OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is inclined to extend the six-month mandate of its military mission in Iraq, which comprises special forces on the ground as well as fighter bombers, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said on Wednesday.
Kenney said the right-of-center Conservative government had not yet taken a formal decision to keep the forces in Iraq beyond the end of March. But his comments were the clearest indication yet from a cabinet minister that Ottawa was likely to do so.
"Our government believes that Canada has a role in fighting the so-called Islamic State terrorists, stopping their campaign of genocide, and we are inclined to continue with that fight," he told CTV television.
Canada has six fighter bombers taking part in U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State attacks as well as around 70 special forces members in northern Iraq.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday sent Congress a request to authorize military force against the militants over the next three years.
Separately, Kenney told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp that Canada would not be committing ground troops to a combat mission in Iraq.
The Canadian special forces have exchanged fire with Islamic State militants at least three times since deploying to train Iraqi forces and also identify targets for air strikes.
Opposition parties say the clashes show Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not telling the truth when he assured legislators last year that the forces would not be involved in combat.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Tom Brown)