OTTAWA—Canadian military forces were very much in the thick of a major offensive by the Islamic State against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq on Thursday.
Two CF-18s struck a fighting position belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, northwest of occupied Mosul, the embattled country’s second-largest city.
Canadian special forces personnel training Kurdish forces laid down supporting fire to back up the Kurds in repelling the offensive that involved hundreds of extremists, the military said Thursday.
“They came under effective fire and our guys were close enough and able to respond with fire on to those ISIL positions,” said Maj.-Gen. Charles Lamarre in a hastily called briefing Thursday night.
There are 69 Canadian special forces trainers who are assisting the Kurdish peshmerga in the region of Irbil. They are not considered to be in a combat role but sometimes there is ho choice, Lamarre said.
“Our guys are always prepared because it’s a dangerous environment and they need to defend not only themselves but the forces with which they are training and providing assistance,” he said.
There were no Canadian casualties.
U.S. media reports say American, British and French jets also flew strikes as the multi-pronged offensive against the Kurds dragged on for over 17 hours.
Local media reports in Irbil claim Kurdish forces have repelled the coordinated assaults in five locations—Nawaran, Bashiqa, Tel Aswad, Khazr and Zardik.
A statement from Kurdistan Regional Security Council said “car bombs and mortars and rockets” were used to open up each attack and they were followed up by Islamic State fighters.
In one area—Nawaran—extremists set off nine car bombs, according to local reports.
The size and scale of the offensive seems to have taken both the Kurds and the American-led coalition by surprise, especially at time when U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter was telling Kurdish media in Iribil that plans for the recapture of Mosul were proceeding.
He painted an optimistic picture, saying the intense ISIL attack demonstrated to people in Irbil that extremists can and will strike at them, but the peshmerga’s effectiveness in repelling the assault showed through.
Canadian participation in the raids came as the new Liberal government is actively considering when to withdraw its six CF-18s from combat and how to beef up the ground training mission of local forces.
There are 69 Canadian special forces trainers who are assisting the Kurdish peshmerga in the region of Irbil.