Operation IMPACT – Technical briefing 26 January 2015

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Video / January 27, 2015


Captain(Navy) Paul Forget, Canadian Joint Operations Command

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am Captain(Navy) Paul Forget from the Canadian Joint Operations Command. I will be providing an update on Operation IMPACT, the Canadian Armed Forces’ support to the coalition against ISIL in Iraq.

As indicated last week by Lieutenant-General Vance, Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command, the advance of ISIL towards their objectives has effectively been halted. In the past seven days, ISIL operations were limited to an unsuccessful attack on Ramadi and failed attempts to contain Iraqi security forces’ offensives.

The coalition’s main focus was to support Iraqi security forces operations northwest of Mosul. Starting on January 21st, Iraqi security forces took over a strategic intersection between Mosul and Tal Afar, which disrupted ISIL’s supply line from Syria. Smaller, more localised operations were also conducted in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad and in the districts surrounding Haditha in the western province of Al Anbar, thus allowing Iraqi security forces to maintain the initiative.

To date, the coalition has conducted over one thousand air strikes in Iraq. These strikes targeted heavy weapons, vehicles, fighting positions, tactical units and buildings used by ISIL. By damaging and destroying these resources, we supported Iraqi security forces in their ongoing ground efforts, weakening ISIL’s fighting capacity.

Since the beginning of Operation IMPACT, our aircraft have conducted a total of 398 flights. Our CF-18 have conducted 258 flights and our Polaris have conducted 68, delivering over 3.8 million pounds of fuel. Our Auroras have conducted 72 flights.

Since our last briefing, CF-18 aircraft have conducted 12 air strikes in support of Iraqi security forces. The map behind me shows the dates and locations of these air strikes. Our CF-18s use precision-guided munitions to strike enemy fighting and mortar positions and supply routes. These strikes support the coalition efforts to disrupt and degrade ISIL’s ability to maintain control of Mosul.

As you will recall, last week Brigadier-General Rouleau, Commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, provided you with an update as to CANSOF’s activities in Iraq. He also provided you with some information on an event that occurred in which Canadian Special Operations Forces acted in self-defence after being engaged by ISIL.

Two similar events have occurred over the last week, and in both cases, Canadian Special Operations Forces, again acting in self-defence, effectively returned fire, neutralizing the threat. It is important to note that, similar to last week’s events, the Canadian Special Operations Forces only returned fire in self-defence. There were no injuries to Canadian personnel as a result of these engagements.

As Brigadier-General Rouleau stated last week, the risk to Canadian Special Operations Forces remains low, but low does not mean no risk. Together, our Canadian Armed Forces personnel continue to carry out the mandate assigned by the Government of Canada to provide support to Iraqi security forces.

This concludes today’s briefing. I’m now available for your questions.

Question and answer period (not in the video)

Question: Hi. Captain (Navy) Forget, can you give us some more details about those two exchanges, how many SOFs were involved?  Whereabouts did they happen?  Is it similar to the last one where they were involved in planning and moved to the front lines?  Any details, please.

Capt(N) Paul Forget: So the information I have with regards to those two incidents is that they were very similar in nature where our CANSOF operators were examining the terrain near the front lines with a – in support of Iraqi security forces when they come under fire.  They were able to return fire, effectively neutralizing the threat.  And again, they were acting in self-defence at that stage.

Question: And just to clarify, that’s twice since the last briefing that’s happened.

Capt(N) Forget: That’s correct.

Question: Can I ask you then, you know, last time when this came out there were a lot of questions about whether or not this is combat.  Can we – is this an escalation of our role over there?  What’s your reply to that?  Now we’ve seen three basically in the last week and a half. Is this the new norm?

Capt(N) Forget: I don’t think I would quite characterize that as the new norm, but rather as more of a bit of a state of evolution of our role in the advise and assist capacity.  When we initially got there and we were conducting the advise and assist role for Iraqi security forces, we were teaching them the basics of – of warfare, if you will.  That has since evolved somewhat to the point where we’re now able to get into a little bit more of a tactical battlefield doctrine management type of atmosphere.  And thus, that’s making sure that our forces are engaging at the right level to permit those Iraqi security forces to just continue to improve upon the skills that have already been taught to them. 

Question: Just to come back to those new incidents, what was the context in which they occurred?  And how – actually, maybe just answer the first question, what was the context of those incidents?

Capt(N) Forget: So the context was very similar to the situation that Brigadier-General Rouleau talked about last week.  It was in the capacity of – our specialists –were actually in the process of examining the combat terrain with their compatriots to accurately determine the best way of approaching the terrain. And while doing that they came under attack from the ISIL group and so responded appropriately and acted in personal defense at that time.

Question: Why is this kind of situation arising now and how would you respond to those who will say, this is the second time...this is an example of a combat mission?

Capt(N) Forget: Well, I think it’s just one step in how things are evolving on the ground.  Initially, you could say that the role of our specialists was to show them the basics.  But now we’ve come to the point where we can advise them on dealing with a combat zone and so enable them to handle more specialized training.  And so I think it’s just a natural process of evolution aimed at ensuring that the Iraqi security forces continue to improve. 

Question: Good morning, Captain.  My question relates to the operations of Special Forces.  Aside from the exchange of fire that you mentioned, can you detail whether or not they have been involved in guiding in any more air strikes? 

Capt(N) Forget: I don’t have the specifics as to whether or not this past week they’ve been directly involved in that capacity.  Their role remains to advise and assist in accordance with the mandate that was provided to them by the Government of Canada.  They will continue to conduct operations within that mandate.

Question: And just a follow-up question on the exchange of fire.  Captain, can you differentiate for us between what Special Forces are doing now and the operational mentoring and liaison teams were doing in Afghanistan in terms of, you know, coaching like right at the front?  Because that’s essentially what the OMLT teams are doing.  And I’d like to know what you see is the difference here.

Capt(N) Forget: I think I’d be a little hard pressed, having not been personally implicated in the Afghanistan war to make any analogies between those two things that you’re referencing.  What I can say though is that as part of the evolution of the conflict, if you will, that’s happening in the area where our Special Operations Forces are conducting the advise and assist role, they’re conducting those operations within the mandate that was assigned to them, within the scope of the mandate that was assigned to them. 

Question: Oh, hi there.  You say the mission has evolved since it started.  Can you please sort of tell us how it has evolved since September and October?

Capt (N) Forget: I think if you had to take a walk back in time here, you would have to understand that initially at the outset, last summer when ISIL forces literally swept through Iraq, Iraqi security forces found themselves very much on the defensive and unable to do really much ground-holding, if you will.  That was the whole point of starting these air strikes back in the early fall, to blunt, to halt that wave, if you will, of ISIL taking over the territory.  Migrate in time here that now the whole advise and assist capacity and the training that has been conducted is basically taking those skills and better improving the Iraqi security forces to better understand the terrain that they’re operating in, better understand how they’re conducting their operations, how best to use best methods to defeat ISIL on their territory and basically reclaim their sovereignty.  And so we’ve been very much involved in that entire scope of work and we’ll continue to do so in accordance with the mandate provided to us by the Government of Canada.

Question: And have the rules of engagement changed for Special Op Forces since the start of this mission?

Capt(N) Forget: Well, I think – and perhaps you didn’t get a chance to see the slide that was up behind me, but the 12 strikes that were conducted, you’ll note that they were all pretty much in the northern areas of Iraq and there are extensive offensive operations that are ongoing in northern Iraq at this time.  I think it only stands to reason that as these offensive operations continue to mount that the advise and assist role in helping mount those operations will continue in spades.

Question: So have the rules of engagement changed then? 

Moderator: All right, next question. 

Question: Yes, good morning.  My question is about the firefight. Based on your knowledge and the military’s knowledge, is this the first time that western forces have actually shot – I guess this would be the third time now, but are we the only country – western country whose soldiers are – have been in a sense firing on Islamic state militants so far?  And I have a follow-up.

Capt(N) Forget: Yeah, I understand.  And you have to understand that I’m here to talk about the Canadian contribution to the overall coalition effort, and so that level of detail would probably be best sought through the coalition network because I’m in a very hard place to comment on all the coalition activities within the region.

Question: Okay.  I’d like to follow up with another question, and I’m going to make it a two-parter, just to follow on my colleague’s question.  Have the rules of engagement changed for our special forces in Iraq since they were posted there?  And the second question is will Canada be playing a role in this reported offensive to recapture the city of Mosul?

Capt(N) Forget: So to answer your first question, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no change in the ROE that have been assigned to our forces.  With regards to the second question, Canada’s well integrated within the coalition, and we’ll continue to maintain that integration, and we’ll participate to the best of our ability as requested by the coalition in all offensive actions that are occurring in the region.

Question: Yes, Captain, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.  Last briefing, Brigadier-General Rouleau indicated that Canadian Special Forces troops were on the frontline about 20 percent of the time.  Has that number remained fairly consistent over the last week or has it changed, either increased or decreased?

Capt(N) Forget: I would have to defer to General Rouleau’s comments as accurate, and I have no basis to say if that has changed in any way, shape or form.

Question: On the air strikes, 12 seems like quite a – quite an increase over previous briefings, intervals between previous briefings.  Can you explain why there were so many air strikes over the last week? 

Capt(N) Forget: Gladly.  As I alluded to earlier, there are some offensive operations that are occurring in northern Iraq right now and in support of those offensive operations, we’re able to get in and get some additional air strikes in in direct support of those offensive operations, basically helping the Iraqi security forces here with that effort to reclaim the territory that’s been lost and ultimately reclaim the sovereignty of their country. 

Question: Yes, good day.  You mentioned earlier that – you talked about the evolution of the mission from the defence posture of a few months ago to a commitment that’s becoming increasing offensive.  So does this mean – in future should we expect a stronger role played by the Iraqi troops and, by extension, by the Canadians supporting them in offensive operations and so we’ll likely have more and more incidents like those we’ve just – like the ones we’ve seen these past two weeks?

Capt(N) Forget: Overall, the summary you’ve given is pretty accurate.  With the transition from a defensive to our current offensive posture, our operators are in a better position to give the Iraqi forces better advice on the ground on what they want to achieve, and so I can say for certain that the special operations forces will take all necessary measures — after all, they are specialists — to avoid getting involved in the situations and issues we’ve been talking about, but this will happen from time to time, yes.

Question: I see.  So logically you could say that the Canadian troops will find themselves – they might get involved – in other exchanges of fire like the ones we’re seen recently.

Capt(N) Forget: It’s possible.  That’s not our objective, I must stress that this is not our objective, to put ourselves in situations like this.  But is it possible that this will happen again in the future?  Ultimately, I have to answer in the affirmative. We’re going to continue in the role we’ve been assigned by the Canadian government to advise and assist the Iraqi forces.  And in doing so, we’ll sometimes find ourselves close to the battle lines, you might say, and so we run the risk of having this situation develop once again.

Question: Hi.  I just want to be clear on the 80/20 split that General Rouleau referred to last week.  Given what we’ve heard, you know, at this briefing and the last briefing, these three different incidents, are we not to infer that more time – Special Forces are spending more time on the front lines and therefore the risk to them has increased?

Capt(N) Forget: It’s not for me to speculate on that. I’m not a Special Operations Force operator, and the exact details of exactly how that split occurs, I think General Rouleau’s statement will have to stand on record for that. I don’t have any information that would say that it’s changed in any way, shape or form.  And arguably, he’s the person who’s well – having just come back from theatre and visiting his troops, he’s well poised to understand the risk better than any of us, and if he says that the risk is low, then the risk is low.  But like he states, that doesn’t mean that there’s no risk. 

Question: Yes.  My colleague made reference earlier to the rules of engagement.  Have those rules of engagement changed since the outset of the Impact mission for the Forces, for the Canadian Forces? 

Capt(N) Forget: So the information I gave in my English answer is the same as I’ll give in my French answer. As far as I know, there’s been no change in the rules of engagement, at least for the Canadian Forces, either on the ground or for the air forces carrying out strikes.

Question: One small clarification.  I know quite well that you can’t tell us everything, but during those two incidents, the two most recent incidents, how many Canadians were present on the ground?

Capt(N) Forget: As much as I would like to give you a precise figure, I don’t have the number, I don’t have that information.  It’s unfortunate, but this degree of detail regarding numbers...I can tell that we have 69 individuals in the advise and assist role in the region.  Exactly how many Canadians were involved in those incidents, I don’t have that information.

Question: What kind of fire did they face?

Capt(N) Forget: Again, I have very few details other than it was similar to the fire described by General Rouleau last week. 

Moderator: All right.  Thank you very much.  This concludes today’s session.  Thank you.

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