Defence Chief Vance insists anti-ISIS fight is non-combat

OTTAWA -- The country's top military commander was dragged Friday into the long-standing political debate of what constitutes combat in Iraq, even as the Trudeau government comes to grips with the imploding situation in Libya, where U.S.

See Full Article

warplanes have struck extremist training camps.

The bombings are seen, potentially, as the opening round in a new front against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has for months been building up its presence in the civil war-torn North African nation.

A year ago, Gen. Jonathan Vance's predecessor struggled to explain to a House of Commons committee how firefights involving special forces troops and guiding airstrikes for Kurdish forces was not considered combat.

It was Vance's turn on Friday, as he rejected categorically the suggestion that his definition of combat was made to measure for the Trudeau government's political needs.

"I reject that totally," Vance said. "I am the expert in what is and what is not combat."

And what the Liberal government is planning to do to help beat back ISIL is not it, Vance stated.

The well-worn debate unfolded Friday against the backdrop of early-morning airstrikes in Sabratha, between Tripoli and Libya's border with Tunisia, an attack that allegedly killed about 40 Islamic State recruits.

The defence chief said the Trudeau government has not given him any direction about how Canada might be involved in the new campaign.

"I don't know whether we will be involved militarily, but we will certainly be involved somehow, because Libya sits at a crossroads of some very important and dangerous things that are happening in the world," Vance said.

Outside the House of Commons, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan repeated Friday that it's too soon to say how, or even if, Canada would become involved.

"As I stated earlier, I've already been in discussions with my NATO allies on this," Sajjan said.

"And if -- when -- we have further discussions and if there's a need and where Canada can bring in a certain capability that can assist part of the coalition, we will consider it at that time."

On Friday, the focus for Vance was to explain the current mission, rather than any future ones.

So-called "advise-and-assist" missions are new enough that some have trouble with the concept, Vance said -- a veiled reference to the NDP, which insists on characterizing the rescoped special forces mission in northern Iraq as a combat mission.

International operations fall under a "broad lexicon -- and some people may be uncomfortable with the lexicon, and that's too bad," Vance told the annual Conference of Defence Associations Institute meeting in Ottawa.

"We are using a technique that is relatively new, borne of the lessons of Afghanistan. A 'train, advise and assist' mission clearly falls into the non-combat realm, whereas a combat mission is largely distinguished by the fact we are the principal combatant."

Canada's participation in airstrikes against ISIL targets, a mission launched by the previous Conservative government in 2014 and ended by the Liberals earlier this week, was indeed a combat mission, he added.

The question of whether Canada has been involved in a combat mission has been an open one, prompting heated debate after it was revealed that Canadian special forces trainers sometimes engaged in firefights with ISIL extremists and helped Kurdish forces by guiding in airstrikes.

That debate only got hotter last March when special forces soldier Sgt. Andrew Doiron was killed in a friendly-fire incident last March.

Vance's predecessor, retired general Tom Lawson, endured a House of Commons committee grilling that featured Marc Garneau, the Liberal foreign affairs critic at the time, putting the military's own textbook definition of combat before him.

"It says, 'A combat operation is a military operation where the use -- or threatened use -- of force, including lethal force, is essential to impose will upon an armed opponent, or to accomplish a mission,"' Garneau said during the January 2015 hearing.

"Is this not what we're doing in Iraq?"

Like Vance, Lawson denied that the mission met that definition and that troops themselves were not using their "weapons to compel the enemy," but rather only in self-defence whenever they were fired upon.

The fact the political debate has not moved forward appears to be a growing source of frustration within the defence establishment.

Vance pointed to the peacekeeping and peace support operations of the 1990s -- mostly in the Balkans -- where troops were engaged in firefights, but the missions were never described as combat operations.

"If we are attacked, we defend ourselves. So fighting can erupt and in that context we don't fall into the trap of describing it as anything else other than a peace support operation," he said.

Vance said he believes advise-and-assist missions are likely the future for many western militaries.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Can an Indigenous police force replace RCMP on Wet'suwet'en land? 'Not tomorrow,' Blair says

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- After the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake offered to replace RCMP officers on Wet’suwet’en territory with their own Indigenous peacekeeping force in order to help satisfy one of the main concerns of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said such a solution wouldn’t happen any time soon. Source
  • Canadians find thousands of dollars in unclaimed cheques on CRA website

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- A little known feature on the Canada Revenue Agency’s website is leading people to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in unclaimed government cheques. The recently released tool, found in the My Account portal, allows you to view and collect any cheques you may have missed from the tax agency, dating back as long as you have been filing taxes. Source
  • Calgary police now admit 2 officers used controversial Clearview AI facial-recognition software

    Canada News CBC News
    After previously denying they had used a controversial facial-recognition app that harvested billions of personal photos from social media, Calgary police now say some officers did, in fact, use the Clearview AI software. "The Calgary Police Service does not use Clearview AI in any official capacity," police said in a written statement sent to CBC News on Friday afternoon. Source
  • Best director win for Polanski prompts boos, walkouts at César Awards in France

    World News CBC News
    Roman Polanski, who faces accusations of rape, won France's César Award for best directing for his film An Officer and a Spy on Friday, prompting several actors to walk out of the ceremony in protest. Polanski was not at the event, the biggest night in French cinema's calendar, saying earlier that he feared for his safety. Source
  • See you at the Supreme Court, Ottawa responds, after Alberta demands carbon tax be lifted

    Canada News CBC News
    On Monday, Alberta's top court declared the federal carbon tax unconstitutional. On Wednesday, the province's justice minister demanded that the federal government remove the levy and reimburse what Albertans have already paid. On Friday, the federal government responded: See you in court. Source
  • See you at the Supreme Court, Ottawa says after Alberta demands carbon tax be killed

    Canada News CBC News
    On Monday, Alberta's top court declared the federal carbon tax unconstitutional. On Wednesday, the province's justice minister demanded that the federal government remove the levy and reimburse what Albertans have already paid. On Friday, the federal government responded: See you in court. Source
  • Bundle of joy who can't wait for Mom to get to hospital makes grand entrance in hotel lobby

    Canada News CTV News
    HANWELL, N.B. -- Yesterday's storm brought more than snow and ice as a little bundle of joy wasn't waiting for Mom to make it to the hospital. Staff at a Fredericton-area hotel jumped into action when a guest went into labour. Source
  • Dog found with glue in his ears and legs tied together ‘making a quick turnaround’: vet

    World News CTV News
    TORONTO -- A dog left for dead in an Oklahoma field with his legs strapped together and glue poured into his ears has survived and is making a “quick turnaround,” a veterinarian says. The Humane Society of Tulsa was contacted by local police on Thursday about a mutt that was left stranded with chemical burns on his face and food wrappers shoved into his ears with glue. Source
  • U.S., Taliban set peace signing for America's longest war

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- America's longest war may finally be nearing an end. The United States and the Islamists it toppled from power in Afghanistan are poised to sign a peace deal Saturday after a conflict that outlasted two U.S. Source
  • 'Greta' decal condemned in House of Commons

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- WARNING: The content below may be distressing to readers. A disturbing decal which appeared to use the likeness of 17-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg has been condemned in Canada's House of Commons. Source