Operation IMPACT – Technical briefing

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Video / January 19, 2015


Lieutenant-General Jon Vance, Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It’s good to be back to update you. I’m LGen Jonathan Vance, Commander of CJOC. Today I will provide you a synopsis of the military situation and the current status of coalition operations in Iraq. I will then turn the floor over to BGen Mike Rouleau, Commander of CANSOFCOM to explain how his forces are employed in their advise and assist role with Iraqi security forces fighting in the north.

The ultimate goal of the coalition is to degrade and defeat ISIL in the region. This is being accomplished in stages. First we responded to Iraq’s call for aid. We then stopped and contained ISIL forcing them into defensive posture. Now we are degrading them. During the simultaneous and upcoming stages the idea will be to train, advise and assist the Iraqi security forces so they can return to strength, combat ISIL and at the end of the day, look after their own security.

The first map behind me portrays where ISIL was when we started our operations in Iraq. Since our deployment ISIL’s advance through Iraq has stopped. In some locations it has been moderately reversed. The second map shows the areas previously controlled by ISIL in white.

As you can see their physical advance towards their objectives has effectively been halted. To date the coalition has conducted more than 900 air strikes in Iraq and has struck targets such as equipment vehicles and other resources, everything from enemy fighting positions and enemy weapons, buildings to store weapons and IED’s and so on.

Although there will likely be small local tactical reversals from time to time such as the contested areas around Bayji, these airstrikes in conjunction with Iraqi security force ground operations have had the desired effect of stopping ISIL’s advance. Without these efforts the current situation in Iraq would be very different.

We have disrupted their freedom of maneuver, their command and control capabilities and limited their ability to carry out large scale operations. They have been halted and are now attempting to consolidate their positions, defend the remaining territory they still control and apply combat power to achieve local tactical success.

We know that ISIL remains determined, but we have clearly begun to weaken them in Iraq. We stopped and contained them rather quickly but the complete degradation and defeat of ISIL will likely take years. We are in the early part of the campaign. Much more will be done. Train, advise and assist operations are ongoing and will ramp up further.

The effects of this will be felt in the months to come. Some coalition members including Canada through our Special Operations Forces have already begun train, advise and assist operations with Iraqi security forces. Several Iraqi units are in training in centres and they intend to increase the tempo and throughput over time as coalition partners arrive to start their training.

The Iraqi security forces are also conducting offensive operations and have succeeded in protecting the civilian population. Regions previously threatened by ISIL, such as Erbil and Kirkuk, are more secure. We’ve also been successful in removing ISIL from two towns in Diyala province. In November they secured an essential line of communication between Bagdad and Samara.

More recently over 8,000 Iraqi security forces members broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar and reached the Yazidis and other displaced Iraqis who were trapped there since August. In December they provided security to more than 17 million pilgrims who made their way to Kerbala as part of the Arbaeen, an important religious observance.

The Iraqi security forces successfully prevented attacks against the pilgrims despite ISIL’s efforts. This portrays some limited but important successes. ISIL will continue to contest our efforts. It won’t be an easy fight, and much remains to be done from an instruction and assistance standpoint before major strides can be made.

Long term success rests on the government and the people of Iraq. It will also require the coalition to bring to bear all elements of power as well as military effects. Today Canada has 625 members deployed as part of Operation IMPACT, 10% of them members of the Special Operations Forces.

Our aircraft have flown a total of 358 sorties. Our CF-18’s have conducted 28 air strikes that have degraded ISIL’s combat capabilities. Our rigorous targeting processes followed to reduce the risk of collateral damage and precision guided munitions are used to conduct strikes on approved enemy targets.

The Polaris has delivered over 3 million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft so they can remain in service for longer periods of time and keep up the pressure on ISIL forces. Our Aurora’s have conducted 67 intelligence reconnaissance and surveillance missions as well as battle damage assessments to confirm the effectiveness of coalition air strikes.

Canadian staff officers are also fully integrated in the coalition headquarters and along with our partners they participate in the decision making and planning processes. Canada is participating in the full spectrum of operations with air power and Special Operations Forces training and assistance.

Our Canadian Special Operations Forces have begun advising and assisting Iraqi security forces operating in the north and are helping the Iraqis develop their military capabilities to fight against ISIL. As you will soon see, we have been successful in our mission thus far and I am proud of what our air task force and Special Operations Forces have done to date. BGen Rouleau will provide more detail on the Special Operations Forces training aspect of our mission.

Brigadier-General Michael Rouleau, Commander Canadian Special Operations Forces Command

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My objective here today is to inform Canadians on what their Special Forces are doing in relation to the ISIL situation in Iraq. The SOF task force in Iraq is driven by our authorities from government and as I stand here those authorities remain unchanged from when we first went into Iraq.

Those are to advise and assist Iraqi security forces. I have personally just returned from Iraq last week where I visited with my troops, members of Iraqi security forces, leadership from the Iraqi government and senior coalition generals. While I was there I went to the forward most Iraqi fighting positions and some of the training locations that we in CANSOF are using in support of our mandate.

Let me now turn to explaining what we are doing in Iraq. To do this I’ll be using a number of graphics, pictures and a video to help the audience visualize. First we are advising and assisting Iraqi security forces to plan their operations. Second, we are assistant Iraqi security forces through a training regime to improve their military capabilities.

Third we are assisting Iraqi security forces in the defense of Iraqi positions and in the prosecution of offensive operations by enabling air strikes from the ground. Let me start by talking about the planning and the training. Canadian Special Forces members have provided advice and assistance to senior Iraqi commanders in holding the line against ISIL and in planning their offensive operations.

Thanks to a combined coordination centre that we established, coordination, planning and synchronization of Iraqi operations have improved. This is all followed by field reconnaissance to visualize front-line operations. The recent operation in Sinjar that we were part of was a big success. This made it possible to secure the environment for the Yazidis and thus avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

Let’s turn now to the second element, the training or upgrading of the Iraqis’ military capacities. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada purchased and donated equipment to the Iraqi forces. The instruction we offer Special Forces on such topics as land navigation, information technologies and global positioning systems or GPS ensures that the equipment purchased by the Department of Foreign Affairs remains useful.

Much of this equipment as well as the knowledge acquired were put to use during the recent operations of the Iraqi forces. This type of instruction takes place well behind the front lines. We have also assisted by providing medical training to Iraqi security forces, tactical battlefield skills, how to keep a soldier alive on the battlefield long enough to get that person to a hospital.

In this slide you see in the top left a CANSOF medic providing classroom type training, how to insert an intravenous line. On the bottom left you see an Iraqi security force member who was particularly adept at this sort of training. On the top right you see both medics treating a gunshot wound patient from Iraqi security forces from the recent Sinjar operation and on the bottom right you see that same soldier being evacuated in an Iraqi ambulance to go to an Iraqi hospital.

In this next slide you see our Canadian medical surgical resuscitation team or the MSRT which we deploy to further mitigate any risks to the ground force. You see in this photo Canadian surgeons, anaesthetists and trauma nurses treating an allied soldier who was injured not by ISIL but in a vehicle accident.

This slide shows the instruction program we call “mobility.” As you can see, the Canadian operators are demonstrating how to install tow lines on vehicles which have been deliberately stuck, while at the same time maintaining a secure tactical posture. This instruction program covers tactics and procedures such as equipment operation, maintenance and loading.

This is specifically tailored to the very rough topographical conditions found in northern Iraq. This photo shows a CANSOF operator supervising a live mortar shoot on a range behind the front lines. The small 60 mm tube shoots the small bomb that you see in the Iraqi soldier’s hand some distance away creating an explosion down range.

Our training assistance has brought the Iraqi security forces from a basic mortar level to an advanced mortar level. In other words the accuracy is manifestly better now than it was when we started the training regime. Iraqi security forces who graduate from this training are employed at the front as mortar men.

This next slide shows a CANSOF operator working an Iraqi security force heavy machine gun that’s mounted in the back of a pickup truck. You see three Iraqi soldiers with him. They are acquiring lessons on things like site picture, target indication, range and rate of fire in order to be more effective in a mounted context.

You’ll see a similar image here, but with a rocket-propelled grenade or RPG. This weapon is particularly effective for the Iraqi forces against ISIL armoured vehicles. The photo shows an Iraqi forces soldier launching an RPG during a night operation behind the front lines.

This slide shows sniper training. Here you see a CANSOF operator kneeling with an Iraqi security forces soldier. The Iraqi sniper rifle is at his knee. You can see another CANSOF operator with his back to the camera. The easel to the right contains written fundamentals that were brought from a classroom setting to a range in the field several kilometres behind the front lines and all graduates from this course are employed as snipers.

Now, without going into specifics, I can tell you that Iraqi security force snipers as a result of this training can effectively shoot four times further than when we began. More to the point, with the best Iraqi security force shooters we give them additional instruction and additional training. This group has proven able to shoot effectively against certain target sets to a tenfold increase from what they could before we started.

I think you would agree this is a significant improvement. As part of our assist mandate CANSOF has enabled on thirteen occasions to be precise assistance to Iraqi security forces for coalition aircraft to strike within our area of operations. This is, to use very clear language, a high end military skillset.

ISIF have neither the tools nor the training whatsoever to be able to do this. We do. We enable these strikes by working with coalition aircraft and with the Iraqi security forces and this is all governed, as Gen Vance said, by in theatre coalition chains of command as well as Canadian officers to ensure that targets are legitimate and that the risks of collateral damage are mitigated.

This slide shows at the top left a series of bunkers, ISIL bunker positions and a machine gun that was firing on and constantly threatening Iraqi security force forward positions. At the bottom left you actually see imagery taken by CANSOF operators of two ISIL fighters, their bunker and their machine gun.

I would just caution the audience to not draw any conclusions about how close we were when we took this photo. Our optics are quite good. At the top right you see the impact of several aircraft bombs on the bunkers and at the bottom right you see an indication of bomb damage assessment.

I’d like to now show you video footage of one strike. In this clip you will see two buildings as seen through a thermal scope. Both buildings were being used by ISIL as a command and control facility and also as fighting positions. When we roll the tape you will see both buildings, first the left then the right, struck by precision guided munitions that are launched from coalition aircraft and enabled by SOF operators on the ground.

(Video plays)

This successful strike made the Iraqi security force defensive positions within our area more secure and obviously such strikes eat away at ISIL’s infrastructure, their strength and their fighting morale. I would like to now turn to the improvised explosive device issue.

We in CANSOFCOM have not encountered a single IED since arriving in Iraq. This is primarily due to our advise and assist mandate. We are not advancing with the forward Iraqi security force elements that do from time to time encounter IED’s. We share best practices with Iraqi security forces well behind the lines in terms of being able to contend with such threats.

In this slide at the top you see a vehicle that was captured by Iraqi security forces in the successful recent Sinjar Mountain operation before it could be used as a vehicle borne improvised explosive device. It’s basically a water bowser truck converted Mad Max style into a heavy mobile bomb.

At the bottom of the slide you see a bridge, again in the vicinity of Sinjar, that was successfully captured by Iraqi security forces before it could be destroyed by ISIL demolition charges. Those demolition charges are the blue barrels that you see at the bottom of the pillars. Keeping this bridge intact allowed this route to be used by Iraqis, something that they are still doing to this day.

Let me be clear about the advise and assist training. We do all advise and assist training kilometres behind the front lines. This represents about 80% of our output. The other 20% or so happens in forward positions, mostly close to the front lines but sometimes right at the front lines if that is the only place from where we can accomplish it.

When I last spoke to you on the 17th of October I mentioned that my risk assessment to the CDS was assessed as low. With several months under our belt now and with me having been there myself that still remains the case. The risk to CANSOF ground forces in the advise and assist regime with mitigation measures in place is low but low never means zero.

Just like our training every day here in Canada there are always risks of injury. Let me provide Canadians with an example of the risks by explaining something that happened to CANSOF in Iraq for the first time within the past seven days. My troops had completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines.

When they moved forward to confirm the planning at the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine gun fire. CANSOF operators responded with Iraqi security forces placing effective sniper fire on the enemy positions, neutralizing the mortar and the machine gun position.

This is the first time this has happened since our arrival and our reaction is wholly consistent with the inherent right of self-defence. I’m satisfied to report to Canadians that their Special Forces are helping the Iraqis in northern Iraq materially in this dangerous struggle against ISIL.

We have trained, advised and assisted ISIF to the point where we see them getting better. We have not seen ISIF get rolled back within our area of operations. We have seen Iraqi security forces take more ground, gain more confidence and become even more proficient warriors than they already are.

I hope this information shines some light on the situation and helps Canadians better understand what Special Operations Forces are doing in Iraq. I’ll be happy to take your questions during the Q&A session. Thank you. General.

Lieutenant-General Jon Vance, Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command

In summary then the mission has progressed much as we expected. The government of Canada gave us a job to do and we’re doing it. The deployment of air power and Canadian Special Operations Forces has contributed to the full spectrum of coalition activity.

We will see more gains as the coalition members arrive, as the effects of the air strength are felt and as the government-wide aspect of the mission takes shape. We have stopped ISIL’s advance. We are seeing indications of progress. Future success will take time. Thank you.

Question and answer period (not in the video)

Question: Thanks for doing the briefing. A question about the first slide in which you showed the area of ISIS control diminishing. Maybe my eyes are bad but I didn’t see it diminishing much and your slide is very much at odds with a couple of others that have been published in the last few days, most recently I’m thinking of Wall Street Journal yesterday citing allied military sources showing an expansion of ISIS area of influence.  Since we can’t see for ourselves can you sort this out? Can you maybe revisit that and go over the details of why you’re so sure that their area is shrinking or not.

LGen Vance: Thanks for the question. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. These are small reversals. There’s no question about it that a large scale reversal of ISIL’s position in Iraq has yet to come. This represents relatively modest areas where the tide is turning and Iraqi security forces are now in control of area.

This information is based on our intelligence, the intelligence that we gather from within the coalition. I stand by it. What could though happen on a day to day, week to week basis is interpretation of these minor local tactical reversals that occur. I mentioned that in my comments that it is absolutely certain from week to week as we have been briefing you that there are local tactical reversals that occur.

I think it’s dangerous to declare momentum for one side or the other based on a week to week view. My discussion this morning with Gen Terry, the in theatre commander, would indicate that overall the coalition at the operational level has stopped ISIL. 

We can expect ISIL to try and Iraqi security forces to also try and be successful locally and tactically. Until such time as that game changing weight of military capacity that can be brought to bear by the Iraqi security forces with … after the training is more mature, with coalition air support, that’s when you’ll see significant changes.

At this point in time I’m able to declare they’ve been stopped and they are unable to mount broad theatre wide offensive operations that would somehow change the situation dramatically.

Question: You said, you repeated it, progress is minimal. You emphasized several times that this is going to take years before reaching the ultimate goal. Should we take it as a given or get used to the idea that Operation Impact has to or will be lasting for years?

LGen Vance: It’s a good question. It is certain that the overall coalition plan is going to take years to achieve the tactical reversals I have just discussed and also to improve the situation within Iraqi institutions, the security and governmental institutions.

Operation IMPACT, our Canadian operation, is going to last until the end of our six-month mandate and we are going to find out, with other government decisions, whether we continue. Right now, the mandate is clear. We are going to finish after six months. There is a difference between Operation Impact and the coalition plan.

Question: Could you guarantee us, I don’t know if this is a question that comes up continually, but could you guarantee to us now that to date there have been no victims, actually civilian deaths since the start of Operation Impact?

LGen Vance: Good question. A 100% guarantee is impossible in a situation of war. But as far as I know, our Canadian mission has not resulted in any civilian casualties, as far as I know with the information that I have.

Question: This can be for either LGen Vance or BGen Rouleau.  Just for clarity’s sake you are helping enable air strikes, coalition air strikes with Special Forces. Can you define that? Can you also say when Iraqi forces will be able to do that on their own?

LGen Vance: Mike, you can handle the first part and then I can talk about …

BGen Rouleau: Sure. We are enabling coalition air strikes within our area of operations.  What that refers to is on certain occasions we have actually designated for fighter aircraft which means that you’re marking the target with a laser so the bomb hits precisely where you want it to hit and in other areas we have provided what we call eyes on.

We’re providing ground truth to commanders who are making the decision on whether to strike or not. CANSOF forces on the ground help make this thing faster. It’s more efficient because coalition commanders have confidence that people are actually looking on the ground at what’s there as opposed to trying to discern from an ISR aircraft. It’s in many ways safer.

We have guarantees of every strike that we’ve conducted for example that there have been no Iraqi security forces proximate to the target. It’s a value added capability that the Iraqi security forces are very, very thankful that we’re delivering.

LGen Vance: I have no detailed knowledge on the specifics of sectoral investment in Iraq beyond this plan to train them such that they can see this reversal of ISIL but I would expect that down the road the Iraqi air force and their army would develop the capacity to be able to bring in and guide on air strikes.

Question: Just as a follow up to this, is this not or could this not be considered an escalation of our role? How long have we been doing this?

BGen Rouleau: No, I don’t see this as an escalation whatsoever.  We’ve been very clear that our advise and assist regime was going to try to maximize the effects of Canada’s commitment. This is just an example of that. It’s very much within the advise and assist regime. It’s helping the Iraqi security forces a great deal to contend with the ISIL threat that’s right in front of them.

Question: My question is for BGen Rouleau. That incident you mentioned that happened in the last seven days, I’m wondering if you can just expand on it, tell us what circumstances led to it, why the Special Forces were engaged and the results of that in a little more detail?

BGen Rouleau: I can’t give you a whole lot more tactical detail because obviously we don’t want to divulge things that could give ISIL some advantage at the other end. Basically we did some planning with Iraqi senior commanders back in this command post that I said we had helped put together.

That planning is great around a map table but you have to take it to the ground to actually visualize where troops are going to move. That’s what they were doing and so they were very proximate to the front lines, effectively at the front lines. As soon as they arrived they came under very effective and very direct mortar and machine gun fire.

There were no injuries to CANSOF forces but that resulted in the immediate requirement to return fire which my operators did and using sniper fire they neutralized both threats at some distance. Like I say, these are the sorts of things that can happen. These are the sorts of things that have happened in the past when fellows like LGen Vance and I have been wearing blue berets in Bosnia.

It can happen that you come under punctual direct or indirect fire but this is the first time that this has happened to us since the mission began in September, the first time that we’ve taken fire and had to return fire because in every other case it’s been the Iraqi security forces that are leading that fight on their own.

Question: Just as a follow up, is that the reason that you’re offering this side of the update now basically entailing what the Special Forces are doing because this is the first time we’ve had this side of it since the beginning of the mission.

BGen Rouleau:  Not at all. I told the Chief of the Defence Staff after the 17th of October engagement that I thought it would be wise to get back up here after we had a couple of months in theatre and explain to Canadians what it is that we’re doing. This had been planned at the end of December.

LGen Vance: We planned to give a campaign update after Christmas. I think that had been made clear. That’s what this is.

Question: Just a quick follow up to my colleague’s questions with the air strikes. To assist the Canadians sort of actively calling in air strikes does this blur the line into an active combat role?

BGen Rouleau: No. This is very much within the advise and assist regime. We have the ability to help make the process involving the delivery of coalition aircraft kinetic effects better, safer, faster. We have those capabilities on the ground and so we’re assisting Iraqi security forces who own the combat mission against ISIL.

That’s an Iraqi security force issue. We’re assisting them with some of these exquisite military capabilities that we have to help make it more effective.

Question: There was talk of a medical team that had gone in. Is that part of the 69? Can you provide an update of the numbers on the ground?

BGen Rouleau: The MSRT was part of the 69 figure, correct.

Question: Fair to say there are 69 on the ground?

BGen Rouleau: I think, it sometimes varies by ones and two’s but as a ballpark, 69; we have not grown the task force. That’s the number.

Question: What would you say is the most pressing concern in eradicating ISIL? You said that it could take several years. What is the major hurdle, the major challenge right now?

LGen Vance: As we’ve stated all along, this campaign in the stages it was to run in, to stop ISIL – that’s happened which gives time for Iraq to experience the training, the throughput necessary to re-establish their security forces at a level necessary to be able to reverse tactically and get ISIL out of their country.

At the same time and beyond will be the reestablishment through sectorial reforms, additional support to Iraqi institution building so they can maintain what they’ve gained.  The Iraqi government right now is trying to re-establish legitimacy across its population, account for all of the things that a government must account for when they’ve got a massive security problem in their country.

When we say it’s going to take time, it’s going to take time for all of that happen. Inside that timeline the tactical reversals will occur where ISIL will start to be further degraded, defeated and ultimately ejected from the country in its fighting capacity. But to be able to assure that the population is free of ISIL in terms of the ideology, in terms of the legitimate political process and so on, that’s going to take more time.

We talk about the campaign timeline. We talk all the way through from stopping ISIL in the first instance all the way through to Iraq re-established with its institutions intact and its boundaries intact.

Question: I was hoping Brigadier Gen that you could talk to us a little bit about whether or not Canadian Forces have come face to face with any foreign ISIS fighters. You mentioned that you neutralized the threats. Have Canadian soldiers seen westerners that they have neutralized or have you seen Iraqi forces take into custody, take into prison western forces? If you could paint that picture as to what you see.

BGen Rouleau: Sure. It’s easy. No and no.

Question: What a bomb of a question. I apologize.

BGen Rouleau: The thing people don’t understand is in the north of Iraq right now it’s a relatively static environment. It’s a little bit World War I like in the sense that there is a northern ISF trench line and it faces off against an ISIL forward position. It’s relatively static but for the offensive operations that occur.

There’s some distance between the Peshmerga or the Iraqi security forces and ISIL. In some cases close enough that you can acquire good visual cues and know if you’re looking at someone of Asian descent but no, I have no information to suggest that we have positively confirmed that we’ve run up against foreign fighters in our part of northern Iraq.

Question: Can you give us a better sense of what the makeup of the 69 people team, our Canadian Forces team? We heard about a medical team. Is JTF II involved perhaps not in a combat role but an advisory role as well?

BGen Rouleau: I don’t … we don’t discuss the specific makeup of our Special Operations task force. There are five units in Special Forces command. Generally for a mission of this type we draw from various units. We call it a composite Special Operations task force.

Because of domestic responsibilities that we also have we never go into detail of what the exact composition of that task force is.

Question: Has there been discussion about extending the mission beyond the six month period yet?

LGen Vance: I’ll take that. We are prepared, the armed forces are prepared and preparing to extend if we’re told to. We are prepared to return home and redeploy if we’re told to do that. Right now we’re focused on the mandate of six months.

Question: LGen Vance, so regarding this mission, some are saying from way up high everything is fine. In any case, in Iraq, we seem to be able to stop the threat better than in Syria. On the ground, it’s a different story. There is no political process. It’s a lot more complicated. Are you ready for the mission to change? But to assist you in your work of stopping the enemy, do you need this mandate to change quickly?

LGen Vance: I don’t think so. The enemy has been truly stopped now. Stopped is good, but in terms of achieving a level of certainty, to restore the situation in Iraq to normalcy, to guarantee important sectors, institutions, it is going to take a huge effort on the part of the Iraqis and the Iraqi government.

We are giving ourselves a little breathing room, a little time to leave things be, allow the internal processes within Iraq to act on their own to guarantee this situation going forward.

Question: For BGen Rouleau, on the ground, while advising, assisting, training the Iraqi forces, have you at any time participated with the special forces in combat?

BGen Rouleau: No. Apart from the incident I spoke of a little while ago, that was the only incident, if you will, in which we have exchanged fire with ISIL. That is the only time that has happened.

Question: Regarding this incident in recent days where there was an exchange, if it wasn’t combat, was it not participation in combat?

BGen Rouleau: No, but listen, the forces we are preparing here in Canada to go to Iraq are not preparing for a combat mission of the type that we did in Afghanistan. A combat mission is when we leave our positions and move physically towards the enemy to capture or kill him. We are not doing that here.

We are preparing an advise and assist mission. We are paying a great deal of attention culturally. No. The fact that we had an exchange of fire with ISIL does not mean that this has become a combat mission. It is a great deal more nuanced than that.

Question: Regarding the length of the mission, you repeated, the coalition mission is going to last for years. Operation Impact will last for six months. What would be the impact … what would that mean for the coalition as a whole if Operation Impact ended at the end of six months? Would it be safe if the Canadians leave at the end of six months and there is no one to replace them?

LGen Vance: It is certain that our mission now is well accepted and assessed by the Iraqis and the coalition. They have the capacity to react if a partner in the coalition leaves the mission. It is possible to set priorities but we are very important at the present time in the mission, very important in the coalition, but they can change their method, their targeting and the priority of targets if one partner or another leaves the mission.

Question: This question is for BGen Rouleau. I’m wondering, when Gen was the first of the 13 directed air strikes. When was that first one?

BGen Rouleau: I don’t have that exact date with me but I would suggest that it was towards the end of November, early part of December.

Question: A follow up question, do you think you’re pushing the nuance here in the sense that suggesting that dropping 500 lb. bombs on ISIL gunmen and using sniper fire to neutralize ISIL gunmen is not combat?

BGen Rouleau: You know, contact with opposing forces as I mentioned earlier occurred when we were wearing blue berets and nobody looks back on those missions and says they were combat operations missions. They were complex peace enforcement missions.

I think the situation is a lot more nuanced than just saying if you exchange fire with a belligerent force all of a sudden it’s a combat mission. This is an advise and assist mission. In the context of that our ability to bring air power is one of the things that we can add value to the Iraqi forces with. Moreover we always deploy with the inherent right to self-defence. We have the right to be able to defend ourselves if we`re fired upon.

LGen Vance: I’ll just add to that, this is LGen Vance here. Don’t forget we are in an armed conflict. The dropping of the 500 lb. bombs as you call them, all nature of ordnance is done through a targeting process. What we’re talking about here is there are many ways to nominate potential targets.

CANSOF has added just one of those consistent with our allies. Those same targets could have been nominated through ISR or through some other means. It’s another way to nominate a target. Therefore I don’t think we’re trying to finesse our way out of anything.  I think what we’re telling you is what’s actually happening on the ground.

Question: My question is for BGen Rouleau. Gen, a very simple question. Why you?  Why are the special forces training the Iraqi security forces? We didn’t do it in Afghanistan. The Canadian special forces trained the Afghan special forces and the Canadian Army trained the Afghan Army. Why are the special forces in Iraq?

BGen Rouleau: It is not true that we did not have a mission to train Afghan troops. Near the end of the war, we were in involved in training the Afghan troops. Why us in Iraq this time? Well, I think that the very fact that you choose to use special forces means you’re mitigating the risks to a certain degree.

My sergeants, my captains are very, very used to operating very far away from headquarters in very dispersed conditions. So I think that their training, the way that they can take care of themselves at a very great distance from any support whatsoever, means that the risks are mitigated when you choose the special forces.

LGen Vance: This mission is absolutely impossible to do by our conventional army, our army. I have no problem, but this region of Iraq at the start of the conflict was a region governed somewhat by special forces in the coalition. It was also a good fit. But it is absolutely within the abilities of our army to do complex training missions.

Question: Just to conclude, Gen, concerning the strike zones, the zones controlled by the Islamic State, we’re talking about support areas which are expanding versus the US-controlled areas that are diminishing. Does it concern you that we have these areas supporting other villages that support the Islamic State or in any case are allowing them to go through?

LGen Vance: Ideological support?  Now it’s really a war of ideas in some way and the ISIL State is now trying to captivate the imagination of populations on one hand. On the other hand, they are violent. It is a very, very tough threat.

They are really not on the right path when it comes to changing the minds of a people. The situation in general worries me. This is not a good situation for the country of Iraq. We are there to help, assist and put procedures in place to support change going forward.

Question: Just by way of follow up of my earlier question if I may and that is what’s taking so long. It would appear to the layman that we have overwhelming force, modern high tech air power, the most powerful militaries in the world arrayed against an improvised band on the ground.

Here we are months into this. We see modest reversals. You stop them. You haven`t defeated them. What’s taking so long? Why is it not possible for such an overwhelming power not to blow them out of the desert?

LGen Vance: It’s not a difficult question to answer. First of all we don’t have overwhelming force. We can bring overwhelming force to bear on a very specific point, the most modern aircraft, the most modern weapons on earth can be brought to bear in the most precise way possible on a single target.

Overwhelming force localized but ISIL as you can see by the map sits over a fairly large space in Iraq. We do not have the force in place to reverse them. In fact we haven’t ever declared that we would. What we declared we would do and what we are doing is stopping them.

We know full well that to answer your question specifically, it will take a ground force of considerable size and skill to reverse this situation and remove ISIL. There is only so much you can do with air power. It’s a lot. You can stop them. They are no longer doing large scale operations.

They cannot conduct broad offensives. If they try to gain ground that way you can bring your air power to bear and stop it. But they can continue to operate small, low level even though if we find them we get them but they can operate along their lines of communication. They do have sanctuary in parts of Syria even though Syria is being hit by other parts of the coalition.

Nonetheless, they are on the ground and they have an element of strength in that. To reverse that will take a ground force by retrained, re-equipped Iraqi security forces which is why the train, advise and assist mission is so important. Why does it take so long?  We’ve got them stopped. 

We’ll keep them stopped. Absent air power they start to move again until such time as Iraqi security forces are in position to work with air power to fundamentally change the situation on the ground. That’s why it’s going to take so long. It will take a while.

I’ll just finish by saying estimates on exactly when and where, you haven’t ever heard me give them. We talk about a three year horizon or more for the whole thing to be done including sectorial reform but this is a motivated enemy. They are going to try. There will be reversals. There will be disappointing days.

We have to work with the Iraqi security forces offering the air support, offering the training support and they’re going to have to earn this. It’s going to take time and I can’t put any more of a finer point on that. It’s going to take time.

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our session. For access to the images displayed today during the technical briefing please visit www.forcesimages.ca. Thank you everyone for your cooperation.

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