The fight to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State is in its final stretch. Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesperson for the US-led coalition, said last week that only three neighborhoods in the western part of the city are still occupied by ISIS militants.
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, is Islamic State’s last major stronghold in the country. The coalition believes fewer than 1,000 fighters remain in the city.
The liberation of Mosul will be a major milestone for the coalition and Iraqi authorities. Coalition commanders also hope it will be a symbolic defeat for Islamic State. In 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi chose the city’s Great Mosque as the pulpit to declare himself the ruler of all Muslims.
Canada’s Op IMPACT
In March, coalition member Canada extended its mission in Iraq through June 30, keeping Mosul in mind. Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said the extension would provide Ottawa with “the time required to assess the evolving nature of the fight.”
As the deadline to extend the mandate approaches, Canada’s Joint Task Force-Iraq commander Brig. Gen. Daniel MacIsaac told Grasswire that the Canadian government intends to continue its work in Iraq as part of the coalition.
“In the next few weeks, we will likely see a revised mandate. We can all agree there is still a remarkable problem here that has to be solved and that is the defeat of Daesh and subsequent stabilization of Iraq.”
Brig. Gen. Daniel MacIsaac, Joint Task Force-Iraq
MacIsaac leads the Canadian Armed Forces deployed to Iraq with Operation IMPACT, Ottawa’s military contribution to the anti-ISIS campaign.
— Canadian Forces (@CanadianForces) April 26, 2017
The commander noted that there might be slight changes to Canada’s capabilities.
“Those will be in accordance with the needs of the coalition,” he noted.
Canadian authorities have approved a maximum of 830 CAF members to serve Operation IMPACT in Iraq and Kuwait, including “those assigned to the train, advise, and assist mission in support of the Iraqi security forces.”
“There are approximately 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel currently deployed under Operation IMPACT, excluding Canadian Special Operations Forces personnel,” a National Defence department spokesperson told Grasswire.
Canadian special operations forces have been providing advice and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces in Mosul while remaining behind the forward line of troops, according to the defence ministry.
For security reasons, officials declined to provide the number of special operations forces deployed to Operation IMPACT, but some media reports indicate that some 200 special forces troops are currently in Iraq.
The defence ministry spokesperson said the number of SOF personnel fluctuates according to operational needs.
The Canadian men and women in uniform under MacIsaac’s command support the counter-ISIS coalition with air surveillance capabilities, intelligence operations, and partnered force training , among other roles.
They have been providing medical assistance as well. In November, a month after the coalition assault on Mosul began, Canada began running a medical facility in the area of the Kurdish capital of Erbil.
According to MacIssac, more than 320 people have been treated so far for various types of injures.
“Under the Geneva convention, it will treat any patients that come to it that are there, be they coalition force, be they Canadian, be they Iraqi Security Forces, be they civilian or non-combatant,” he said.
— CAF Operations (@CFOperations) April 10, 2017
As many as 450,000 civilians are believed to still be inside Mosul as Iraqi forces backed by the coalition make a final push to liberate it from ISIS. The Pentagon is in talks with Baghdad about the possibility of maintaining coalition troops or other forces in Iraq for as long as five years after ISIS is finally removed.
The nature of Canada’s mission in the future remains undetermined, but Sajjan said in a May 23 visit to Washington, DC that he wants to make sure the Canadian contributions to the counter-ISIS fight remain relevant.
He underscored it was important to ensure Ottawa has the right assets in place, and noted that appropriate funding adjustments would be made.