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World

Canada's new anti-IS strategy avoids 'crowded skies'

After ending Canada's bombing raids against "Islamic State" in Syria, Prime Minister Trudeau has changed tack to military training, counterintelligence, humanitarian aid and local development. Philip Fine reports.

Canada's approach to the war against "Islamic State" took a turn toward the nuanced in an announcement that was overshadowed by the country's decision to pull out its six fighter jets from the coalition battling the group.

Justin Trudeau was accompanied by the defense, foreign affairs and international development ministers when he announced that Canada would no longer participate in coalition airstrikes as of February 22 - bringing home the point that development and diplomacy sit at the same table as the country's military presence.

Canada will contribute more than 1.6 billion Canadian dollars (1.02 billion euros/$1.15 billion) over the next three years in a fund that bundles the areas of security, stabilization, humanitarian and development assistance for the crises in Iraq and Syria, and their impact on Jordan and Lebanon.

Strategy change

That means that emergency health care, sanitation and education in Iraq and Syria - as well as employment, maternal health and sustainability in Jordan and Lebanon - will not be marginalized as Canda continues to fund special forces to train and provide small arms to the peshmerga fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan and counterterrorism initiatives.

Syrische Flüchtlinge kommen in Kanada an Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Trudeau (l.) hands a jacket to a Syrian refugee in Toronto

Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that Canada now has "a complete and robust mission," saying that it will engage in areas where Canada excels and "where we can best help offer stability and security in the region."

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan told the CBC that training for local forces and humanitarian and development aid is what the coalition needs right now from Canada - not fighter jets. "As a coalition, the fighter (jet) capability will always be there. And if every nation only brought one tool to the fight then it wouldn't be a comprehensive plan."

More help on the ground

Janice Stein from the Munk School of Global Affairs said Canada had found its niche among its military allies. "The Liberals really wanted to increase development and humanitarian assistance. They wanted to integrate it and coordinate it with their diplomatic assistance," she told DW.

Stein said fighter jets were already well-represented, with Russian and US aircraft providing significant combat capability and the French and British more active than ever. "The skies are very crowded."

And, Stein said, far from keeping a safe distance from fighting, Canada is putting itself more in harm's way by training local forces on the front lines of the conflict. "Risk to our pilots was very low. Risk to the forces we will have on the ground is higher."

Stein said Sajjan would not have to worry when he sits down in Brussels on Wednesday for two days of meetings with his fellow NATO defense ministers. "We are leaving our refueler and our reconnaissance aircraft in place, and we're augmenting our contribution on the ground," she said. "And training has been identified as one of the crucial requirements. It's very difficult to argue that we're degrading our contribution. We're not."

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