WASHINGTON — Canadian special operations forces have been involved in a deadly firefight with Islamic State (IS) fighters in Iraq, a top Canadian general said on Monday. The disclosure marks the first official acknowledgement that western troops are leaving their forward operating bases and have engaged in combat in Iraq while training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
The Canadian operators had just completed a planning session with "senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines," explained Canadian special forces commander Brig. Gen. Michael Rouleau during a conference call with reporters. "When they moved forward to confirm the planning at the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine gunfire."
Canadian snipers quickly opened up on the targets "neutralizing the mortar and the machine-gun position," he said.
There are approximately 69 Canadian special operations forces personnel working in Iraq, operating under an April deadline for ending their mission, along with a number of regionally-based Canadian CF-18 Hornet aircraft taking part in the coalition bombing campaign aimed at IS targets as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
In a surprising bit of openness about a mission often clouded in secrecy, Brig. Gen. Rouleau also confirmed that his special operators have called in airstrikes for coalition aircraft from the ground, and have used lasers to designate targets. been able to laser designate targets to walk the aircraft in.
Rouleau said that the Canadian advisers — working with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north — generally stay several kilometers from the front lines, though they do get closer from time to time.
He claimed that the training program so far has been a success, and that "we have seen Iraqi security forces take more ground, gain more confidence and become even more proficient warriors than they already are."