Canadian forces took part in the first confirmed ground battle between Islamic State forces and Western State troops. Over the last year there has been a steady increase of military advisors and Special Forces units arriving in Iraq, but until now they have only been reported to have played a training, coordination and advisory role.
The gun battle occurred behind enemy lines where a group of Canadian Special Forces were coordinating with local Kurdish Peshmerga Forces, and assisting in the laser-guiding of precision air-strikes. The group then came under small-arms and mortar fire, to which they retaliated. There are no reports of any coalition casualties.
Canadian Special Forces Commander Brigadier-General Michael Rouleau stated to AFP that:
“My troops had completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines, 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.”
This will undoubtedly trigger a debate on ‘mission creep’, especially with the Obama administration adamant that there will be no boots on ground in either Syria or Iraq in a combat role. However, while this is the first public report of such an incident, it does not signal a shift towards combat operations for coalition forces. The combined international forces will maintain an active role in the conflict, and while this is the first reported incident of this type, it is not necessarily the first or last time that Special Forces units active in enemy territory will be engaged in fighting.
This incident does call into question the role of coalition forces on the ground. Conducting operations that should be undertaken by local ground forces signals the need for further military training from coalition partners. The US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France and the Netherlands all have a military capacity in Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State.
This event raises the questions, what is the role of Coalition ground forces? Will this signal a new chapter in the way that Islamic State is combatted? Will there be a change in policy to international troop deployment?
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About MERI: The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region. Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.
MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).