Newspaper article The Canadian Press

U.S. Asks Canada for Additional Help in Middle East, but Harper Mum on Details

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

U.S. Asks Canada for Additional Help in Middle East, but Harper Mum on Details

Article excerpt

U.S. asks Canada to step up in ISIL fight

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NEW YORK, - Canada is now weighing the possibility of an extended military role in the Middle East and will be making an announcement on the matter very soon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated Wednesday.

Harper said he has just received a request from the U.S. government in the past several days for further Canadian involvement in the fight against Islamist rebels. At a public appearance in the U.S. on Wednesday, the prime minister expressed general support for the American-led mission, while adding that he's not yet ready to announce Canada's next move.

"We need to have some additional debate in our government before we reach a final decision," he said during a question-and-answer session in New York before an audience of U.S. business leaders, explaining that he wanted to discuss the issue both in cabinet and Parliament.

As for a timeline, he added: "The Government of Canada will make a decision on that very, very shortly."

Harper declined to offer any details about a possible new engagement, when pressed. He said the U.S. government didn't make its "letter public," and he wasn't going to do it there.

One government official familiar with that request later explained that it did not involve combat. The government has been under pressure in Parliament to clarify its intentions beyond the 30-day commitment it's made to assisting the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Harper outlined for his audience what Canada has done over that period.

He declared with a smile that Canada's military has actually moved more supplies into northern Iraq, so far, than the United States Air Force. In addition to those logistical flights, he said Canada had the second-largest contingent of foreign forces advising the Iraqi military.

Harper said the world can't allow terrorists to gain safe havens like the one that has developed in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Later in the day, he made the same point when he joined other leaders in speaking to the UN Security Council, and expressed support for a resolution to clamp down on foreign fighters.

Earlier in the day, U.S. President Barack Obama had urged world leaders in a speech to join his expanding military campaign to stamp out ISIL's "network of death."

"There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil," Obama told the UN General Assembly. He warned those who have joined their cause to "leave the battlefield while they can."

The U.S. request to Canada, one Canadian official said, has been part of a natural progression of events and came as no surprise to the government: "We've been working closely with the Americans, who have been trying to build a coalition for quite some time... We've been involved in those discussions," he said, adding that the Canadian government has always made it clear it "that it would be prepared to do more as requests came in."

Wednesday's public Q-and-A between Harper and the Wall Street Journal's editor-in-chief also delved into some of the sociological aspects of the fight against ISIL.

Some of the terrorists who carry Western passports can hardly be called Muslims -- some of them apparently don't even attend mosque, Harper said. When invited to opine on whether George W. Bush's Iraq invasion caused the current mess, Harper cast his glance much farther back than 2003.

He said a major root of the current trouble is a Sunni-Shia rivalry that goes back centuries, and which has killed far more people than anti-Western terrorism. …

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