Canada conducted its first airstrike against the Islamic State group in Syria on Wednesday, a week after the Canadian government decided to step up its contributions to the U.S.-led coalition against the radical group. Until Wednesday, Canadian aircraft have only conducted strikes in Iraq, where the government invited the coalition to fight the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.
Canada has now become the second coalition country outside of the Middle East to conduct strikes in Syria, alongside the United States. The airstrike targeted an ISIS garrison outside Raqqa, a stronghold for the group about 100 miles east of Aleppo and 130 miles west of the Iraqi border, accoriding to Department of National Defence press release. Two Canadian CF-18s were joined by six American aircraft and an aircraft from each of two other unnamed partner states. Canada contributed aircraft to three other missions to assess new targets in Syria.
Canada’s parliament narrowly passed a vote to expand its contributions in the Middle East on March 31, which include an extension of Iraqi government support missions for as much as a year. Canada’s Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, used its majority control of the parliament to pass the bill 149-129, which was met with vehement opposition from the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the Green Party.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair argued that expanding the mission to Syria was a violation of international law because Canada does not have the Syrian government’s consent to operate there, a criticism that has been levied on the U.S.-led operations in Syria since they began Sept. 22, 2014. He also argued that the bombing wouldn’t work, because you “can’t bomb [the Islamic State group] and its ideology into oblivion,” according to the National Post.
“To abandon the law so recklessly for the sake of political expediency, as the prime minister is eager to do, threatens the very principles we were sent here to defend,” Mulcair said, adding that he was concerned an expansion “could suck Canada into decades of conflict.”
Opposition parties in Canada want the Canadian Armed Forces to focus more on a humanitarian mission in the region than a military mission. Canadian aircraft have conducted 737 sorties in Iraq, and 480 of those were direct strikes by CF-18s. The others were either reconnaissance missions or mid-air refueling sorties. Joining the U.S. and Canada in operations in Syria are Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.