OTTAWA—The record-breaking kill shot by a Canadian sniper in Iraq should be celebrated, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, even as he insisted Canada’s mission in the battle-racked country remains a non-combat one.
“What happened there is, first of all, something to be celebrated for the excellence of the Canadian Forces in their training, in the performance of their duties,” Trudeau told a news conference on June 27.
“But it’s also something to be understood as being entirely consistent with what Canada is expected—and Canadians expect our forces—to be doing as part of the coalition against Daesh.”
Daesh is another name for the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
National Defence revealed last week that a member of Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 special forces unit was supporting Iraqi forces when he shot an ISIS terrorist who was 3,540 metres away.
That is more than a kilometre farther than the previous record, held by a British sniper who shot a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan in 2009.
While news of the shot sparked both accolades and disbelief around the world, it also prompted NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to rekindle a long-standing debate about whether Canadian soldiers are involved in combat in Iraq.
The sniper was defending Iraqi and Kurdish forces when he took the shot, which is allowed and even expected as part of Canada’s “advise and assist” mission in Iraq, Trudeau said.
“Defending our allies in the coalition has always been an integral part of our training and support mission to the local troops,” he said.
“This is completely in keeping with our responsibilities as Canadians, as members of the coalition in northern Iraq, and it will continue to be that way.”
Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe, the deputy commander of Canadian special forces, said the sniper who shattered the record for the longest confirmed kill also saved lives.
Dawe said June 28 that ISIS terrorists were gathering for an attack on an unsuspecting Iraqi military unit when the Canadian took the 3.5-kilometre shot. The shot killed one fighter and sent the rest scattering for cover, effectively breaking up the attack.
“This attack was massing unbeknownst to our partner forces, because it was happening very quickly in a very dynamic sort of environment,” Dawe said.
“And so our team was able to engage, and not only successfully that particular enemy fighter, but pre-empt a mass attack. So that’s a significant achievement.”
He wouldn’t say much else about the shot, saying that to do so could endanger the lives of Canadian soldiers in Iraq.
“We’ve been very transparent to Canadians in terms of what our troops are doing—as transparent as we can be without compromising the welfare and the safety of our men and women deployed overseas,” he said.
Dawe said the sniper was operating within the mission parameters laid out by the federal government, which includes shooting to defend friendly forces when needed.
“Canadian troops are not leading offensive operations,” he said. “But when you’re advising and assisting, it’s exactly what those two terms would suggest. To assist effectively means to also look after the partner forces with whom you’re working.”
The question of whether Canadian soldiers are in combat in Iraq has swirled since the previous Conservative government deployed the first troops to help fight ISIS in September 2014.
The Liberals promised a non-combat mission during the last federal election.
But while they withdrew the six CF-18s that were participating in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIS, they also tripled the number of Canadian special forces soldiers on the ground to 200.
That was despite assertions while in opposition that Canadian troops calling in airstrikes on ISIS targets and shooting in self-defence while operating near the front lines were indeed in combat.
Canadian troops in Iraq continue to conduct those types of activities.
The government is expected to announce in the coming days either an extension or changes to Canada’s current mission in Iraq, whose current mandate is set to expire on June 30.
Trudeau also said the government remains “committed to working with the U.N.” through the deployment of up to 600 peacekeepers, but that Canadians expect the Liberals to make “the right decision.”
From The Canadian Press