Canadian troops help secure Mosul as future battles loom

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OTTAWA—Iraqi security forces and its allies, including Canada, are helping secure Mosul after liberating it from Daesh, even as future battles loom to root extremists from other Iraqi cities.

And while it’s not known yet whether Canadian special operations forces soldiers — serving on an advise and assist mission to aid Iraqi and Kurdish troops — will be part of those coming operations, the acting commander of Canadian forces in the region concedes much work remains to be done to eliminate Daesh.

“While the battle for Mosul represents a significant milestone, the Canadian commitment to the coalition against Daesh, it’s more than that and there is still a lot of work to do throughout Iraq,” said Col. Jason Kenny, commander of the air task force in Iraq and acting commander, Joint Task Force — Iraq.

“Daesh continues to hold territory and pose a threat to Iraqis,” he said in a telephone interview from the region Friday.

“Our work is not done and we continue to focus on supporting the Iraqi forces as they fight Daesh,” he said.

Iraqi forces backed by coalition nations secured a major victory earlier this month when they won back control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city which had been a Daesh stronghold.

But Kenny cautioned that “significant work” remains, an acknowledgement that Daesh forces are still holed up in other Iraqi centres. And if Mosul is any indication — where extremists used suicide bombers, drones and civilians as human shields to prolong their hold on the city — the coming battles could be difficult.

“We’re prepared to support the Iraqi forces wherever that might take them,” Kenny said.

With Mosul now in Iraqi hands, attention is turning to other pockets of the country where Daesh still has a presence, including the cities of Tal Afar and Hawija.

Kenny declined to say whether Canadians will be part of those operations, citing operational security. “However I can tell you that is continually assessed and our forces are reactive to the coalition needs,” he said.

A U.S. commander says discussions are underway among Iraqi and coalition military leaders about future offensives to go after the “remnants of ISIS (Daesh), and their safe havens and sanctuaries.

“The coalition provides advice, at the very senior levels, on how to sequence future operations. But, ultimately, the government of Iraq makes those decisions. And, ultimately, the government of Iraq is going to lay down the road maps for the future operations,” Col. Pat Work, a commander of a advise and assist task force, told a July 21 briefing.

“The time’s going to come where the guns of Iraq, backed by the coalition, turn against ISIS in those areas, and the Iraqi security forces attack to liberate those populations, too. And we’ll be there to support them,” Work said.

Canada has up to 850 military personnel involved in its military mission against Daesh, including just over 200 special operations forces soldiers who have been in Iraq on a mission to initially assist Kurdish peshmerga troops and, more recently, Iraqi security forces in Mosul.

For now, Canadian special forces soldiers continue to operate in Mosul, but officers won’t rule out a role in future offensives.

“While retaking the city was a significant achievement and inflicted a definitive blow to Daesh, much work is left to be done and the Special Operations Task Force will remain with its partner force to provide advice and assistance in ensuring our Iraqi partners are successful,” Maj. Alexandre Cadieux, spokesperson for Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said Friday.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced last month that Canada’s military mission to counter Daesh, first deployed in 2014, would be extended to 2019.

In addition to the ground forces, other elements of the Canadian mission include a CC-150 Polaris aerial refueller that has flown 785 sorties, four Griffon helicopters and a single CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft, down from two that were initially deployed. It has flown 821 reconnaissance flights and surveyed “thousands of locations of interest” that could be possible Daesh targets, Kenny said. While Canadian troops on the ground serve only in Iraq, the surveillance flights can include Syria too, he said, adding, “It goes where the coalition needs it to go.”

With the extension of the mission, the government also deployed a C-130J Hercules transport aircraft to help move personnel and equipment for coalition forces. “It’s been a really welcome addition,” he said.