By Rob Gillies, AP
TORONTO–Canada has been excluded from a meeting of defense ministers in Paris this week to discuss the fight against Islamic State militants. The apparent snub follows new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vow that he would remove the country’s six fighter jets from the anti-IS coalition and at a time the U.S. is looking for its allies to step up their contributions.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter didn’t mention Canada last week in a speech in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when he said he would meet defense ministers from nations who are playing a “significant role” in the coalition.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan tried to suggest it wasn’t a big deal on Tuesday, saying this isn’t the only meeting.
Ministers from the Netherlands, France, Australia, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom will take part in the talks on Wednesday.
Carter wasn’t asked about Canada by reporters on the flight to Paris, but he was asked about the lack of any Arab representation at the meeting. In response Carter said that this was a gathering of countries that have been the most active in Iraq and Syria. He said other nations have made contributions and will continue to do so, but this meeting was not designed to exclude anyone, “it’s to get more ideas for how we can do more.”
The U.S. has asked coalition members to boost their military contributions in Iraq and Syria against IS after the deadly attacks in Paris in November.
Trudeau long ago said Canada would pull its jets and made it a part of his election campaign. After he won the Nov. 19 election, he said allies understand that Canada will step up military training for forces fighting IS. Canada has had 69 special forces soldiers in a training role in northern Iraq with the Kurds. A Canadian soldier was killed by Kurdish fighters in a friendly-fire incident last year.
The Canadian mission includes six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling tanker aircraft, two surveillance planes and one airlift aircraft, with about 600 airmen and airwomen based in Kuwait. The Canadian jets continue to participate in airstrikes, and it is unclear when Canada will remove the planes.
Australia has six jet fighters and has soldiers in non-combat roles in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. It has declined a U.S. request to do more. The Netherlands has four fighter jets in the mission while Germany is not involved in airstrikes.
Canada’s opposition Conservative Party noted the previous Conservative government hosted an anti-ISIS coalition meeting last July. “Canada is deliberately being excluded because of this Liberal government’s decision to withdraw our CF-18s from the mission against ISIS,” the party said, using an alternative acronym for US.