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Prime minister Stephen Harper with wife Laureen at the National War Memorial Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Some will argue the two ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks on our country this week demonstrate why Canada should have refused to join the 60-nation coalition to defeat it.
In fact, these assaults on our democracy in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, south of Montreal, demonstrate why we had to act.
There are times in a nation’s life when it’s important to be on the right side of history — even knowing that doing so will cost it blood and treasure.
This is one of those times, and in two World Wars, the Korean War, in peacekeeping and in Afghanistan, Canada has always answered that call, as we are answering it now.
There are those will will say Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, would be alive today, and that Canadians would be safer, had the government of Stephen Harper kept Canada out of the coalition against ISIS.
In that case, so the logic goes, an ISIS leader would not have included Canada in the list of countries it urged its followers to attack, and two homegrown Canadian terrorists would not have heeded that call in assaults that reached into the heart of our democracy on Parliament Hill.
That logic is flawed because it assumes ISIS — an army of fanatical Islamist terrorists — only attacks military targets, when in reality it beheads humanitarian workers, forces women into slavery and tortures children.
By its own actions, ISIS demonstrates it cannot be reasoned with; that it does not behave rationally; that it does not make distinctions of “guilt” and “innocence” among those it considers infidels.
ISIS’ creed is that all who do not bow before its medieval theology — including Muslims — must be destroyed.
Throughout our history, Canadians have never bowed to tyranny.
Throughout our history, there have been soldiers like Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us, and people they do not know half a world away, safe.
People like Sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, the hero of Wednesday’s attack on Parliament, who was back on the job Thursday in the House of Commons.
They are the reason Canada will remain strong, free and ready to battle evil in our own country, and anywhere in the world.
An international conference will be held in Kuwait on Monday to deal with the Islamic State’s messaging, the US Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced yesterday.
In a statement the ministry said: “Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel will travel to Kuwait to lead the US delegation for the October 27 conference of coalition partners focused on countering ISIS messaging and combating violent extremism in the region.”
“The government of Kuwait is hosting the conference and senior officials from Bahrain, Egypt, France, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the UAE, have been invited to participate.”
The statement noted that the “conference will present an opportunity for an in-depth exchange of ideas for increasing cooperation among coalition partners.”
Police vehicles are parked next to debris in the Anbar province town of Hit, October 6, 2014. (File Photo: Reuters)
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group gained ground west of Baghdad Thursday, further reducing the government’s already-shaky hold on Anbar province, officials said.
“The Albu Nimr area fell completely into the hand of (IS) members,” Ghazi Najras, an Anbar MP, said in reference to the tract on the Euphrates River and east of the town of Heet, which fell last week.
Clashes began early Thursday and lasted until about 10:00 am (0700 GMT), police Colonel Shaban al-Obaidi said.
The militants then detained more than 60 people, including security forces members, the officer said.
ISIS, which spearheaded a sweeping offensive in June that overran much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, has executed hundreds of captured security forces members.
Albu Nimr is the latest in a string of places in Anbar to fall in recent weeks. The series of setbacks has prompted warnings from some officials that the entire province, which borders Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Baghdad province, could fall completely.
Some officials and Sunni tribal leaders in areas most affected by the unrest have argued the world should step up its involvement from air strikes against ISIS to a ground intervention in Iraq.
But Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has repeatedly said he opposes foreign ground troops fighting in Iraq.
Kobani, Syria, on Oct. 22. Credit Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
If Kobani survives, it will have defied the odds. This embattled city on Syria’s northern border with Turkey has been on the verge of falling for weeks in the face of a brutal siege by the Islamic State militants. But the Syrian Kurds who call Kobani home continue to fight hard, and on Sunday the United States made airdrops of weapons and other supplies to bolster them.
The town, once dismissed as inconsequential by American commanders, has become not only a focus of the American operation against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, but also a test of the administration’s strategy, which is based on airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and reliance on local ground forces to defeat the militants. A major problem is that the local ground forces are either unorganized, politically divided or, as in the case of the Kobani Kurds, in danger of being outgunned.
A setback in Kobani would show the fragility of the American plan and hand the Islamic State an important victory. Given Kobani’s location next to Turkey, the town’s fall would put the Islamic State in a position to cross the border and directly threaten a NATO ally, a move that could force the alliance to come to Turkey’s defense.
The big missing piece in the American operation is Turkey, whose reluctance to assist Kobani’s Kurds highlights the enduring weaknesses in America’s strategy. The decision to resupply the Kurds was a desperation move; the Kurds were at risk and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has refused to help despite repeated entreaties from Washington.
Only on Monday, after the American airdrop, did Turkey say it would allow Iraqi Kurdish forces, the pesh merga militia, to cross Turkey into Kobani. So far, however, no reinforcements of forces have reached Kobani by way of Turkey and Mr. Erdogan made it clear on Thursday that he is only prepared to let 200 pesh merga travel through his country — hardly enough when the Islamic State reportedly has about 1,000 militants in the area. .
Turkey has been a troublesome NATO ally in the best of times. Its insistence that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is a bigger threat than the Islamic State and its complicated relationships with various Kurdish groups have made matters worse. Turkey has long enabled the Islamic State, whose original objective was to overthrow the Assad regime, by permitting militants, weapons and money to cross its border into Syria.
Now that the United States is leading the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey says it will work with the Americans. Yet it balks at helping Kurdish fighters in Kobani because it fears this would also strengthen the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or P.K.K.) inside Turkey. The P.K.K. has been fighting a bitter, separatist war against the Turkish government for three decades, though recently the two sides have engaged in peace talks. It is hard to see what Mr. Erdogan gains by angering the Americans or by angering the Kurds in Iraq, the one Kurdish group with which Turkey has had good relations. Its refusal to assist also jeopardizes the nascent peace talks with the P.K.K.
There were many unknowns when President Obama began a premature and ill-advised mission into Syria. The failure to secure the full cooperation of an important ally leaves the success of the fight against the Islamic State increasingly open to question.
A destroyed armored personnel carrier BMP-2, which presumably came from Russia, is pictured on a road near Starobesheve, controlled by separatists, in eastern Ukraine, Oct. 2, 2014. Maria Tsvetkova / Reuters
The burnt-out remains of dozens of tanks and armored vehicles in fields near this small village bear witness to the ferocity of a battle that turned the tide of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Most of the tanks were used by the government forces routed in August near Horbatenko, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, a defeat so demoralizing that days later Kiev agreed a cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists.
But among the debris journalists found the blackened carcasses of what military experts have since identified as two Russian army tanks, supporting statements by Kiev and the West that the rebels were backed by troops and equipment sent by Moscow.
Moscow denies the accusations though the rebels had been on the brink of defeat until late August, when the Ukrainian government says they received an injection of soldiers and weapons from Russia.
Photographs of the two badly damaged tanks, one of which had lost its turret, were shown to four independent military experts, who said they were of a type used exclusively by the Russian army.
At least one, they agreed, was a T-72BM — a Russian-made modification of a well known Soviet tank. This version of the tank, they said, is not known to have been exported.
“It is operated by the Russian Army in large numbers, but crucially it is not known to have been exported or operated outside of Russia,” Joseph Dempsey, a military analyst for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in late August when a tank like that was discovered on grainy footage of rebel convoy.
“The presence of this variant in Ukraine therefore strongly supports the contention that Russia is supplying arms to separatist forces,” Dempsey said.
Such remarks clearly undermine Russian denials of direct involvement in the conflict in Ukraine to ensure Moscow maintains some influence and make governing Ukraine difficult as Kiev charts a Westward political and economic course.
The military experts shown photographs of the two tanks said the second was either the same as the first, a T-72BM, or a slightly different model, a T-72B1.
More conclusive recognition is difficult because of the extent of the damage.
The Soviet-made T-72B1, Dempsey said, is not believed to be in active service in Ukraine, making it almost impossible that the separatists captured it in battle.
Ukraine’s Security Council, which groups the country’s top political, defense and security chiefs, said in June the separatists were using T-72 tanks that could not have been captured from the Ukrainian army.
Kiev also said in late August that Russian forces had entered Ukraine and occupied Starobeshevo, five kilometers (three miles) from Horbatenko.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for more details of the decisive battles that followed soon afterwards but Ukrainian soldiers caught in the battles say they were quickly overcome.
Alexei Koshelenko, who said he was captured on Aug. 24-25 near the town of Ilovaysk, said: “We were hit by [multiple rocket launcher] Grads and after that the troops just swept us away. We were completely defeated within 20 minutes. Many of us were killed, others are missing.”
“They were Russians,” he said after being released with other prisoners of war. Referring to a city 300 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of Moscow, he said: “They said they were an airborne assault battalion from Kostroma.”
The accounts of residents of Horbatenko, a village of a few dozen inhabitants which overlooks the fields that became the battlefield, also challenge Russia’s denials of direct intervention.
Valentina Ivanovna, 75, said she was slightly wounded by shrapnel when fighting became fierce in late August.
“We saw an armored convoy coming down here,” she said. “They had white circles on the armor and white flags but whose troops they were we don’t know.”
Neither the rebels nor the Ukrainian forces have white circles as their permanent recognized emblem. But another local resident, who gave her name only as Nina for fear of retribution, said she had been told the meaning of the white circles in conversations with passing soldiers who identified themselves as Russian.
“One of them told me: white circles mean this is Russians,” she said. “He came to the last house for some water to drink and I asked how you can tell the difference between a Ukrainian or Russian. He said that if it’s us, there are white circles on the tanks.”
The two damaged tanks were too badly burned to have any recognizable insignia but a destroyed Soviet-made BMP-2 armored personnel carrier a few hundred meters away also bore a white circle on its broken turret.
Residents of areas on the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia also reported seeing armored convoys marked by white circles on Aug. 26.
Two days later Reuters spotted an armored convoy with the same insignia on the Russian side of the border.
At the end of August, Ukraine accused Russian troops of crossing the border. To support the accusations, it released videotaped interviews with Russian paratroopers captured by Ukrainian forces in a village 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Horbatenko.
They said they served in the 98th division based in the town of Ivanovo in central Russia.
President Vladimir Putin said he believed they had lost their way and crossed the unmarked segment of the border unintentionally. The captured paratroopers were later sent back to Russia.
Anti-tank missiles fired near where the tanks were destroyed also appear to have originated in Russia because various used parts of Kornet anti-tank guided missiles were left there.
Photographs of the missile parts were shown to three military experts and two of them said Ukraine does not have anti-tank guided missiles of this type.
“The presence of the Kornet ATGM is noteworthy and while it has been exported widely by Russia this list does not include Ukraine. As such, it further supports Russian involvement,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.
Trenches near the tanks also provided what appeared to be more evidence of foreign troops — numerous empty boxes of ready-to-eat meals that are used by the Russian army. Each box contains meals for one day.
One reporter counted 124 packages of field rations with “not for sale” labels and notes that they were produced for the Russian Defense Ministry.
A spokeswoman for Voentorg, the company in Russia that produces such meals for the Russian Defense Ministry, confirmed they cannot be sold.
About 50 empty bottles of mineral water around the tanks bore labels identifying them as being produced in Russia’s Ivanovo province, the region where the division of the Russian paratroopers captured in August is based.
Although Moscow has denied any direct involvement in the conflict, graves have been found in Russia with the remains of Russian servicemen who relatives, friends and human rights activists say were killed in Ukraine.
Moscow and the rebels have said that any acting servicemen from Russia were volunteers. Asked about the presence of Russian arms and field rations in Ukraine a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said: “We have the answer and it has been given multiple times.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not reply to a request for information about the losses near Starobeshevo.