Operation IMPACT – Technical briefing 4 December 2014

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Video / December 4, 2014


Captain(Navy) Paul Forget, Canadian Joint Operations Command

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  My name is Captain (Navy) Paul Forget from the Canadian Joint Operations Command.  Today, I will provide you with an update on Operation Impact, the Canadian Armed Forces’ support to the coalition fight against ISIL in Iraq.

First, I will briefly discuss the progress made by Iraqi security forces this past week and ISIL’s recent activities. 

After suffering some important losses over the past few weeks, ISIL still hasn’t be able to regain its momentum in the operational theatre. For example, it no longer represents a menace to Kirkuk and Erbil, and is no longer present in Bayji. We have also witnessed a reduction in the group’s activities; however it still continues to conduct operations in the provinces of Anbar and Neynewa. In Anbar, the group is trying to isolate Iraqi security forces as well as the tribes defending Ramadi, all while trying to gain some ground between West Iraq and its base in Syria.

Iraqi security forces, supported by coalition air strikes, continue to conduct operations against ISIL on multiple fronts in northern, western and central Iraq.  Iraqi security forces and Shia militias have capitalized on recent gains at Jalula and Sadiya, in Diyala and Saladin provinces, respectively.  They continue to conduct clearing operations in the Hamrin Mountains southwest of Kirkuk to ensure that ISIL is unable to conduct operations in the area. 

Iraqi security forces are also working to secure their ground lines of communication between Balad north of Baghdad, along the Bakuba Samara corridor.

Sunni militias, supported by Iraqi security forces in Anbar have moved to assist forces in Ramadi that are under pressure from ISIL.  Coalition members have been working closely at all levels to better support the Iraqi security forces as well as to develop and refine a comprehensive military campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL.

For example, we saw yesterday that diplomats from 60 countries met to discuss how to support the new government in Baghdad and how to stop foreign fighters from reaching battlegrounds in Iraq and Syria. 

Recently, the United States Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, invited coalition members to a 10-day operational planning conference at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.  There, 200 military planners from over 30 nations, representing the broad coalition, synchronized and refined coalition campaign plans and discussed strategies on defeating ISIL.  Participants further developed coalition plans to help train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces, so that they can regenerate their own combat power, counter ISIL and ultimately provide for their own security.  These planning efforts allow for greater synchronization of coalition efforts and further strengthen relationships among coalition members.

In the theatre, our aircraft have conducted a total of 149 sorties to date with our coalition partners. Our CF-18 jet fighters took part in 94 sorties and our air-to-air refuelling aircraft, the Polaris, carried out 26 sorties and delivered more and a million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft. Lastly, our reconnaissance aircraft Auroras conducted 29 sorties.  

On November 28th and 30th, our CF-18s carried out air strikes. In both instances, our aircraft took part in larger-scale missions for the coalition aiming to conduct air strikes against ISIL’s combat positions in order to help support Iraqi land operations.

On November 28th, two CF-18s conducted an air strike that destroyed one of ISIL’s combat positions along a main supply line, which was disrupting the local population’s and Iraqi security forces’ freedom of movement.

On 30 November, two CF-18s destroyed an ISIL armed vehicle and a mortar position in an ISIL-controlled area south-southeast of Mosul.  These weapons were being used to directly target Iraqi security forces in the area.  Striking these weapons systems removes them from the battlefield, which degrades ISIL’s combat capability while maintaining continuous coalition pressure on them.  It also reduces ISIL’s ability to wage a terror campaign against local Iraqi civilians and to conduct combat operations against the Iraqi security forces in the region.

During Operation IMPACT, the CF-18s carried out several close air support missions like the one I just mentioned. These missions make it possible for our aircraft to take the appropriate measures against enemy targets in close proximity to friendly forces. They can be deliberately planned before the aircraft leaves the base or may be adapted in flight to the dynamic situation in the field in order to support Iraqi operations

As Colonel Constable explained last week, CF-18s have also provided top cover for coalition transport planes to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid.  I would like to note that when Colonel Constable described this mission last week, we were not in a position to mention which coalition member was involved in this operation.  Coalition members do not disclose the nationality of those who participate in a particular mission until explicit approval has been received from that nation.  This practice is followed for all missions in Iraq.

I’m now at liberty to provide you with more detail on this humanitarian aid mission.  Our CF-18s provided top cover for the Royal Australian Air Force Hercules transport aircraft on 20 November that undertook humanitarian aid airdrops to support displaced civilians on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.  In cases like this, the fighter jets remain in close proximity to the transport aircraft and can detect and target any air or ground threats.

In conclusion, our CF-18 aircraft’s versatility, the unique capacities offered by the Aurora reconnaissance aircraft and the Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft, as well as the help of all personnel assigned to the Joint Air Force Iraq, make it possible for Canada to play an active role in the coalition’s current mission.Thank you.

Question and answer period (not in the video)

Question: Hi. There are reports we are receiving, from sources such as Reuters, telling us that it has not been possible to stop the ISIL advances on the ground in some locations, maybe, but these news reports are rather discouraging on the ground.  What can you tell us about this?

Capt (N) Forget: I mentioned in a – in my first tech brief that the issues on the ground, that there's some give and take, okay?  So some days you get things accomplished, but other days you lose a little ground.  So, yes, it's true we have made advances, but as I described in my text, there are other advances being made by ISIL in various areas.  What is important to note here is that the ultimate goal was to halt the ISIL advances on Iraqi territory, and that objective has to date been met.

Question: In terms of air strike operations, does that now make it six air strikes by our CF-18 aircraft, if I count from the start of the strikes?

Capt (N) Forget: If I do the same count, I believe your figure is correct, but I must admit that I don't have the actual figure in my head because, really, regardless of the number of strikes we have carried out, it is the effects we are seeking on the ground that are important, and the effects of our strikes to date have been highly effective in helping Iraqi security forces to retake the lost territory and begin to re-establish their country's sovereignty and security.

Question: That’s all right.  Just wondering if you can tell us, in the November 30th attack you mentioned, were any ISIS fighters killed or likely killed in the air strike, and do you think there was any civilian casualties or collateral damage?

Capt (N) Forget: As I alluded to in the previous question, the importance here is not whether or not ISIL fighters were killed, but rather the effects that were achieved on the terrain.  And what I can tell you is that, you know, taking out mortar positions and taking out ISIS combat vehicles and this important tactical effect on the terrain, which helps enable the Iraqi security forces to better reclaim security and sovereignty of their country.

Question: So essentially, you won’t say whether any ISIS fighters were killed or not?

Capt (N) Forget: As we’ve discussed in previous tech briefs that we’re not going to disclose counts here on whether – on the count of ISIL casualties.

Question: Can you say there was no collateral damage in this last one?

Capt (N) Forget: And so to date on all of our strikes, I can say that there has been no indication of any collateral damage.

Question: Hi.  I’m wondering, the number of sorties seems to have gone up.  Can you tell us what you can attribute that to? 

Capt (N) Forget: So the number of sorties of course will continue to climb as the mission continues to unfold.  It’s been a very busy week in theatre.  We fly the missions that are assigned to us through the air tasking order, which is put together by the coalition members that are tasked to do so.

Question: Does that mean ISIL’s getting busier or are we just getting more taskings?

Capt (N) Forget: The taskings that we receive through the air tasking order are our authority to fly, basically, into theatre and execute those missions.

Question: Are we getting more of those taskings so – or is it just that ISIL is just getting busier and that’s why we’re getting busier?

Capt (N) Forget: There’s no indication of an increased tempo. 

Moderator: Thank you.  We will go on with another phone call. 

Operator: Please go ahead.

Question: Hello, Captain.  You mentioned that there was a meeting in MacDill Air Force Base in Florida and that there was planning and preparation going on for an overall campaign plan.  Can you tell us what sort of – what kind of representation Canada had there?  Who was it?  And can you also let us know what kind of input we gave in terms of a potential training mission? 

Capt (N) Forget: Difficult for me to speculate exactly what went on at a meeting that I was not in attendance.  I can assure that there was Canadian representation at that meeting and that Canada’s interests are fully represented within the coalition effort.

Question: Just as a follow-up, so you can’t articulate what Canada’s position is on the training of Iraqi forces?

Capt (N) Forget: It’s not for me to decide whether or not the training of – I mean the training of Iraqi forces has been something that’s been a subject of debate for some time now.  It’s not for me to speculate whether or not Canada will engage in in such a capacity. 

Question: Captain Forget, am I to understand, just to make sure I've got it right, that since the last technical briefing all that has happened is strikes at Hit and Mosul?  So Canada has taken part in a total of two strikes out of the 11 that have taken place in Iraq since the last technical briefing.

Capt (N) Forget: I don't have full details on all coalition strikes on hand, but, yes, I can tell you that the two strikes I described in my brief are the strikes that have taken place since the last – since the last tech brief last week, yes. 

Question: Excellent.  Thank you very much.  That was my only question.

Question: Hi.  Good afternoon, Captain.  Thanks for this.  Just wonder if you provide an update.  We haven’t heard much about sort of the military advisors on the ground in Iraq. Just wondering if you can update on their numbers, the kind of work they’ve been doing the last few weeks, progress they may be making and whether you see their numbers being augmented at all, you know, over the coming months.

Capt (N) Forget: As mandated by Government of Canada, we have 69 members deployed forward in a advise and assist capacity.  They continue to work in that capacity in the Erbil area and will continue to do so for the duration of their mandate. 

Question: And any sense whether or not – you know, some of the coalition partners have sort of augmented their advisor teams on the ground.  Do you see that happening in the Canadian scenario or do you see it staying at 49 – or sorry, 69?

Capt (N) Forget: Should the mandate of that portion of the mission change, that’ll be announced by the Government of Canada.  Currently, that portion of the mission is being run in accordance with the mandate as assigned by the government. 

Question: One last.  In terms of these aid efforts, when we send CF-18s, for example, to escort Australian aircraft on humanitarian aid missions, as we might do strikes, and over the last weeks we have only actually done six strikes, are we going to place more stress on this kind of aid?  Are we escorting other coalition members who are providing humanitarian aid?

Capt (N) Forget: As noted during my brief, I mentioned that the CF-18s have an air support role, and so the missions we are assigned will be assigned in an area.  They will conduct a patrol in a given area.  So that gives rise to a highly dynamic tempo.  And so if there is an opportunity for a strike, the process kicks in at that point in support of Iraqi forces.  And so there is persistent air cover in Iraq which means that engagements are not too frequent, but that is a good thing.  That actually means what I am telling you, that ISL is turning on its heels and can't advance farther because the persistent air cover that is now in the theatre won't allow it.  And so additional air missions, everything depends on what is decided by the group.  As I have said, all our missions are assigned to us via the air tasking order, as it is called.  So the coalition decides what missions are executed and their priority.

Question: Can you tell me if the Air Force has called off any air strikes, planned air strikes at all as a result of fears for any collateral damage or civilian casualties?

Capt (N) Forget: Again, I get back to the multi-role nature of the aircraft.  And as I was just explaining in French, the way the aircraft are being employed in a close air support role, they are – they are basically assigned a patrol area over Iraq in support of Iraqi security forces and manoeuvres that are happening on the ground. Those may lead or may not lead to a dynamic strike of some sort.  What I can say though is the deliberate strikes that we have been assigned — and we have been assigned some — have all been successfully executed.

Question: Okay, so you won’t say if you’ve pulled back from any.

Capt (N) Forget: To date, the deliberate strikes that we’ve been assigned have been executed.

Moderator: Thank you.  Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes this session.

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