OTTAWA — The Canadian military is temporarily relocating some soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait due to security concerns, chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said Tuesday.
The move, which Vance announced in an open letter to the families of Canadian soldiers in Iraq that was posted to Twitter, follows the lead of Germany and several other allies who have withdrawn some of their troops.
“Over the coming days, and as a result of Coalition and NATO planning, some of our people will be moved temporarily from Iraq to Kuwait,” Vance wrote. “Simply put, we are doing this to ensure their safety and security.”
Canada has about 500 soldiers in Iraq, most of whom are there to help train local forces to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, including about 200 with a NATO mission in the south of the country and upwards of 200 special-forces soldiers in the north.
Vance did not specify how many Canadian troops were being pulled out of Iraq.
“Naturally, the work we are doing on these missions, and the future of operations in Iraq, remain conditional on maintaining a sufficiently secure and productive operational environment,” he said.
Western troops in Iraq have been on high alert since the killing of an Iranian general by a U.S. drone at the Baghdad airport on Friday night.
The death of Iranian Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was seen as the second-most powerful person in Iran, has raised fears of Iranian reprisals. Iraq’s parliament and outgoing prime minister have called for the forced withdrawal of all western troops from the country.
The Canadian mission has also been caught in the middle of confusion surrounding U.S. intentions in Iraq.
A leaked letter from the U.S. general commanding the anti-ISIL coalition to Iraq’s defence ministry on Monday suggested the coalition, to which Canada belongs, was preparing to pack up and withdraw from the country.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Americans’ top general, Gen. Mark Milley, insisted no decision had been made.
Canada is not the first country to relocate troops from Iraq this week. Germany, Croatia and Romania have also reportedly started moving some or all of their forces out of the country.