TORONTO — Canadian soldiers opened fire on Islamic State group extremists in Iraq over the last week in what was apparently the first ground firefight between Western troops and ISIS.
Brig.-Gen. Michael Rouleau, commander of special operations command, said Monday the soldiers were visiting front-line positions with Kurdish peshmerga forces when they came under mortar and machine-gun fire. He said the Canadian soldiers fired back in self-defense.
The Canadian special forces soldiers, whose job is to train and advise the Iraqi military in their battle against the Islamic State group, were at the front to help plan an Iraqi operation. Rouleau said the Canadians used sniper fire and "neutralized" the machine gun and mortar without taking any casualties.
"My troops had completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines," Rouleau said. "When they moved forward to confirm the planning at the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine gun fire."
The general said that while Canadian soldiers are not participating in active combat, they have the right to fire back if fired upon.
"This is the first time this has happened since our arrival and our reaction is wholly consistent with the inherent right of self-defense," Rouleau said in a briefing to reporters in Ottawa.
Rouleau and other Canadian officials declined to say where it happened. They cited operational security.
Canada is among dozens of countries that have joined the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group.
Canada has 69 special forces soldiers there in what the Canadian government has described as a training and advisory role. Rouleau said they do about 80 percent of their training and advising well behind the front lines and about 20 percent right at the front lines.
The general also said for the first time that Canadian soldiers have been helping Kurdish forces by directing coalition air strikes from the ground. He said they have directed 13 strikes, including a contingent of Canadian fighter jets to their targets.
Canada has six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling tanker aircraft and two surveillance planes there as part of an air combat mission that includes about 600 airmen and airwomen.