OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian military trainers in Iraq have clashed several dozen times with Islamic State militants over the last month as a campaign against the group intensifies, defense officials said on Wednesday.
On three occasions, the troops were forced to use anti-armor rockets to destroy suspected car bombs at a distance, said Major-General Michael Rouleau, commander of Canada’s special forces.
The revelation could be awkward for Canada’s Liberal government, which promised that the 200-strong training force would not take part in active combat.
The trainers - who are operating with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq - occasionally opened fire first, but always acted to protect themselves or civilians, Rouleau said.
Since last month the Kurdish troops have been taking part in a major offensive to recapture Mosul, the Islamic State’s de facto capital since its forces swept through Iraq in 2014.
“The number of use-of-force engagements in the past several weeks has been substantial. When (Canadian) troops do engage with force, these are clearly localized combat conditions,” Rouleau told a news conference.
Rouleau said the troops had engaged Islamic State several dozen times over the last month compared with just 11 clashes from February to the start of the Mosul operation on Oct 17.
“We have used our anti-armor weapons systems on three different vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices that were charging at high speed at the Kurdish defensive line,” he said.
The clashes also involved the use of small arms and mortars. Rouleau insisted the troops had never taken in front-line offensive operations.
Canada’s previous Conservative government initially committed 70 trainers as well as six jets to bomb Islamic State targets. The Liberals pulled the planes out earlier this year, saying they were not contributing much to the military effort, and instead boosted the number of trainers to 200.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernard Orr and Leslie Adler