Operation IMPACT - Technical briefing 17 October 2014
Video / October 17, 2014
General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here with us this afternoon. The Government of Canada has chosen to stand with our international partners to combat the terrorist threat posed by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, or ISIL.
ISIL, a terrorist organization that has displaced thousands of people and committed terrible acts of violence, has created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
Make no mistake: ISIL poses a very real threat to the people and stability of the region and they seek to broaden that theat significantly.
As announced last week, the Canadian Armed Forces will contribute to air strikes in Iraq, and preparations for this mission are well underway. Advance personnel have already landed in the region to prepare for the arrival of our air task force.
This deployment builds on the work that we’ve already done to help Iraqi forces to blunt the ISIL offensive on the ground.
In addition to the Canadian Special Operations members previously assigned to advise and assist Iraqi forces, in the period between mid-August and the end of September, our aviators flew 1.6 million pounds of military equipment to Iraq to support their efforts against ISIL.
With these efforts, Canada is standing with an international coalition of like-minded nations. Earlier this week, I was joined in Washington by my counterparts from more than 20 nations committed to the fight against ISIL. It was clear from these discussions that while ISIL has seen some recent tactical victories, there’s a building coalition strategic momentum.
Working together, leveraging our various national contributions, we will contribute to overall success. This is a challenging mission against a barbaric adversary, but this is a mission that we prepare for, that we train for, and that we’re ready for.
Lieutenant-General Jon Vance, Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command
Thank you, sir. Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs. Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to provide you with an update with regards to our support to coalition efforts in the Republic of Iraq.
Over the past few months, we have all monitored the advance in the Republic of Iraq and Syria of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. They have forcibly spread their ideology while killing thousands of innocent civilians, affecting millions and subjugating local populations to rape and torture.
Just recently, they conducted attacks in the vicinity of Baghdad. They spread into the areas of the Anbar province and are currently firming up defensive positions in other cities under their control. It is evident that ISIL remains determined to fuel sectarian tensions in order to subvert the Iraqi government.
ISIL does not only undermine the stability of the region, it poses a threat to our international security.
As we saw a few weeks ago, Canada has been directly threatened by the ISIL leadership.
To date, more than 40 nations have pledged to fight ISIL in some capacity at the request of the Republic of Iraq. An emerging coalition is indeed gathering momentum as more countries are joining, bringing with them important capabilities.
The coalition includes close allies like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and France, other NATO allies and key regional partners.
In the last month alone, the coalition has conducted close to 300 air strikes in Iraq and has hit targets such as command-and-control nodes, staging locations, training camps, machine gun firing positions, bunkers, ammunition caches, armoured vehicles, tanks and transport.
These air strikes are forcing ISIL to change its tactics and are blunting its advances. As security forces in Iraq go on the offensive and begin retaking their territory, they will do so knowing that the coalition is supporting them through these means.
As ordered by the Government of Canada, and with the consent of the Government of Iraq, the Canadian Armed Forces are deploying a number of assets to the region as part of the next phase of Operation IMPACT.
We have been given a mandate by the Government of Canada to conduct air strikes on targets in the Republic of Iraq in concert with international efforts aimed at degrading ISIL’s abilities to carry out attacks and assist Iraqi security forces that are fighting ISIL.
Our forces will operate as part of this coalition in a combined task force led by the United States while remaining under Canadian national command. Canadian Joint Operations Command will coordinate the deployment of our forces, ensure their effective integration within coalition activities, sustain them for the entire duration of the mission and provide national command and targeting oversight.
Using our tactical and strategic airlift capabilities, the C-130J Hercules, the C-17 Globemaster, we will deploy an air task force in the coming days to augment ongoing coalition operations in Iraq for us to six months. It will include six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft, one C-150 Polaris aerial refueller and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and up to 600 personnel, including air crew, support elements such as command-and-control, medical personnel and logistics.
We will also have planning teams working alongside coalition counterparts and a wide network of liaison officers deployed with our mission partners.
Once established, the air task force will be operated under three distinct lines of operation, which will be coordinated by the appropriate coalition headquarters.
The Polaris will support coalition air assets in the region with aerial refueling. The Auroras will conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions based on identified and pre-determined areas of interest.
The Hornets will conduct bombing missions, using primarily precision-guided munitions. These missions will be validated through a rigorous targeting process and authorized by our own national chain of command and will operate under Canadian rules of engagement.
Our theatre activation team was sent to the region to establish all necessary arrangements to allow the main body to deploy. This includes the activation of our strategic lines of communication from Canada to the region. Theatre activation will allow our forces to be deployed and for sustainment flights to flow into the area of operation. It ensures the placement of movement control personnel to receive assets and the deployment of communication suites that will enable secure command-and-control of our forces in theatre.
We’ve also deployed a 12-person specialist engineering team to assess selected airfields and existing infrastructure to develop tactical bed down facilities for our deployed forces.
Canadian Armed Forces medical personnel will be co-located with coalition health services assets. The medical capabilities they provide include 24/7 medical care and services, trauma care, surgical services and evacuation of the ill and injured.
It is necessary to have these conditions in place before sending the aircraft, which will begin operations by early November in Iraq to degrade ISIL’s forces and limit its ability to take ground and manoeuvre freely.
The men and women deploying as part of this mission have a wealth of experience working in this type of multinational setting. Prior to their deployment, they undergo mission-specific training that includes revision of precise rules of engagement, operational briefs and appropriate cultural awareness training.
This training, along with their everyday preparation ensures that we deploy highly professional military personnel who are well equipped and are ready to complete any assigned mission.
I have every confidence that they will integrate seamlessly within the coalition and begin conducting operations that will indeed degrade ISIL forces.
As we begin operations in theatre, we will be in a better position to provide you with more information.
Brigadier-General Michael Rouleau, Commander Canadian Special Forces Command
As the CDS mentioned, my name is Brigadier General Mike Rouleau and I am the Commander of Canada’s Special Operations Forces Command. I am here this afternoon to provide you with some of the background and the current status of the Canada’s Special Operations Forces currently in Iraq.
In early September, the Prime Minister announced at the NATO Leaders Summit in Wales that Canada was committing members of its Special Operations Forces to Iraq in an advise and assist role in order to help the Iraqi security forces deal with the threat posed by ISIL.
On the orders of the Chief of the Defence Staff, I deployed a small team to the region in order to provide the Government of Canada with an assessment from the ground on the situation there, essentially to act as our eyes and ears and to provide a Canadian perspective.
Some of the things the team looked at were the overall situation, the threat picture, the status of the Iraqi security forces themselves, and of course the participation of allied SOF contributions in that theatre, all with a view to confirming the role for Canadian Special Operations Forces in Iraq.
Based on my team’s feedback, it was determined that there was indeed a clear advise and assist role that Canadian Special Operations Forces could meaningfully play in helping Iraqi security forces destroy and degrade ISIL.
There are currently up to 69 Canadian Special Operations members and support personnel on the ground in Iraq. They are working with the Kurdish Security Forces and our Allies to help provide the training, advice and assistance required to defend against and ultimately defeat the threats posed by ISIL.
The situation on the ground, as you could appreciate, is quite dynamic, and Canada’s Special Operations Forces Command will ensure that in concert with General Vance’s headquarters, we keep the Chief of the Defence Staff apprised of significant changes and we will be postured to adapt to the evolving conditions on the ground within the parameters of our Government of Canada assigned mission.
Question and answer period (not in the video)
Question: This is to whoever wants to answer. Can you outline for us the specific measures that will be taken to limit or mitigate civilian casualties during the bombing campaign?
Gen Tom Lawson: It’s a very important question. It recognizes the fact that targets that were very much available at the start of the campaign will, as a result of the effectiveness of the air strike campaign, have become more difficult to find. And that raises the issue of how close you can come to the people who we’re trying to protect in taking out ISIL targets.
This targeting process is very complex, and it is always taking into consideration those very points. I’ll let the operational commander give you a few details on that. Jon.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Well, it’s a good question, as the Chief said. And you know, there are a lot of measures in place to prevent civilian casualties and indeed collateral damage even beyond civilian casualties, into infrastructure.
First and foremost, I think we need to say that our people are very well trained along the entire targeting process, from the pilots in the aircraft that are doing the work flying the plane through to those who are operating the ISR platforms, doing the target analysis all the way down to those who would work on the specific engineering of the attack, so that it is done as precisely as possible. There’s a great deal of technical – there’s a great technical aspect to this to get the right weapon in the right spot with the right limit of harm in place.
At the same time, there’s a procedural and regulatory framework around all of this. Procedural includes the requirement to identify the target, have the target examined and by all these experts that I’ve talked about, so you understand exactly what’s there. And you need to have eyes on. And one of the reasons why there’s such a demand for an aircraft like our Aurora is because it provides the intelligence surveillance reconnaissance that you get a bit of an unblinking eye on the target, so you limit the potential of missing the coming and going of perhaps civilians from a target area.
And finally, there are theatre regulations that are being promulgated throughout the coalition about the aspirations to limit civilian casualties. And then on top of that of course and in fact the most critical are the Chief of Defence Staff’s orders to me in terms of strategic targeting direction and rules of engagement that I’m able to bring to bear.
So all of that combined is a framework that does everything possible to do the right thing in terms of mission success, but also to ensure that casualties – which are limiting casualties is part of mission success, happens.
Question: There is a published report in the United States that suggests that Washington has asked NATO to school up some kind of training mission for the Iraqi Army. Is that something any of you can comment on? And is that something Canada would be interested in?
Gen Tom Lawson: Yeah, I’ll take that at first and then pass on to Jon for extra. That was an important part of the discussions that occurred in Washington earlier this week. This first response that Canada’s part of is really part of the emergency response to blunt the attack and the pressure that ISIL is bringing on Iraqis in the most heinous way.
In fact, simply bringing air strike power to bear will not deal with the ISIL problem, and there’s broad recognition that it will be Iraqi forces who will be putting the pressure on ISIL components in coming months, and there is a requirement to bring them to a level of readiness to be able to do that.
That speaks to the advice and assist mission that we’re part of with the Kurds up north, but also speaks to a broader coalition awareness that that will be the next part of the strategy.
I’ll let Jon speak and then I think that Mike may want to add a little bit on that advise and assist. Jon.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Sir. The only thing I would add is that clearly as the Chief said on the critical path to success – or greater success against ISIL is the ability to rehabilitate to the extent necessary the Iraqi army, get – the Iraqi security forces, get them on their feet and be able to conduct ground operations against – against ISIL. And this indeed will take an effort, a training effort, and that the U.S. is looking to trusted partners amongst whom are NATO to consider this is not unexpected.
BGen Michael Rouleau: And so I would just add to what the Chief and General Vance have mentioned, you know, the being on the ground tells us that the Iraqi security forces are making the very best of what’s a difficult situation. And so in the context of what Canadian Special Forces are doing there, we have an assigned mission, which is advise and assist. So we are not conducting combat operations.
And so back to your initial question, in terms of how can we help mitigate some of the risks of collateral damage, I would say we can do that indirectly through the advise and assist role that we have with the Iraqi security forces by helping bring some of the tremendous training that we have here in Canada to them in terms of some of the lessons learned of how we’ve mitigated collateral damage in past conflicts, some of the best practices that they can put in place to help do the same with their own people.
Question: Hello. There are some articles and news stories today reporting that ISIL forces are or may be operating aircrafts. Is this correct?
Gen Tom Lawson: That’s a very interesting question. We’ve heard the exact same information from open media. I think that if this is true, and I’m not entirely sure that it is, but if it is, I believe the threat posed by such a small air force would be really very minimal. Jon?
LGen Jonathan Vance: I can only add that this is a possibility, but that we don’t have the exact information right now to confirm that ISIL have airplanes. However, this would be possible in the future, absolutely.
Question: To follow-up, have you evaluated the costs of Operation IMPACT?
Gen Tom Lawson: Of course. The costs will be incremental and we - we are presenting the costs, and the cost estimates through Parliamentary processes. We need to understand however that the costs are incremental, so we will have the necessary funds for Canadians missions as well as to continue search and rescue operations, NORAD missions and all other operations.
Question: Can you give us an idea of these costs?
Gen Tom Lawson: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?
Question: Can you give us an idea of what this operation will cost?
Gen Tom Lawson: Not yet. We have submitted an estimate for consideration to the government, taking into account other missions, and we will present all actual costs at a later date.
Question: General Lawson, can you comment on the restrictions that were imposed on the media at yesterday’s sendoff at CFB Trenton, specifically media not being allowed to interview departing members or take photos that would identify members or their families?
Gen Tom Lawson: Yes, and for those of you who were there to see off our group there yesterday, thank you very much for that. It’s a recognition, I think, that we want to minimize any risks at all associated with being posted into this deployment on this mission. While ISIL represents a tremendous threat to people on the ground in Iraq and in Syria, they’ve also made it clear that they would aspire to present a threat to – to the people of the nations who are providing forces that will be part of the efforts against them.
We watch that very closely, as do the security agencies here in Canada. There is no indication of direct threats yet, but I think we – we are doing everything we can to ensure that we minimize any threats at all and therefore the typical sendoff that you would have seen in the past that would have been so open, we narrowed that down a little bit, just to make sure that our individuals on their way aren’t identifiable.
Question: How do you – then just a follow-up, how do you respond to those who say that this takes away from Canada’s tradition of – the Canadian tradition of the military being very open to the media as well as the idea that this in many ways dehumanizes the mission? You know, the media and Canadians no longer will have the human face, if you will —
Gen Tom Lawson: Yeah.
Question: — of the mission, won’t see the sacrifices and hardship that families and soldiers go through.
Gen Tom Lawson: Thank you, I think it’s an important question. And the media plays such an important role, and has in our recent conflicts, of making that linkage for us. And it’s a very, very important linkage. While minimizing in every way we can direct risk to any individuals, we want to maximize the information that we pass with tech briefings like this one today, which we will be continuing, with news releases as frequently as possible once we’re on the ground and well-connected, through social media and then if there’s further desire for other information that links us in the very ways that you’ve talked about, we’ll consider that as well, while taking into consideration the sensitivities of the host nation and securities for all of those people in theatre.
Question: Hi. General Lawson or General Vance, these questions are for you. Just picking up on what a previous reporter was asking you about the air strikes and civilians, I’m thinking the pilots will be flying alone. How much discretion will they have before they, you know, press the button to hit these targets? Will they be told if there’s any chance of civilian casualties don’t fire or will it be left up to them at the end of the day?
Gen Tom Lawson: Yeah. It is a very important question, again. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the cockpits that our pilots will be flying in and know that – and believe me, the equipment is much better than when I flew them some years ago in helping identify the target, and the weapons are much more accurate than those that I used to drop as well.
But there still is this consideration when targeting, even if it’s been – the target’s been well assessed and seen to be very valid, for the pilot to assure that the conditions haven’t changed in theatre, so they are given discretion to bring their weapon back if they believe that unreasonable collateral damage may occur.
Without getting any deeper into the rules of engagement that we never want to open up on, I will pass to General Vance if he’d like to add anything in there.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Certainly. Absolutely an excellent question. Pilots are well trained. Also, he’s not entirely alone. Indeed, the purpose of the ISR platforms like the Aurora is to identify where the pilot would ultimately strike and to do an analysis of what is on the ground. There are limited circumstances where a pilot would use his own targeting pod and see what’s on the ground and be able to make that decision on his or her own, based on the level of potential collateral damage. But generally speaking, they work in tandem with ISR platforms.
Two types of – two broad types of targeting: that which is deliberate and that which is dynamic or happening in a hasty environment. Both targets demand a level of scrutiny and analysis before the – including by the pilot – always by the pilot as well as the final decider as to whether or not they’ll drop it.
Question: And should there be collateral damage or civilian casualties, at the end of the day, who is responsible for that?
Gen Tom Lawson: It’s an important question, and it’s one that recognizes the fact that although coalition leaders would say that there are no direct flags on tails of aircraft, in the law of armed conflict, you take responsibility as an individual and as a nation for any collateral damage that is – that occurs.
Question: Thank you.
Question: Hi. My question actually follows a little bit on that and I’m curious, when you speak about the use of Aurora aircraft as having an unblinking eye on the target and ensuring that – watching for any changes in civilian activity in that area, can you speak to whether there is a difference in the level of risk for troops involved in – in flying an Aurora, a surveillance aircraft as opposed to the other aircrafts, the CF-18s, by being there for longer or any other difference in terms of risk?
Gen Tom Lawson: I’ll start off with that, and then I think General Vance may want to continue. For each type of aircraft that is in theatre, ours and those of our coalition partners, there’s an assessment of all risks that may come from the ground. Largely in this case it may be small arms fire, but there may actually be some instances of shoulder-held surface-to-air weaponry as well.
That will be well considered through the campaign development and for each aircraft you will devise safety and mitigation of those threats, steps that mitigate those threats through either distance, altitude or onboard systems. Jon.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Sir. I think the risk is mitigated by the height that these planes fly at, the fact that their optical sensors are good enough to see from a long way away, and as the Chief says, that removes them potentially out of the envelope of those weapon systems that could shoot at them.
There’s also many types of aircraft that go in the air to help put a bit of a bubble around these aircraft and make certain that they’re safe and there’s ongoing intelligence analysis, as the CDS says.
So you asked a question there’s a difference of risk? I don’t perceive a difference in risk. They do different jobs. I don’t see the difference of risk as a result of enemy ground fire.
Question: Thank you. And just quickly to follow up on the risk of civilian casualties– do pilots, when they’re making that final call before they decide to drop their weapons, is there a specific framework that they’re provided to make that decision?
LGen Jonathan Vance: There is. All that I described before in my response as to the framework that we all operate in, the pilot is absolutely aware of all of the aspects, all of the building blocks of that framework that brought he or she to that point where they make a decision. And then it’s their training that kicks in. So they’ve got sensors on their aircraft. They know the blast effects of their weapon. They know how it’s been engineered to fly and therefore where the blast will go and they’re that well trained that they can make an assessment based on what they see. In some engagements, they’re being brought in or cleared in by those who are observing the target through an ISR platform and are indeed speaking directly to the pilot saying, you know, that the positive ID has not changed, conditions remain the same and he’s cleared hot to go in. Other – it’s rarer, but happens where the pilot is doing it alone. And so I think all in all there is – you’ve got a great, well-trained pilot with precise munitions and a framework around that to ensure that you’re going to – hitting the target you want and getting the exact effects that you want.
Question: Thank you.
Question: Good afternoon. A question perhaps to General Rouleau. I just wonder if you can talk a bit more in detail about the kind of training and advisory role that your troops are providing to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces. You know, what kind of training do they need? And then perhaps an assessment of where you see the gaps. Is it in equipment? Is it in further training?
BGen Michael Rouleau: Thanks for a good question. To the extent that we have the advise and assist role, we have spent some considerable time identifying where we’re going to be operating from specifically within the north, who we would most appropriately partner with in terms of indigenous forces, and so that needs assessment revealed that, you know, there are very suitable partner forces that we have married up with in the battle space now.
The advise and assist role implies that we’re getting with them, we’re developing a bond of trust in the relationship and we’re trying to add value to them by bringing some of the great training and experience that we have to them. Now clearly, we’re helping them sort of ask some of the right questions before they prosecute operations and before they step across the start line, helping them answer some of those questions, so that they go into whatever operation they’re contemplating with as much chance of success as possible. I mean that really sort of encapsulates in a nutshell what the advise and assist mission is.
Question: And then where do you see their needs going forward?
BGen Michael Rouleau: I think it’s too early to tell. I mean I wouldn’t want to start speculating on unpacking, you know, specific gaps. That’s going to be an ongoing process that we’ll make sure that we’ll brief up to the Chief that he’s got great awareness on other areas that we think we can add value to within the context of the assigned mission from government, which is advise and assist. And so you know, we have a good handle on what we need to do now to support them, and I think that we’re adding value now and that will simply – that value proposition’s going to grow going forward as the relationship deepens.
Question: And perhaps just a question to General Lawson. There was a mention that the task force, the air task force might be in theatre in early November. Do you have any sense of when the CF-18s may begin sort of active operations on targets and then do you envisage that, you know, if the refueller gets there ahead of time or the Aurora, that they could be in operation? Or do they all have to go as a package?
Gen Tom Lawson: The refueller pretty much has to go as a package with the fighters, there’s no doubt about it, but the phasing that occurs with the aircraft as they arrive will, as we can get to our aircraft and air crews into the fight, that will be allowed. In fact, we expect that we’ll have most of the contingent on the ground before the end of November. It will be part of making that linkage into the targeting process, into the command-and-control process and getting our aircraft onto what’s called an Air Tasking Order that really deconflicts all of the aircraft as part of it. All of that will be done with the greatest rapidity, so that our forces, which are well and truly desired and looked forward to by our – by our team over there will be in play. Jon.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Right. I think they’re going to deploy as a package all together. We’re still working out the details of the flow, as you can imagine. We just had the recce party back, but I think they’ll deploy as a package, as the Chief says.
It would be premature at this point in time to say when they would start dropping. As the Chief said, there’s a process we join that’s in progress to get onto that Air Tasking Order, and that means that they’re subject to an operation that day, and it is not uncommon for those operations to be scrubbed at the last minute. The target disappears or they go out there and try and prosecute and they’ve got a problem with the potential collateral damage that could come back. So it’s an ongoing process.
So at this stage, it would be premature to say when they’ll drop their first weapons. We guarantee you we’ll tell you when they do.
Question: Wondering if there’s any information you could release about where the Canadian assets will be stationed in Kuwait. Will it be at one base or across several different bases?
Gen Tom Lawson: In fact, host nation has asked that we not release that information. We’re showing great professional courtesy in that respect. So we’ll leave it at the fact that we’re delighted to be hosted by our partners in Kuwait, and it will provide us a fairly close access to the missions we’ll be flying.
Question: And just a follow-up, if the targets are less obvious and more difficult to find, as you were saying earlier, is there a chance that the planes will be idle if there are no —
Gen Tom Lawson: It’s very unlikely that – and I’ll let Jon expand on this, but it’s very unlikely they’ll be idle. One of the things that General Vance talked about was deliberate targets and dynamic targets. So most air crew prefer deliberate targets because they know exactly what they’re expecting to see through their sensors when they get there, but dynamic targeting is a very important part and will become increasingly important as pressure is brought to bear by Iraqi troops on the ground who have been trained up to do so. At that point, dynamic targeting to pilots in the air is provided through equipment that gives them the latitude and longitude of things on the ground, so almost the same sort of ease and accuracy of the location of a target that comes with a deliberate target.
So all that is to say that aircraft will fly. The likelihood of them dropping their weapons goes down for dynamic targeting as opposed to deliberate targeting.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Absolutely, sir. And the only thing that I would expand upon is that at this stage of the ISIL campaign, they’re still trying to advance. I mean they’re still trying to do things and that means that they are vulnerable because they have to move, they have to expose themselves to move. So absent sort of a full stop on their part and shrinking away, there’s going to be targets.
Moreover, as the Chief rightly pointed out, when the Iraqi offensives happen, either in small scope, limited scope or larger scope, that’s going to start to flush them out and there’ll be the close support required.
So I suspect there will be few moments in this campaign where aircraft are idle. But one of the things I would say is we would rather have an idle aircraft than an inappropriate bombing run, and so a moment of idleness does not mean that something’s gone wrong. It means we’re still developing the battle space.
Question: General Lawson, could you clarify one more thing please? Did you receive a guaranty, to be very clear, a guaranty from the government, that you will obtain special funding – notice that I say special – specifically for this mission, and that, in the end, you won’t need to take into account this amount as part of your operational budget, just like what’s been sometimes previously done? Did you receive an absolute guarantee from the federal government regarding this?
Gen Tom Lawson: I will say that I am absolutely confident that, as Chief of the Defense Staff, we will have the necessary funds to complete our missions, at home and abroad.
Question: There are other CF-18s operating in Eastern Europe at the moment. Now that we are sending more to support operations in Iraq, for Operation IMPACT, I’d like to know how long we will be able to maintain both operations.
Gen Tom Lawson: We are confident that we will be able to support both missions in the future. We have almost 80 CF-18s and the personnel necessary to conduct these operations for months to come. We are however very busy with both deployments.
LGen Jonathan Vance: General, it is possible to support both missions, that is to say a total of 10 aircraft for an indeterminate period of time. It is possible. The Canadian Forces have the capacity as well as the funds necessary to support them. So, this is absolutely possible.
Question: Thank you very much.
Moderator: We will now proceed on the phone.
Question: Hi. Good afternoon. I just wanted to follow up on a couple of points there. The first question regarding the sorties and pilots coming back without having dropped their bombs, just to give a sense of, the discretion they’re able to put into play and how this affects the sorties. Can you give us a sense of Libya of how what percentage of the flights the pilots came back without having dropped their bombs, having decided that it was not right to do so?
Gen Tom Lawson: Thanks. I’ll just start off, and I think General Vance may have a little bit more detail. Of course that was a very interesting facet of the conflict over Libya. At the very start, when our air crew were unfamiliar with the terrain over which they were flying and unsure entirely of how to identify targets, we saw an increased success rate in the employment of weaponry as the confidence grew of the air crew. So that was one of the factors.
We may actually see the same sort of thing take place here, or the opposite. We may see that as our air crew become more and more successful as part of the coalition, that targets become more and more difficult to identify even though confidence levels are going up. Jon.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Sir. I think it’s a good question, but the way you’ve posed it or framed it in terms of percentages is a little bit difficult because at different stages of the campaign the percentages may change and an overall percentage won’t necessarily give you what I think you’re after, which is what’s the discretion of the pilot and how often are they able to exercise that discretion? The discretion of the pilot is absolute and they can exercise that discretion 100 percent of the time.
Gen Tom Lawson: And I’m just going to add before we let that one go, we’re going to be careful ourselves and ask Canadians to be careful as well of assessing the success of the air campaign or the Canadians’ role in it by the number of bombs that are dropped. In fact, a very good indication of how many bombs are dropped can come from the fact that there are very few targets left to drop them on that would then flush back out into the open if the aircraft were not overhead. So we have to be very careful in assigning a success rate.
Question: Okay. I should have added that when I’ve been talking to people inside the forces about this, the response I got was well, pilots came back two-thirds of the time with their bombs still attached. So that two-thirds is what I was hearing, and I thought that was remarkable, given that there was sort of an indication of the discretion that they were putting into play. But I didn’t want that to be my supplementary.
I actually wanted to ask you, do you expect that the mission will shift to training of Iraq forces and that would be different from advise and assist? I’m not clear if that’s just the same thing or not – the Special Forces mission.
Gen Tom Lawson: I’ll pass that to Mike in just a second, but in fact, I think it’s clear that these phases will have some overlap and that training of not only counter terrorist forces, but also Iraqi regulars will – has already started and will increase, will accelerate as coalition partners take on those roles. Mike.
BGen Michael Rouleau: Yeah, I would just add, Chief, that as I alluded to earlier, I mean the advise and assist mission is effectively a training mission. And so just to expand on my earlier statement, you know, we’re getting with these forces where they are, and so we’re not pulling them back to training centres that are 60, 80 kilometres back from where they are needed by their country. We’re very much trying to group where they are.
We’re helping them with their planning and part of planning is understanding what kinds of intelligence that you need to prosecute successful operations — operations that minimize collateral damage. We’re helping train them in elements like shoot, move, communicate, how you manoeuvre elements around the battle space, how you can most effectively bring your various weapons system to bear and how you can communicate between various units of action to maximize the effectiveness of whatever force you have. So that’s really the complexion of the training mission that we’re undertaking right now.
Moderator: Do we have one more question on the phone?
Question: Yes, hi. This is for General Lawson. General, you mentioned that the Canadian contingent will be on the ground in total at the end of November, I think. I was just wondering why is it taking so long in the sense that some of Canada’s allies, which have similar sized air forces and such started bombing a couple weeks ago?
Gen Tom Lawson: Yes, in fact, you just gave me the opportunity to correct something I said. I believe I did say end of November. In fact, end of October is what I meant to say. And I think, actually, most of that time has to do with issues of diplomatic clearance, overflight, bed down within the host nation. And I think what’s remarkable, certainly to me who’s been in these forces for going on to four decades, the fact that we can move out on a mission as quickly as we can to the opposite side of the world, self-sustained and self-supporting for airlift is remarkable. So I think we’ll see that all of our coalition partners will have taken at least as much time, perhaps more, to get into place once announcements have been made. And I do apologize for that error, saying end of November.
Question: A supplementary question or additional question on the training for Brigadier-General Rouleau. The Americans have spent, I don’t have the exact figure, but it’s billions of dollars training the Iraqi military, spent years training the Iraqi military, which as soon as they were faced with ISIL, threw down their weapons and ran away. So I’m just wondering what’s going to be different this time?
BGen Michael Rouleau: Well, you know, I think it’s a good question. It’s a question that naturally comes to mind. Look, I’m not here to make a value statement on the experience that our great American colleagues achieved in Iraq. I am here to get after the mission that’s been handed to me by the Chief from government, which is to advise and assist.
As you can appreciate, the situation on the ground in Iraq today is different than it was a month ago, and it’s different than it was two or three years ago. So I think to make some kind of linear comparison between then and now sort of misses the point that the complexion of Iraq has changed.
CANSOFCOM will get after the advise and assist mission, and I’m very confident that my forces are going to help Iraqi security forces deal with the complicated problems that they’re facing today.
Question: Great. Thank you.
Moderator: Do we have one more on the phone?
Gen Tom Lawson: Could we just interrupt for a second? There are a couple of questions that have pointed to the phasing of the campaign. I’d just like General Vance to talk about those phases for an instant, if we could, and then we’ll go back. Thank you.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Thanks, sir. This is in response partly to questions about training. So there’s the training that CANSOF is doing right now, but there is ultimately in the flow of this campaign, we are clearly at, as the Chief said, this emergency stage of blunting the advance and ultimately setting conditions for other things to follow.
Those other things to follow will demand a capacity building on a fairly large scale so that indigenous Iraqi security forces can reclaim their country. And thereafter, there’ll be institution rebuilding and so on. But in the immediate term, it is blunt the attack and in midterm, over the next month to a year is to get the Iraqi security forces to be able to clear their territory.
That means that there will be a training effort at the coalition level that will be contemplated and resourced. And that training effort would look to not start from scratch. The Iraqi security forces although have had some failures in terms of standing against ISIL, and there are myriad reasons why that is the case, but they haven’t been formally trained by the United States or anybody on the ground since 2009. And they need a bit of a reset, some support to get back into the fight. They want to. They’re motivated to do it and that is going to be a challenge to be able to do this, but it is certainly part of the campaign construct that is being discussed at CENTCOM headquarters down in Tampa.
And so all that is to say that there will be a training mission on a larger scale. The size and scope and who does it, we are uncertain of at this time, but with the express purpose of getting the Iraqi security forces writ large to be able to go into the fight and clear their nation.
Moderator: One more on the phone.
Question: Hi, Generals, all of you. Thank you so much for this. General Lawson, I’m wondering if you could lay out some kind of benchmark by which we can evaluate success of our armed efforts in Iraq. When will we know that we have achieved success and what would that look like?
Gen Tom Lawson: Thanks. You’re right because it speaks to when coalition can then start wrapping up their efforts or at least changing them to a new phase. Measures of success is what we seek whenever we enter an operation.
As General Vance indicated, this first part of blunting the attack really is almost an emergency response and turning out to be quite an effective one already to a very – a threat that although it didn’t arrive on scene rapidly, it was known in advance, many months in advance, its effectiveness and the virulence of its attacks increased very, very quickly.
So I think immediately measures of success are seen as blunting that and the protection of Iraqis, as we’ve seen around Mount Sinjar, the Yazidis, the retaking of Mosul and the firming up of the towns in and around Baghdad and then the taking back of territory that’s been lost along the way en route to a more ultimate measure of military success and that is when ISIL can no longer pose a significant threat to the safety of Iraqis and also the Government of Iraq.
Your question might even go further and what’s a measure of success of victory in Iraq against ISIL and that speaks to the disappearance of the ideology and the firming up of government, as General Vance alluded to. That’s beyond the military mission. When we talk just military measures of success, I think we look at the significant reduction of ISIL to threaten Iraqis.
Question: Thank you for that, General Lawson. I appreciate your clarity around that. And to General Rouleau, I just wanted to ask you about the nature of the threat that is posed to the safety of the Canadian Special Forces operators on the ground. I note that you suggested that our advisors were not or will not be behind the lines, but rather will be where Iraqi forces are. I imagine – whichever the forces are. I’d imagine those forces will be close to the action. So what is the nature of the – the specific nature of the threat to Canadian SOF operators? And how do you mitigate that? Do you remove yourselves from the scene as things get hot or how does that go?
BGen Michael Rouleau: That’s a very good question. And I think when we think about Iraq today, we have to think about what Afghanistan was like and not think in terms of wars back in history when it was a very contiguous battle space. What we’re dealing with in Iraq is a very hybrid battle space where it is different to define discernible front lines, friendly people, bad people and all the rest of it.
So you know, the forces that we have will – they mitigate the risk by the very nature of the fact that the government has decided to send Special Operations Forces in theatre in the first instance. And so my troops are exceptionally carefully selected, very well equipped and very highly trained. They’re used to working in very small groups. They’re used to working at distance from support. They’re used to working in a networked environment, so all of these things make Special Operations Forces particularly à propos to a very fluid and uncertain environment.
What forces do we face? The forces will face everything from potential direct fire attacks, although I’m less concerned about that, to the more insidious types of threats like improvised explosive devices. So we track these things very, very carefully. We have a very well developed intelligence apparatus that helps cue up the indications and warnings. As the Operational Commander for SOF, I am speaking to my Task Force Commander in theatre at least three or four times a week, and we’re always very careful to adapt and to mitigate the threats, but as the Prime Minister himself mentioned when he announced that SOF were going, you know, there is no such thing as a no-risk environment, but I am very comfortable in the risk assessment that I’ve provided to the CDS, which is I assess the advise and assist mission from a SOF perspective to be low risk, all things considered.
Gen Tom Lawson: Just to add to that, and that’s very clear, our authority is for advise and assist. And the third A that often comes in – that can come in that role is accompany. We do not have authority for that at this point and assessments will be going on along the way. We believe we can be every bit as effective as we need to be in training the Iraqis and the Kurds in this case without that. But the distance from direct contact between advise and assist and the accompany role is sometimes a difficult line to define.
So as the General has said, every effort will be made to maintain distance and our soldiers are so very well trained if that were to break down at some point. Thank you.
Moderator: We have time for two more questions on the floor. Monsieur.
Question: I want to extend maybe from the last question, and that is we’ve sort of run through an inventory, if you will, of the aircraft we’re sending. We know what our allies are sending in terms of the makes, and models of aircraft. What do the bad guys have to throw against us? I wonder if you can comment on how high do we have to be to avoid their surface-to-air abilities? What kind of surface-to-air abilities do they have? What are the numbers? Do they have any artillery? What stuff are they going to throw at us?
Gen Tom Lawson: I’ll leave that to General Vance in a second, but I will say that in fact we are into intelligence now, and so we have to be very careful about what we share, not only what we believe they have, but also how they may use them, but also our countermeasures against that. With that, I hand it over to you, General Vance.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Sir. We’re gaining more clarity on ISIL, on this adversary. They possess a full range of conventional weapons that you would expect a conventional army to have at its disposal, from tanks to trucks to rifles to artillery, both short range and slightly longer range. They are absent at this point the capacity to bring surface-to-surface missiles to bear, at least at this stage. And as far as we know, they’re not flying aircraft, although that last question, I’m going to go back and check.
But they are capable of limited all arms air defence, so using conventional arms, machine guns and so on. And they have antiaircraft machine guns. And they do have – we know they do have some man portable air defence weapons. And that’s really as far as I’m willing to go right now in discussing what we know about them, but they are not absent the capacity to bring threat to us, you know, as we fly. But can we fly high enough? Yes.
Question: And I guess maybe just recognizing you can’t get into all the details, they know what’s coming at the end of October, beginning of November. What’s the likelihood that they acquire or somehow find the capability – I don’t know where it might come from but there’s places in the world we know where these weapons are made, that they might find the capability to bloody our noses somehow.
LGen Jonathan Vance: Absolutely. In fact, we can be absolutely certain that they’re going to try to win and that they will try to gain an advantage in terms of weaponry or at least gain some parity in terms of weaponry and we will do everything we can to detect that and deal with it. It is not going to be a static environment. It will be fluid.
Make no mistake, it’s not just Canada there. It’s a wide coalition with a lot of different assets being brought to bear across a full range of intelligence capabilities and there is no doubt in my mind that we will overmatch ISIL where we want to. And why we bring all of our assets we can mitigate the threat from weapons systems that they might procure or get somehow.
Moderator: Last question.
Question: I’m wondering – I think everyone’s ears perked up when you mentioned a year, sir. I’m wondering how long-term a fight is this that we’re getting involved in and what can we reasonably expect to accomplish in six months?
Gen Tom Lawson: Thank you for that. That was a point of discussion in Washington of course with the coalition. With the length of time, it gets back to a question asked regarding measures of success. What length of time do we believe it will take for this coalition to show a return on those measures of success so that the military can be removed and allow other articles such as economic levers and other things to bring stability to the region. That all is in debate.
What’s very clear is that the Canadian effort authorized right now is for six months. Many of our coalitions go on similar length tethers with a requirement to report back to government for considerations, and that’s exactly where we are.
Moderator: I know that my francophone colleagues have another question, so perhaps instead of a follow-up.
Question: We’d like to hear your thoughts in French on the mission’s objectives. How will we know that the mission has been accomplished and if six months will be sufficient? We’d like to hear your answer in French. You’ve answered earlier.
Gen Tom Lawson: Yes, I think it’s a little much to think that we will have succeeded on all fronts in six months. I think that – is there a scenario where this is possible? Maybe, but not likely.
So, what’s important right now is that we have the authority to work with the coalition for six months. After that, we’ll see.
Question: So it’s just not going to happen in six months is what you’re saying.
Gen Tom Lawson: I think we speak in terms of probabilities, and I think that there’s significant progress that can be made within six months, especially with the coalition and the weaponry that’s being brought to bear, but there’s another phase in there that General Vance spoke to and that’s a training phase. And we will see that training phase come more and more into play around that time. So certainly if we’re not seeing that training phase bear fruit until six months, there’s an expectation amongst this coalition that we’re talking longer than that, yes.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
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