US & Canada

Canada plans to expand air strikes against IS militants

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa 24 March 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Harper said he would not seek consent from Assad to conduct strikes in Syria

Canada will extend its air strike campaign against Islamic State (IS) into Syria, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced.

"In our view, ISIL [IS] must cease to have any safe haven in Syria," Mr Harper said in the House of Commons.

Canada's mission against IS will also be extended for one year, beyond October's election and well into 2016.

Opposition leaders have criticised Mr Harper for drawing Canada into a war with unclear objectives.

The move means Canada will be the first Nato country, other than the United States, to strike inside Syria.

IS controls land on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border - and the US expanded its air strike campaign against the militant group into Syria in September.

It has been joined in similar strikes by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

The Canadian prime minister announced the change as he asked for a vote on the measure in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"The government recognises that ISIL's power base, indeed the so-called caliphate's capital, is in Syria," Mr Harper said, adding fighters and heavy equipment were moving across the border from Iraq for protection against strikes.

Mr Harper said Canada would not seek the "express consent" of the Assad government.

"Instead, we will work closely with our American and other allies, who have already been carrying out such operations against ISIL over Syria in recent months."

The measure is expected to pass as Mr Harper's Conservative Party controls the House of Commons.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thomas Mulcair said Canada had "no place in this war"

The major opposition parties voted against the initial approval of military force against IS.

New Democrat Party leader Tom Mulcair told the Commons on Tuesday Canada had "no place in this war", while Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said Mr Harper had been "steadily drawing Canada deeper into a war in Iraq".

"It now wants to expand that war into Syria," Mr Trudeau said.

Opposition leaders also questioned the mission of Canadian special forces soldiers sent to work with Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

The soldiers have been helping the Kurdish forces by directing coalition airstrikes against Islamic State fighters.

Canadian soldiers are near the front lines and have been involved in at least two firefights - but defence officials have said soldiers acted in self-defence in those cases.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sergeant Andrew Joseph Doiron was killed a friendly fire incident in Iraq earlier in March

One soldier was also killed by Kurdish fighters in a friendly-fire incident this month.

As a result the mission has become more controversial in Canada. Mr Mulcair accused Mr Harper on Tuesday of misleading Canadians "from the start".

Mr Harper had said he will provide details about extending and expanding the mission this week. It was due to expire in April.

In addition to assistance to Kurdish forces, Canada has provided six CF-18 fighter planes, as well as surveillance and refuelling aircraft and about 600 personnel to the US-led mission.