In early February 2016 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a shift in Canada’s strategy in its contribution to the fight against the Islamic State.
Fulfilling a long-awaited promise, Canada’s government announced the end of its participation in the aerial bombing campaign (keeping a nominal in-air-refueling and surveillance capacity), and in its place recommitted to filling gaps in training local anti-ISIS forces, building up local capacity and beefing up its contribution to humanitarian relief.
While the shift has been met with debate domestically inside of Canada, internationally the Trudeau government’s decision is receiving widespread approval.
The US President, Barrack Obama and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter have both welcomed Canada’s new strategy. Peter Cook, a spokesman for the Pentagon said, “the secretary sees these as significant contributions and he appreciates the decision by the Trudeau government to step up Canada’s role in the campaign at this critical time.”
Security experts are also celebrating Canada’s shift in strategy. James Stavridis, former four-star US navy admiral and NATO supreme allied commander, speaking to the CBC applauded Canada’s new shift towards training local forces, which he called “perhaps the most important (area in the fight against ISIS) of all… because we don’t want to send a hundred thousand troops… like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. We want local forces to fight ISIS (and) we need to train, advise and mentor them.” Writing in Foreign Policy, Stavridis also warned there are large gaps in the efforts to build local capacity, create jobs, provide education, drive medical diplomacy and redevelop damaged infrastructure.
Western led military operations, while helpful in achieving short-term objectives, will be useless in the long-term if communities living under and near ISIS areas of influence continue to suffer under daily violence and lack effective security and governance.
Currently Kurdish and Iraqi communities benefitting the most from western airstrikes are dependent on western militaries for their security. This is unsustainable, and if the International Coalition hopes to defeat ISIS, local forces must be able to maintain the security and effectively govern their communities.
Furthermore, the International Appeal for the Syrian humanitarian response has raised only 3.3 of the $8.4 billion required to meet the needs of the humanitarian response. Conflict-affected communities are suffering under daily violence and instability. This gap in humanitarian assistance must be filled if long-term military objectives are to be maintained.
This shift in strategy represents a critical step in the fight against the Islamic State. Through tripling the number of military trainers, building local governance capacity and beefing up its response to the humanitarian catastrophe, Canada is showing the international community what an effective and holistic approach to building peace and security looks like.