Canadians to join NATO program to train Iraqi bomb defusers

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The Trudeau government ended the NATO leaders summit in Warsaw on Saturday by pledging to contribute to the military alliance’s program to improve the Iraqi military’s ability to detect and defuse roadside bombs.

The promise came just hours after the western allies also agreed to send surveillance planes to monitor the airspace over Syria and Iraq.

Talk of a more assertive Russia and the consequences of placing a brigade of troops in eastern Europe faded into the background as instability across the Middle East and North Africa dominated Day 2 of the summit.

On the way out the door, Canada announced it would be part of an established NATO program to train Iraqi solders in disposing of improvised explosive devices.

Training moves into Iraq

It began last spring at training camps in nearby Jordan, but the alliance recent received permission from the government in Baghdad to carry out instruction inside the war-torn nation.

Contributing to the program fits within Canada’s framework of helping to defeat the Islamic State, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said But he wasn’t able to offer many details.

“The fact is from the beginning we have always talked about the broad range of activities we can do in support of the local troops,” said Trudeau.

A defence official speaking on background said organizationally it is separate endeavour than the revamped mission, which was announced by Trudeau last February.

No Canadians to defuse bombs

It would not involve deploying Canadians to defuse bombs, but rather to train Iraqi soldiers to do the work themselves and to tutor their instructors, the official said.

The size and scope of the contribution has yet to be determined, but the official said the NATO-funded program would be on top of the special forces contingent training Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

NATO’s secretary general, Jen Stoltenberg, also revealed Saturday that a handful of the alliance’s advanced early warning patrol aircraft — AWACs — will soon be cruising the international skies close to Islamic State territory.

“We discussed the turmoil to the south of the alliance, including the situation in Syria,” he said. “Of course it is of a great concern, the turmoil, the violence, the fighting.”

It has an ominous ring, especially in light of Russia’s scaled back, but ongoing, bombing campaign in Syria.

Planes in the air over troubled region

“The plan is to have the planes flying over international airspace and over Turkey. That will enable them to look into both the airspace of Iraq and Syria,” Stoltenberg said.

There will be a new NATO-led naval presence in the central Mediterranean, which migrants have been using a highway to get to Europe, often times with tragic and deadly consequences.

Early Saturday, Canada announced it will spend $465 million to help cover the bill for Afghan security forces and to pay for development assistance over three years. The cash represents a renewal of funding programs that are set to expire next year.

In 2012, the former Conservative government committed a total of $557 million.

Money for Afghan security, humanitarian projects

Some of the money went towards an international fund that pays for security forces, including the fledgling Afghan army. Another allocation paid for Canadian-directed humanitarian and development projects.

A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office says $195 million will be spent on security forces and $270 million is planned for development assistance. The breakdown represents a reversal of how the money was apportioned by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, something that a defence expert says should not be a surprise.

“Obviously this government wants to look more as a peacekeeping, development and supporting (government), than hard security,” said Steve Saideman, a professor at Carleton University.

“This balance makes sense from this government.”

But he says security cannot be given the short shrift given the enormous casualties Afghan forces are suffering in the face of a still-lethal Taliban insurgency.

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Canadians to join NATO program to train Iraqi bomb defusers

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