Special forces from Canada clashed with Islamic State group fighters in Iraq in recent days, a senior Canadian officer said Monday, Agence France-Presse reported. The standoff is the first confirmed ground battle between the extremist group and Western troops, which are currently supporting Iraqi government efforts to repel the group that has seized swathes of territory in the country.
"My troops had completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines," said Canadian special forces commander Brig.-Gen. Michael Rouleau, the news agency reported. "When they moved forward to confirm the planning at the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine gunfire."
The confrontation was the first time ground troops in Iraq took and returned fire, said the general, who added there were no Canadian injuries in the incident. Western forces have not officially engaged in ground combat in the region though the United States previously launched an unsuccessful hostage-rescue operation.
The participation of coalition forces has helped to stop the advance of ISIS, said Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of the Canadian joint operations command, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The 3-month-old mission has forced the group into a defensive posture, he said, adding, "Now we are degrading them.”
Confirmation of the ground battle came after the coalition’s Combined Joint Task Force said Saturday the U.S. and its allies conducted 29 airstrikes on the group in a 24-hour period. Sixteen strikes took place around seven Iraqi cities, destroying vehicles structures, as well as hitting units belonging to ISIS while other strikes in Syria destroyed tanks and fighting positions, Reuters reported. The multinational coalition, began carrying out airstrikes on the group in Iraq in August and in Syria in September. ISIS militants have said they want to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region, and have carried out a number of atrocities as they’ve made territorial advances.