KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait – Canada’s involvement in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant began in earnest Sunday when two CF-18 warplanes conducted their first strike missions.
After days of poor, cloudy weather obscuring their targets, two CF-18 jetfighters dropped laser-guided bombs in the vicinity of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, a place infamous for U.S. soldiers as the scene of the heaviest fighting during the decade-long American war in Iraq.
The Iraqi government lost control city in January when Islamic State fighters clashed with police following the withdrawal of the Iraqi Army from all of Anbar province.
Fallujah has since been a major stronghold of ISIL.
Word of the strikes did not come from the Canadian task force headquarters in Kuwait, but in a brief statement from Defence Minister Rob Nicholson’s office in Ottawa.
The minister noted that the fighters were refuelled on the way to their target by a Polaris C-150 jet. All three aircraft returned to base without incident, Nicholson said.
The combat mission, which began with the first patrols last week, has been carried out under a heavy blanket of secrecy with the Canadian military denying media access to the air bases where the CF-18s, the refueller and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes are located, citing security concerns of their Kuwaiti hosts.
The statement did not say what kind of Islamic State target was hit. American and other coalition warplanes have destroyed military vehicles and positions, but also economic targets, such as oil refineries, which provide the extremist organization millions of dollars per day in hard cash.
Nicholson’s statement said the military will release no further information about the milestone mission, including a damage assessment of the target, until Tuesday.
Military officials on the ground refused comment and they remained tight-lipped less than an hour before the minister’s statement.
“Missions are occurring on a regular basis. Relevant information will be released at the appropriate time,” said Maj. Richard Langlois said in an email to The Canadian Press.
Canada’s first sortie took place Thursday, but bad weather prevented the fighters from dropping munitions. Throughout the late fall, Iraq experiences heavy southern winds, which create cloud cover and can wreak havoc on the country’s dry, dusty landscape.
The air force arrived for the combat mission armed with GBU12 500 lb laser guided bombs, which require the target to be illuminated — or “painted” as the military describes it.
A stock of Global Positioning System-guided munitions kits is enroute to Kuwait and National Defence has ordered more in what could be a sign of a long campaign.
The smart bombs allow pilots to tap in the co-ordinates of the target and are extremely accurate in all weather conditions.
The air force used them to great effect during the 2011 Libya bombing campaign and stocks were apparently not entirely replenished.
Earlier this year and prior to the Iraq combat mission, National Defence cut is overall ammunition order by 38 per cent in order to meet its budget reduction targets, according to documents obtained last month by The Canadian Press.
It did so against the advice of public works, which tried to convince defence officials to either abandon the cut or at least spread it out over a couple of years.
But defence officials said that would be impossible, because “they would not allow the department to meet its financial targets.”
The CF-18s receive their strike orders and targets from the U.S.-led coalition and join aircraft from a number of different countries, including the U.S., Britain, Australia and several Gulf states.
The Canadian contribution to the air campaign is mandated to last six months, but is likely to be extended.