This week, Canadian forces once more took the fight to Islamic militants as six Canadian fighter jets flew out of CFB Cold Lake to battle Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces.
According to national media sources, the CF-18s are headed to Kuwait, where they will take part in air strikes against ISIS in the coming months. Canada is also sending two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes and a CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling plane which will fly out of Nova Scotia and Ontario.
In recent months, ISIS has raged like a wildfire across swaths of Syria and Iraq. But they are not some new group on the scene. They have been here for a while, with a different name: Al Qaeda in Iraq.
This group proved too extreme for even Al Qaeda, however, as the two groups publicly split over issues such as ISIS refusing to try and limit civilian casualties in Syria. Their goal over the past decade has been to form their own hard-line Sunni Islamic state.
This latest conflict Canadians are stepping back in to is primarily a battle of Sunnis vs. Shias, a split in the Islamic faith that goes back to the days following the death of the prophet, Muhammad. But these modern issues are not so much about old religious feuds as they are about politics and a seemingly unending cycle of revenge attacks perpetrated on one another.
According to former Washington Post journalist Max Fisher, ISIS funds itself through extortion, robbery of Christians and Muslims under its control, and even selling electricity from captured power plants to the very same Syrian government it has been trying to destroy. Amazingly, ISIS is reported to have begun pumping oil from captured oilfields in Syria, and with captured refining capabilities is said to be earning more than $3 million per day in black market oil sales.
In heading to Kuwait to fight ISIS, one of a handful of hard-line militant groups operating in the area, Canadian fighters will be going up against a force the Central Intelligence Agency says is made up of between 20,000 and 31,500 fighting troops.
Successful campaigns and the expansion of ISIS-held territory has led to stronger recruitment in the area, including fighters from around the world and even from Canada and the United States. Videos showing westerners being beheaded has served to ignite anger against the west locally, while horrifying and enraging citizens in countries forced to watch their fellow countrymen defiled in such a brutal way.
The number of ISIS troops may seem small compared to a conventional army, such as the Iraq army, which has about 250,000 troops and full hardware. But the Iraq army has also proven itself to be of low morale when it comes to fighting ISIS and suffers from poor management. Those two issues have allowed ISIS to score important victories.
Iraq does have help, however, and from a surprising source: The Iranian government. The two countries fought the longest conventional war of the 20th century during the First Persian Gulf War, which started in 1980, lasted more than seven years, and claimed more than one million lives.
Want more proof war makes strange bedfellows? Iran has also been in talks with the U.S. over what should be done about groups such as ISIS. This is the same Iran the U.S. has been openly mulling the prospect of bombing campaigns against for years and is sanctioning.
But why the intervention, when coalition forces (mostly the U.S.) had previously been unwilling to intervene in the Syrian civil war or previous battles between Iraq and ISIS?
Well, war fatigue, for one thing, on the part of the citizens of western democracies bankrupting themselves on their military budgets. But several big ISIS moves have also brought this about.
First, they are directly threatening U.S. citizens stationed in Erbil, a Kurdish city in Northern Iraq. And second, ISIS has recently forced more than 10,000 Yazidi minorities fleeing from their homes and into the nearby mountains, where they remain without food and water because of fear they will be the subject of an ISIS slaughter if captured.
So why are we going?
Because there are few things more Canadian than standing alongside our brothers in times of conflict. Canadians are a voice for the voiceless, and a shield for innocents to protect them from their oppressors.
So once more Canadians will answer the call of the helpless and the downtrodden, the oppressed and the victimized. Once more we will descend from the sky like avenging angels on our enemies, and lay waste to their strongholds and cause them to weep at the destruction we have wrought in our wake. All six of us.
Give ‘em hell, boys.