Technical briefing to provide an update on Operation IMPACT

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Archived Transcript / October 6, 2016

Transcript

Moderator:  Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Operation IMPACT update.  With us today are Lieutenant-General Steve Bowes, Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, who will provide an overall update on the Canadian Armed Forces operations against Daesh, and Brigadier-General Peter Dawe, Deputy Commander, Canadian Special Operation Forces Command, who will provide an update on the Canadian Special Operation Forces contribution in operations against Daesh. 

Lieutenant-General Bowes. 

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:   Thanks, Major Archambault.  Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for this opportunity to provide you with an update on the status of our mission.  I'm Lieutenant-General Steve Bowes, Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command. 

In accordance with the directives we received in February from the government of Canada, we have made changes to Operation IMPACT.  Today, I will present these new capacities, our current operational tempo, and the approach we will take for this operation going forward. 
The overall coalition campaign against Daesh has evolved, moving from degrading to dismantling and ultimately, to defeat Daesh.  The situation on the ground in Iraq is extremely complex. Daesh remains a capable entity and still controls substantial areas of Iraq, which it defends aggressively against government forces.  While it has been degraded and forced to withdraw from a number of cities in the past few months, it remains determined to fight and could still launch small-scale attacks to delay the advance of government forces.  Most notably those preparing for the liberation of Mosul.

Defeating Daesh completely will take many years, as it will likely revert to asymmetric and insurgent tactics as it loses territory, as it does in all areas outside its control and as best exemplified by attacks in Baghdad but also in Ramadi and Falluja, examples of territories more recently liberated.  Overall, these factors make the operational environment very difficult and progress can be slow. 

As the Minister of National Defence indicated in February, the Canadian mission has also evolved to enable us to better support the coalition. 

In March 2016, we launched a ministerial liaison team which is supporting coalition headquarters in Baghdad.  Almost daily, Brigadier-General Dave Anderson and his team engage with staffs from the Prime Minister, the Iraqi Prime Minister's office, the Ministries of Defence and Interior to promote the development of key military leaders and build up institutional capacity. 

This ensures that coalition activities such as current and future operations are synchronized with those of the Government of Iraq.  It also supports the transition to long-term institution building, so important for the region's security and stability.  In the end, it is the people of Iraq who will be responsible for stabilizing their country.  They will be the ones who defeat Daesh. 

May 2016 saw two major developments in our operation:  the deployment of three CH146 Griffin helicopters in the stand-up of an All-Source Intelligence Centre, what we call an ASIC.  That brings today, and our current rhythm of operations, our footprint in Iraq is complex and in the interest of time, I'll keep this brief.  Happy to go into some detail during question period. 

Broadly speaking, our mission has four main streams of activities:  to support the coalition effort to support Iraqis, coalition staff augmentation, air operations, contributions to targeting and advise and assist.  Let me describe these a little bit further. 

Joint Task Force Iraq Headquarters is our centre of coordination.  The team there commands and controls our members in theatre and they coordinate our operations with the coalition. 

In addition, approximately 30 Canadians are strategically positioned in coalition headquarters throughout the Middle East. Their integration in the coalition enables us to ensure that we are well synchronized with our regional partners. 

Our presence in the air comes from our CC150 Polaris air refueler aircraft and our CP140 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance Aurora aircraft.  In an average week, they fly around 75 hours in support of coalition operations.  On the screen behind me, you can see or will have seen our Polaris providing air to air refueling over Iraq to a coalition aircraft.  The 33 million pounds of fuel that our tankers delivered so far have enabled our coalition partners to fly longer and further, keeping them in the air until they either expend all their munitions or they reach crew flying limits.

This is how we support Iraqi security forces on the ground in their fight against Daesh.  Our Auroras provide valuable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.  Since the beginning of the operation, they have surveyed more than 4,700 points of interest, flying more than 5,000 hours.  The Auroras help build a picture of the situation on the ground where Daesh assets can be targeting. 

That brings to targeting.  We have stepped up our intelligence capability in theatre and our overall intelligence contribution to the coalition.  Our All-Source Intelligence Centre collects, breaks down and analyses information from a variety of sources.  The ASIC then uses its collected information and analysis to discover targets that can be passed on to the coalition for further development.  These targets include both Daesh command and control centre, as well as Daesh combatants and support installations. 

The ASIC also identifies things that we need to protect.  This effort is key towards allowing a, the Iraqi security forces to degrade Daesh, as well as protecting valuable populations and installations in order to ensure Iraqis can recover once Daesh is defeated.  The ASIC operations also serve to generate intelligence, which serves to protect CAF forces deployed in the region as well as protecting coalition forces. 

All in all, the ASIC is a valuable contribution to the coalition efforts to bolster Iraqi forces in an effort to defeat Daesh. 

Brigadier-General Dawe will soon speak about the portion of the mission focussed on advising and assisting Iraqi security forces.  Our (inaudible) of operational forces (inaudible) can now count on the support of a tactical aviation detachment.  As a matter of fact, earlier today, 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron from Valcartier, Quebec, and its approximately 60 members assumed command of the aviation detachment, relieving 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron from Petawawa. 

As a matter of fact, earlier today, 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron from Valcartier from Valcartier, Quebec and its approximately 60 members assumed command of the aviation detachment, relieving 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron from Petawawa.  These helicopters will now support our operations in a variety of ways:  personal transport and liaison, reconnaissance, material transport and casualty evacuation, if necessary. 

These helicopters will now support our operations in a variety of ways: personnel transport and liaison, reconnaissance, material transport and casualty evacuation, if necessary. 

Canada's contribution to coalition operations in Northern Iraq, including the advise and assist mission, will be further supported by Canadian-led role 2 medical facility.  The people on the ground are the most valuable asset in the fight against Daesh; their well-being is of the utmost importance.  This medical facility will bring robust medical and surgical capability to support our coalition partners in the north. 

Capabilities include resuscitation, damage control surgery, intensive care support, dental care, diagnostic imaging and a medical lab.  This facility will serve as the medical hub to coalition forces in northern Iraq.

Approximately 50 CAF members will provide their expertise to this capability, which is expected to be up and running within the coming weeks. 

The detachment (inaudible) of the Joint Task Force in Iraq, known as Camp IRAP (ph), will provide direct support, command and control functions for our new capabilities in the region.  A new infrastructure has been established to support personnel members in the medical facility, the tactical aviation detachment and some 30 people who constitute the headquarters. 

Camp IRAP (ph) offers quarters, workspaces, a small gym, morale and well-being facilities, and all the necessary elements to enable our troops to accomplish their tasks.

Our footprint and our focus is not just in Iraq.  Ultimately, this operation is about regional stability and to that end, we are working with some of our other partners in the Middle
East.  As such, we're developing a program to build and enhance partner capacity in Jordan and Lebanon.  In August, a Canadian training assessment team arrived in Amman to collaborate with the Jordanian Armed Forces and to determine how the Canadian Armed Forces can make the most influential contributions. 

A similar team just recently deployed to Lebanon.  We'll be working with these regional partners and our allies in the region to identify how we can best support them.  As training contributions are identified by the teams, training teams, mainly form the Canadian Army, we'll deploy to work in close cooperation with these two countries to deliver timely capacity building programs.

Our efforts will also include non-lethal equipment donations and infrastructure projects such as improving lines of communication and defensive infrastructure. 

By the end of the transition this year, approximately 830 people will have been deployed on Operation IMPACT.  As far as (inaudible) personnel members assigned to the portion of the mission focussed on advising and assisting Iraqi security forces. 

To conclude, each line of effort in this operation is building towards the ultimate defeat of Daesh, supporting our allies, supporting the Iraqis.  And I am incredibly proud of all of the hard work that our deployed personnel have accomplished.  Well done to them.  Thank you. 

Moderator:  Thank you Lieutenant-General Bowes.  WE will now proceed with Brigadier-General Peter Dawe.  Mon général.

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.  My name is Brigadier-General Peter Dawe, Deputy Commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces. 

I am pleased to be bringing you up to speed on our train, advise and assist mission executed by our Special Operations Forces in support of the mandate given to us by the government of Canada. 

Last February, at the request of the government, Canadian Special Operations Forces Command stepped up its train, advise and assist efforts with Kurdish security forces by gradually increasing the number of personnel in Iraq.  This enabled us to increase our role within the local area of operations and to increase our presence within the Kurdish forces. 

As General Bowes mentioned, a helicopter detachment from 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron has been deployed since May.  Less than 24 hours after their arrival in theater, they were able to provide the operational force with tactical transport crucial to the success of our mission. 

Their presence has allowed us to effectively and safely expand our presence in the area of operations.  Their participation in Operation IMPACT is now finished. 

The Kurdish Security Forces, or KSF, have accomplished much since the start of Operation IMPACT, when the Canadian Forces began the train, advise and assist mission.  To be clear, the KSF troops with whom we partnered were already seized in improving combat soldiers.  What our Special Operations Task Force members were able to contribute was a formalized training approach, encompassing a number of subjects and skills sets. 

In all, our Special Operations Task Force members have trained approximately 2,000 KSF soldiers.  These newly acquired skills, coupled with the advising and assisting that our members have continuously provided to senior KSF commanders have significantly enhanced the KSF's effectiveness in its fight against Daesh. 

The refined skills and overall professionalization of the KSF have become especially apparent in recent months as the Kurds have shifted their focus from a defensive posture to a more offensive one.  This includes the retaking of large areas of previously Daesh held territory. 

As an example, last May, the Kurdish forces undertook the first in a series of offensive operations to dislodge Daesh from key positions in vulnerable areas near the Kurdish defensive lines.  They also reduced Daesh freedom of movement on the outskirts of Mosul, degraded Daesh defensive positions and shaped future operations by destroying key command and control elements, heavy weapons and vehicles, including vehicle borne IEDs. 

The success of that particular operation laid the groundwork for a follow-on offensive in August, which saw the Kurdish security forces liberate approximately 200 squares kilometres adjacent to their forward line.  This included the clearing of Daesh elements from 10 villages, as well as geographic features that will likely prove to be tactically significant in future operations leading to the liberation of Mosul. 

In response to the KSF shift, our Special Operations Task Force members have adapted their approach and adjusted the relative waiting of the train versus the advise and assist components of the mission.  Our continued involvement for the past, over the past two years and the more fluid tactical environment have resulted in less demand for training. 

Conversely, the advice and assistance provided by our Task Force members have grown in relative importance whereby Special Operations members are routinely assisting in the refinement, coordination and execution, execution rather, of complex operational plans conceived by the KSF. 

Key in the assistance during the execution of the operations is the technical expertise our Task Force members provide in terms of access to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, including Canadian platforms such as the Aurora, which enhances Kurdish situational awareness as well as the accuracy in the application of force. 

While providing an important technical advantage over Daesh, the enhanced situational awareness and accuracy also reduces the risk of unnecessary collateral damage, thus minimizing civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible.  The implication of this shift in emphasis from training to advising and assisting is that our Special Operations Task Force members have spent more of their time overseeing the execution of operations, assisting with the provision of key enablers and observing the results of these engagements in the vicinity of the Kurdish lines. 

Simply put, our tasks have evolved within our mandate to reflect the increased professionalization of the, our KSF partners, as well as the overall campaign's transition to a more offensive posture.  During past updates, we have informed Canadians of instances of our Task Force utilizing force in self-defence against Daesh.  Since the last update, there have been several instances when our Task Force members have defenced themselves against effective fire when they were either working alongside their KSF colleagues, in defence of the Kurds at their request, or to protect non-combatants in the battle space.

These occurrences have been sporadic in nature and have not resulted in any Canadian injuries. 

As Daesh loses its forces and its hold on the area, planning for the liberation of Mosul continues and operational momentum is maintained.  Every day the Iraqi government gets closer to its objective of liberating the second largest city in Iraq.  In short, our Special Operations Forces will continue to support Kurdish security forces by delivering training according to their needs and at their request, but will maintain their efforts to advise and assist their operations. 

Thank you.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you very much General Bowes, General Dawe. 

We will now start with questions from the floor.  There are microphones on either side of the room and we'll alternate between the two.  Let me remind you to please identify yourself as well as your news agency.  Please limit yourself to one question, one follow-up.

Let me remind you to please identify yourself as well as your news agency.  Please limit yourself to one question, one follow-up. 

Sir?

Question:  Good afternoon.  Steve Chase, from the Globe and Mail.  Thanks for taking our questions.  I have a question for Brigadier-General Dawe, I suppose. 

There's a number of statistics that in past briefings you've given us and I would simply like to make sure we update ourselves with the most recent information, given it's been a while.  You mentioned at the end of your presentation that Canadian troops have been engaged in, or come under fire from ISIL in a number of circumstances since the last briefing.  Could you make that more specific?  Could you please, in the past, you've told us exact numbers and the timeframe.  So could you please tell us over what period of time this has happened and how many?

And again, there's a series of stats that we, we previously got from you.  At one point, you said you were spending 20% of your time at the frontlines.  I wanted to know if that's changed with the more offensive stance of the Kurds?  And have your members called down air strikes and how many?  That's it.  Thanks.

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  Certainly.  As it relates to situations whereby Canadian Special Operations Forces members are having to use force or engaging the enemy, you know, I think I spoke to it in terms of there haven't been several instances over the past few months.  I'm not going to get more specific than that, and I'm going to cite important operational security reasons for that. 

I mean, we're dealing with a very crafty, well informed enemy who are able to, you know, determine patterns in terms of our presence at the forward line, determine sort of TTPs or techniques, tactics and procedures if we divulge, I think, too much in terms of our specific time spent at the line or specific number of engagements. 

So I'm very concerned with operational security, notwithstanding perhaps what's been said in the past.  Things have evolved.  I think what's important to note and what I've been very clear on is that the mission has clearly evolved; it's transitioned from a more defensive mission to a more offensive one.  And implied in that is that we are spending more time with our Kurdish, our Kurdish partners at the line overseeing the execution of operations and serving as that conduit to those key coalition enablers that, as I mentioned, increase situational awareness and provide, or enhance accuracy of the application of force.

Thank you.

Question:  As a follow-up question, you previously told there were 69 Special Forces members in the region.  How many will there be when you've completed your new commitments?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  So what I will tell you is that we've increased our presence significantly and to great operational effect.  What I think is most important for everyone to understand is that this increase has actually allowed us to expand our presence at the forward line with the Kurds in a significant manner.  Again, I won't get into specifics because we need to be very mindful of divulging too much in terms of, you know, I guess, boundaries, interunit boundaries and whatnot. 

But suffice to say that our presence has increased significantly and to great effect.  And it's been very well received by the Kurds, I should say, because what it's allowed is, is greater coherence in terms of our engagement with them along that line.  And of course, you can imagine, it's been well received by the coalition because what it's done is it's allowed, it's freed up other coalition assets to go elsewhere to do other things. 
Moderator:  Thank you General.  A question, sir?

Question:  Yes.  General Dawe, Jacques Godbout, 45e(inaudible).ca. 

Have the taskings been assigned for the recapture of Mosul?  And if so, is it true that we won’t let the Kurdish fighters that our Canadians our taking care of enter the city of Mosul? That they’ll be put in charge of security on the outskirts?  And if so, how might this affect the motivation of our Kurdish fighters?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  So, as far as the role of the Kurds for the mission in Mosul is concerned, what I would like to point out is that at this time, it is a very sensitive time.  As you can imagine, the preparations being made on the ground for the attack on Mosul, it’s very (inaudible) for good reason.  So what I will say is that we, our Canadian troops, are very involved with the defence of the Kurdish line and we are ready to support them in keeping with the mandate that the government has given us.  Thank you.

Question:  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you very much. 

Question:  Murray Brewster with CBC News. 

The United States Commanders have indicated that the support for Iraqi security forces is going to need to continue beyond the clearing of Mosul and other Iraqi territory and that counterinsurgency training is going to be required for Iraqi Forces to meet what you were referring, General, earlier as the asymmetric threat that may arise following the liberation of that territory.  Do you envision a long-term Canadian commitment to that enterprise?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  Thanks for that, Murray.  There's a tremendous dimension to that, and government decisions.  We have a mandate for the mission.  There's an automatic review that comes up in March 2017 and as, you know, as developments unfold on the ground, the strategic staff, working with the Minister's staff, would take a look at where the current mission stands, what options might be for the future and, and appropriate decisions would be made.  Right now, our posture is not oriented towards that future. 

So right now, our focus is underwriting Kurdish security in the north and contributing to the coalition to helping defeat Daesh as a military entity within the boundaries of Iraq. 

Question:  So just for clarity's sake, beyond the policy review in, next year, there could be a ramp down of the Canadian surge, there could be a withdrawal.  Can you clarify the future a little bit, please?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  I couldn't clarify the future because, you know, we have to, we'd have to wait until Mosul is liberated.  We have to see what the outcome of that is and we have to see what the circumstances are on the ground.  And it's impossible to speculate, for me, at the operational level, of what kind of options might be, be considered.  Thanks, Murray.

Moderator:  Madam?

Question:  Michelle Lamarche, TVA.  Brigadier-General Dawe, could you tell us in French, and perhaps in a little more detail, when our special forces are on the ground, so very close to the line of fire, you say there are more and more incidents.  Could you tell us about these incidents?  And also the level of danger our special forces are exposed to?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:                   Certainly.  So, as I mentioned, well I’ll, it, it’s certainly worth repeating.  The mission has evolved a great deal since the spring this year.  We saw a departure from a mainly defensive operation toward really a more offensive mission.  The Kurds actually conducted, they conducted two very important missions in the course of which they took approximately 200 square kilometres of, of ground that was formerly held by Daesh elements.

So in a more offensive context, it’s obvious that demand for training diminishes while the demand for advice and assistance increases.  It’s a, it’s a more fluid, more dynamic environment and, as a result, we find ourselves at the line more often.  And as I’ve said, I don’t want to go into detail about the specific number of engagements with the enemy, but I am saying clearly that the number has been fairly consistent over the past few months.  And it hasn’t, there haven’t been any results; there haven’t been any Canadian injuries, but we have played a very important role in the, in the, the offensive operations of the Kurds.

Question:  Why is it that in the past, you gave us numbers, I mean, we knew how many Special Forces members there were on the ground, and when an incident occurred, it was also reported.  Why do we not have those numbers as of now?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  It’s the evolution of the mission.  It’s the fact that we’re spending more time at the line.  It’s the fact that it’s becoming somewhat more the norm and that we’re more involved at the line.  So, and I would say outright that we think, based on the enemy’s capabilities, there is a very high operational security risk if we say, if we give too many details with regard to the percentage of time, if you will, that we spend at the line. 

We think the enemy would be able to identify a certain—how would I put it—pattern.  So that is a major concern for us.  Despite what may have been said previously, the situation on the ground has changed.  So we need, in our view, operational security measures that are somewhat different.
Moderator:  Thank you General.  Sir?

Question:  Good afternoon, it's Bruce Campion-Smith, the Toronto Star.  Thanks for this.

Just looking ahead to the battle for Mosul, can you talk a bit about the role that you see for the, the Kurdish forces and as a result, sort of the Canadians with them, whether they'll be sort of more involved than just sort guarding that northern flank to prevent a certain exodus of fighters or whether they will perhaps be involved in the actual assault on the city?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  (off microphone).

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  Certainly, sir.  Yeah.  Happy to do so.

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  So the plan for the liberation of Mosul is going to be an Iraqi plan.  It's going to unfold along an Iraqi timeline and in a manner that the Iraqis determine.  There are still discussions and negotiations ongoing between a variety of elements in the Government of Iraq and between leaders in Iraq as to how this will unfold.  The latest is that the Pesh forces, the Kurds in the north would be conducting limited operations around the outskirts of, of Mosul. 

And so, we go with that.  And, but I think that there is a tremendous complexity to what is going on on the ground.  There's a complexity that is difficult for us in the West to analyse in a way that allows us to predict how this will unfold, because it isn't just about some of the major blocks that you would normally traditionally write about Kurdish, Shia, Sunni.  It's also within segments.  You know, there's a dynamic within the Kurds.  There's a dynamic within the Shia.  There's a dynamic within the Sunni communities and it breaks into many fragments.  

And I think that the idea that we just need to be cognizant of is that not everything gets declared to us, not everything gets declared to the west.  And be prepared for accepting a level of ambiguity, strategic ambiguity and a level of complexity that is not initially easy for us to understand how the operation unfolds.  So I would just, I would open it with those comments, and then I would turn it over for more of a discussion on the tactical element to, to General Dawe.

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  What I would at the tactical level, and pretty much reinforces what the General has stated, is that it's a very fluid situation right now.  We're preparing for most eventualities.  We're well lashed up with our Kurdish partners, but some of these decisions haven't been made yet.  The degree to which the Kurds will be involved in, in the Mosul fight is still to be determined.  And, and frankly, there's very much, you know, an OPSEC as you can imagine, dimension to this as well, right?  I mean, we're in critical planning stages right now as we look forward to the eventual move onto Mosul.

So not much to add there other than to say that we're, we're working very closely with our Kurdish and prepared for, like I said, any of those eventualities. 

Question:  If, if the game plan on the Iraqi side was to have the Pesh move into some elements of the city, would there be any restrictions on the Canadian side that our troops would not be allowed to, sort of, continue their advise and assist?  They'd have to stay at the city border?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  I would say this would be a discussion that would have to occur with the, our Chief of Defence Staff and the Minister, of course and to make sure that we were still deemed to be working within our mandate.

Moderator:  Thank you General.  Two more questions, then we'll go to the phones.  Sir?

Question:  Yes, Lee Berthiaume from The Canadian Press.  General Bowes, I appreciate what you were just saying.  I was hoping to kind of pick up on, again, the complexity of this issue, something we've been following.  You know, this is going to be an issue not just with Mosul, but also afterward, and I'm curious, what is Canada and the Canadian Forces doing to try to maybe not ameliorate these complexities, but to prepare for what could become some real tensions between these various blocks once this common enemy that is ISIL has been driven from Iraq and there is that threat of divisions, if you will.

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  Excellent.  First of all, from a Canadian Forces, our focus is truly in and through the coalition, focused on Iraqi security forces, and then focused on Daesh.  You know, a lot of it depends what happens and let me, so let me pain this picture for you in ways that, you know, sort of illustrate the complexity. 

A lot of discussion has ben focused, and if I just, you know, in preparing for this reading, you know, some of our commentary is what will the Pesh do, what will the Kurds so?  What if, what if elements of Shia militia groups that are perhaps have had negotiations that they wouldn't necessarily do X or Y.  They wouldn't necessarily go into this city or go here or go there.  What if they do? 

The thing is that we tend to miss that not all Shia militia groups are under the influence tightly controlled by the government.  Not all of them are tightly controlled.  Some of them have Iranian influence, some of them are fiercely nationalistic.  And then you have to break it out into the broader Sunni society of tribal forces, local communities and a mixture of elements that don't fit that particular description, if you will. 

So it's very hard to say what the aftermath is going to be until you get to Mosul liberation plus one, and then you look at what's happened on the ground.  And at the end of the day, the important point to remind ourselves here is this is all about Daesh.  You know, they have a vote.  And so how the campaign in Mosul, in large measure, is determined by their actions.  And it's very difficult, even looking at patterns of what they've done in the past, of how they will conduct themselves in the defence of Mosul and what kind of actions they may take. 

So it's very difficult to understand what might be the reaction afterwards.  Now clearly, from a coalition standpoint, they've been working with the Government of Iraq to address certain contingencies in, you know, within our national organizations, internally displaced persons, what the response might be in that case, what the response might be if Mosul capitulates much faster than perhaps is anticipated.

But ultimately, you have to wait until it unfolds on the ground and, and look to see who's holding the upper hand in the conversations, and I think we kind of miss that nuance here because we kind of look at it holistically within blocks and the ground is fluid, as General Dawes said, and it is extremely complex, even for people that are devoting attention to this day in, day out.

Question:  Sounds like a very messy situation.  You know, it's just, I mean, the idea of whether Canadians understand this, and I guess my big question is, you know, given the messy situation, are we prepared for, for whatever will come.  Is, is Canada and the Canadian military and everyone else prepared to, to deal with these eventualities?

Brig-Gen Stephen Bowes:  I don't think you can ever say, I don't think I could sit here and say that we're prepared for anything that could ever come.  What we're prepared to do is continue to aid the coalition through the Iraqis, to defeat Daesh.  That's really been our focus.  That's what we have been doing since the start state in this and we've been doing, through the ministerial liaison team and other allies, part of the coalition, because they had picked up those tasks at the building partner capacity sites training Iraqi security forces, training not just military but police, and looking at certain tribal militias that would, police forces that would occupy certain parts of the terrain.

That's what we can do.  There's an element of this that is a history that is complicated going back hundreds of years, and for anybody to be able to sit here and say this is how it's going to unfold, this is how Mosul's going to be liberated, I'm not going to go there.

Moderator:  Thank you, General Bowes.  One last question here.

Question:  Mathieu Gohier, Radio-Canada.  A question for Brigadier-General Dawe. 

You mentioned that the situation was more fluid, that it was difficult to predict what would happen on the ground, precisely because of the complexity.  How do you assess as accurately as possible the risk for our Canadian Special Forces that are in, very close to the action and the front like that?

Brig- Gen Peter Dawe:  What I would say is that, it’s as I said, with the evolution of the mission from a fairly defensive mission to an offensive mission, with a very fluid tactical situation, it’s clear that, as a result, we’re going to end up spending more time near the line and, again as a result, the risk will also increase.  But I will say that we are constantly learning.  We continue to try to mitigate the risk as much as possible with our, our procedures, our tactics.  And in communicating with our Kurdish partners, we learned a lot with the death of Sergeant Doiron, and we’ve applied those lessons.

But we, what we can’t do is we can’t, we can’t eliminate the risk completely.  There is still a risk, obviously, obvious for our troops, and we have to be very honest in, in that, in that case.  So I’m telling you, as a result, because we’re spending more time near the line in a situation as dynamic as what we’re seeing these days, that the risk has increased.

Question:  And as a follow-up question, does that mean sometimes we don’t have all the information required to properly determine where we advance, how we act accordingly, how can we make good decisions if we don’t have all the information?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  I would say that from the, from a tactical point of view, it isn’t as complicated as at the level that General Bowes is discussing.  At the coalition level, when we talk about the Kurdish factions and Shias and Sunnis and the macro-Iraq situation, it’s a lot more complicated than on the ground at the tactical level for the Canadian Special Operations Forces with their Kurdish partners.

So it’s important to make sure that, that everyone understands the difference between the two.  At the tactical level, for sure there is, from time to time, it’s complicated.  There is chaos from time to time, but with regard, on a day-to-day basis with the training that, that our soldiers get, with the partnership with their, with their Kurdish colleagues, it’s, we do everything to mitigate the risk and to make sure we understand the situation at the immediate tactical level. 

Moderator:  Thank you General Dawe. 

We will now go to the phones for any questions.  Please identify yourselves as well as your news agency. 

We will now go to the phones for any questions.  Please identify yourselves as well as your news agency.

Operator:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Please press *1 at this time if you have a question.

Please press *1 at this time if you have a question. 

We have a question from Justin Ling from  VICE News.  Please go ahead.

Question:  Thanks very much.  I'm hoping that you can give us some more detail about what the sort of, day to day looks like for our Special Forces in Northern Iraq?  Previously, you know, we were kind of, led to understand that it was a lot of time in the classroom with some time, you know, near the, you know, far from the frontlines, painting targets, doing some intelligence.  I'm wondering if you can kind of give us a more of a day to day on what our Special Forces are actually now doing that the mission has evolved?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  Right.  What I want to focus on is the fact that the, you know, the mission has clearly evolved.  You know, the situation has changed, especially since this past spring when we saw the Kurds really, you know, engage in these more offensive actions to regain previously Daesh held territory.  But what I want to avoid here is getting into, sort of specific breakdown of day to day activity, activities of our troops. 

What is implied in my message, though and what I think I was pretty clear about, is that there's been a transition from, you know, in terms of relative waiting from training to advising and assisting.  And that is simply a reflection of the professionalization of our KSF partners, as well as the evolution of the mission.  The two combined have resulted in a, a drop in demand for training and an increase in demand for advising and assisting. 

So you can infer what you will.  I won't get into specifics in terms of percentage of time spent on the line, but suffice  to say that our troops are contributing in a significant and very meaningful manner in terms of providing assistance for command and control and serving as that conduit to some of those key coalition enablers that really help the, the Kurds in the execution of their operations. 

Question:  And a bit of a different question.  We've seen a number of circumstances across Iraq and Syria in recent months of either friendly fire bombings or accidental bombings, or you know, you name it, whether it's, you know, American aircraft taking out allied hospitals or American aircraft taking out Syrian or Iraqi Armed Forces.  You mentioned earlier a little bit about how the Auroras have been useful in identifying friendly targets and making sure that, you know, only those targets we want to hit are in fact hit.

Can you say whether there's been an increase in those sort of missions recently, or whether there's been kind of reorientation into making sure that, you know, there's 100% certainty before launching a strike, you know, in recent months or whether we've been a part of that?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  So from a coalition standpoint, I can't break down the amount of targets that were struck between deliberate or dynamic, deliberate meaning that it was a preplanned attack and dynamic meaning an aircraft was on station and waiting for an engagement and being called in to strike a target.  I don't have that on hand.

When we go through our contribution through the Aurora, but it's also the All-Source Intelligence Centre, we're really looking at building the picture for a deliberate target.  And every target that we nominate through to the coalition goes through another level of review, in fact, multiple reviews and development with additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets applied towards the target before it gets nominated by the coalition commander and, and with a decision to strike or not to strike. 

And so it's a very deliberate process that we're involved in.  And the Aurora simply contributes with raw data to that process that has, then has to be analysed by, by people on the ground. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Do we have ––

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  Sorry, I was going to just pile on.  From a tactical level, I think the, when I mentioned putting more emphasis on the advising and assisting, the implication is that, you know, we're able to, to watch our Kurdish partners during the execution of these operations.  We get to see the targets are there, so in fact, in some cases, we're helping them validate targets.  And I can tell you that unequivocally, you know, when I refer to the professionalization of the KSF, that has probably been one of the, the most significant areas of improvement. 

They are very thorough, they are very rigorous.  They understand that frankly, we can't partner with them unless they ascribe by our, sort of, rules of engagement and the laws of armed conflict.  And so they get that.  And that's a great news story and people need to understand that the Kurds play by western rules. 

Conversely, we see examples routinely of Daesh, you know, targeting civilians deliberately in the, you know, in front of the Pesh lines.  Deplorable.  And, and so that's what we're up against.  And so, I think it's important for Canadians to understand the difference between the people with whom we're partner, the great work that we've done with them, and that despicable enemy with whom we, we deal on a regular basis. 

Moderator:  Thank you, General Dawe.  General Bowes.  Any other questions on the phone?

Operator:  We have no further questions registered at this time. 

We do, I'm sorry, we do have one question from Justin Ling from VICE News.  Please go ahead.

Question:  I guess I won the lottery.  Just to follow up on the last, kind of the last question, can you give any sort of statistics on, you know, how many air strikes we'd actually be calling down or you know, exactly  how that, you know, what sort of breakdown we, we'd be using to calm those strikes, whether it's, you know, painting targets from the ground, calling in intelligence, signal intelligence another way or whether or not that's coming from the Aurora platform?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  You want to speak to that?  I can speak to it. 

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  Yeah.  I'm not sure I understood the (inaudible).

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  I think certainly I'll address the question at the tactical level.  The, I won't get into specific numbers in terms of air strikes being called by the Kurds.   But what I will tell you is that the work that we've done with them in terms of, you know, serving, as I mentioned, that conduit to coalition assets has been significant, and has significantly degraded Daesh in the battle space.  There should be no doubt about that.

Again, we're not in the business of body counts, you know, we don't, we don't repeat mistakes made by McNamara and Johnson.  But, but I can tell you that the numbers are significant.  The effect is significant and, and people shouldn't underestimate the value of the Canadian Forces, our SOF members in particular as they serve, like I said, as a conduit between the Kurds and, and those coalition assets doing the great job they do in the skies above Iraq.

Operator:  Thank you. 

Moderator:  Ladies and gentlemen, we have time for two more questions. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we have time for two last questions.

Question:  It's Steve Chase again from the Globe and Mail.  I wanted to just follow up on my last question.  I'm trying to understand as a civilian what's happened here.  Last year, you gave us basic information, number of Special Forces deployed in Iraq, what sector they were in, how often they spent at the frontlines, how often they called down air strikes, how often they were in firefights.  Now you're not giving us any of these details.  And again, I'm a civilian, I'm not in your job, but you cite operational security.  So what is different from October 2016 and say, a briefing we had in June 2015?  Has it gotten more dangerous? 

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  Right. 

Question:  Because we're trying to evaluate, our government promised us this is not a combat mission.  All the metrics that a civilian would use to evaluate that you no longer provide.  Why?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  What is different is that the mission has changed since the spring, as I mentioned.  It's gone from a, a more defensive posture to a more offensive one.  It's a very dynamic environment.  And as I was pretty clear in my statement, the implication of that is that the demand for training has, has diminished and conversely the demand for advising and assisting has increased. 

The implication again is that we're spending more time with our current partners at the line, overseeing the execution of operations and, and bringing some of the coalition assets to bear.  The fear from an OPSEC perspective, from an operational security perspective, is that what we've determined is that we've got an enemy who's very well informed, very savvy.  And if we divulge too much in terms of time spent at the line, numbers of engagements, they can, they're good at determining patterns.  And we don't want to give them an edge.  We don't want them to know how often we're at the line.  Because if they determine that and if they can figure out a pattern, then they might be able to figure out potential weaknesses and seams and gaps in the defensive posture of the, of our Kurdish partners.

So not helpful.  But I think the key take-away, the key take-away for Canadians is that we are more engaged at the line.  There should e no doubt about that.  And by extension, the risk has increased to our troops, simply by virtue of, you know, time spent at the line and the work that we're doing right now in a more dynamic and fluid environment.

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  Steve, it's the Iraqis that are in combat.  Let's be clear on that.  And so the advise and assist mission that's just been discussed in those parameters doesn't make that for us.  It makes that very much for the Iraqi forces, whether they're Kurd, whether they're Shia, Sunni or from another religious minority.  It's the Iraqis that are taking the fight to Daesh.  Our advise and assist doesn't lend itself that, and the Chief has made that very clear, the Chief of Defence himself, in the past.

Moderator:  A follow-up?  No? 

Question:  Well, I was just going to say we knew a year ago that ISIL was sophisticated.  We knew a year ago that ISIL was a very media-savvy and had access to all, I  mean, ran itself like a business.  The New York Times ran that story a year ago about how they run themselves like a business, how they have quotas.  I mean, we have known for a long time they're sophisticated.  So why are you not giving us information you gave us a year ago?  The answer seems to be it's gotten more dangerous?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  The answer would, well, we've gone from the defensive where we were underwriting the defence within sector to a mission where the Iraqis are about to liberate and evict Daesh from a convention sense of holding terrain in Iraqi territory and it'll transition to, more to an insurgency.  So the mission has evolved.  It's gone from defensive to offensive, taking the fight.  We've moved through the degrade phase of the campaign.  We're right in the middle of dismantle.  And the defeat, it's, it's a complicated phase of the operation that'll take multiple years, but we're well into that phase and it's the Iraqis that are leading this. 

I think that's the really, point that needs to be noticed.

Moderator:  Thank you General Bowes.  Sir?

Question:  I just wanted to kind of follow a couple of points here.  You mentioned you're not going to give numbers in terms of Kurdish, the number of times Kurds have called in air strikes.  Have Canadian special operatives called in air strikes over the last few months?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  What I'll tell you is that we play a role in advising and assisting when Kurds are calling in strikes. 

Question:  Is that a no?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  Pardon me?

Question:  Is that a no?

Brig-Gen Peter Dawe:  I'm not going to get into specifics in terms of how we do that.  Right?  I can't.  It's not something I want to do.

Question:  Okay.  And then, in terms, previously,  as my colleague had mentioned, you talked about, you have talked about the number of times gun battles or times that Canadian Forces have fired back at ISIL forces.  You've mentioned that there had been an increase, if you will, in the number of times that this has happened since the transition.  Have all of those instances basically been self-defence?  Do they still apply to the same, I guess, parameters or definition in terms of self-defence?  So we've been fired at first?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  So absolutely.  Right?  So either defending ourselves because we're, our, our troops are taking direct and effective fire, or direct, or defending our Kurdish partners because they've asked for the help.  Or even in, in some cases, defending civilians in the battle space.  So in all cases, defending, you know, self-defence is what is being exercised. 

Question:  So there hasn't been any offence of shots fired by Canadians?

Lt-Gen Stephen Bowes:  No. 

Moderator:  Okay.  Thank you very much, Lt-Gen Bowes, Brig-Gen Dawe.  Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's technical briefing.  Thank you for attending.

Mesdames et messieurs, ceci conclut la séance d'information technique.  Merci d'avoir assisté à notre événement.  Pour accéder les images qui étaient derrière nous, vous pouvez aller à forcesimages.ca. 

For access to the images displayed in today's technical briefing, please visit forcesmages.ca.  Thank you very much.

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