By: Dana Wagner on
Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition and NDP MP for Outremont, in Question Period on March 24, 2015
Canadian aircraft did not engage in strafing in Iraq as Mulcair claimed. They dropped bombs, but did not engage in the more dangerous act of flying low to fire on ground targets known as strafing.FactsCan Score: False
Tom Mulcair positioned his party’s opposition to extending Canada’s involvement in the US-led mission in Iraq and expansion into Syria around the issue of trust, accusing the government of misleading Canadians about the nature of the mission. The NDP calls it a combat mission, and the Conservatives disagree. They call it “advise and assist.”
Making a case that Operation Impact, Canada’s contribution to the international coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, involves combat, Mulcair listed a few points. He said “we have lost a Canadian soldier behind enemy lines,” which FactsCan found is false, and “we have aircraft strafing and bombing.”
What is strafing? And were Canadian aircraft doing it?
In a 2007 version of the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms posted by WikiLeaks, the US Department of Defense defines strafing as “the delivery of automatic weapons fire by aircraft on ground targets.” In other words, it’s the use of an aircraft’s guns, as opposed to bombs, to attack a target. In general, “strafing is used for close air support to ground troops, and would put the aircraft in a vulnerable position vis-a-vis any enemy ground troops,” said Billy Allan, an aerospace engineering expert at Royal Military College.
Strafing requires an aircraft to fly low to the ground to fire. And the lower the aircraft flies, the easier a target it becomes for the enemy on the ground. That’s why strafing, relative to bombing, is more dangerous for pilots.
At the time of Mulcair’s comments, on March 24, Canadian pilots were engaged in Iraq only, not yet Syria. As of March 20, according to the Department of National Defence, Canadians had conducted 53 airstrikes and flown 420 sorties in CF-18 Hornets. The six Hornets are Canada’s only fighter aircraft involved in the mission.
A spokesperson for Canadian Joint Operations Command clarified the nature of Canada’s strike missions. “We are not conducting strafing,” said Major Isabelle Bresse. “Not to my awareness.” Bresse said Canadian aircraft use precision-guided munitions “each and every time.” This is an important fact, as it rules out the use of automatic fire, which is not precision-guided.
Her comment aligns with what Allan can assess from public information on Canada’s airstrikes. “We have not heard much about surface-to-air fire, let alone any support to organized ground operations,” he said. “I did not infer from open-access public news, that we all hear, that our aircraft are providing such support to forces opposing ISIL.”
Mulcair’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Based on DND’s statement and publicly available information, there is no evidence that Canadian aircraft had engaged in strafing in Iraq at the time Mulcair claimed they had.