Canada drops operation with Peshmerga to work exclusively with Iraqi forces

Canada will no longer provide training to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces as part of its role in the global campaign to defeat the Islamic State (IS), a senior Canadian military official said on Thursday.
author_image Sangar Ali

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Canada will no longer provide training to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces as part of its role in the global campaign to defeat the Islamic State (IS), a senior Canadian military official said on Thursday.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the Chief of Canada’s Defense Staff, said that Canada is now committed to training Iraqi government troops only.

“Training with the Peshmerga was ceased when it was no longer of any value in terms of the battle against Da’esh [IS],” Gen. Vance told reporters on Thursday outside a Canadian Global Affairs Institute conference in Ottawa.

“We have changed … partners,” the military official said.

Canadian Special Forces, within the framework of the US-led coalition, have provided military training to Peshmerga forces for almost three years. 

The Peshmerga have been one of the most effective ground troops in containing and pushing IS back after the jihadist group swept through Iraq in 2014, threatening the country’s vulnerable communities.

Canada’s military training to the Peshmerga and Iraqi army was suspended in October 2017 after clashes erupted between the two local forces over the fate of disputed territories following the Kurdistan Region’s referendum on independence.

Vance mentioned that Canada was waiting for the Iraqi government to “sign off”  before starting the next phase of its battle against the jihadist group.

Since 2014, about 2,000 Peshmerga fighters have fallen in the fight against IS, and 12,000 more were wounded according to the Peshmerga Ministry.

Iraq declared final victory over IS in December last year. However, military activities carried out by the jihadist group in the country persist.

Canadian troops are preparing to work with Iraqi forces to secure the war-torn city of Mosul, where Vance said IS continue to remain a key threat in the region as thousands of displaced people return home.

“There are a number of factors affecting mission planning for Iraq as we go forward,” Vance said. “The government of Iraq needs to form a government and signal its intent as it relates to future military operations by coalition or on a bilateral basis in Iraq. So that's Job 1.”

Iraq held its national elections on May 12. Following the announcement of the results, negotiations began between parties to form a new government, which will ultimately decide whether it is necessary for US-led coalition troops to remain in the country.

The Canadian official noted that Canada’s troops would help Iraqi forces make Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, more secure to facilitate the return of families who fled the violence.

“It needs to be secure, and there's still remnants of [IS] there,” he continued. “They’re not actively conducting operations, but they could. So, trying to ensure successful security conditions in Mosul so that people have the confidence to return home is also what we're looking at.”

The Canadian military’s current mandate in Iraq is set to expire in March 2019. 

The Trudeau government 16 months ago announced it would give the Kurds $9.5 million worth of military equipment - including rifles, machine-guns, light mortars, grenade launchers and anti-tank missiles - as part of Canada’s revamped mission to help eradicate IS. The military shipment was never delivered to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region, with Baghdad halting the process.

In contrast, the US House of Representatives late last month approved the Defense Department budget for fiscal Year 2019, which includes $290 million in support for the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces.

Editing by Nadia Riva