OTTAWA – The country’s new defence minister left the door open Wednesday for Canadian troops to join the U.S. in training Ukrainian forces and for an extension of the combat mission against the Islamic State.
Jason Kenney, speaking on CBC’s Power and Politics, echoed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comments in saying that “all options are on the table” when it comes to opposing Russian interference in eastern Ukraine, but was more specific on the issue of training.
He said: “if there is consensus that we could play a role in terms of training, we would be open to doing so, but no decisions have been taken.”
The commander of the U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, said Wednesday a battalion of U.S. soldiers would train three battalions of Ukrainians from the Interior Ministry at the Yavariv training centre in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
The training won’t begin until March, but Hodges said it will teach the Ukrainians how to better defend themselves against “Russian and rebel artillery and rockets.”
The six-month combat mission against the Islamic State expires by late March and Kenny, who was appointed this week to the portfolio, says the Conservative government hasn’t made up its mind whether to extend it, ask Parliament for a different mandate, or even if an extension would be put before MPs.
The decision to go to war in Canada is the exclusive domain of the federal cabinet, but the Conservatives have made it practise to consult the House of Commons.
In Washington, President Barack Obama has asked Congress for a limited mandate to wage war on the Islamic State, but it would not include “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”
The resolution would not limit military operations to Iraq and Syria or prohibit defensive ground operations.
The language is similar to what the Harper government has been saying to justify the actions of special forces trainers, who have been guiding in air strikes for Kurdish peshmerga fighters, and they’ve also been engaged in three defensive firefights.