TORONTO – Canada's prime minister will announce a one-year extension of its military mission against the Islamic State group and expand it to include air strikes on targets in Syria, a senior government official said Monday.
The official confirmed the details and said Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make the announcement in Parliament on Tuesday morning.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. Harper had said he'll provide details about extending and expanding the mission this week. It's due to expire in April.
Canada has 69 special forces soldiers training Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. They were sent last September on a mission that was billed as noncombat with the troops supposed to be working far behind the front lines.
But the Canadian soldiers have been helping the Kurdish forces by directing coalition airstrikes against Islamic State fighters, a role generally considered risky because it means they are close to the battle against the militants.
The Canadians' efforts complement those of the United States, which has conducted the vast majority of the airstrikes against the Islamic State group. But in their role of targeting airstrikes, the Canadians special forces soldiers are performing a task that so far the U.S. military has been unwilling to do. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has repeatedly said the U.S. would consider directing attacks from the ground but that it has not yet done so.
The fact that Canadian soldiers have been working near the front lines and directing airstrikes has stirred controversy in Canada. A Canadian soldier was killed by Kurdish fighters in a friendly fire incident earlier this month.
The Canadian mission also includes six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling tanker aircraft, two surveillance planes and one airlift aircraft, with about 600 airmen and airwomen based in Kuwait. The Canadian air strikes have been limited to IS targets in Iraq thus far.
Canada will be the first NATO country, other than the United States, to conduct airstrikes in Syria. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE have also carried out airstrikes in Syria.
Although the Canadian mission doesn't need parliamentary approval, the government will submit it to a vote to show consensus. Any motion would pass because Harper's Conservative Party has a majority in Parliament.