Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan talks to reporters after meeting with his international defence counterparts of military contributing nations to the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS, at Meech Lake in Chelsea, Que. Thursday.

Feds weigh role in Iraq as defence chief warns about long-term need for troops

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan pledged Canada’s enduring support for Iraq and the war against Islamic State group on Thursday — but stopped short of extending Canada’s military mission in the region, most of which is set to expire next spring.

Rather, after hosting a meeting with representatives from more than a dozen countries to discuss the future of Iraq and Syria and plot next steps in the effort to destroy ISIL (also known as ISIS), Sajjan said the government continues to weigh Canada’s long-term role in the region.

“Today, we reaffirmed our focus on the enduring defeat of ISIS’s own network of foreign terrorist fighters, financing and propaganda,” the minister said in a statement after the meeting at a government-owned estate on Meech Lake, near Ottawa.

“Moving forward, the coalition’s continued collaboration and partnership remains crucial, and the strategic advice and direction provided during this morning’s meeting will be essential in shaping our next steps toward winning this fight.”

The comments came shortly after Canada’s top general told a parliamentary committee that while progress has been made in the fight against ISIL, it’s still too early to say when Canadian soldiers might no longer be needed in Iraq.

Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance said many of the political, economic and social problems that contributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s rise more than four years ago remain.

And while ISIL has lost all the territory it once held in Iraq, Vance says ISIL remains a threat and that Canada and its allies must remain on guard against any attempts to re-assert itself.

“At some point in the future, I would look forward to being able to provide the advice that Iraq has come far enough and (ISIL) has gone backwards enough that we don’t need the military forces there anymore,” Vance said. “We’re not at that point right now.”

A recent U.S. Defense Department report that said that ISIL has started to dig roots as an “effective” insurgent group — and that it could take “years, if not decades” before the Iraqi military can deal with it on its own.

Canada earlier this year assumed command of a NATO training mission that includes 250 Canadian troops and whose aim is to train the Iraqi military so that it can ensure security.

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