Column: To bomb or not to bomb, that is Canada’s question

As much as there are warts and whistles in the plan, it appears the coalition partners have given a nod of approval

Most Canadians want the Trudeau government to continue bombing ISIL.

But this week PM Justin Trudeau announced that the bombing will end on 22 February and the six CF-188 Hornet fighter jets will return home along with their associated aircrew and support personnel.

Personally, I’d rather see them stay there and carry on. Clearly, I’m not alone.

According to a recent Angus Reid poll, nearly two-thirds of Canadians, 63 per cent, want Canada to continue bombing at the current rate or increase the number of bombing missions it is conducting. Of that percentile, 37 per cent of Canadians say maintain the bombing status quo while 26 per cent urge an increase in bombing. But even though the fighter planes will return home, Canada will continue to provide two surveillance aircraft and an air-to-air refueling aircraft to assist in airstrikes undertaken by allies.

In addition, Canada will be more heavily involved in counter-terrorism measures and improving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security in the region.

Canada’s first combat sortie on ISIL targets with CF-188 Hornets was on 30 October 2014 and, through to 1 February 2016, the warplanes have conducted 1,388 sorties resulting in 238 airstrikes (233 in Iraq and 5 in Syria). A sortie is an operational flight by one aircraft.

As for Canada’s international reputation, the poll found that 47 per cent are concerned that withdrawing the planes from the mission will have a negative effect on our international reputation while fewer than one in five (18 per cent) thought it would have a positive one. Most Canadians polled didn’t think that pulling out the warplanes would have any effect on the Syrian refugees or Canada’s security.

But yes or no to withdrawing the planes, most Canadians (54 per cent) expressed the fact that they are confident in the Trudeau government’s ability to manage Canada’s involvement in the ISIL mission. Confidence in the government is strongest among women, those under 35, and university graduates.

In many ways, the sense for a need to keep bombing or increase bombing comes back to a genuine fear about the brutal ISIL movement. Two in three (64 per cent) Canadians have concerns that the threat they pose is growing, half of them believing that it is growing quite significantly.

Canada’s involvement under Operation Impact over the next three years is about more than bombing and Trudeau, in announcing the stepped up plan, said that the military will be allocating more resources and personnel to training Iraqi security forces and supporting local Kurdish soldiers who are combating Islamic state militants. They will be adding 140 personnel to the 69 already in a training capacity and fighting alongside the Kurds on the front line. The number of Canadian military personnel in the region will jump from 650 to 830.

Humanitarian assistance will be beefed up with an extra $1 billion over the next three years. The commitment is to help men, women and children with clean water, food, adequate shelter, healthcare, sanitation, hygiene, protection and education.

In total, more than $1.6 billion will be allocated toward the new approach to security, stabilization, humanitarian and development assistance in Iraq and to address impacts on Jordan, Lebanon and the wider region.

As much as there are warts and whistles in the plan with many unanswered questions and clearly details to be fleshed out, it appears the coalition partners have given a nod of approval to Trudeau’s whole-of-government approach to our contribution based on security, development, and diplomacy.

Coming up with a new long term military strategy acceptable to Canadians and allies alike has understandably been a challenge, given that the government has only been in power three months.