BRUSSELS — The Canadian military will command a new NATO training and capacity building mission in Iraq for its first year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Brussels on Wednesday as part of the alliance's annual summit.
He said the mission, to begin in the fall of 2018 in Baghdad and the surrounding vicinity, will include the deployment of as many as 250 Canadian Armed Forces personnel and up to four Griffon helicopters to support NATO activities.
"This is something that we believe in deeply," Trudeau said of the new Iraq mission.
"This is a moment for us to stand together and understand that the perspective that we fight for and stand for is essential today and tomorrow."
The Iraqi mission, combined with Tuesday's announcement that Canada's commitment to the NATO mission in Latvia is being extended by another four years until 2023, could help Trudeau counter criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump that alliance members spend more to meet spending targets.
"Supporting the new fledgling democracy in Iraq, which has been so battered, is so fragile, is a great thing for Canada to be doing ... it is dead centre in what Canada is good at," said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
"We are a country that really believes that winning the war is just the first step and we have to work really hard to win the peace."
As for Trump's demand, Freeland said Canada was a NATO co-founder and has contributed to every single alliance mission.
"Our presence there (Latvia) is a very meaningful, strong important contribution and this new contribution ... it's another sign of Canada stepping up."
Canada's leadership of this new NATO training mission will complement existing efforts in the global coalition against ISIL.
Under Operation IMPACT, the Canadian army is already providing training and assistance to the Iraqi security forces and helping regional forces build their capacity.
Canada also contributes mobile training teams to NATO's counter-improvised explosive device capacity building efforts for Iraq. This initiative builds on that effort.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Iraq mission is about giving Iraqi security forces the right training so they can "deal with and prevent" the rise of groups like ISIL.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press