Operation IMPACT – Technical briefing 20 November 2014

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Video / November 20, 2014

Transcript

Captain(Navy) Paul Forget, Canadian Joint Operations Command

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

My name is Captain (Navy) Paul Forget from Canadian Joint Operations Command. I’m here today to update you on Operation IMPACT – the Canadian Armed Forces’ support to the coalition fight against ISIL in Iraq. I will provide you with details on the efforts made to establish our camps in Kuwait and recent airstrikes conducted by Air Task Force-Iraq.

Since the last tech brief, ISIL has attempted to consolidate their control of Mosul and enforce brutal governance on the population of Iraq’s second largest city. This includes removing freedoms of speech, dress and congregation and forcing teenage boys to fight. In Fallujah, along the Euphrates River valley, we continue to see ISIL attacking and murdering tribal members including women and children who oppose their harsh rules.

Despite their efforts, ISIL has not made any significant territorial gains and the Iraqi security forces are increasingly successful in their actions. For example, further south along the Tigris River in Baiji, ISIL has been almost entirely repelled from the oil refinery and nearby city, thus denying them a critical oil infrastructure needed to fund and fuel their forces.

Our forces continue to operate as part of this multinational coalition to degrade ISIL’s ability to conduct operations. This is also in large part due to the initiative of the Iraqi security forces supported by the coalition.

Through the efforts of our deployed personnel the Joint Task Force Iraq, camps are now fully established. Everything from work spaces to sleeping quarters have been built from the ground up. Kilometres of fibre optic, copper and electric distribution cables have been laid throughout the camp. Satellite link ups along with internet and local networks have been established to allow our forces to communicate with one another in theatre, with coalition partners and back to Canada.

Through our air bridge, air movements personnel supported the arrival of over 1.2 million pounds of equipment and ammunition. Royal Canadian Air Force assets like the CC-177 Globemaster continue to provide the vital resupply and sustainment of Joint Task Force-Iraq.

Our personnel are constantly making improvements in and around the camps – from new communications upgrades; enhanced force protection measures; improved accommodation infrastructure; to the installation of large aircraft maintenance shelters for our CF-188s. And this has all occurred while air operations continue on a daily basis.

All of this work is done to ensure that our task force has everything required to conduct operations safely and effectively.

To date, we have conducted 103 sorties in total. Our fighter aircraft have conducted 66 sorties to strike ISIL targets and gather information on the battle space. The aerial refueller CC-150 Polaris has conducted 18 sorties delivering approximately 800,000 pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft. Our reconnaissance aircraft, the CP-140 Aurora, have conducted 19 sorties to assist in developing the picture of the operating environment and by providing battle damage assessments.

More recently, and since our update last week, we’ve conducted air strikes on two separate occasions. The targets were pre-identified and our aircraft, alongside several aircraft from coalition members, were deployed to engage them as part of deliberate coalition coordinated actions.

On 17 November 2014, four CF-188 fighter jets, as part of a larger coalition operation, conducted airstrikes against ISIL positions in the vicinity of Mosul in northern Iraq. Our CC-150 Polaris conducted air-to-air refueling and delivered an estimated 28,000 pounds of fuel during this operation. This was Joint Task Force Iraq’s first participation in a deliberate strike.

Our fighter aircraft destroyed an ISIL improvised explosive device – commonly referred to as IEDs – factory. The photo behind me shows the factory before it was hit. We know that ISIL is using improvised explosive device to indiscriminately maim or kill civilians and members of the Iraqi security forces. There were approximately 55 IED attacks across Iraq in September and 77 in October.

This is why it is essential that we engage these types of targets. ISIL uses IEDs to channel Iraqi security forces into specific areas or to block positions on access routes. When attacking outposts, they attempt to breach walls with vehicle borne IEDs and dismounted person borne IEDs. They also use IEDs to target humanitarian aid workers who are bringing much needed supplies to civilians. In major cities, they detonate vehicles filled with explosives in crowded markets to create chaos and instil fear within the population.

Because of the importance they place on IEDs, they require specialists and facilities to manufacture them. That is why it’s important that we strike these types of targets.

More recently, on 19 November, a series of coalition missions were conducted to the northwest of Kirkuq where ISIL was known to operate. Two Canadian CF-188 Hornet jets successfully conducted pre-planned strikes against ISIL fighting positions. The CC-150 Polaris assisted with refueling. By striking these fighting positions, the coalition operation contributed to the increased freedom movement of Iraqi security forces in the area.

Operations like these are part of coalition efforts to degrade ISIL. They also counter the immediate threat of ISIL in the region, support Iraqi security forces’ initiatives and their freedom of movement, and assist civilians in moving freely.

The Canadian Armed Forces will continue to demonstrate operational excellence as we stand with our coalition partners by contributing to these efforts.

Thank you.


Question and answer period (not in the video)

Question: I would like to hear in more detail about the figures you gave: 103 sorties if I'm not mistaken. So you talked about figures, and it seems to me that according to you the effectiveness of these sorties, these Canadian bombing runs.

Captain (Navy) Forget: So, 103 sorties is the total.  If I look, I'm looking for the figures.  I believe it was 66 sorties for the CF18s, 19 for the Auroras and 18, if I'm not mistaken, for the CC150.  Essentially these sorties are planned at the coalition level as part of the total coalition effort against targets in Iraq to generate movement for the Iraqi defensive.  So the effectiveness is very good.

Question: Is it actually effective?  What I notice is that the figures are not all that high.  And the number of targets hit even less so.  We do not hear that ISIL is weakened by the punishment.  Is it truly effective?

Capt(N) Forget: Essentially, if I understand your question correctly, you don't feel we have carried out a lot of strikes for the number of sorties?

Question: Yes, and in terms of that, what is the effectiveness?  Is what you are doing effective?

Capt(N) Forget: It is very effective because the strikes that are carried out are enabling to the Iraqi forces to retake ground lost to ISIL.  That's simply well known.  With regard to the first question, it's truly about our targeting. 

And the targeting we do is highly robust and it is done in accordance with international laws of conflict.  We follow the Geneva conventions and ensure it is a very rigorous process to minimize all collateral damage, harm to civilians, etc.  So the process as such is so precise that the final outcome can sometimes be fewer strikes.

Question: Just so we don’t have to repeat that, can you repeat that in English just so I don’t ask you the same question again?  You’re saying basically they’re efficient.

Capt(N) Forget: Basically yes, the task is efficient. The tasks are provided to us by the coalition effort and that’s through the air tasking order. We fly the missions that are assigned to us.  Not each of those missions is necessarily results in direct bombing runs.  The bombing runs that we do conduct as you recall the previous two that had occurred were more of a dynamic type target, a target of opportunity that arose throughout the flight.

The two that occurred this week were very deliberate and planned and were designed specifically to attack ISIL capability to allow greater freedom of movement for Iraqi forces.

Question: I have a question about targeting.  Obviously we’ve only had four strikes so far and you look at CENTCOM’s description of what they’ve done, what coalition planes have done.  Many of them are ISIS fighting units.  There’s oil facilities.  There’s command and control buildings.

Canada has bombed the earth moving equipment, the fighting position, obviously the IED factory and the artillery piece.  Does Canada have any specific restrictions on what it’s targeting?  Are there any restrictions placed on what you’ll accept as targets?   Are you choosing targets that are less likely to result in civilian casualties or in overall casualties?  Are there any specific restrictions on what Canada is accepting as targets?

Capt(N) Forget: To answer your question quite simply is that the targeting process that we follow, follows international law as we see it.  It also follows Geneva Conventions as we know them.  That process quite rigorous in this process and there are certain targets we will not hit.

Don’t ask me to iterate what those are because I don’t know them off the top of my head.  We’d have to follow up with a more detailed brief but all to say that our targeting process is very specific and rigorous.

Question: This is not my follow up, just to be specific.  Are we asking for different types of targets from the other coalition?  Are we accepting … is there a different filter on what we will accept as targets?

Capt(N) Forget: We are fully integrated into the targeting process for the coalition.

Question: My follow up question was about casualties.  You said last time I believe when we struck the artillery you believe it was likely there would have been casualties.  Does the forces have any estimate of what the strikes have incurred in terms of casualties, either ISIS casualties or civilian casualties?

Capt(N) Forget: As was mentioned in previous briefs we’re not focused on numbers of casualties. We’re focused on effects on the ground.

Question: But do you have those numbers?

Capt(N) Forget: There are no numbers.  It’s about the effects that we’re achieving.  Those effects are very deliberate.  I can’t comment too much about the effects of the current strikes of this week because those are still part of ongoing operations and so for operational security reasons I can’t disclose that information on those two strikes.  But those strikes were designed to enable offensive operations by Iraqi security forces.

Question: I have a slightly bigger picture question. You said earlier that ISIL had made no significant territorial gains.  That seems to allow the possibility that there may have been significant gains or they made gains that weren’t territorial, perhaps by tightening the grip on places they already hold.  Have they lost any ground?

Capt(N) Forget: That’s a very good question and thanks for that.  Long story short there’s offensive operations … what we’ve done now is basically blunt the offensive. That was the initial objective.  It’s been spoken to in previous tech briefs and I’m here to assure you that we have blunted ISIL’s offensive.  They are no longer making large gains of any sort.

Now, in any type of conflict there’s a to and fro of territory, of positions etc. and so those types of skirmishes are still ongoing. This is an active theatre of war right now.  ISF forces are well positioned and are starting make offensive maneuvers within Iraq, regaining territory as I alluded to in Bayji.  They’ve gotten the oilfield back and they’ve pretty much secured the city. That was previously ISIL held territory.

Question: Much of this depends by follow up of course on the ability or lack of it of the Iraqi army to follow up on the ground. We’ve seen reports in the last couple of days quoting US military officials as saying that the Iraqi army is advised not to go to dangerous places which doesn’t sound very promising.  When is this going to change?

Capt(N) Forget: I don’t have an answer to that question.  We are integrated with ISF forces.  We are supporting ISF forces in accordance with the coalition efforts.  We are helping shape the ground for them to be able to conduct their offensive operations and reclaim security and sovereignty of their country and security of their people.

Question: It’s fair to say we’re not there yet.

Capt(N) Forget: We’re definitely not there yet.  It’s going to be an extensive process.

Question: I know you said that you can’t put numbers on the number of ISIL casualties but I guess I’m curious, what will it be that will give you a sense that the morale or the efforts of ISIL have been degraded?  I know you don’t mean necessarily body counts but at what point does the coalition make the determination that there is obviously an ebb and flow in these kinds of things.  When do you … when will you know, when will you have a sense that something has happened and ISIL has taken a turn for the worse, they’ve become weakened?  A turning point I guess, what do you look for?  What does the turning point look like?

Capt(N) Forget: I understand what you’re saying and much like I alluded to earlier, the initial offensive was to blunt their advance and that has been a success.  That has forced ISIL as we’ve mentioned in previous tech briefs to change their tactics, to change the way they’re operating on the terrain, to revisit how they’re going to resupply their personnel on the ground.

The fact that we have this presence in the air that’s capable of striking at the heart of ISIL and that combined with the commencement of offensive operations on the part of Iraqi security forces is all combining towards turning that table that you’re alluding to, of turning that ebb into a flow and making that progress.

Question: Forgive me if this question is stupid or has already been answered but as ISIS is being weakened or the offensive is being weakened do we know is there concrete evidence that the Iraqi security forces are being strengthened at the same time?  You talked a little bit about it but there was concern off the bat that Iraqi security forces by themselves wouldn’t necessarily be enough to combat ISIS on the ground.  Is that changing?  You seem to be alluding to the Iraqi security forces getting stronger.

Capt(N) Forget: I think by just blunting the offensive it’s allowed Iraqi security forces to have that pause if you will to regroup.  That’s what we’ve seen happen and that’s allowed them to start actually taking a little more ownership of their terrain and making those offensive operations to reclaim territory that’s been lost.

Question: Captain Forget, first let me ask you why you are confident saying today that ISIL is not gaining ground?  Perhaps to sort of go back to the question from my colleague Jessica, what is your final objective for ISIL with the air strikes you have conducted, the ultimate goal?

Capt(N) Forget: The ultimate goal is simple, to enable the Iraqi forces to reclaim their territory safely and restore the safety of the Iraqi people.

Question: What makes you confident that they have not gained ground?  What alllows you to say that today?

Capt(N) Forget: The air strikes to date have had the intended and desired effect of halting the ISIL advance in Iraq.  That is a fact, and now that it is allowing the Iraqi forces to begin advances into their territory and reclaim their territory that was wanted all along.

Question: You are certain, convinced that no civilians were killed during the strikes, because you are unable to say regarding ISIL members how many are dead, how many have lost their lives. Why is there this certainty that no civilians have been …

Capt(N) Forget: It's about targeting, our targeting process. All of our targeting process is carried out with a high level of precision and great rigour, with the ultimate goal of minimizing collateral damage and minimizing damage to civilian infrastructure, etc.

Question: Do you want to go to the lines first or I’ll ask another question?  Okay, the bombs, my understanding was you were initially using the laser guided bombs, the GPU’s. Are you moving to the GPS ones and will that allow you to change the capability you have for targeting?  I’d like you to discuss the kind of bombs you’re using, the kind of targeted bombs and whether you’ve moved to the GPS ones which allow you to work in different weather and whether you expect that will increase the number of strikes you do.

Capt(N) Forget: That’s a good question, thank you for that.  Ultimately we’ve equipped the task force in Iraq with the appropriate ammunition to deal with all conditions. That includes GPS guided munitions as well as laser guided munitions. 

We’ve used both in a variety depending on the situation.

Question: To follow up then on my colleague’s question, the certainty you have on whether you are in fact incurring civilian casualties, can you say with confidence that you haven’t incurred civilian casualties so far or is that just you’re not paying attention to that?  

Capt(N) Forget: It’s not that we’re not paying attention to that.  What I said is that as part of the targeting process everything that we do is done with an eye to minimalize collateral damage and any damage to civilian infrastructure.

Question: Yes, but when I asked you about the numbers you said you don’t keep track of those.

Capt(N) Forget: You asked me about the numbers of ISIL casualties earlier.

Question: I asked you about both actually.  Do you have a certainty that you’re not incurring civilian casualties then?

Capt(N) Forget: I can never say anything like that with absolute certainty.

Question: Hello. Captain Forget, am I to understand that assessment of the results of a strike is done only by reconnaissance aircraft?  We have absolutely no one on the ground.  We don't have Iraqi or Kurdish forces that sometimes contribute to the assessment of strike results?  That is my first question, and I would like to ask you my follow-up right away before leaving you.

With respect to determination of objectives, is this done solely at the coalition level, or are Iraqi forces starting to call for strikes?  Is there input from Iraqi or Kurdish forces in determination of objectives?  Are the two questions clear?

Capt(N) Forget: Yes.  I'll start with the follow-up and then come back to the first question.  For the follow-up, the Iraqi forces are part of the coalition and are therefore participants in every sense.  So that clearly enables them to determine targets.  The first question again, if you could refresh my memory?                    

Question: The first question, after the strikes, have I correctly understood that assessment of the results is done mainly with our reconnaissance aircraft, such as the CP Auroras, and that there is really no one on the ground to provide input for assessment of results?

Capt(N) Forget: To answer the question, we need to place the strike locations in context a little.  If there are Iraqi forces near the strike location, clearly they can make a contribution.  But I can assure you that where reconnaissance is concerned, there are always several factors that enter into the reconnaissance.

Aerial reconnaissance is one factor, and humanitarian reconnaissance is another.

So all these factors are taken into consideration when we analyze strikes.

Question: Up till now, the assessment you have given us of strike results has been based mainly upon which factor?

Capt(N) Forget: A combination of several factors.  And for operational security reasons, since these operations are still ongoing, I can't comment further at this time.

Question: Good afternoon Captain.  I wanted to talk to you about the buildup of the camp in Kuwait.  It sounds to me like you’re preparing for a long stay.  Would you be doing this if the mission was going to be lasting less than six months?

Capt(N) Forget: Right now the government mandate to answer that question is quite simple. The government mandate is for a six month period. There’s a certain minimal standard that comes with the equipping our troops here in theatre although it does sound like a lot, it is a lot.  It’s 600 people that we’re supporting here in a land far away if you will.  Essentially yes, it is required.

Question: The Australian Air Force has said recently that it has waived off some of its air strikes because they’re concerned about civilian casualties.  Have any of the CF18 missions that were non-strike missions been waived off because of last minute concerns on civilian casualties?

Capt(N) Forget: That’s a great question and admittedly I don’t have any data that I would even be able to provide you for an answer in that regard. That’s very tactical in nature and those are operations that are ongoing in theatre.

Question: Thanks for talking to us today.  I’m just wondering if you could quantify or qualify if you will the operational tempo of Operation Impact, whether the CF18’s as well as the Auroras and Polaris are flying at their maximum level, if they’re flying… I’m trying to get a sense of whether they could ramp up if needed.

Capt(N) Forget: Thanks for that question.  Essentially all aircraft are flying daily missions and they’re performing admirably according to the taskings that have been provided to us by the coalition.  As it stands right now we are full participants within the coalition executing all tasks that have been assigned to us.

Question: As a follow up then, perhaps compare our operational tempo with those of perhaps Australia and other allies.  Are we flying as many missions as they are?

Capt(N) Forget: I don’t have any data to support that either way.

Question: I’d just like to hear, in French, about the possible civilian victims. Before, before it was clear essentially, there were no civilian casualties. And now you seem to be changing the story a bit. Are you confirming that there are no casualties or are you not sure?      

Capt(N) Forget: The only thing that I can confirm is that in the targeting process we apply the highest degree of precision possible to ensure that there are no collateral damages and that the strike is carried out on a justifiable military target. Everything is done according to conventional laws and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. 

Question: But last week it was clearer in the tech briefs, that there were no civilians, and now today you can’t confirm that. We have to conclude that there are civilians casualties.

Capt(N) Forget: If I understand you correctly you want to know if there are civilian casualties and I can assure you that the two last targets that we hit were a piece of large equipment and a an artillery piece. So it was simple enough to confirm that.

Now that we have attacked buildings that we confirmed were making IEDS as well as that building, we can’t guarantee anything, but we can assure you that the process is carried out with rigor.

Question: Can you tell me how many times have Canadian pilots pulled out of an attack, aborted an attack because the risk of killing civilians was too high?

Capt(N) Forget: I don’t have any information on that.

Question: I only ask because I can see the Australians in their briefings are telling their media that.

Capt(N) Forget: We’ll put that question to MRO and see what we can get.  I don’t have any data to be able to provide you on that.

Moderator: Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.  This concludes our session.  Further updates or imagery are available on www.forcesimages.ca and regular updates are available also on forces.gc.ca under Operation Impact.  Thank you.

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