Operation IMPACT - Technical briefing 5 March 2015

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Video / March 5, 2015


Captain(Navy) Paul Forget, Canadian Joint Operations Command

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I will provide you with an update on Operation IMPACT – the Canadian Armed Forces’ support to the coalition fight against ISIL in Iraq. The update will cover coalition and Iraqi security forces efforts, as well as the Canadian Armed Forces’ contribution.

On the 18th and 19th of February the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lawson, participated in a two-day meeting in Saudi Arabia, where he and representatives from over 25 countries in the coalition assessed the progress of the Coalition, and discussed future operations to deter and ultimately defeat ISIL. The military campaign is having the desired effects and making progress, as shown by the building of capacity of Iraqi forces. Ultimately, the defeat of ISIL will take time, but the military campaign is progressing.

Over the last two weeks, Coalition efforts continue to be positive and ISIL’s momentum remains stalled.  Of note, in the last four months, ISIL has suffered the loss of several senior leaders due to Coalition airstrikes and several reports indicate that their fighters are deserting their ranks. As reported in the media recently, ISIL has focused its recruiting efforts towards international recruits, and coercing Iraqi population to replenish increasing battlefield losses.  Also, radicalized youth from Western nations are recruited and sacrificed as suicide bombers or sent into battle without experience.

In spite of these efforts, Coalition and Iraqi security forces efforts have created the conditions for the continued decline of ISIL.

In Northern Iraq, Iraqi forces, aided by Coalition airpower, continue to conduct offensive operations and planning with a view to expanding their control of territory around the ISIL stronghold of Mosul. The weather in Iraq this winter season has negatively affected ground operations for both ISIL and Iraqi forces, making it a difficult environment in which to manoeuvre, and restricting movements to just along the roadways.

In the Euphrates River Valley, successful Iraqi forces clearance operations have improved the security situation for Coalition and Iraqi forces based in that region. 

In Central Iraq, Iraqi forces led independent offensive operations against ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit, while securing critical infrastructure and lines of communication in the vicinity of Bayji.

It must be said that, in the short term, success for the coalition is measured in terms of overall effect in stopping the ISIL advance rather than in terms of individual sorties and strikes.

It is expected that the presence and activities of our CF-188 Fighters as well as coalition aircraft in theatre have a dissuasive effect on ISIL.

Since commencing operations, the coalition has conducted approximately 1500 airstrikes in Iraq, continuing to target mortar and fighting positions, bunkers, heavy machine guns, checkpoints and buildings used by ISIL. By destroying these assets, we are supporting the Iraqi forces in their ongoing efforts on the ground, and degrading ISIL’s capability.

As shown on the map behind me, our CF-18’s have conducted 372 sorties to date. Since the last update, Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 aircraft conducted 1 airstrike on February 24. On that day, our CF-18s struck three ISIL fighting positions north of Mosul.

In addition, the CC-150 Polaris have conducted 94 sorties, and the CP-140 Aurora have completed 104 sorties, bringing the total number of sorties flown by Canadian aircraft since the beginning of Operations IMPACT to 570 sorties.  

Today I want to highlight how the CP-140 Aurora aircraft and crews are contributing to the successes of Iraqi forces. As I just noted, the Aurora recently completed 100 missions, gathering extensive imagery and information on ISIL activities, which aids coalition efforts on the ground. Our crews work long dedicated hours to collect imagery, as well as to ensure the Aurora are ready to fly in the hot, dusty conditions of the region.

The Aurora has been part of the RCAF fleet for over 30 years, and it has undergone equipment modernization which allows it to maintain a state-of-the-art capability for performing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions. While deployed on Operation IMPACT, the Aurora and its crew have received much acclaim from the coalition. They have been providing situational awareness over the battle space, collecting imagery which can be used in identifying and assessing targets, conducting battle damage assessments, and minimizing collateral damage.

In summary, we remain committed to the Government of Canada mandate to support coalition efforts against ISIL. Our participation has allowed Iraqi forces to mount offensive operations to reclaim lost territory and ultimately reclaim sovereignty of their country.

This concludes today’s briefing, and I am now available to answer your questions.

Question and answer period (not in the video)

Question: Can you talk about sort of Canadian involvement either by the Special Forces troops and their advisory role or the CF-18s and sort of the coming offensive on Mosul? To what degree will we be involved in advisory or CF-18s’ actual assaults?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: So I don’t have exact details on any of that, and of course all of our CF-18 missions are assigned by the coalition through the air tasking order, so it would be impossible to predict exactly what involvement, if any, our CF-18s will have in that participation. As far as our Special Operations members, they continue to do the advise and assist role in the northern region, in training – and training the Iraqi forces there, and so I have no doubt that the value-added that they’ve contributed to those forces will come to bear when that assault occurs.

Question: And can you just, for the Special Operations Forces, has there been any more sort of engagements for them on the ground, and have they done any more sort of guiding of air strikes since the last update?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: They continue to operate within the mandate that’s assigned to them, so that should answer the piece on guiding strikes. I don’t have any details as to whether they have or they’re not, but they are allowed to do so in accordance with the mandate given to them by the government. As far as whether or not there’s been any engagements, as mentioned, these are – these were all self-defence issues. There have been no occurrences, if you will, where they’ve had to engage the enemy in a self-defence type of a scenario.

Question: Is there any – are you guys getting ready for a possible spring offensive? You said that, you know, weather has made – has negatively affected ground ops, so is there the expectation that things are going to heat up over the next few months?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think in any conflict there’s peaks and valleys, if you will, in the tempo of operations, and I think we’ve probably been in a bit of a lull hear for a little while. There hasn’t been a lot of strikes, and overall, there’s been less strikes even from a coalition standpoint.

That said, whether or not that’s indicative of a spring offensive or not, hard to predict how that’s all going to transpire, but we are ready to continue to support whatever requirements are to maintain that pressure, if you will, on ISIL in support of Iraqi forces on the ground.

Question: Can I just ask a follow-up on the Aurora? Can you give us a sense of where exactly it is operating and how close it would be getting to Syria?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: It’s a great question, and actually, I would argue that they’re operating within the entire region of Iraq. I don’t have the specifics of one operating area versus another. Again, their missions are assigned through the air tasking order from the coalition, and they investigate and collect data on areas of interest where either activity is ongoing and doing damage assessment or where potentially there will be oncoming missions in the future and doing that intelligence data collection.

Question: So you don’t know if it’s crossing – is it crossing the border at all? Would it?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: No. The mandate as stipulated with the Government of Canada is for Iraq only, and so they are only operating within those confines.

Question: To sort of follow up on my colleague’s question, in terms of how the strikes are managed by the coalition, do you have any idea as to whether they have anything to do with Tikrit at this time? The Iraqi defence is moving toward Tikrit. Do you know whether the Canadians, whether the CF‑18s and the Auroras are involved in gathering information on how things are going in Tikrit, around Tikrit?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: The movement toward Tikrit is independent of the Iraqi forces at this time. There’s no engagement in terms of - the coalition is not participating in the engagement at this time.

Question: Okay. Very good. And I’d like to go back, two weeks ago in fact, to a question about coordination with the Iraqi forces. You said there was no coordination with the Iraqi forces. Is - and yet we’re hearing about strikes being made in support of the Iraqi security forces. So I’d like some clarification about that.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And a good explanation. I had to misspeak because all - all our engagements like that are approved by the Iraqi government for the strikes that we do. So whatever was - it was hard to communicate at that time.

Question: Thank you.

Question: How are things actually going on the ground with the Iraqi forces? The New York Times said yesterday that there may have been tension between the Americans and the Iraqis. You were telling us that you’re not in Tikrit but elsewhere. How’s it going? Are the Canadians and Iraqis on good terms?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: At the present time, the only interaction, if you will, between Iraqis and Canadians is by our special operators in the north, where they’re working directly with the Iraqi forces, and as far as I know, everything is going very - relations are very cordial, if you will.

Question: It’s about a month before the end of the mission as approved by Parliament. You’re going to tell me that you, you’re going to accomplish the mission you are given. So, on the ground, at what point do you need to know whether the mission will be extended or not? And are you already preparing yourself to handle either possibility? For example, have people from the forces, military personnel, have they already been sent there in expectation of an extension?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: As indicated earlier, the military as such plans for every contingency in order to do its utmost to support the government and the government’s decisions. So we’re still waiting for the answer, as you know. And we’re basically prepared to extend the mission and the training of the troops as such who are going to be supporting this - if this happens, but without an actual announcement, we are also ready if the government decides to bring back the troops, that’s exactly what we're going to do. So we’re prepared to support the government, regardless of the decision that’s made.

Question: Thank you. Just on the question of the operation in Tikrit, we understand and you’ve clarified that there’s no coalition participation, that that’s an Iraqi only operation. My question is that even without participating in that operation, it would appear that the coalition is assisting the extension of Iranian influence in Iraq. These are Shia militias playing a prominent role in the Tikrit operation and even though we’re standing apart from it, we’re still bombing ISIS. How does it feel? And are you content with the fact that we are extending, we’re helping Iran extend its influence across Iraq?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: So that’s very much a question that needs to be directed other than me as the spokesperson for Op Impact, so I think you’re going to be a bit disappointed with my answer in that right now we’re marching to the beat that’s provided to us by the coalition. As it stands right now, there is no coalition participation in that particular effort. There are other efforts of course throughout the remainder of the region, which we continue to participate in, and we’ll continue to march to that beat until told otherwise.

Question: So and just to follow up, can you confirm that even though you do coordinate your activities with the Iraqi forces, there’s no contact or coordination with Iranian-backed forces fighting under Iraqi command?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: As I indicated earlier, our processes through which we do our targeting and whatnot is through support with the Iraqi forces. There’s no involvement in the coalition whatsoever with Iranian forces that I’m aware of.

Question: Thank you.

Question: I’m wondering if the Iraqi decision not to request coalition air support for the Tikrit offensive is a sign that there is distrust with the coalition or if there’s a rift in the coalition, the Iraqis are not happy with some of the air support they’ve been given?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: That’s not a question that I’m in any way, shape or form able to answer. That’s – I’d be speculating on that. That’s not my place to speculate on what Iraqi decisions and what an independent government decides to do.

Question: Yeah, I’m not asking you to speculate. I’m asking you from the Operation Impact point of view.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: From the Operation Impact, we are carrying on with missions that are assigned to us through the coalition, and so we continue to do that, and we’ll continue to do that.

Question: Hi, yes. I’m circling back to an earlier question would you be prepared for any option going forward. There’s been some speculation that the coalition may look to move towards Syria or Libya as the need is required and the legal standpoint is presented. If that were to happen, from a technical point, what would that look like? Would that be a massive change of what we’re doing right now or would that be something we could easily transition into? What would that transition look like?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think if the Government of Canada was to expand the mandate into Syria, we’re already operating in the area, and so it’s not a stretch to say that it would not be that difficult to adapt to the Syrian environment. But again, that’s speculative on my part and in no way, shape or form is there any announcement by the government at this juncture as to whether or not there’ll be an expansion of the mandate.

Question: Certainly. It was purely technical as a question. Libya, how different would that be, again, a technical standpoint?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so Libya is an entire different area of operations, and so that would be – that would almost, you know, require the stand-up of an entire new mission at that juncture.

Question: Hi. Good afternoon. My question – I’d like to circle back actually to a question from a colleague earlier. In response, you mentioned that troops are being trained now to prepare for the possibility of an extension if that’s the route the government chooses to go. Can you just expand on what that training involves and when it began?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I don’t have exactly all the details, but as I’ve indicated on many occasions, the military planners in us of course are ready to answer the government’s call, whatever shape that might take, and so that planning’s been in the works for some time. The personnel have been identified. The pre-deployment training has been put into place to ensure that those personnel are ready for the challenges that lie ahead should – should the mandate be announced for an extension.

Question: Thank you. And just to follow up, are there any other aspects of the preparation that, as you say, are needed to – in order to be ready for the possibility of an extension if it’s announced, beyond training.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Sorry, could you repeat the question?

Question: Sorry. Are there any other – any other things that you need to do to prepare for – to be ready for an extension if that’s announced, beyond training?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Not necessarily. I mean there’s – for any mission of this size, when you’re talking about 600 people, there are a number of intricacies involved in the planning and rotational – rotation of those personnel and ensuring that you maintain operational efficacy on the terrain. And so you never want to lose sight of the end goal of sustaining the operation itself, and so again, plans are in place to ensure that all those – those measures are in place and that we’re ready to fully support the mission and fully support a change-out of personnel should that be the decision taken by the government.

Question: At the beginning of your presentation, you said that it was important to look at the big picture with regard to the coalition’s operations against ISIL. But in terms of Op Impact, in terms of Canadians, how do you explain the fact that there has been no strike for 11 days? There was one, but as of today, it’s been nine additional days, and still no strike. Is there a specific reason – technical, weather, I don’t know?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: So you’ve touched on a, and I – I touched on that in my text. The weather is definitely an issue that has had an effect on that. Area of operations, change of tactics, perhaps, by – by ISIL. All of that is being evaluated, but those are all factors, if you will, contributing to the fact that, granted, there have been no strikes for a certain period of time. So as mentioned earlier, maybe it’s a break before a major offensive from them. Again, that’s speculation – I don’t know. But maybe those are exactly the types of issues being considered and – but the fact is that our aircraft are in the air. Air presence has been maintained over Iraq by the entire coalition, not just our fighters, and that presence has an effect on ISIL. So the low number of strikes can also be – this might be a very good thing for us.

Question: Just following up on something that you briefly talked about. So as an extension to Operation Impact, has the military been asked to prepare for a possible engagement in Libya?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been any discussion on Libya, certainly not at my level or anything that I’ve been privy to.

Question: And as a follow-up, you know, there’s a lot of talk about extension. Does the Air Force have the capacity in terms of equipment and also personnel to support an ongoing mission in Iraq?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And that’s a terrific question, and quite honestly, yes, the short answer is yes from both standpoints, from a material, an equipment, training and personnel standpoint, good to go, if you will. Yeah.

Question: You talked in English about the preparations that have been done in the event of an extension – an extension of the mission, be it in Iraq or Syria. I’d like to hear you speak about that. And the other thing – is there a deadline? We can’t tell you April 6, yes, we’re staying in theatre. I imagine you need some advance notice. So what’s the deadline, and what is currently being done to prepare?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: So the deadline you’re referring to is a bit tricky, if you will, because the day the government decides to either extend the mission or come home, it will still take a certain amount of time to execute the task as such. Are we ready? Yes. The answer is yes, regardless of the direction that the government takes.

The other part of your question had to do with training. With training, again, we must be ready to support a government decision, so we had to make sure, one, that personnel were identified, and two, that they received the training required to execute the task.

Question: Including Syria?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so Syria is just – Syria, as such, is – that will depend on whether the government decides to expand the mission in a different direction than what we are currently doing. The training required to conduct missions in Iraq – no additional training will be required, if you will, in order to conduct missions in Syria if the government decides to go in that direction.

Moderator: Alors merci beaucoup. Thank you very much. This concludes our session for today. For access to the images displayed in the background, you may go to http://www.forcesimages.ca/ Thank you for your cooperation.

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