Lack of targets could end mission in Iraq

There could be a pragmatic reason Canada’s six-month mission of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq will end as scheduled in April. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says we could run out of targets. “Is this going to be over in six months? No,’’ Baird said during an interview in his Parliament Hill office. “But that doesn’t mean the combat mission will go on. It depends — will we still have targets?’

There could be a pragmatic reason Canada’s six-month mission of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq will end as scheduled in April.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says we could run out of targets.

“Is this going to be over in six months? No,’’ Baird said during an interview in his Parliament Hill office. “But that doesn’t mean the combat mission will go on. It depends — will we still have targets?’’

Baird said that the Islamic State militants have had to radically change their tactics on the ground because of the combat mission and he boasted that Canada, as one of fewer than 10 countries he said are doing the “heavy lifting” in the region, has degraded the group financially by limiting its ability to sell oil.

He said he didn’t see the need to increase the number of Canadian military trainers on the ground, now set at a maximum of 69, and he said there were no plans to turn the mission to airstrikes in Syria right now.

“At this time we’re focusing on Iraq,’’ he said.

Baird spoke the same morning Defence Minister Rob Nicholson hinted from Kuwait that the mission could be extended, saying the government would “have a look” at re-upping.

But the Conservatives, who used their majority in October to deploy six CF-18s, an air-to-air refuelling aircraft, two surveillance aircraft and 600 personnel to the region, would be looking to extend the mission during what could be a perilous pre-election period.

The mission runs out at about the same time that Senate spending comes back into focus, with a major audit of Senate expenses expected from auditor general Michael Ferguson and the scheduled opening of the criminal trial of suspended Sen. Mike Duffy.

New Democrat Paul Dewar told Baird on Friday that the Conservatives have left Canadians in the dark on the mission.

“We do not know whether the mission will be extended; we have not been told how much this war is costing or even, beyond counting bombs and targets, what impact the airstrikes are actually having on the ground,’’ Dewar said.

In fact, this under-reported war has produced very little information from anyone on the impact of the airstrikes. There have been more than 1,000 allied strikes on Islamic State targets over four months, but even Washington is largely only logging the number and general locations of the strikes with no strategic analysis.

Baird laid out some yardsticks he said indicate success so far.

He said air combat was only one component of the Canadian response, adding humanitarian aid, diplomatic prodding of the government in Baghdad and cutting Islamic State revenue as the other keys.

“This is the biggest humanitarian crisis this century,’’ he said.

In Mosul, he said, people are being paid 25 cents on the dollar because Islamic State revenue from oil has been cut drastically by Canadian and allied airstrikes.

But the most important component of combating the extremist group, he said, is the diplomatic effort he is engaged in with the new government in Baghdad, which has pledged — but not yet reached — inclusiveness.

He is working with the U.S. to push Baghdad into bringing more Sunnis into government and in its key institutions, but he says progress is being made.

Canada has also airlifted about 20 planeloads of arms from the Czech Republic and Albania to the Kurdish Peshmerga in Irbil.

Baird also expressed confidence in the interview that he will soon be able to free Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who has spent more than a year behind bars in Cairo on trumped-up terrorism charges.

He pointed to the successful return of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, two Canadians jailed in Egypt in 2013, and he said that success can be repeated. Fahmy is serving seven years, but his lawyers last week sent a letter to Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, telling them they must do more to secure Fahmy’s release. Fahmy’s appeal is scheduled to be heard Jan. 1.

“We have a good relationship with the new government of Egypt and public hectoring in this case would be counterproductive,’’ Baird said.

“If I yell and scream hysterically, people say I’m using bullhorn diplomacy. If I am too quiet behind the scenes, then I’m not doing anything.’’

He said he knows Fahmy’s family wanted him to be more vocal, “but do they want me to be vocal or effective? They are not the same thing.”

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at tharper@thestar.ca.

Just Posted

Police is still looking for Second World War army passport owner

No one has claimed a rare Second World War German army passport… Continue reading

Red Deer readies for supervised drug consumption site

Now all we need is an application for one

Rent subsidies for Asooahum Crossing tenants sought from Red Deer city council

Coun. Lee feels the city should be ‘last resort’ for housing subsidy requests

Castor murderer denies he’s a killer

Jason Klaus tells courtroom he loved his family who were murdered in December 2013

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

RDC chosen to host 2019 men’s volleyball national championship

Sports enthusiasts in Red Deer will have more to look forward to… Continue reading

Police is still looking for Second World War army passport owner

No one has claimed a rare Second World War German army passport… Continue reading

DJ Sabatoge and TR3 Band kick off Sylvan Lake’s Winterfest 2018

Central Alberta’s youngest DJ will open for TR3 Band kicking off Town… Continue reading

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month