Deadly attacks renew debate over Trudeau warplane strategy

Trudeau has not set a timeline for the withdrawal of Canada’s warplanes from Syria and Iraq

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pauses as he addresses the media on the terrorist attacks in Paris prior to his departure for the G20 and APEC summits from Ottawa, Friday November 13, 2015. Trudeau says Canada has offered all the support it can to France following Friday's attacks in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the media on the attacks in Paris prior to his departure for the G20 and APEC summits on November 13, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

Deadly terrorist attacks in Paris have prompted renewed debate about the Liberal government’s intention to withdraw from airstrikes against the Islamic State, but some experts say there is little reason to rethink the plan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a campaign promise to pull Canada’s warplanes from Syria and Iraq and instead focus on training local fighters. He reiterated it in a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama a day after he was elected.

And on Saturday, after Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for attacks in France that killed at least 129 people — an “act of war,” according to French president Francois Hollande — a senior official in Trudeau’s office confirmed he hadn’t changed his mind.

That’s the right call, says Andrew Mack, a security expert and fellow at the One Earth Future Foundation.

“Nothing has changed. The attack on Paris makes no difference whatsoever to the rationale for not bombing. I actually think bombing is effective, but Canada’s contribution to it is minimal. It really doesn’t make any difference one way or another,” he said.

Mack said the Islamic State was losing in Syria, pointing to its loss of a town between Mosul and Al-Raqqah and the likelihood it would lose another soon. These defeats are likely to affect its ability to attract disaffected youth, he said.

“The Kurds have been making advances all over Syria and Iraq, and the advances they have been making have been facilitated by airstrikes by the United States.”

Mourning on the morning after

Andre Gerolymatos, a security expert at Simon Fraser University, said while recent air cover provided to the Kurds to capture a town was successful, the overall bombing mission has not been.

“The coalition has been bombing ISIS and what happened in Paris took place (Friday) night regardless,” he said. “So, what makes more sense is to train Kurds or anyone else who wants to fight ISIS.”

Gerolymatos added that air strikes are imprecise and kill civilians. He acknowledged, though, that Canada handed the Islamic State a propaganda win when it announced it would withdraw its fighter jets.

“ISIS claimed it as a victory on all the websites. They were saying ‘the first crack in the coalition, it’s a major victory for ISIS, Canada has been defeated,’ and all that.”

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called on Trudeau Saturday to rethink withdrawing from the combat mission and the premiers of Quebec and Saskatchewan expressed support for continuing to be part of the military action.

Trudeau has not set a timeline for the withdrawal and some experts speculated he could wait for Canada’s military commitment to expire in March. Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, said now would be an “awkward moment” to carry out the policy change.

He said one argument for ending the mission is that the more the West gets involved in the fight, the worse it becomes.

“The other side of the argument is if you don’t stop these people now while they’re still of a manageable size, you have a much bigger problem on your hands,” he said. “I tend toward the second interpretation.”

Some have speculated France will invoke NATO’s Article 5, which requires all members to defend a member under attack. But Christian Leuprecht, a security expert with Queens University and the Royal Military College of Canada, said there is no indication that France will do so.

Speaking from the French city of Grenoble where he is currently working, Leuprecht said a massive military response in Syria would only heighten the refugee influx, an outcome France does not want.

He said the global community must find a path to a ceasefire in Syria.

“ISIS wants to fight. ISIS is about bringing on the apocalypse. That’s the end game,” he said. “You want the world to go down in a handbasket. The perpetrators (in Paris) showed that.”

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