Planes will arrive in a week
Canadian warplanes that are to bomb targets in Iraq held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) will operate from an airfield in Kuwait.
However, it will be at least one week and perhaps not until near the end of October before six Canadian CF-18 Hornets from CFB Cold Lake are launched from the tiny Persian Gulf emirate, only 400 kilometers from territory held by ISIS, the ultra-radical jihadists who now rule large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Why might it take so long? The most obvious reason is that Canada was the last of 13 countries to join the US-led air coalition. An additional complication is the diplomatic note, or an enhanced Status of Forces Agreement, that must be signed between Ottawa and Kuwait before the RCAF can set up its operations in the sheikdom. Those arrangements are now being settled following the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha, which ran from Saturday until Tuesday. Canada and Kuwait are 10,000 kilometers apart, but have had good relations since before Canada was part of former US president George HW Bush’s coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein’s invading army.
Canada signed a military agreement with Kuwait in 2011 that allowed it to establish a forward logistics hub in the country similar to those it operates in Germany, Jamaica and Singapore. As part of that initial agreement, Ottawa was permitted to transit its forces and equipment back to Canada through Kuwait when the combat mission in Afghanistan ended. Diplomatic protocols aside, there are a number of other factors involved in moving 600 or 700 men and women, plus six CF-18 fighter-bombers, two spy planes and an in-air refueling tanker aircraft – along with bombs, missiles and 20-millimetre bullets for the CF-18s’ Gatling guns – halfway around the world.
The air campaign’s advance team that Canada dispatched to the Middle East on Saturday was to have left today. But as the Harper government was providing Canadians with the first rough outline of the mission last Friday, the military received an urgent request from its political masters to accelerate the process and the departure date for the recce party was moved forward by five days. Other parts of what will be a major airlift are also being accelerated. Several transport aircraft were leaving Canada for the Middle East in the next couple of days, with Canada’s venerable CF-18 Hornets soon to follow across the Atlantic.
International coalition When they get to the Middle East they will join an air armada that includes at least 150 other attack aircraft. Australia began several weeks ago to move forces to its base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to support its eight F-18 Super Hornets. However, it was not until Monday that the RAAF began combat missions. Denmark took 10 days for its seven F-16 Fighting Falcons to move to Kuwait and become operational. Similarly, the Dutch and Belgians took more than one week to set up shop in Jordan before their F-16 Fighting Falcons began bombing. The French, who were the first country to join the US in bombing Islamic State targets, are operating Rafale fighters from their base in the UAE. The British are flying Tornados from their base in Cyprus.
The Americans are using at least five different types of warplanes to hit ISIS. The US is using bases in several countries, including the UAE., as well as launching strike aircraft from the USS. George HW Bush nuclear aircraft carrier and the USS. Makin Island amphibious ship. Another carrier, the USS. Carl Vinson, is to arrive in the region soon. The first wave of Canadians who arrived in Kuwait over the weekend included logisticians and engineers, as well as planners from Canadian Joint Operations Command. They will determine exactly how many specialists will be required for some fairly arcane but vital jobs such as weapon and avionic technical support, as well as the number of liaison officers, military police and medical staff that will be needed.
A complicating factor for planners has been that the RCAF has only four C-17 Globemaster cargo planes – based out of CFB Trenton – to do most of the heavy lifting, several fewer than the air force needs to support all the missions it has been charged with recently.
It is a scramble now for the RCAF to meet the competing demands of this new, high-profile mission as well as supporting troops, sailors and air force personnel on NATO operations that have been taking place near Russia since its troops invaded Ukraine, seizing Crimea and destabilizing eastern parts of that country. At the same time, the air force must conduct the biannual Operation Boxtop resupply of Canada’s listening post at Canadian Forces Station Alert, at the top of Ellesmere Island.