The conservative Canadian government announced earlier last week that the Royal Canadian Air Force would send six CF-18s, two CP-140 Auroras, and a C-150 Polaris, alongside approximately 600 personnel—most of them working to support the aircraft.

When the decision was made, it was clear that Canada would not engage in ground combat nor have their fighter jets flying in Syrian airspace. Out of the 69 offered SOF advisers from CANSOFCOM, 26 are presently on the ground.

Canadian Prime Minister Harper told Parliament that he doesn’t expect to eliminate ISIS. As a matter of fact, CBC reported that Harper only expected a degradation of the capabilities of ISIL, not their elimination by deploying these troops.

What is the point of engaging in a war against ISIL–or ISIS–if we don’t expect to destroy them? Prime Minister Harper, alongside his top brass at the National Defense Headquarters, knows that no war can be won without boots on the ground. This move is clearly intended to support Canada’s allies without getting into another bloody war that could cost him the election set for next year.

The war—because it is one—against ISIS cannot be won with airstrikes. Although we need boots on the ground, we don’t need the big green machine. The Canadian government has a great asset that has been training multiple African countries’ Special Operation Forces, and is most likely training to deploy in support of the war against ISIS: CSOR.

CSOR during an airshow.
CSOR during an airshow. Courtesy of Virtuailes.

The Canadian Special Operation Regiment’s spectrum is unconventional warfare. Small teams deployed alongside the Iraqi military and Kurds could very well do the job. Actually, having them on the ground—I am talking more than 26 here—could bring new expertise to the locals who are fighting ISIL. The operators of CSOR are capable of coordinating air assets, working as advisors to the local military, and even providing them with valuable training. The United States Army’s Green Berets have proven this theory on countless occasions.

Knowing the boys from CSOR, they are probably working extra hours every day to be ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. These soldiers are who Canada should put their trust in, not CF-18s hovering at 30,000 feet, having no situational awareness (no disrespect intended against the pilots here, they are doing a superb job). They are the ones who will hunt down and destroy ISIL with help from the locals.

CSOR conducting fast rope training.
CSOR conducting fast rope training. Courtesy of Virtuailes.

CSOR could also be assisted by PSYOPS (psychological operations) and HUMINT (human intelligence) teams, providing them with live intelligence and enabling them to work with the local population who stand against ISIL. Both these assets have worked pretty well during the time Canadians were in Kandahar.

I sometimes wonder if the National Defense is scared to write a new COIN (counter-insurgency) doctrine, making them less ready for conventional warfare. There is a way to engage in both unconventional and conventional warfare without letting one or the other down. Are we losing all the expertise we’ve gained in Afghanistan? I think so. It is always easier to bring out the old playbook than start thinking outside the box, I guess.

International SOF teams could even be used in the role of operational mentoring. Canada might be against sending their boys into combat, but there is nothing better than having them fighting alongside the locals to gain their trust. Fortunately, CSOR is very combat effective and have proven themselves on countless occasions in Afghanistan. Let’s face it, we need those guys to go out there and do their job. The public opinion might not be strongly in favor of doing so, but there is one thing we can not blame it on: the absence of knowledge about unconventional warfare and our SOF capabilities. I am not saying we should go all out on them, but the Canadian population needs to know more about CANSOFCOM and what they have done in Afghanistan. We must acknowledge that the new battlefields will be won by SOF teams, and not tanks.

PSYOPS proved very valuable in Afghanistan.
PSYOPS proved very valuable in Afghanistan. Courtesy of

The current Canadian position lacks some serious balls. We are ready to engage our fighter aircraft to drop bombs on ISIL, but we will not send our boys—CSOR in this instance—to do the BDA (battle damage assessments) with the local fighters and clear out the remaining insurgents.

I am positive CSOR, alongside support team such as PSYOPS and HUMINT, could inflict a lot more damage than a few bombs dropped from one of the CF-18s. Airstrikes without boots on the ground never worked and won’t work in the future. If we want to destroy ISIL, we will need SOF advisers helping the locals to win their war.

(Featured image courtesy of Virtuailes)