The rocket attacks had been going on for months, as armed groups hostile to the United States made a nuisance of themselves, trying to signal to international coalition troops they were not welcome in Iraq.
Then the spiral began.
The U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general responsible for supporting the militias behind the rocket attacks, and Tehran responded by launching more than a dozen missiles into Iraq, striking a military base where Canadian troops were stationed.
In a phone call Saturday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the Jan. 8 attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that he said had “put the lives of Canadians at risk in Erbil, Iraq.”
The incident changed the risks to Canadians troops in Iraq. Instead of quietly backing militia groups targeting military facilities used by the U.S., Iran had openly entered the conflict.
“Indirect fire on coalition bases has been happening for months,” the commander of Canada’s mission, Brigadier-General Michel-Henri St-Louis, told Global News in Kuwait on Sunday.
“But in the period we’re talking about, in the last 10 days, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that there has been a significant shift.”
“The attacks of Iran into Iraq are a point-in-time of which there has been a movement in what the threat is, and that is significant and that is what we’re adapting to.”
Global News was not permitted to visit the Kuwaiti airbase where the Canadian Forces are stationed. Instead, Brig.-Gen. St- Louis met a reporter at the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Kuwait City.
In the interview, he described how the Canadian Forces were responding to the heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. He also explained why Canada’s unfinished mission needs to resume.
Until it does, however, the Canadian military’s efforts to train and build up the Iraqi security forces so they can secure the country, particularly from the resurgence of the Islamic State, have halted.
The training provided both through Operation Impact, Canada’s contribution to the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve, and the NATO Mission in Iraq, are on an “operational pause.”
The troops are hunkered.
“Those two campaigns have put the training effort on pause as we calibrate ourselves, survey the force protection measures and are ready to react to whatever threat has increased in the last days,” said St-Louis, the commander of Joint Task Force Impact.
He would not disclose how many Canadian soldiers had been moved to Kuwait from Iraq, only that “troops have been repositioned in accordance to our reading of the threat in order to ensure the safety of our force.”
Kuwait is the headquarters of Canada’s mission in Iraq, which now also stretches into Jordan and Lebanon. From there, the Canadian Forces have staged the evolving fight against ISIS that began in 2014.
Initially, Canada participated in airstrikes against ISIS, then contributed helicopters and a Hercules transport plane, and later a hospital.
Since the territorial defeat of ISIS, first in northwest Iraq and then last year in northeast Syria, Canada has been focused on helping strengthen the Iraqi security forces.
The Canadians have been training the Iraqis to clear roads of improvised explosive devices in areas formerly held by ISIS, while teaching explosive ordinance disposal and communications.
To prevent the spillover of ISIS into neighboring countries, they have also been teaching winter warfare in Lebanon, and mentoring Jordan’s first all-female infantry platoon.
But as St-Louis put it, the region is “complex and volatile.”
Guards throw stun grenades at protesters after they storm U.S. embassy in Baghdad
On Dec. 27, a rocket attack on the K-1 airbase in Kirkuk killed an American contractor working as a linguist. Four U.S. troops and two members of the Iraqi security forces were injured.
The U.S. hit back hard, striking the Iranian-supported Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria, killing more than two dozen fighters and prompting a siege at the American embassy in Baghdad.
Next came the fateful U.S. drone strike on a vehicle carrying the Kataib Hezbollah leader and his Iranian benefactor Soleimani, whose clandestine Quds Force supports armed factions throughout the Middle East.
Furious over Soleimani’s killing, Iran began threatening retaliation, prompting Canada and other coalition countries to announce they would be pulling some of their troops out of Iraq to Kuwait.
“Throughout all that period, we were constantly adjusting our force posture, we were constantly assessing the threat, and making the decisions that were required to ensure the safety of the force,” St-Louis explained.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responded early on Jan. 8, pausing Soleimani’s funeral to launch Operation Martyr Soleimani. More than a dozen missiles were fired at two military bases in Iraq.
Canadian military personnel were at one of them.
“The soldiers sought shelter and resumed the mission afterwards,” Brig.-Gen. St-Louis said.
While Iran claimed to have killed 80 and wounded 200, there were no casualties, leading to a back-up narrative that the attack was only a display of the accuracy of Iran’s missile program.
“Iran decided to conduct ballistic strikes into Iraq,” St-Louis said. “We were able to adopt the force protection posture that was required. And at the end of the day, we ensured the safety of our troops with no coalition or Canadians that were injured.”
He would not say whether the Canadian Forces were warned in advance about the missile strikes, saying that “as we are still in this complex and dangerous environment, I prefer not to clearly state what we knew, what we didn’t know.”
“I will just say that we adopted the force protection measures.”
But while Canada’s troops survived the Iranian missile barrage, hours later Iran launched another missile, this time at a passenger plane carrying 176, including 57 Canadians. None survived.
After denying for days the plane was downed by a missile, Iran finally confessed, blaming human error. “We all are grieving for those Canadians that we lost in that night,” the Brigadier-General said.
Despite political pressures in Iraq to expel the U.S. military in response to Soleimani’s killing, St-Louis said the Iraqis he deals with want the Canadians to carry on their mission.
“I think it’s important because the Iraqis continue to signify, at least at the military level to us, that they want us here,” he said.
When they could resume remains unclear.
“We’re closely coordinating with our allies in the coalition. We are in constant contact with the Iraqi security force to see what their read of the situation is. We constantly reassess the threat,” he said.
“And we are taking it one day at a time.”
First cases of COVID-19 discovered in Canadian wildlife – CTV News
The first cases of COVID-19 in Canadian wildlife have been discovered in three white-tailed deer, a press release from Environment and Climate Change Canada reports.
The National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease confirmed the detections on Nov. 29 but the deer were sampled between Nov. 6 to 8 in the Estrie region of Quebec. The deer showed no evidence of clinical signs of disease and were “all apparently healthy.”
“As this is the first detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife in Canada, information on the impacts and spread of the virus in wild deer populations is currently limited,” the press release states.
“The finding emphasizes the importance of ongoing surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in wildlife to increase our understanding about SARS-CoV-2 on the human-animal interface.”
The World Organisation for Animal Health was notified about the discovery on Dec. 1.
The department is urging added precaution – like wearing a well-fitted mask – when exposed to “respiratory tissues and fluids from deer.”
The virus has been found in multiple animal species globally including farmed mink, cats, dogs, ferrets, and zoo animals such as tigers, lions, gorillas, cougars, otters and others.
“Recent reports in the United States have revealed evidence of spillover of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to wild white-tailed deer, with subsequent spread of the virus among deer. There has been no known transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from deer to humans at this time,” the release reads.
U.N. seeks record $41 billion for aid to hotspots led by Afghanistan, Ethiopia
The United Nations appealed on Thursday for a record $41 billion to provide life-saving assistance next year to 183 million people worldwide caught up in conflict and poverty, led by a tripling of its programme in Afghanistan.
Famine remains a “terrifying prospect” for 45 million people living in 43 countries, as extreme weather caused by climate change shrinks food supplies, the U.N. said in the annual appeal, which reflected a 17% rise in annual funding needs.
“The drivers of needs are ones which are familiar to all of us. Tragically, it includes protracted conflicts, political instability, failing economies … the climate crisis, not a new crisis, but one which urges more attention and of course the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters.
In a report to donors, the world body said: “Without sustained and immediate action, 2022 could be catastrophic.”
Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan are the five major crises requiring the most funding, topped by $4.5 billion sought for Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where “needs are skyrocketing”, it said.
In Afghanistan, more than 24 million people require life-saving assistance, a dramatic increase driven by political tumult, repeated economic shocks, and severe food insecurity caused by the worst drought in 27 years.
“We are in the business in the U.N. of trying to urgently establish with support from the World Bank as well as the U.N. system, a currency swap initiative which will allow liquidity to go into the economy,” Griffiths said.
“The absence of cash in Afghanistan is a major impediment to any delivery of services,” he said. “I am hoping that we get it up and running before the end of this month.”
In Ethiopia, where a year-old conflict between government and Tigrayan forces has spread into the Amhara and Afar regions, thousands have been displaced, while fighting, drought and locusts push more to the brink, the U.N. said.
Nearly 26 million Ethiopians require aid, including more than 9 million who depend on food rations, including 5 million in Tigray, amid rising malnutrition rates, it said.
“Ethiopia is the most alarming probably almost certainly in terms of immediate emergency need,” Griffiths said, adding that 400,000 people had been deemed at risk of famine already in May.
Noting that heavy fighting continued, with government forces battling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front forces who have moved closer to the capital Addis Ababa, he added: “But capacity to respond to an imploded Ethiopia is almost impossible to imagine.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Richard Pullin)
Doug Ford applauds new COVID-19 travel restrictions, says more discussions with feds to be held – Globalnews.ca
Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked the federal government for implementing new travel restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and said more discussions will be held about possibly expanding new testing rules to travellers from the United States.
Ford made the remarks at an unrelated press conference in Mississauga Wednesday morning.
Several Omicron variant cases have already been confirmed in Ontario, and Ford said while it is a “cause for concern” it is “not cause for panic.”
“Every day we hold off more cases entering our country, the more time we have to learn and prepare,” Ford said.
“So the best thing we can do right now is fortify our borders. Our best defence is keeping the variant out of our country. We welcome the actions from the federal government and I want to thank the feds for taking action to date.
“We implored them last week to act quickly and be decisive on the borders and they did.”
In a statement last Friday, Ford called on the federal government to enact travel bans on “countries of concern” and the feds followed through just hours later.
On Tuesday, they expanded that ban to three additional countries.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt who have been to those countries over the past two weeks will not be able to enter Canada. This added to the seven other African countries barred by Canada on Friday: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions
Canadians and permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada, who have transited through these countries over the past two weeks, will have to quarantine, be tested at the airport, and await their test results before exiting quarantine, Duclos said.
It was also announced that all air travellers entering Canada — excluding those coming from the United States — would have to get tested when they arrive and isolate until they receive a negative result. That measure applies to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.
Duclos said Wednesday that it will take time to implement the new measure.
In his statement last week, Ford also called for point-of-arrival testing to be put in place.
He also said he advised the province’s chief medical officer and Public Health Ontario to “immediately implement expanded surveillance” and update planning to “ensure we are ready for any outcome.”
The Omicron variant has now been detected in many countries around the world, including, as of Wednesday, the United States.
Ford was asked if he would support expanding the new testing rules to those arriving from the States.
“I would always support anything that can be cautious to prevent this variant coming into our country. So, again we’ll have a discussion with the federal government. That’s their jurisdiction, it’s not ours,” Ford said.
“They work collaboratively with all the provinces and territories and I’m always for going the cautious route as I think people have seen over the last 20 months.”
The premier added that “it doesn’t take much to get a test at the airport.”
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether Canada’s latest requirement to test arriving air travellers will be extended to include those coming from the United States.
“We need to be prepared and ready if we need to adjust that decision to include travellers from the U.S. We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.
When asked what provincial measures are being considered in response to the Omicron variant, Ford said they will make sure there is expanded testing capacity and contact tracing.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there is still much that isn’t known about the variant, including how effective vaccines are against it.
She said the province is “continuing with all of our precautions” and said it’s important to keep border restrictions in place until more is known about the variant.
Elliott also said more information will be released in the coming days “with respect to age categories” on booster shots.
— With files from Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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