Operation IMPACT - Technical briefing 20 March 2015

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Video / March 20, 2015

Transcript

Captain(Navy) Paul Forget, Canadian Joint Operations Command

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Good day ladies and gentlemen. I will provide you with an update on the current situation in Iraq and Canada’s contribution to international efforts in the region.

First, we continue to support Sergeant Andrew Doiron’s family throughout this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

I am heartened that two of his injured comrades remain in Iraq and will gradually return to their duties. Finally, I want to extend my best wishes to the third injured member who is currently in stable condition in Canada and receiving medical treatment..

In Iraq, Coalition efforts in support of security forces, are affecting ISIL operations. As the map behind me show, ISIL’s initial rapid gains throughout Iraq are being reversed. ISIL’s advance has been halted throughout Iraq and they no longer have the ability to operate freely in roughly 20 to 25 percent of populated areas where they once held the initiative.

In Northern Iraq, the Iraqi forces are gradually taking back ground east of Mosul where ISIL is in a defensive posture. 

In Central Iraq, north and northwest of Baghdad, the Coalition has been conducting strikes against fixed and moving targets in ISIL-controlled and ISIL-contested areas. The cumulative effect of those strikes has been to degrade ISIL's ability to conduct operations in those areas and contribute to the gains made by Iraqi forces.

In Western Iraq, the city of al-Baghdadi has been reclaimed by Iraqi forces and they are working toward regaining control of Fallujah.

While we see signs of progress, there is more work to be done. We should be prepared for some setbacks as ISIL could attempt to launch attacks in the near future. However, they are unlikely to reverse the gains made by the Iraqi forces. The Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to degrade ISIL’s capability and its will to fight.

To date, Canada’s effort to support Iraqi forces has consisted of 53 air strikes, and 420 CF-18 fighter sorties.

On March 19th, while taking part in coalition operations in support of Iraqi forces, CF-18 Hornets successfully struck an ISIL IED factory west of Kirkuk by using precision guided munitions. During another strike today, CF-18 Hornets also successfully struck ISIL equipment and fighting positions northeast of Mosul.

The Polaris air-to-air refueler has delivered more than 6 million pounds of fuel to Coalition aircraft, allowing them to remain airborne for longer periods of time and maintain the pressure on ISIL forces throughout Iraq.

Our Auroras have conducted 117 intelligence reconnaissance and surveillance missions to assist in targeting and planning of future operations. The Aurora also conducted battle damage assessments to confirm the effectiveness of Coalition air strikes.

Canadian Armed Forces personnel are fully integrated in the Coalition headquarters, allowing us to bring to bear Canadian military planning expertise in the fight against ISIL. Our Canadian Special Operations Forces provide advice and assistance to Iraqi forces to help them develop their military capabilities.

In summary, the deployment of our air power and Canadian Special Operations Forces has contributed to the full spectrum of coalition activity. We continue to maintain pressure on ISIL and we see indications of progress in fight against this group.

We can be proud of the professionalism that has been displayed by the Canadian Armed Forces members that have been deployed since August of last year. The Canadian Armed Forces stands ready to support the Government of Canada’s efforts to counter ISIL.

Thank you.


Question and answer period (not in the video)

Moderator: All right. So at this point, we will take questions from the floor. Again, there are two microphones at your disposal. Please identify yourselves as well as your news agency. Again, limit yourselves to one question and one follow-up.

We’ll begin now. Ma’am.

Question: Sir, the Defence Minister has been speaking recently about the challenges posed by the Iraq-Syria border, that you’ve seen ISIS taking, for instance, heavy equipment, retreating over the border. I wonder how much would it change what you can accomplish if you weren’t restricted by that border in terms of where you could strike.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think the important point to focus at is although Canada is limited to operations within Iraq, as per the mandate provided to us by the government, the coalition overall has contributing nations that are able to strike in Syria. So the movement of those – of that equipment that you suggest can still be prosecuted, targeted by the coalition, just by another nation within the coalition at this time.

Question: So the border’s not a particularly big frustration for you then?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Personally, for us, we’re operating within the mandate provided to us, and we’re quite happy with that. The coalition overall has nations that are able to strike within the overall area of operations, which suffices the needs of the coalition at this time.

Question: Could you just update us on Sergeant – the investigation into Sergeant Doiron’s death as well, please, sir?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And the investigation is ongoing at this time.

Moderator: Next question, sir.

Question: I want to return to the issue of the border. If you weren’t limited to operations in Iraq, it seems it would be simpler for you, wouldn’t it? You could conduct strikes without worrying about where the line is.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: As I said, the current mandate is to limit operations to Iraq. We are continuing operations according to the mandate provided to us by the government. As the Prime Minister has said, discussions about the mandate will take place next week. If the mandate is to be expanded, we are prepared for whatever mandate is provided to us by the government.

Question: When do you need to know what to expect regarding the extension of the mission?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think it’s encouraging that discussions are being held next week. I mentioned in the last tech brief that, regardless of the options or when the government decides, we are prepared to support any action as soon as the decision is made. Therefore, as I said the last time, it may be a last-minute decision, but it must be understood that if the decision is to return to Canada and the mission is terminated, this takes some time and we therefore would have the support necessary to leave the theatre, if that were the decision.

Moderator: Thank you. Sir.

Question: Hello. To expand a bit on my colleague’s question, with regard to preparations for a potential expansion and extension of the mission, where are you at in theatre with respect to that, to a potential rotation that may take place, a mini rotation that could develop in relation to that?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Again, we are prepared to support any decision the government makes. The announcement and discussions will take place next week, so once the decisions are made, we will be able to elaborate exactly on this planning, but it would be – it’s a bit too early to discuss it now.

Question: Okay. With respect to the Special Forces, we’re coming up on six months, on the official end of the initial mission. Where are you at in terms of the different milestones or achievements of the Special Forces in training the Kurdish forces?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think, if you recall the tech brief from General Rouleau, it very clearly laid out exactly the type of training and the objectives that were achieved with respect to this training. These same objectives and levels of training continue to date. There haven’t really been any changes to the Special Operations Forces or the advise and assist mandate in Northern Iraq. So, really, no changes. The mission continues as provided by the government.

Question: But are there any numbers yet, like, three batallions have been trained, I don’t know?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I don’t have those details at this time.

Moderator: Thank you. Ma’am.

Question: Hi. Captain, have Canadian Special Forces since the incident that led to Sergeant Doiron’s death been fired upon? Have there been any exchanges of firefight since then?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so there have been no exchange of fire with – in self-defence with ISIL forces. There’s been no indications of that, and it has not occurred. And again, like we’ve mentioned before, that’s a very exceptional circumstance if and when that does occur. And so the answer – the short answer is no, it has not.

Question: Given the disagreements over what happened between the Kurds and Canadian – and the Canadian Forces, has there been any change on the ground between the relationship between the – you know, with the relationship between the two, you know, any perceived sort of differences between, you know, the attitude of Canadians towards the Kurds given what they’re saying?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think you have to go back to the professionalism of the force at this point, and you know, we train hard. We understand what’s going on. We understand the mission, the mandate that’s provided to us, and so if anything, the circumstances that did this have actually served to further reinforce that bond, if you will, of this incident, so that it doesn’t happen again. And so we’re working together with the Kurds to ensure that they a) carry on with the mission and the mandate as it’s been assigned to them, and that to further reinforce that relationship, to ensure that it doesn’t occur again, these types of mistakes don’t occur again.

Moderator: Thank you. We will now go to the phone.

Question: Yes, I would like to know, since the - in the 54 air strikes, were there collateral victims, civilians that were hit on the ground?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: As stated in several tech briefs to date, to measure the effectiveness of the mission is not to measure the effects of collateral damage, especially in terms of victims of ISIL; rather, it is in terms of the equipment that has been targeted and the effects we’ve had on decreasing ISIL’s capacity to operate on the ground. So in this case, we have been very open with respect to all the equipment we’ve been able to destroy, thus decreasing their capacity to operate on the ground and carry out operations against the Iraqi people.

Question: But are you able to say, yes or no, whether there have been collateral victims?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: With regard to collateral damages as such, for all Canadian strikes to date, there have been no collateral damages.

Moderator: Next question.

Question: Yes, sir. Thank you for talking to us today. Back in January, General Rouleau said that the special operators, Special Forces operators are spending about 20 percent of their time on the front lines or near the front lines. Given the friendly fire incident, has there been any change in the advise and assist mission with respect to the amount of time or their location with regards to the front lines? And are they spending less time there?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And the short answer to your question is that there’s been no change to the mission. They continue to conduct the advise and assist role exactly as it was described in that particular tech brief by Brigadier-General Rouleau, and that they are spending roughly, you know, about 80 percent of their time well behind the lines conducting training and the advice and assist function, approximately 20 percent, as you suggested, continues as we speak.

Question: And can you say whether the special operators have called in any more air strikes since the last time we – there was a report of any air strikes?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so it is part of their mandate to execute that function. I don’t have any details as to whether or not they have called any strikes or not. They do have the ability to do so, and they do – it is within their mandate to continue to conduct that. As to whether or not they have conducted those operations, we try not to talk too much about the soft piece. It’s a protection of our personnel in those areas that they are operating, and linking them to any types of missions is – breaches operational security, so I’d rather not discuss, but they are continuing to operate within that mandate.

Moderator: Thank you. Next question.

Question: Good morning, Captain. There are two lines of investigation that are going on into the incident involving Sergeant Doiron, and one is the NIS investigation, the other is the technical investigation by Special Forces. Can you tell me whether or not there will be a public release of the findings of the technical investigation by Special Forces into the incident?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so although I don’t have the exact details of whether or not that report will be made public, certainly – and it will take some time for that report – for the investigation to complete and then generate its findings. Oftentimes, what ends up happening in many of those reports is they end up classified. The intent, of course, would be to provide a redacted copy, most likely, of the results of that incident. But again, until those reports are complete, it’s very hard to speculate what can be made public and what cannot at this juncture.

Question: And just to follow up about the conditions on the ground in Iraq, there were reports over the last week or so about the possibility of chlorine gas being used in the Tikrit area, and I’m wondering if any special precautions are now being taken by the Special Forces contingent as it relates to chemical, biological and radiological weapons.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so the Special Forces did deploy with the appropriate equipment to be able to deal with those types of contingencies, and so they are well equipped and quite prepared to deal should that eventuality occur.

Moderator: One last online question before we return to the floor.

Question: How are you, Captain? I’m just wondering about the border question that was asked earlier. I know that you folks think that you’ve got all the equipment and resources and targeting capability, etc., to be able to do the job that you need to do. What kind of legal authority would you need, apart from, obviously, government direction to conduct military force, to use Canadian military assets across the border in Syria? Is there any kind of law of armed conflict piece that needs to be settled before you can do that? And what is it?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so without getting into the details, we’re talking about ROE here and having the necessary rules of engagement to support that type of arrangement. As it currently stands, we’re working with the current mandate, which is operations within Iraq. I think we’re speculating here on whether or not there will be an expansion into Syria or not, and really, it’s speculative at this nature until the government deliberates and makes their decisions in that regard.

Question: I’m not sure it’s speculative, but if you want to call it that, that’s okay. I wanted to also follow up on a question from Vassy. Your response to her question about whether or not there was – has been any other incidents where Canadian Special Forces soldiers on the ground in Iraq had been fired on, your response was very specific and said that there have been no exchanges of fire with ISIL. I’m wondering if there have been any other friendly fire incidents or any other incidents where Canadian Special Forces operators on the ground in Iraq have been fired upon by anyone, not just ISIL.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Right, and the answer to that is categorically no. There have been no other friendly fire incidents.

Question: Great. Thanks.

Moderator: All right. Thank you. So we’ll take a couple more questions from the floor.

Question: I was wondering if you can comment a little bit about where you think or where it’s expected that the fight with ISIS will move to. We know there’s operations in Mosul and Tikrit, and you’ve said that basically their territory has been reduced significantly. Can you kind of pinpoint where you think it’s likely that they’re going to be staging attacks or where we’ll be hitting them where they have defensive positions?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think we’ve been fairly open about exactly where ISIL has a strong foothold, if you will, and I think it’s only natural to draw the conclusions that as time moves forward and you can see where the reducted footprint was, that – the intent is to keep that reduction to continue. And so without getting into operational security and where the next battles are about to occur, the offensive operations by Iraqi security forces will continue in the months ahead, and with the ultimate goal of reclaiming sovereignty of Iraq.

Question: Can you comment at all though whether or not – whether you think it will be Iraqi security forces or Kurdish forces fighting those battles and whether we’ll be supporting either/or? And finally, to add on to that, whether you think the Kurdish forces have the capacity to actually engage in some of those battles.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so whenever I use the term Iraqi security forces, I guess I just want to be clear that I’m including the Kurdish forces in that statement, and so – and so when you combine the sum total, the whole point of the advise and assist portion is to actually build that capacity. There are other nations within the coalition that are contributing to capacity-building of Iraqi forces on the ground as well. And as that continues and that capacity continues to grow, the intent is to continue the momentum, if you will, the momentive shift, if you will, of diminishing ISIS’ capability and foothold within Iraq.

Question: After the tragic death of Sargeant Doiron, did anything change on the ground in the work of the Special Operations, Special Forces members?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: After any tragedy like that, which is regrettable, obviously, our tactics and our procedures are reviewed immediately, and after these measures are taken, the work resumes to ensure essentially that this type – this type of event does not happen again. So, all that to say that the mission continues, as provided to us by the Government of Canada, and the missions, the 20 percent close to the front lines, if you will, continue. So the mission continues as it was before.

Question: So nothing has changed. The Special Operations Forces still travel to the same areas —

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Exactly.

Question: — as though nothing has happened.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Not as though nothing has happened. And as I said, by reviewing tactics and procedures, we ensure – we were able to take measures to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again.

Moderator: Final question.

Question: I know this question was raised earlier, but I’m just hoping to pick up on it. You did mention that Syria is speculative, although the Prime Minister did indicate just the other day that that’s a very real possibility. I’m wondering what challenges exist should this mission expand into Syria that you’re looking at.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so without getting into specific details, really, we’re already executing a mission into Iraq, and so our area of operations currently is within the confines of the boundaries of Iraq. And so should there be an expansion of the mission — and again, that’s a bit speculative at this juncture; the plan is to bring that to government next week and those discussions will occur. Once a decision is taken and there is an expanded mandate, we’re prepared to support the expansion of that mandate if that’s what comes to bear.

Question: I suppose if you look at it, you know, there’s already some infrastructure in Iraq and the questions are about what kind of infrastructure exists and support exists in Syria, so I’m hoping you can weigh in on that.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think it’s a little early to have that discussion, to be frank.

Question: Anything else?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: That’s all I got.

Moderator: This concludes our briefing for today. Thank you very much for your cooperation.

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