Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper waits for the start of the NATO Leaders Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, September 5, 2014. Larry Downing/Reuters
Canada is preparing to send military advisers into Iraq to help in the fight against ISIS, CBC News has learned. An announcement could come as early as today.
Dozens of Canadian Forces personnel would be advising from Baghdad and would not be involved in any fighting in the field. The move is expected to be a Canadian initiative, not part of a wider NATO mission.
As a meeting of NATO leaders convened in Britain, the organization is facing no shortage of crises and a challenge from two of its dominant partners to confront a virulent new form of Islamic extremism in the Middle East — a challenge that Canada taking its own steps to address.
On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron called on the 28-member military alliance to deal with the emerging threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda splinter group.
Defence and foreign ministers from 10 NATO allies, including Canada, met on the sidelines of the leaders summit Friday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry characterized the group as a "core coalition" to fight ISIS.
"We need to attack them in ways that prevent them from taking over territory, to bolster the Iraqi security forces and
others in the region who are prepared to take them on, without committing troops of our own," Kerry said.
"Obviously I think that's a red line for everybody here: no boots on the ground," he said.
NATO leaders also promised to protect the tiny Baltic states in the alliance from possible Russian aggression.
"We meet here at a solemn moment for our alliance and the security of our nations," Cameron said at the opening of the summit, being held on a rolling golf resort in this sea-side Welsh community.
"We meet at a crucial time in the history of our alliance. The world faces many dangerous and evolving threats and it is absolutely clear that NATO is as vital to our future as it has been in our past."
Help for Ukraine, Baltic states
Prime Minister Stephen Harper huddled with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko late in the day and pledged $4-million for two initiatives in eastern Europe designed to help both that embattled country and the Baltic states.
The cash will be used to help improve the command and control and logistics computers of the Ukrainian army, and to bolster cyber and energy security in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
"We are obviously watching developments in your country with great worry and sadness, but you have — and can be sure that you have — solidarity, always," Harper told Poroshenko during a photo-op.
There are ceasefire talks underway and Russia warned on Thursday they could be scuttled if Ukraine strengthened its ties with NATO. The east European country is a partner, but wants to be a full-fledged member — something Canada has supported in the past.
Poroshenko wouldn't say Thursday when Ukraine will apply for NATO membership, saying key economic reforms must be made first.
The British are reportedly set to announce the creation of a 10,000-strong expeditionary force outside of NATO.
Those troops would serve as reinforcements in a crisis for the alliance's existing 13,000 rapid response force, which leaders are proposing to bolster with an additional 4,500 high-readiness soldiers that can deploy within 48 hours of an emergency.
Canada's role unclear
It's unclear which one of those forces Canada is prepared to commit to — if any.
The Harper government was eager on Thursday to promote a laundry list of military exercises meant to reassure jittery allies, including the temporary repositioning of a Canadian frigate into the Black Sea this month as part of a NATO task force.
Military historian Sean Maloney says the alliance seems to have forgotten how it managed containment of the former Soviet Union — on both the military and diplomatic front.
"We are now half a year into this situation and only now are we seeing a half-hearted and uncoordinated response on the diplomatic front," said Maloney, who wrote a book about Canada's Cold War NATO brigade in Europe.
Militarily, he said, NATO had rapid-response forces that regularly deployed to countries whenever Russia made threatening signals.
"In the Cold War this state of affairs would not have been possible," he said. "We would have matched them move-for-move and the possibility of them escalating to this point would have been remote ... The handfuls of troops deployed by the U.S. and Canada [for training] are not a credible demonstration of either solidarity or signalling."
Yet, even the brush fire war in eastern Ukraine and a resurgent Russia seemed to be eclipsed by the growing concern over ISIS, whose ranks of hardened fighters have been bolstered by hundreds of westerners from Britain, Canada and the United States.
The urgency is propelled by horrific Internet images of beheaded journalists and reports of atrocities in Syria and northern Iraq, as well as the fear that foreign fighters could return home to continue their war in the West.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry convened a meeting of possible coalition partners, who could participate in an expanded bombing campaign and humanitarian relief operation.
NATO General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is stepping down after five years in the post, said the alliance had not received a formal request, but was preparing for a myriad of threats.
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