by Chris Murray

22 February 2016 – Kingston, CA

There seems to have been some confusion of late within the Canadian Government. Apparently the subtlety and nuance of what constitutes a ‘combat mission’ and what does not is such that lately there has been a debate occurring within the House of Commons over how Canada defines military terminology. The truly exasperating part is that this is not a new debate. When the Conservatives were in power and sent our Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) contingent to Iraq for the raining mission, this debate was in full bloom then. Now as Canada is pulling out the CF-18 contingent and focusing solely on training, the debate is back.

Given the large contingent of Canadian nationals on the Defence Report team, we have taken it upon ourselves to help clear things up for the Canadian Government with our take on what constitutes and what does not constitute a ‘combat mission.’

US Army advise and assist mission in Iraq, c. Nov 2015

In determining what their mission is the Canadian Government should ask the following of themselves,

  • Does your mission’s parameters specifically task the operational group deployed with engagement, or assisting other forces in the engagement (through direct, indirect, or sabotage efforts) of enemy forces?
    • i.e. are you calling in close air support for offensive missions or engaging in hostage rescue?

Then yes, that is a combat mission.

Also you can alternatively ask the following,

  • Are you sending advisors into hostile or dangerous areas where they may have to fire their weapon (or even call in an air strike) in defence but wherein that action (although authorized within mission parameters) is not specifically set out as an objective of the mission?
    • i.e. That is not what they are there to do but may be forced to?

Then no, that is not a combat mission.

Someone firing a weapon does not a combat mission make.

When members of the CSOR contingent defensively fired back while taking fire on the front lines, the head of Canadian Special Forces, General Marc Rouleau, outlined we are doing. Rouleau states that 80 percent of our time we instruct and advise behind the lines and the 20 percent, we are making sure that those lessons have been put in place.

Quibbling over terms might satisfy the parties and their MPs as they play their never ending political gotcha games of “who has the best sound bite”. However, outside their little world that exists only on the Hill and within their own egos it seems trivial. Few care about the wordsmithing, but the majority of Canadians care about the mission, and what we are doing, what the goal is. It is more important to debate our effectiveness in eliminating ISIS. Are we making a meaningful contribution? What is our long-term strategy? Can we do more? Are our approaches effective? How can we ensure that when ISIS is defeated that there might be a semblance of stability in the region afterwards?

It seems we spend most of the time in the House arguing about the wrong things.

Ukrainian airborne officer checks Canadian parachute kit before exercise
Ukrainian airborne officer checks Canadian parachute kit before exercise

At most we are only making definitions that will likely come back to bite us later on. Does no one within the Canadian Government recall the dubious beginnings of the Canadian Afghan mission when definitions and terminology lead to a situation when our men and women in uniform were not allowed to use their weapons in Afghanistan when attacked and instead had to rely on German bodyguards? Respectfully, to the members of the House, of all parties, we are talking about soldiers, even the ‘safe’ missions are dangerous and even if it’s a non-combat mission they might have to fire their weapons. If our soldiers are attacked that’s exactly what they are supposed to and should do.

We have just increased our boots-on-the-ground presence three fold. Lots of politicians meanwhile are busy throwing around the words ‘mission creep’ but seem little concerned with the escalating crisis and that the ‘creep’ is not entirely ours to determine. It may seem reductive to say this but without making a foray into the more complex elements of the Syrian civil war these does seem to be one simple question we can use as a starting point, are we ok with ISIS existing and a state of humanitarian crisis persisting in a region, in part thanks to this groups efforts? If the answer is no, let’s not quibble about language and start talking in real terms, without the partisan noise and political games and concentrate about what we can do to get there.

Oh and one final note for those yelling at the top of their lungs about the Liberals cutting the CF-18 missions while simultaneously going after the Libs for what is and is not a combat mission for our boots-on-the-ground. At best you sound like hypocrites and at worst idiots. Get over strategic bombing, it’s not going to solve the problem on its own while we sit in the comfort of our base. Furthermore cutting CF-18 missions does not mean that Canada is running away from the situation; if Canada’s allies are happy Canada’s opposition party should be too. Canada needs to start having a real conversation about what it can do to fix things instead of trying to make political opponents look weak on inversely appear strongest in the House. In this case a large part of that last comment (although not exclusively) must be directed toward the Canadian Tories who seem to be completely lost since their election defeat.


Feature Photo: Canadian House of Commons Chamber– Wikimedia , 2016

Inset Photo:US Army advise and assist mission in Iraq, c. Nov 2015 – Wikimedia Commons, 2016

Inset Photo: Ukrainian airborne officer checks Canadian parachute kit before exercise – Flickr, US Army Europe, 2016

DefenceReport’s Analysis is a multi-format blog that is based on opinions, insights and dedicated research from DefRep editorial staff and writers. The analysis expressed here are the author’s own and are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.

By Chris Murray

Chris is the Assistant Editor at DefenceReport and Senior Analyst. He holds a PhD is Defence Studies from King’s College London, an MA in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as both an Ba in Anthropology and an HBa in History from Lakehead University. He specialises in irregular conflicts, guerrilla insurgencies, and asymmetrical warfare. His areas of focus include the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe, but are primarily aimed at the Balkans. Chris is an Associate Member of the of The Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies at King's College London, a Member of the Second World War Research Group at King’s College London, as well as an Associate of King’s College London. Chris has formally served as a defence and foreign policy advisor in the Canadian House of Commons to the office of a Member of Parliament. [email protected]