The View From Here – Canada’s military role in Iraq becomes war of words in Ottawa

Tom Henihan

“The first casualty of War is Truth,” is an axiom that seems especially appropriate when the prime minister of Canada refuses to admit that the country’s armed forces are engaged in combat in Iraq.

A recent report that a sniper with the Canadian armed forces in Iraq shattered the world record for the “longest confirmed kill,” seems to put the lie to the government’s line that Canada is only engaged in an ‘advise and assist,” capacity.

Canadian National Defence says the sniper was with a Joint Task Force 2 Special Forces unit when he shot and killed an enemy fighter from 3,540 metres distance, approximately 3.5 kilometres.

Many media reports framed the incident in the spirit of an Olympic competition, citing that the Canadian sniper shattered the existing world record by more than a kilometre, a record established by a British sniper in Afghanistan killing a Taliban fighter in 2009.

The term “longest confirmed kill,” has a unsettling, dehumanizing ring to it, as though the enemy fighter was an unknown and unknowable entity and not a human being.

Some may argue that ISIL has relinquished their membership in human society due to their indiscriminate atrocities and unmitigated savagery.

However, from our perspective one engages the enemy to defeat such savagery and prevent such atrocities.

Their savagery does not give us license to become dehumanized and monstrous in the process.

We should not forget the moral implications of what we are unfortunately obliged to do and see it as a game of marksmanship where someone holds the record for the “longest confirmed kill.”

Of course, the ISIL phenomenon in some ways has made the unthinkable commonplace but we should remind ourselves that it is abhorrent and not reduce the role of a soldier to the same level as video game entertainment.

Where the truth has become a casualty in this instance, is that the Canadian forces in Iraq are there ostensibly in an “advise and assist” capacity and officially not involved in combat.

The role Canadian forces play in Iraq has been nebulous throughout the mission and the term “advise and assist,” is certainly vague enough to provide a substantial margin for surreptitious activities.

In a letter to the Prime Minister dated June 23, NDP Leader, Tom Mulcair expressed his concerns about Canada’s questionable role in Iraq:

“I write to you with concern about recent news reports regarding an elite Canadian Special Forces unit’s sniper fire against enemy combatants in Iraq.

It is not clear exactly how and when this engagement occurred but it seriously calls into question your government’s claim that Canadian Forces are not involved in direct combat in Iraq.”

Mulcair rightly points out in his letter, that Canadians have a right to know what Canada’s military role in Iraq is and if the term “advise and assist,” that is, to train Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIL accurately describes that role.

A Canadian soldier killing an enemy combatant from a distance of three and a half kilometres does indeed give rise to the question whether Canada is engaged in combat in Iraq or not.

And while it may be a world record and an impressive show of marksmanship, killing another person from such a distance it is a dubious honour to hold, especially if the Canadian sniper that now holds that record is in Iraq in an non-combatant, advise and assist capacity.

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