The Canadian case gets quite confusing quickly. Even after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pulled out the CF-18s that were dropping bombs on Iraq (and, oh yeah, five sorties in Syria), Canada was still doing several things that were combat-ish: special operators on the ground advising and assisting the Kurdish forces, refueling planes, flown by other countries, that would be dropping bombs, and the recon planes (the Auroras) that were collecting info that would be then used to provide targeting information.
All of these efforts involved facilitating the killing of ISIS troops. Is it not combat when one is fueling a plane that drops bombs? Is it not combat when one is providing targeting lists? Is it not combat when one is guiding ground forces to aim better so that they can kill more effectively?
Perhaps it is only combat when one's forces are actually put in harm's way? Well, the SOF were on the frontlines, more than folks had expected, and there were casualties, so combat?
I think the problem is that democratic leaders really want to tell their publics one of three different stories:
- We are not killing people.
- We are not at much risk of getting killed.
- This ain't Afghanistan--we aren't sending significant numbers of troops into battle.
What happens most of the time in not just the US or Canada is that politicians say--not combat. It turns out that is a simple answer covering up all kinds of complex realities, so once things happen and the media pays attention, folks get confused quickly. I tend to believe that more honesty and less denial up front is a good thing, but, then again, I have never run for office or been on a team helping someone do so. What might be best for the mission might not be good domestic politics. Which is perhaps the most normal thing about all of this.