So Harper announces that he's sending six very old fighter airframes to Iraq (the desert is very hard on advanced fighter aircraft and takes years off airframe life), along with Aurora surveillance and other assets. These are essentially providing air support for local forces: (Kurdish, anti-Assad Syrian militia, Syrian army, Iraqi army, Iranian military, and whatever western and Gulf state special forces operators are milling about there. I know I know, we're not incursing Syrian airspace, yet. (Does the line between Syria and Iraq it matter given the large tracts of territory with an ISIS presence or control?)
He now has his own shiny hobby war of indeterminate duration and aim to milk for votes and flags. How much good the small numbers of strike aircraft are actually doing in a tactical scenario is an interesting question. If you read this Guardian piece, the RAF is dropping precision bombs on single machine gun positions and pick-up trucks. Iranians, Iraqis and the Americans have been bombing ISIS for quite a while now, but still that organisation is holding its own. Elsewhere, Juan Cole draws attention to an item where an Iraqi close support aircraft was forced to withdraw due to ground fire.
These kinds of report may illustrate an interesting problem. ISIS controls vast tracts of territory but they are not a conventional army. They appear more like a mix of light infantry, Mad-Max gang, and guerilla force. While they have captured armour and artillery, they don't have the organisational structure or background to use these conventionally, making it difficult for high flying fast jets to find high value targets to bomb. These jets are instead seem to be hunting jeeps and machine guns, destroying them with bombs designed to wreck much more fortified and valuable targets. They can't get close because that would expose them to dangerous volumes of small arms and light anti-aircraft fire, like the Iraqi support aircraft mentioned above. It isn't meant to defeat ISIS because ISIS cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets alone. Here's why:
The Kurds in the North, and states like Turkey are only interested in keeping ISIS off their turf, holding their own borders. There isn't the will or numbers to sweep into Sunni/ISIS Iraq and Syria to destroy ISIS. The Shia groups in southern Iraq, including the army, would have to fight tooth and nail to push ISIS fanatics out, which would mean they'd be left holding large tracts of Sunni Iraq under a Shia militia control. Something tells me that would not lead to good things.
So it's a low intensity war of suppression, probably aimed at keeping ISIS from seriously expanding or consolidating its gains. Nobody wants to put large numbers of "boots on the ground" necessary to destroy ISIS because everyone understands that sort of action would mean (1) de facto support for Assad, (2) a lot of casualties and money; (3) the continuation of insurgency for a long time to come.
There's no solution but containment. Except you can't tell a voting public you're joining a war with no path to resolution. People don't get that, let alone political leaders. Now Canada is going to drop bombs on the infinite and indefinite in the desert until something else happens. What, exactly? Well, I suppose we'll know when it happens. Or we won't.