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WARMINGTON

'We are close' to attacks in Syria: Canuck commander

By Joe Warmington, Toronto Sun

(OPERATION IMPACT/ DND PHOTO)

(OPERATION IMPACT/ DND PHOTO)

If there are vacant seats in the mess tent for Easter supper in the desert of Kuwait, it will be for a very good reason.

Easter celebrations for our Canadian military personnel in Kuwait may not last long.

They are a little busy right now preparing for the newly expanded mandate of Canada’s Operation Impact mission.

Targets in Iraq have been on the receiving end of Canadian bombs for six months. ISIS controlled entities in Syria could soon be next.

Very soon in fact.

“We are close,” said Brig.-Gen. Dan Constable in an exclusive interview Good Friday. “We are putting together the final piece of the planning. I am almost there.”

The message to ISIS is loud and clear. Our CF-18s could start their attacks any day now.

Stay tuned because on this Easter weekend, Canada is at war — one that is broadening in scope.

While the politics of asking the RCAF to do more in the international fight against ISIS combatants in Iraq and Syria may be over, the job facing our armed forces is intensifying.

As Canadians on home soil gather together for Easter, another group of brave Canucks are readying for one of the most significant missions in our country’s military history.

“They’re saying here ‘Everyday is Monday,’ ” said Maj. Richard Langlois. “People will line up at the mess hall with their tray if they have a special meal that is a comfort of home but a half an hour later, they will be back to work.”

The base’s padre is planning a service and is helping the troops deal with being away from their kids on another holiday. On the ground there, it’s not really a time to relax and celebrate. There is too much work to do.

They know the enemy is not taking a break.

“My mission statement hasn’t changed by adding the word Syria. Our job is to degrade ISIL,” said Constable, a distinguished CF-18 pilot himself. “We see it as critical to not allow them a safe haven, or the ability to run and hide, literally 1 kilometre from the border.”

The new rules of engagement allow him to send jets to smoke out ISIL operatives and their traps which include special IED trucks designed to cause massive road-side explosions.

If they are on the Syrian side of a porous border, he can now take them out.

His team of 530 on the ground in Kuwait and 70 more Special Forces working with the Kurdish Peshmerga military in Iraq are more than ready. Working with their coalition partners, they are doing their best to systematically take apart the ISIL network, whose members think nothing of beheading innocent people or brutalizing those who don’t follow their perverted version of extremist, radical Islam.

Canada has already played a prominent and courageous role in the quest to rid the region of this evil and those brave conquests have not gone unnoticed by those fighting beside them.

“The Americans here heard the other day that it was the RCAF’s 91st birthday so they brought over a cake,” said Constable. “It meant a lot to our team.”

It was the same reaction they had at Christmas when they received hundreds of cards from schools and citizens from coast to coast.

“It’s heartwarming to know so many are behind us,” added the general.

The people under his command, he said, deserve it because they are doing the country proud and helping ensure the ISIL atrocities do not spread.

“My team here is an incredible group,” said Constable, a British Columbia native. “We have experience here but also many people on their very first foreign deployment. We have one private with only two years in the military and I have been a member for 35 years. I can tell you this. Everybody here is committed.”

And working around the clock.

Since the start of Op IMPACT, Canadian aircraft have conducted 716 sorties in Iraq. CF-18 fighters have flown 468 sorties. Their Polaris refueller aircraft have completed 120 sorties in which they have successfully delivered close to 7 million pounds of fuel. The Aurora surveillance planes have flown 130 sorties.

While Parliament was talking about what the mission should look like in the next year, our men and women were wisely focused on the dangerous job at hand.

They are not only taking out ISIS hardware but helping to the save lives of our allies.

On March 30, Maj. Langlois told me “CF-18s conducted a strike near Ramadi in support of Iraqi forces that were under enemy fire. The Iraqi forces were engaged by ISIL forces in buildings near their position. We were able to task our CF-18 who were already in the air over Iraq. The strike allowed the Iraqi Forces to complete their ground combat mission in the area.”

Then on March 31, “CF-18 Hornets successfully struck an ISIL fighting position west of Mosul which included a heavy machine gun firing point. The position was destroyed,” said Langlois.

In both instances, there were no civilians killed.

Constable, meanwhile, said to his knowledge, extensive assessments have shown no instances of collateral damage.

“We try to minimize the risk,” he added. “We want to get it right. We are extremely tight in our planning but there is never no risk.”

For innocent people in Iraq or Syria, or for his men and women, to be killed or wounded by a vicious entity, there are no guarantees.

Every day the troops in Iraq and Kuwait are reminded of just what can happen — not just in theatre but on Canadian soil. The base in which I spoke to Constable is named Camp Vincent, after Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent who was run down near Montreal last year. The Iraq base is named Patrol Base Cirillo, after Cpl. Nathan Cirillo who was gunned down at the Cenotaph Oct. 22, 2014.

“We understand the importance of our men and women’s protection here,” said the general. “We also understand we are up against an enemy that does not believe in the Geneva convention.”

That enemy will be seeing more on Canadian firepower imminently.

In the meantime, while some may get a moment for a much deserved Easter dinner, Constable emphasized the focus is on the big job ahead and their own families back home on a holiday weekend without them.


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