March 18, 2015 / 4:54 PM / in 3 years

Canada to extend, expand its mission against Islamic State: PM

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario (Reuters) - Canada plans to extend and expand its mission against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Wednesday, saying Ottawa would provide more details next week.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan March 12, 2015. REUTERS/David Stobbe

The mandate of the six-month Canadian mission ends in early April. Canada has around 70 special forces operating in northern Iraq and has also provided six jets to take part in U.S.-led bombing missions against Islamic State.

Harper’s announcement did not come as a great surprise. Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson said on Feb. 5 that Canadian forces would be involved in Iraq for the longer term.

“Next week it is the government’s plan to move forward with a request for Parliament for extension and expansion of the mission,” Harper told reporters after an event in Mississauga, near Toronto.

Asked whether Canadian forces might broaden their operations to include Syria, Harper said he would address that issue next week.

Operating in Syria could prompt protests from opposition parties, who are unhappy Canadian forces have been involved in several firefights with Islamic State fighters despite Harper’s assurances that the soldiers would not be involved in combat.

A Canadian soldier was killed and three others were injured on March 6 when Iraqi Kurdish troops fired on them by accident.

Reporting by Euan Rocha; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler

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