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Canada to extend air campaign against 'Islamic State' to include Syria

Canada is set to extend and expand its military mission against "Islamic State" fighters, possibly to include airstrikes in Syria. Until now, Canadian jets have only hit militant positions in northern Iraq.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rose in the House of Commons on Tuesday to announce the government's intention to

extend the Canadian Armed Forces mission in northern Iraq

beyond an initial six month mandate, which is set to expire early next month.

Harper said the new mission would provide for the involvement of Royal Canadian Air Force fighter jets in strikes on "Islamic State" (IS) positions not just in northern Iraq, as they have been up to now, but also in Syria.

Referring to IS as ISIL, one of the other acronyms that the Islamists have used to describe themselves, the prime minister said hitting them in Syria was a key part of overall efforts to defeat them.

"ISIL's fighters and much of its heavier equipment are moving freely across the Iraqi border into Syria, in part for better protection against our air strikes. In our view, ISIL must cease to have any safe haven in Syria," Harper said.

The prime minister also noted that Ottawa would "not seek the express consent of the Syrian government" before launching strikes

on Syrian territory

. He also stressed the need to "avoid, if we can, taking on ground combat responsibilities" in Iraq.

In addition to six CF-188 Hornet fighter jets, which have been taking part in the US-led air campaign against IS, Canada also has 70 special forces troops in northern Iraq to train Kurdish ground forces.

Controversy at home

The mission, though, is not without controversy at home, particularly since the special forces soldiers found themselves in combat in an incident in mid-January, after they came under mortar and machine gun fire as they were training Iraqi forces near the front line.

There was more controversy after a Canadian soldier was killed by Kurdish forces in a friendly fire incident earlier this month.

The main opposition left-of-center New Democrats have said they would vote against the extension, but the measure is all but sure to pass, as Harper's Conservatives hold a parliamentary majority.

pfd/jr (Reuters, AFP)

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