Operation IMPACT - Technical briefing | February 12, 2015

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Video / February 12, 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.

In recent weeks, ISIL has suffered a number of tactical setbacks and is pressed on multiple fronts, most notably in northern Iraq where Iraqi security forces have regained control of several villages. ISIL leadership is struggling to sustain military efforts. Morale is steadily declining, particularly in areas of sustained coalition and Iraqi security forces operations. Unable to claim any significant victories in recent weeks, ISIL is escalating displays of public brutality, in an attempt to intimidate opponents and the local population. They are also resorting to the execution of their own members for fleeing from battle. 

In the north, Iraqi security forces, supported by Coalition air operations, are expanding their control of the Mosul area.  The resulting success of Iraqi security forces operations has forced ISIL to push their supply routes further to the south, off of the main highway. This further exposes ISIL movements to coalition airstrikes, limits their freedom of movement, and makes re-supply efforts very difficult.

In central Iraq, Bayji remains a contested area with daily fighting. We continue to support Iraqi security forces through airstrikes and surveillance missions. 

Since commencing operations, the coalition has conducted more than 1300 airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes targeted heavy weapons, vehicles, fighting positions, tactical units and buildings used by ISIL. By damaging and destroying these assets, we are supporting the Iraqi security forces in their ongoing efforts on the ground, and degrading ISIL’s ability and their will to fight.

Since I last spoke to you, CF-18 aircraft have conducted 14 airstrikes. The map behind me shows the dates and locations of these airstrikes, that struck enemy fighting and mortar positions, vehicles, heavy engineering equipment, and facilities.

Since the beginning of Operation IMPACT, our aircraft have flown a total of 467 sorties. Our CF-18s have conducted 306 sorties. The Polaris has conducted 76 sorties, delivering 4.3 million pounds of fuel, and our Auroras have conducted 85 sorties.

In summary, the coalition has stopped ISIL’s advance and are seeing indications of progress. This concludes today’s briefing, and I am now available to answer your questions.

Question and answer period (not in the video)

Question: Hello. The last time that you spoke to us here, you said that on two occasions, in addition to a previous one, there had been an exchange of gunfire between Canadian soldiers and Islamic State fighters. Have there been other such incidents since January 26, that is, since the last time you spoke to us? 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Since January 26, since the last incident, there has been one situation that was similar to the previous incidents, and I can assure you that none of our soldiers were injured and that everyone is safe and sound. 

Question: Can you tell us the context in which it happened —

Capt (N) Paul Forget: The context was —

Question: — and the date?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I prefer not to mention the actual date because we are trying to somewhat maintain the operational security of our Special Operations forces, and I do not want to link our members to a certain time and a certain place. Therefore, I prefer, for operational and security reasons, not to discuss that. However, this did occur recently. 

Question: Were there several exchanges of gunfire?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: It was just one instance – one instance.

Question: They fired once.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: One instance. 

Question: Yes, but about how many shots did they fire in this one instance?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: No idea. The gunfire lasted until the situation ended, obviously, but I do not have the details. However, I can say that there was one instance of legitimate self-defence by our members, who had to return fire against ISIL forces.

Moderator: Thank you. 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so – and I think it’s important actually for the English audience to understand that is that in fact there’s been one instance – there’s only been one instance since the last report of where our Special Operations folks had to return fire in self-defence in response to coming under fire by ISIL forces. 

Question: You mentioned that it was quite similar to the previous incidences.  In what way was it different?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I don’t have any details, and quite honestly, I don’t want to get into the details of what it is because, again, it’s linking events, time and space with our SOF operators, and I really don’t want to make those linkages because for operational security reasons that starts actually indicating exactly where they’re operating.  I would prefer not to go there. 

Question: Sir, I’m wondering – I know in the past you’ve been unwilling to give us a precise number of ISIS fighters that have been killed by Canadian Forces, but could you give us a ballpark?  Are talking tens, dozens, hundreds?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Admittedly, I’m personally not tracking those numbers and so I wouldn’t even be in a position to be able to provide you that number. I think it’s important, on the other hand, you focus on the effects.  And the effects, as I described them in my text, have been quite pronounced.  We’re seeing some large movements. We’re starting large degradations of ISIL forces.  We’re taking away their capability to fight, their will to fight.  The fact that ISIL has started killing their own fighters for their willingness to not fight for them is pretty indicative of how things are turning a little bit.

Question: President Obama said something yesterday that made me wonder about what Canada is doing.  He talked about the fact that under the new plan he’s proposing, American soldiers, if no local forces could go in, if the target – an ISIS target was found, say a group of commanders and no local forces could go in, in those specific emergency instances, U.S. forces would go in and take down that target.  What is Canada’s guidelines around a situation like that?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: So Canada’s guidelines have not changed.  The mandate remains as it currently stands, an advise and assist role for our Special Operations Forces and the air campaign for the remainder of our forces.  So that mandate has not changed. 

Question: Hello. We have already carried out air strikes in Iraq for four months. Have the recommendations that General Constable must make to General Vance, General Lawson that will be made to the minister, have they been prepared? Mr. Kenney recently said that the government has not yet made a decision. But does that mean that those recommendations have already been made to the government?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: There is only one person who makes recommendations to the Government of Canada and that is the Chief of the Defence Staff. He has provided his recommendations to the Government of Canada. Therefore it is up to the government to decide whether the mission will be extended. 

Question: As a follow-up question — as I said, there have been air strikes for a few months. We are readying for a major operation. Well, Iraqi forces are preparing for a major operation to recapture Mosul.  Forces have just about reached Mosul with Canada directing 13 air strikes since arriving in the region. Should we expect an intensification of Canadian air strikes in the Mosul region in the next few weeks?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Yes.  It is one of the areas where the Iraqi security forces are seeing a lot of military activity.  The purpose of our air strikes is to help give them a somewhat clearer path for their attacks. The simple answer is yes.

Question: You’re talking about the degradation of the ISIS forces.  Maybe if you could describe the morale of Canadian Forces given this, you know, the obviously inroads we’re making and how it may be affecting our operations on the ground.  Does this mean that they’re going to continue full throttle or how could that change things?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so the tempo of operations has been fairly significant for our forces on the ground, but I would argue, having been on deployed missions before, it’s always an honour to serve, if you will, in that respect because you’re actually going out, doing what you’ve been training to do and delivering on effects for the Government of Canada.  And so that, from a morale perspective, is always a highlight.  And so morale is good.

Question: I would assume that the decision on, you know, what Canada will do next, and you know, obviously it’s a long battle, but will come from the front lines, will come from people that are seeing the inroads.  Given what you’re saying, it almost sounds like the way ISIS is – you know, their morale is going, that we’re getting closer to the end than we were at the beginning.  How would you qualify that in terms of what Canadians want to know about when their men and women may be coming home?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Right.  Granted, and I totally understand where you’re coming from.  Long story short is that, you know, prolongation of the mission or an extension to the mission has not yet been announced by the Government of Canada, so that remains as is.  The current rotation that’s in theatre, schedules for bringing them home are already planned for and in place, and so that rotation of personnel, should there be an extension announced by the Government of Canada, we’re prepared to support all those activities as required as per the mandate provided to us by the government.

The rotation of people in and out of an operational theatre is a very common thing for us, and so there’s nothing really sensational about that.  It’s part of our normal processes that we do for any given operation.

Question: And when is – do we know when that is, that rotation? 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Completely dependent on whether or not the government decides to extend the mission. 

Question: Any update on the number of civilian casualties?  Is that still zero as far as you know or has that – what’s the change?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so from the strikes the Canadians have executed, I can confirm that in fact we have no indications of any civilian casualties whatsoever from – resulting from Canadian air strikes.

Question: President Obama also said yesterday that this could go on for quite some time.  The number three years came up, although he said that that was not a concrete timeline or a deadline by any means of the imagination.  What is the exit strategy?  What would be the criteria involved to say that the Canadians have fulfilled their mandate and can leave?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Well, I think the exit strategy’s going to be defined by whatever government direction is provided to us, essentially.  I mean the exit strategy could be as simple as the mandate’s not extended. And so if the mandate’s not extended, there’s the Canadian exit strategy — we come home, right?  And so we are serving right now based on the mandate provided us by the Government of Canada.  We’re continuing to do that.  Should that mandate get extended, we’re prepared to do so. 

Question: What can you tell us about the military’s capacity in terms of providing more special advisors in Iraq, but also in other areas.  Could – do we have the potential to, for instance, double the number of special advisors, should we be called upon to do that? 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: We’re continuously looking at contingencies to be able to provide options to government.  Right now, we’re acting in accordance with the government guidance that’s been provided to us.  That mandate, should it change, we’re prepared to provide advice to the government on what we can and cannot provide them with.  And then we shape that discourse, right?  But as it stands right now, as the mandate is currently framed, we’re in full support and providing a valued membership, if you will, to the coalition and the effort in Iraq.

Question: But my question is what is our capacity?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Our capacity would be dictated on what the Government of Canada wants us to do.  Right now, we’re operating within that mandate.

Question: Yeah, but you were saying you would provide advice, and I’m curious to a rough sense.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: It’s not for me to provide advice to the Government of Canada.  That’s the Chief of Defence Staff who does that. 

Question: Yes, good afternoon.  Thank you for doing this.  A couple of quick questions.  Minister Kenney said yesterday the government was inclined to extend the mandate.  If it did, what would happen to the fighter jets you have in the region?  Would they all be brought back and exchanged or would you just exchange the crews? 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Although I don’t have the specific details of exactly how that would transpire, there’s always the potential for the rotation of aircraft in theatre as well as air crews.  That happens on a cyclical basis all the time.

Question: And secondly, you must be pretty sure the government is going to extend this mission.  I mean the signs are all there.  Is that what you’re expecting?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think until it’s announced, it would be – it’s not for me to speculate how exactly that’s going to go, but suffice to say that we have in fact planned for an extension should that be the case, and that’s just prudent military planning to be prepared to support any government initiatives. 

Question: We helped transport weapons provided by other countries to Iraqi Kurdish forces. Are we continuing to do that and are we providing satellite images to do their – their fighting? Are we ourselves providing non-lethal equipment? I would just like an update on that.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: All right.  No, understood.  If I have understood your question correctly, yes, the Government of Canada has provided non-lethal assistance in the region. We also helped transport lethal assistance to the region at the very beginning of the mission. That is not something that we are doing at this time.

Question: Okay. 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I believe that answers your question. 

Question: Are there plans to provide weapons? The Kurds, peshmerga and the forces had asked, among other things, that we help them by supplying them with weapons. Is that being considered?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: That decision would be made by the Government of Canada. I am not in a position to answer that question at this time.

Question: Thanks.  When the UAE announced I guess it was actually in December that they were not going to be participating in the air strikes anymore, it was because they were concerned over the inability, I guess, of certain rescue missions for their personnel.  The UAE has resumed their air strikes.  I guess my question is does this indicate – are you aware of any increases, I guess, in measures to conduct search and rescue of any personnel?  Is that – you know, do you know is that why they rejoined the mission?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: And so I can’t speak on behalf of the Government of the UAE in that regard as to why they stopped and why they restarted. What I can tell you is that combat search and rescue is being provided to coalition members in the region and that with the combined search and rescue capability with the training and equipment that our air crew are provided that we’re quite content that the right measures are in place for the safety and security of our personnel. 

Question: Have those measures been raised at all though? Like is it the same as it was back in October?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: To the best of my knowledge, they remain extant at this juncture. 

Question: Yes, hi.  Thanks.  The Pentagon has been saying since August 2014 that ISIL morale is declining.  Just wondering what’s different this time? 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I’m sorry, I missed the last piece there.

Question: Well, I’m just wondering what – you’re saying that ISIL morale is steadily declining.  The Pentagon’s been saying that since the summer of 2014.  But ISIL continues to fight on.  So I’m just trying to, you know, piece together what’s different this time for you to make that statement.

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Well, I think as I indicated in my text, the increased atrocities that we’re seeing, the increased barbary, if you will, of trying to influence the local populations that they are influenced on, and I think the mere fact that they’ve resorted to beheading their own fighters for not fighting or for fleeing the scene, if you will, is a pretty strong indicator that there’s some problems in the ranks. 

Question: And my follow-up question, so you mentioned on this the Special Forces self-defence firing back, but you can’t give any details, so how do we know that it was in self-defence? 

Capt (N) Paul Forget: Well, the report I received was that it was a similar in circumstance to the ones that have been previously reported. I’m going to take that report as face value and assure you that that is in fact how that went down. 

Question: Captain, I was wondering if you can just clarify something.  Have the Special Forces guided any further air strikes beyond what was reported, the 13 that were reported previously?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: I think you’re going to be a bit disappointed with my answer.  It is I don’t know. I’m not tracking exactly every time that they – that they are painting a target.  What I can tell you though is that they’re still operating within the mandate that’s been assigned to them of which that is part. 

Question: And as a follow-up, as part of the U.S. resolution that is now before Congress, it has been proposed that the American Special Forces could participate in hunt and kill operations, similar to what was done in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.  Is that something that the Special Forces currently have the capacity to do or Canadian Special Forces have the capacity to do in northern Iraq?

Capt (N) Paul Forget: That’s a bit of a difficult question to answer.  That – it’s certainly not within the mandate that they’ve been assigned. Capacity is one thing. Authority is another. And so currently the mandate is advise and assist, and they continue to operate in that capacity. If that mandate was to change, it would be signalled by the Government of Canada.

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