It was one year ago that I left Canada and boarded a plane for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.
After completing five years in the Canadian Forces and serving a tour in Afghanistan, I decided to embark on a personal mission to fight against the Islamic State.
My plane landed in the city of Sulimaneyah and within one week I was on the front lines alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces battling jihadists fighters.
In the months prior to my arrival, ISIS had stormed out of their Syrian strongholds and routed the Iraqi National Army at Mosul, capturing nearly half of the country in the process. Were it not for coalition air strikes against ISIS in the late summer and autumn of 2014, the Kurdistan region would have likely been overrun by the forces of the caliphate and the black-and-white flag of jihad would be flying over the cities of that nation.
Thankfully, Kurdish forces held out while the rest of the Iraqi army fled and managed to roll back some of the gains made by the Islamic State. I saw first hand that the success of the Kurdish Peshmerga in their fight against evil can be attributed to two things: Their superior training and the help of Western air power.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks of the ineffectiveness of air power in the war against ISIS, I cannot help but shake my head at his ignorance.
During my time at the front, I witnessed on multiple occasions the effectiveness of coalition air strikes. At small towns and villages like Tal al-Ward and Rashad, where fighting on the ground was fierce, I saw Western air strikes brutalize and punish ISIS fighters when they were in the open and reduce their strongholds to rubble.
On another instance, my unit was made ready for battle late one January night because ISIS was launching a massive offensive on our position. However, the arrival of just two coalition jets destroyed the enemy attack and we were able to stand down without firing a shot.
Western air power has allowed Kurdish forces to liberate cities, towns and vast tracts of territory that were once under ISIS control. These are places where women and girls are no longer gang-raped by ISIS fighters, children no longer conscripted into the jihadist ranks, and men no longer summarily shot.
In a sense, civilization has returned to these places, but as long as the flags of the Islamic State fly on the horizon, the country and the world will never be safe.
Pulling Canada’s fighter jets from this war is a severe tactical mistake. Canadian sorties have made a difference; they have saved lives and prevented countless atrocities.
Air power alone isn’t going to win the war in Iraq and Syria, but we sure as hell aren’t going to win the war without it. Our allies are counting on us to continue the fight. The world needs us and now is not the time to run.
Trudeau talks about compassion and saving 25,000 refugees. But it’s a token gesture in the grand scheme of things. Keeping our CF-18 fighter jets in the skies above Iraq, Kurdistan and Syria will not only save thousands of lives, it will save millions and help end the war.
I stay in touch with the Kurdish fighters I met while in Iraq. They put their lives on the line not just for Kurdistan, but for civilization itself. These brave soldiers have asked me to pass a message to Canadians: Thank you for your help in this war. And please, keep the CF-18s in the air.
— Dillon Hillier is Canadian Forces veteran of Afghanistan and served alongside Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS.