totally infiltrated and controlled by ISIS in which aerial bombardment would be too costly in civilian lives. And perhaps never, for the major battle is not a military one, though a military one is necessary, but one best fought on the ground with well-trained and well-equipped local troops. The central battle is psychological, sociological and political. It is one for the minds and hearts of Iraqis, especially young ones, who are attracted to joining ISIL. As one Liberal member who has coached sports teams for a number of years, argued, you have to adapt the strategy to the current field conditions.

Trudeau also argued that Canada should concentrate on its expertise in advice and training developed from ten years in Afghanistan. Trudeau implied that, even though other countries desired primarily to play a training role, Canada was one of the best countries to fulfill it. To say, as Trudeau did, that Canada does not “have any troops on the ground in the front lines,” is very misleading, for in insurgency warfare, the enemy comes to you from the side, from the back, from underneath, from within. The battlefield does not have a front line by definition.

If the Liberals were engaged in a massive rebranding operation to portray Canadians as much more on the side of the angels involved in a hearts and minds fight rather than a direct combat role, why not go all the way? Why a hybrid mission with a scanty skirt of possible and risky combat training? If political stability is key, why get involved in the killing at all? The answer was there in the debate, but indirect and not really articulated very well by Justin Trudeau or other Liberals. It depended on how you characterized the enemy. It depended on how you characterized the means to combat the enemy.

On the question of the typology of the enemy, the Tories and Liberals were on the same ground, though the Tories used more fiery and unequivocal language. Daesh, ISIS, ISIL was evil incarnate, vicious. The militants in ISIS were “homicidal maniacs.” John McKay, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence Minister, called Daesh, “evil, brutal, and a completely ruthless collective of organizations that specializes in the use of terror to accomplish its aims. ISIL seeks to conquer and subjugate, with the interest and intent of establishing a quasi-nation state.” Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, not to be outdone by the Tories, said, This is certainly a horrible group, and no word, be it ‘genocide,’ ‘massacre,’ or ‘terror,’ is strong enough,” thereby contradicting Tony Clement’s claim that the Liberals were reluctant to characterize ISIL’s treatment of the Yazidis and the Christians as “genocide.” “This group is driven by a perverse and terrible ideology that makes young people think they will win salvation if they murder everyone who does not believe what they believe and if they kill men, women and children. We must do everything in our power to fight it.”

Dion added, “It is important that we do everything to eradicate this group.” Not defeat! Not vanquish! Eliminate. Exterminate. Eradicate. When is the last time you heard such language applied to an enemy? Daesh was characterized as perverse and diabolical by both the Liberals and the Tories.

On the question of the utility of the air strikes, they may have not only prevented Daesh from taking more territory but they helped push back the militants by providing air cover to the Peshmerga Kurdish forces. The Tories could have quoted Falah Mustafa Bakir, the top diplomat for the Iraq Kurds in the north, who said, when he toured Canada three months ago, that, “the Kurds would prefer Canada continue air strikes in Iraq and Syria.” Perhaps the Tories did not quote him because he put the position gently and added that, if Canada chooses to take another course, then the Kurds hoped that other forms of support (political presumably as well as economic and humanitarian) would be forthcoming. Fighter jets were helpful, but not absolutely necessary, was his message. The Tories tended only to generalize about the first half of Bakir’s remarks.

The smartest response to the Tory criticisms came from John McKay. “The Conservatives agree that we should triple our advise-and-assist mission. The Conservatives agree that we should double our intelligence mission. The Conservatives agree that a helicopter component is an important component to these two missions. The Conservatives agree that we should have a medical component to this mission. The Conservatives agree with the upping of the amount of money for humanitarian assistance. The Conservatives actually agree, reluctantly may I say, with the resettlement of refugees here in this country. The Conservatives kind of reluctantly agree, as well, that diplomatic re-engagement is a good thing. The only thing they disagree with is our opposition to the bombing mission continuing.” On that question, the core argument was not over past effectiveness but, given the changing circumstances, whether a re-evaluation should take place and, if so, whether the evaluation recommended ending the air mission.

That was the nub once it was agreed that a combat mission was not ruled out in accordance with NDP preferences. And the Liberals were vulnerable on this question. First, they had campaigned on withdrawing the six fighter jets, not on re-evaluating whether the continuing deployment of fighter jets should be part of the Canadian contribution. The books seemed to be cooked before the Liberals took office. They did undertake that re-evaluation when they had access to all the requisite evidence. Secondly, a number of reputable scholars on defence matters, while welcoming the overall package of changes, argued that the continuing deployment of the jets was important for the following reasons:

  • training Canadian pilots in actual combat situations
  • the need to continue the degrading of ISIL
  • the need to have air cover for troops on the ground when training missions took them into combat zones
  • the preference for Canadian jets supplying that ground cover because direct communication was better, compatible communication equipment was in play and, hence, a more rapid response could be expected, one which decreased the possibility of friendly fire on one’s own troops.

The options had to be weighed against alternative uses of resources, the significant decline in the sorties for those jets, questioning the results in the use of such expensive equipment relative to costs and whether other resources in the air from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Jordan, Netherlands, U.K., Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and UAE could readily fill in the gap while Canadians contributed in other ways.

After reading the debates, I became convinced that the main reason for withdrawal of the six jets was not an exercise in cost effectiveness or effectiveness more generally, or whether the Canadian contribution was essential or could be made up by others given the diminution in the number of sorties. The main issue, I believe, was rebranding and the complementary strategic stress on giving priority to a hearts and minds campaign over the military one without compromising those military goals. Since neither the Conservatives (at least, on record) nor the NDP objected to either the rebranding and the new emphasis on the hearts and minds campaign, the only question, setting aside all the irrelevancies about past performance of the jets and the other errors and faults of Liberals over the past two decades, was the question of whether the withdrawal of the jets compromises a) either the overall military effort of the consortium of sixty-six countries or b) compromises Canada’s relationship with its allies or c) is the best approach given the nature of the enemy and the relevant strategies available.

Since the answer to the first two questions, as I piece it together from the replies and remarks elsewhere, seems to be “No,” no to compromising the overall military effort, and no to putting Canada offside with its allies, then the whole debate comes off as blather when it comes to Conservative-Liberal differences, all steam and smoke but a product of hot air rather than fire. The blessing was that it was conducted with great civility, a complement to the new mood of parliament, even when John McKay called Obhrai’s verbose speech “entertaining,” to which Obhrai took offence.

Obhrai, exasperated, just protested that the change was “at the expense of the most effective weapon we have in destroying ISIL.” So why did he not spend his time piling on one piece of evidence after another to try to prove that point instead of going off into a multitude of tangents? Why did he not quote from allies that “the coalition forces are a little disappointed in the Liberal government?” But more on this tomorrow. It may be true that, to the best of one’s knowledge, the CF-18s have never attacked civilian targets and have destroyed infrastructure, fighting positions, training grounds and weapon caches. The actual record after their final mission has been:

  • 251 airstrikes, only 5 in Syria
  • dropping 606 bombs
  • destroyed 267 ISIL fighting positions
  • destroyed 102 vehicles or other pieces of equipment
  • destroyed 30 improvised explosive device factories or storage facilities

I do not know, and I could not find anything to tell me, whether this was an efficient or inefficient use of resources, assuming all claimed successes are correct. I could not find any strong arguments, pro or con, to help conclude whether, going forward, the deployment of jets would be the most efficient or effective use of resources.

On the matter of allied criticism of the change in policy, on  8 February Justin Trudeau claimed that he had spoken both to President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel and both expressed understanding of Canada’s change in policy and did not condemn it. Canada was asked to continue its refueling and reconnaissance roles and Canada complied. Bruce Heyman, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, in his statement not only called Canada’s contributions “significant,” not only noted that Canada was among the first to join in the fight against the Islamic State, but affirmed that the new Canadian policy was “in line with the Coalition’s current (my italics) needs.”

The NDP objected to any combat role or risk of a combat role for the Canadian military. Further, when it came to repeated questions about the Arms Trade Treaty, the Liberals either obfuscated or simply went on to answer an imaginary question on another matter. According to UNODA (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs),

Under the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) countries regulate the international trade in conventional weapons – from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships – and work to prevent the diversion of arms and ammunition.”

The treaty has 131 signatories, including Canada, but Canada is among the fifty countries that have yet to ratify the treaty. Yet no explanation was offered when the NDP used this debate to raise the issue. Of course, it fits in with the NDP’s major point that the prime thrust of policy in dealing with ISIS should be cutting off its access to recruits, arms and funds. But, again, more on this tomorrow.

Other than the withdrawal of the CF-18s from the air mission, what changes were being made on the ground? According to the Liberals, Canadians realized that our efforts to help the local government win could best be served by increasing the amount of resources and troops who contributed to the training mission and to intelligence, provincial reconstruction, and actual regional stabilization. From about 2005 to 2010, this transition was under way and applied with great determination and skill, by not only the Canadian Armed Forces personnel, but indeed by all those who contributed to a so-called “whole-of-government” approach.

Sven Spengemann (Mississauga—Lakeshore, Liberal), who once served as a UN official with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Baghdad, put it this way: boots on the ground were absolutely necessary. However, the great shortfall is in training indigenous forces. What was needed was boots on the ground who were:

  • the best trained
  • local
  • had the best intelligence.

The Liberals wanted local forces to fight ISIS. The ground seized by Daesh, displacing millions of refugees and throwing the region into turmoil, will, the Liberals argued, only be taken back by efforts on the ground. To retake that ground, local allies need better training and support to take the fight to Daesh directly and allow people to return to their homes. To that end, Canada needed to train, advise and mentor them. The Canadian complement of military personnel taking part in Operation Impact will increase from approximately 630 to 850 focused on operational planning, targeting, and intelligence. The size of Canada’s training, advice, and assist mission will also be tripled and will include equipment, such as small arms, ammunition, and optics to assist in the training of Iraqi security forces, to boost local security forces’ independence. Consistent with international law, Canada would provide training in the use of that military equipment supplied by the Government of Canada.

The Liberals promised to provide additional intelligence resources in northern Iraq and theatre-wide to better protect coalition forces and those of the host country and enable the coalition to develop a more detailed understanding of the threat and improve its ability to target, degrade, and defeat ISIS by choking off the flow of supplies, money and personnel in an “observe, detect, orient, and react cycle.” Canada’s air mission would not end entirely. The Liberal government continued to support coalition operations using the Canadian CC-150 Polaris aerial refueller and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft.

However, the new emphasis was not on the military, but on humanitarian, development and diplomatic assistance. In recognition of the worsening humanitarian crisis, Canada will undertake an $870 million three year commitment, 30% more than the previous three years, for humanitarian aid to support the basic needs of conflict-affected areas. Assisting Syrian refugees to resettle in Canada is an integral part of that humanitarian program. Canada will welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February and 25,000 government-sponsored refugees by the end of this year.

In the area of development assistance, as stated above, Canada will spend $270 million for development and resilience aid over three years, double the amount of the previous three years, to improve the living conditions of conflicted populations, and help to build the foundations for long-term regional stability of host communities, including Lebanon and Jordan, and work with local partners to build the capacity to provide basic social services, and foster inclusive growth and employment:

  • help create jobs by, for example, supporting Jordan’s commitment to put in place conditions that will create jobs for Syrian refugees in exchange for greater targeted development aid and better access to foreign markets for Jordanian exports
  • ensure that people have access to essential services
  • teach local officials how to operate water supply, water treatment, and sanitary facilities to prevent water-borne diseases associated with unsanitary conditions.
  • increase children’s access to education
  • provide a safe and healthy learning environment for the children of the local populations and the refugees
  • renovate schools
  • advance inclusive and accountable governance.

The education component is crucial. In hundreds of schools in Jordan and Lebanon, school has been shortened to half a day to permit refugee children to attend in the afternoons. Two million children in Syria and 700,000 in the camps no longer attend school. An entire generation is missing an education, with enormous long-term human and economic consequences. After all, education is the cement in order to build a democracy and maintain peace as well as provide the foundation for economic growth.

Since the solution to the crises in the region is first and foremost political, the diplomatic component will also be bolstered by additional staff in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Diplomats will work for a political solution to the crisis in Syria by supporting the UN-sponsored peace process as well as the reconciliation efforts of the Iraqi government and other crises in the region.

 

Tomorrow: A detailed critique from the Opposition parties

 

With the help of Alex Zisman