A handful of Canadian army combat engineers will soon be in Iraq to train local security forces in the finer points of detecting and defusing roadside bombs, the Liberal government announced Thursday.
An advance team has already been sent to observe the kind of instruction being given under a NATO program that was announced at the Warsaw Summit in the summer of 2016, but only established in earlier this year.
A media release by National Defence provided few specifics, saying only a dozen engineers would be involved in the new endeavour and that they would deploy “later this fall.”
The U.S.–led coalition runs its own separate program to train Iraqi troops in dismantling improvised explosive devices.
A military official, speaking on background Thursday, said no decision had been made about whether Canada will join the NATO or the coalition program.
The Liberal government, at the end of June, extended the deployment of the Canadian military in Iraq for two years, but was unclear what sort of missions it would undertake after ISIS was ejected from the country.
In addition, the military confirmed that special forces trainers are assisting Iraqi forces as they push towards Hawija, one of the last ISIS strongholds in Iraq.
85,000 civilians at risk
Last week, a spokesperson for the Canadian special forces command told The Canadian Press that the move was underway.
Maj. Alexandre Cadieux was quoted as saying the highly-trained troops, who had assisted the Kurdish Peshmerga in the liberation of Mosul, had shifted their focus to Hawija.
Although, the department said Thursday that the Canadians will still pitch in to advise forces in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city which was occupied by ISIS for three years.
Hawija is located roughly 50 kilometres west of city of Kirkuk and has been an ISIS redoubt since 2014.
In the drive to liberate Mosul, Hawija was surrounded more than a year ago, but not captured by Iraqi forces.
Officials at the United Nations have warned that as many as 85,000 civilians living in the town are at risk and could be caught up in heavily fighting.
There are about 200 Canadian special forces troops that are part of the mission to expel the extremist group from Iraq and Syria.
A Role 2 combat hospital, transport helicopters, an air-to-air refuelling tanker and a surveillance plane make up the rest of Canada’s detachment.