Canada plans to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq following a U.S. request and may extend airstrikes into Syria if invited by President Bashar Assad's government, Canada's prime minister announced Friday.
The combat mission will be voted on in Parliament but Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has the majority of seats so it is expected to pass.
Harper said the motion authorizes air strikes in Iraq for up to six months and explicitly states that no ground troops be used in combat operations.
"We will strike ISIL where, and only where, Canada has the clear support of the government of that country. At present, that is only true in Iraq," he said. "If it were to become the case in Syria, then we would participate in airstrikes in that country also."
The new combat mission includes a handful of CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling tanker aircraft and surveillance planes. More humanitarian assistance will also be provided.
Canada is among dozens of countries that have signed up to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.
Canada has more than two dozen military advisers already in Iraq as part of an effort to advise Kurdish forces against Islamic militants after a request from President Barack Obama. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted last month that the U.S. welcomed Harper's announcement that Canada would send military advisers to Iraq as part of the U.S. effort to support Kurdish forces. Canada also earlier contributed two military cargo planes that carried weapons to Kurdish fighters.
Harper's government won the support of the opposition parties for air strikes in Libya in 2011 but he didn't for this combat mission. Opposition New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair said Canada should not rush into war and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said he won't support the motion. But the Conservative party's majority means he doesn't need their support. A motion is expected to be debated and voted on Monday.
Canada's former Liberal government refused a request to send troops when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, straining ties between the two neighbors. Canada then stepped up its Afghanistan mission.
Harper formally ended Canada's combat role in Afghanistan in 2011. The mission cost 157 soldiers their lives since 2002, shocking Canadians unaccustomed to seeing their troops die in battle.
President Barack Obama has conceded that the U.S. led military campaign against Islamic State militants and an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria was helping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, a man the U.N. has accused of war crimes.
Obama has said he had no choice but to order U.S. air strikes on Assad's enemies in Syria, the Islamic State and the Khorasan Group because they could kill Americans. Both the Islamic State group and the Khorasan Group have been targeted by U.S. airstrikes; together they constitute the most significant military opposition to Assad, whose government the U.S. and its allies would like to see gone.
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