OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada, under pressure to stay involved in the U.S-led mission against Islamic State, will boost the number of troops on training duty in Iraq while keeping reconnaissance and refueling planes in the region, a defense source said on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won an election last October promising to pull out six jets that have been bombing targets in Iraq and Syria. Trudeau has made clear he will stick to that commitment, despite unhappiness with the decision among allies.
Trudeau is due to unveil the revamped mission next week, according to a government source with direct knowledge of the file.
Separately, the defense source said Canada would keep two Aurora surveillance planes in the region, as well as a refueling aircraft.
Canada currently has about 70 soldiers training Kurdish troops in northern Iraq, a number that will be increased to about 300, the source said.
Ministers have been debating what the trainers would and would not be allowed to do, according to the source. Last March, one Canadian soldier was killed and three others were injured in a friendly fire incident in Iraq.
Canadians’ appetite for foreign military missions has dropped after 10 years of involvement in Afghanistan that ended in 2011, and during which 158 soldiers were killed.
The United States, Britain and France - who worry that if Canada withdraws the jets it will undermine the effort against Islamic State - have become increasingly impatient with Ottawa over what they see as foot dragging, said a third source with direct knowledge of the diplomatic talks.
“The message to Canada is clear: we understand you made a campaign commitment to pull out the jets. But you need to tell us what you are doing and you need to do it soon,” the source said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week expressed confidence Trudeau and his officials were “working on ways to continue their significant contribution” to the campaign against Islamic State.
The jets are due to end their mission in March. One option for Trudeau would be to let the bombing continue until then, rather than pulling them out early.
Trudeau told reporters on Friday that Canada would stay involved “in a robust and responsible way” but did not give details. Unveiling the plan early next week would allow Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan to brief his counterparts at a NATO meeting in Brussels on Feb 10-11.
Reporting by David Ljunggren