OTTAWA – The record-breaking kill shot by a Canadian sniper in Iraq should be “celebrated,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday, even as he insisted Canada’s mission in the battle-racked country remains a non-combat one.
“What happened there is, first of all, something to be celebrated for the excellence of the Canadian Forces in their training, in the performance of their duties,” Trudeau told a news conference.
“But it’s also something to be understood as being entirely consistent with what Canada is expected – and Canadians expect our forces – to be doing as part of the coalition against Daesh.”
Daesh is another name for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
National Defence revealed last week that a member of Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 special forces unit was supporting Iraqi forces when he shot an ISIL fighter who was 3,540 metres away.
That is more than a kilometre farther than the previous record, held by a British sniper who shot a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan in 2009.
While news of the shot sparked both accolades and disbelief around the world, it also prompted NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to rekindle a long-standing debate about whether Canadian soldiers are involved in combat in Iraq.
The sniper was defending Iraqi and Kurdish forces when he took the shot, which is allowed and even expected as part of Canada’s “advise and assist” mission in Iraq, Trudeau said.
“Defending our allies in the coalition has always been an integral part of our training and support mission to the local troops,” he said.
“This is completely in keeping with our responsibilities as Canadians, as members of the coalition in northern Iraq, and it will continue to be that way.”
The question of whether Canadian soldiers are in combat in Iraq has swirled since the previous Conservative government deployed the first troops to help fight ISIL in September 2014.
The Liberals promised a non-combat mission during the last federal election.
But while they withdrew the six CF-18s that were participating in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIL, they also tripled the number of Canadian special forces soldiers on the ground to 200.
That was despite assertions while in opposition that Canadian troops calling in airstrikes on ISIL targets and shooting in self-defence while operating near the front lines were indeed in combat.
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Canadian troops in Iraq continue to conduct those types of activities.
The Liberal government is expected to announce in the coming days either an extension or changes to Canada’s current mission in Iraq, whose current mandate is set to expire on June 30.
Trudeau also said the government remains “committed to working with the UN” through the deployment of up to 600 peacekeepers, but that Canadians expect the Liberals to make “the right decision.”