Canada’s signature military mission in the Middle East is being both extended and downsized, the federal government announced Monday.
In a media statement, Defence Minister Anita Anand said Operation Impact, the anti-terrorism mission launched by the previous Conservative government to combat Islamic State extremists almost a decade ago, will continue until 2025.
Most of the military’s efforts were focused in Iraq, but Canada also made contributions to building up the military capabilities of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
The extension will allow the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to continue to play an important role in supporting regional partners in the advancement of peace and security, Anand said in the statement.
“When I visited them in December, I saw directly how their presence makes a difference to our partners and allies,” she added.
A defence official, speaking on background after the minister’s statement, said the reauthorized mission will be reduced in size.
There are about 300 Canadian military members now deployed in support of OP Impact, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The mission will be streamlined and up to 150 personnel will remain once the realignment is complete.
“The revised Canadian military footprint in the region will streamline our command, control and support infrastructure,” the official said.
The Canadian military is facing a manpower shortage. Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre has indicated repeatedly that the force will have to look at the resources it can spare for each global commitment.
Late last summer, the Canadian military acknowledged it was scaling back its air detachment in the Middle East, which has been supporting anti-terrorism operations and UN peacekeeping missions in Africa.
Two C-130J cargo planes and their associated ground support crews were redeployed from Kuwait and Iraq to the United Kingdom to help support NATO operations and the delivery of military equipment related to the war in Ukraine.
The official said the security force training in Jordan and Lebanon will continue on a bilateral basis.
Almost a decade ago, Canada joined other western nations, led by the United States, in a campaign to dislodge Islamic State extremists who had taken over vast areas of Syria and northern Iraq.
The self-proclaimed “caliphate” of ISIS was marked by a campaign of mass killings, torture, rape and slavery.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by western airpower and training, eventually reclaimed all of the territory in Iraq in a conventional-style military campaign.
The terrorist group is still active in the region. A senior Iraqi general told local media that ISIS has as many as 500 active fighters in the country, mostly in remote desert and mountain hideouts.
The United Nations said in a report last month that ISIS still has between 5,000 and 7,000 members across Iraq and neighbouring Syria. The report estimated roughly half of those members were active fighters.
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