OTTAWA—A great deal of attention has been focused over the past week on the U.S. military operation in Syria that took down the group’s shadowy leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as on Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria. Yet Iraq and Lebanon, where Canada has hundreds of military personnel, have been facing their own challenges as protesters have taken to the streets in the thousands.
The Canadian military is being forced to adjust and even curtail some aspects of its anti-ISIS mission in Iraq and Lebanon as anti-government protests rock the two countries and threaten to further destabilize the Middle East.
The protests began several weeks ago as anger and frustration over endemic corruption, unemployment, and a lack of basic services drove thousands of citizens into the streets to call for change, prompting the prime ministers of both countries to resign this week.
The protests have also been marred by violence as clashes have erupted between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in Lebanon, while more than 200 protesters in Iraq have been killed and thousands more injured, many allegedly at the hands of local security forces.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Brig.-Gen. Michel-Henri St-Louis, the top commander of Canadian Forces in the region, says his troops continue to train and support their Iraqi and Lebanese counterparts as part of the fight against the ISIS terrorist group.
St-Louis also says the protests have in some cases made it difficult for the Canadians to move around, forced them to pull back, or temporarily suspend some of their work.
St-Louis would not speak to what long-term impact the instability could cause for the mission or whether additional security measures have been implemented to protect the hundreds of troops under his command, but promised their safety and protection are his top priority.