Technical briefing to provide update on Canadian operations against ISIS and present findings of friendly fire incident investigations

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Video / May 15, 2015


MODERATOR: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this technical briefing on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 in the National Defence Headquarters multimedia centre.  We will now begin with remarks from Captain (Navy) Paul Forget of the Canadian Joint Operations Command who will provide an update on Canada's support to the international coalition against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Brigadier-General Rouleau will present findings of the Canadian Special Forces friendly fire incident investigation.

CAPTAIN(N) PAUL FORGET: Good day ladies and gentlemen. I’m here to provide you with an update on Operation Impact and our contribution to international efforts in Iraq and Syria. In central Iraq, Iraqi forces protect the oil refinery in Baiji and clear the region’s main supply channels. In the western province of Anbar Iraqi forces continue operations to secure the area near Al Karma (ph) City with the air support of the international coalition.

The contested western city of Ramadi (ph) ISIS has increased its attacks but Iraqi forces continue to successfully hold their ground. In Syria, Islamic State infrastructure and support bases have been under the pressure of coalition air strikes. The Islamic State remains unable to gain ground and has been pushed out in some areas, namely in southern Kobani (ph).

Since the last technical brief on April 16th CF-18 aircraft have conducted 16 air strikes in Iraq. These strikes on ISIS staging areas and fighting positions were conducted as part of coalition missions in support of Iraqi forces ground operations. On April 18th CF-18’s conducted two strikes, one on an ISIS staging area south of Kirkuk and another on an ISIS fighting position north of Al Karma.

Today in three separate strikes CF-18’s successfully struck an ISIS fighting position and heavy engineering equipment southeast of Mosul and ISIS fighting positions northwest of Tal Afar serving to protect Iraqi forces and further degrade ISIS capabilities. Since the beginning of Operation Impact, Canadian aircraft have conducted a total of 896 sorties. Our CF-18 fighters have conducted 582 sorties and the Polaris Tanker has conducted another 151, to deliver 9 million litres of fuel. As for our Aurora surveillance aircraft, they have conducted 163 sorties.

Recently the men and women deployed on Operation Impact met and engaged with Prime Minister Harper during his visit.  The members of Joint Task Force Iraq serve with pride and appreciated the opportunity to explain their role in this mission. In collaboration with our coalition partners, Joint Task Force Iraq continues to contribute to coalition efforts to restrain and weaken the Islamic State. I will now yield the floor to Brigadier‑General Rouleau.

Brigadier‑General MICHAEL ROULEAU: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is Brigadier‑General Mike Rouleau. I am the Commanding General of the Canadian Special Forces. Today we will explain to Canadians the outcome of the summary investigation that I ordered into the friendly fire shooting on March 6, 2015 which killed Sergeant Drew Doiron and injured three others.

This investigation has now been received and approved by the Chief of the Defence Staff along with the military police investigation and the coalition enquiry. They clearly show that this was a tragic case of mistaken identity through no fault of the Canadian Forces Special Operators during a period of high Kurdish tension compounded by fatigue and other factors.

As you know, it is necessary to maintain operational security concerning our missions in Iraq, against a capable and watchful threat. Operation security is vital to the continuation of successful advise and assist operations in support of the Iraqi security forces.  For that reason I will only go so far into the details both in this statement and in the Q&A.

We will use two very generic visual aids to help you see how events played out on the night of March 6th. Before March 3rd the Kurdish asked for our advise and assist help with certain defensive positions.  On March 3rd CANSOF officers signaled we would provide that help and would do so on March 6th. This would make the Kurdish defensive position stronger against ISIS attacks in the future.

The planned visit would take place over the course of the day and night hours of March 6th.  This planning and coordination was routine between Canadian staff and Kurdish staff.  This process had been used since October 2014 and always to good effect. After having confirmed our intentions with the appropriate Kurdish security forces on March 3rd, Sergeant Doiron developed his plan and presented it to his superior officer on the evening of March 5th.

The visit was to be conducted in two parts: one visit during the day, followed by another at night. On the morning of March 6th, Sergeant Doiron confirmed his orders with his subordinates and they left around 1:15 pm for the day visit. Now on this graphic you will see a total of 7 positions numbered 1 through 7 with ISIS being below or to the south of the green line on the slide.

Sergeant Doiron’s patrol drove in two vehicles stopping first to checkpoint number one.  There they learned that position number 7 had been attacked the night prior and needed our advice and assistance. Position number 7 is ultimately where the shooting occurred.  After a time on position 1 Sergeant Doiron led the patrol to position 7 successfully passing through or near positions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

On position 7 Sergeant Doiron and his detachment spoke in detail with the Kurdish commander who described the previous night’s attack asking emphatically that CANSOF assist them in strengthening their position. I would point out that the Kurdish security forces lost several members in that attack the night before, several were wounded and they had killed several ISIS fighters on that position the night prior.

Sergeant Doiron confirmed the time and method of his return later that night with that same Kurdish commander. What was not known at the time was that all of the Kurdish soldiers on position 7 would be replaced by a new crew after Sergeant Doiron’s detachment left during the day and the new crew was unaware of the planned return of the Canadian detachment scheduled for 23:00 hours or 11:00 p.m.

After Sergeant Doiron’s day visit, he and his detachment returned to their operations base, about ten kilometres behind the Kurdish positions. What we didn’t know is that the Kurdish soldiers at position 7 would change after the detachment’s visit that day. The soldiers replacing them didn’t know that the Canadians were to return that night.

Sergeant Doiron and his detachment left again for position 5 in the evening, where they spent two and a half hours. Just before leaving position 5 for position 7, Sergeant Doiron asked the Kurdish officer at position 5 to call his counterpart at position 7.

At night now and after two and a half hours on position 5 having successfully passed by or through positions 1 to 4 and on to position 5 itself using visual and audible recognition signals in practice since October of 2014, Sergeant Doiron asked the Kurdish officer on position 5 to call ahead to his colleague on position 7 to confirm that the Canadian detachment was in bound. 

This was not a planned coordination step. This was not something that was planned but it does show Sergeant Doiron’s thoroughness, something he was known for in his regiment.  Once members of Sergeant Doiron’s detachment saw the call being made they departed for position 7. The detachment arrived at the rear of position 7 at the prescribed time of 23:00 hours.

They dismounted with Sergeant Doiron confirming to his men to speak loudly and to speak in English. They dismounted in the vicinity of the letter A on the slide. They passed by a Kurdish soldier on the position who was off on their left flank without incident using the same visual and audible recognition signals.That soldier was located where you see the letter B.  Again they confirmed through hand gestures to this soldier their intent to move to the forward machine gun position where they had coordinated with the Kurdish commander earlier in the day.

About 200 metres from that machine gun position the detachment encountered a pack of wild dogs. That’s at the letter C. They were set upon by a pack of wild dogs that made a lot of noise. They succeeded in shooing the dogs away but we assume this only heightened an already very nervous group of Kurdish soldiers who believed they would be attacked by ISIS that night.

The detachment continued forward and a Kurdish soldier on a rooftop about 60 metres away from the patrol saw Sergeant Doiron and his detachment and they saw him. That soldier is located at the letter D. After Sergeant Doiron used the appropriate greeting or code words with no response the Kurdish soldier cocked his weapon and at that point Sergeant Doiron immediately raised his voice in English announcing his presence as a Canadian patrol.

The Kurdish soldier fired at Sergeant Doiron wounding him immediately. At this time the forward machine gun which is at the top of the box that you see on the slide swung 180 degrees and was brought into action to join the shooting. Now we have two weapon systems engaging the four man CANSOF patrol.  As soon as Sergeant Doiron was struck the other three members of the patrol immediately went to positions of cover and concealment.

As the shooting died down they variously came back to try to render assistance to Sergeant Doiron. When they would come back the shooting would commence again. They would return to cover. This went on for some time. Eventually all three members of the patrol were wounded by small arms fire.  Ultimately however the CANSOF operators succeeded in stopping the shooting and actively arranged for the Kurds to drive the injured to a suitable helicopter landing zone.

I would note that despite his grave injuries Sergeant Doiron continued to lead his men on how best to organize the medical treatment and the evacuation itself. After a time three soldiers were taken to a field surgical team by medivac helicopters. The aviators and medical experts performed superbly in saving the life of one other member of Sergeant Doiron’s detachment.

Tragically Drew’s injuries were not survivable and he passed shortly after arriving at the field surgical team.  Let me recap briefly the facts at issue. The detachment was forward as part of a plan and well socialized engagement with Kurd forces and within the advise and assist mandate. The risk mitigation measures the detachment took were prudent, logical and consistent with the best practices to date.

The detachment was operating well within their envelope of tactical proficiencies. The Arab language was never used by the Canadian operators prior to the engagement, only afterwards, for the purpose of coordinating the medical evacuation. Visual and audible recognition signals were all used in accordance with established practices as they had been since October of 2014.

A day visit to position 7 took place prior to the night visit. A day visit preceded the night visit on position 7.  The Kurds on position 7 changed unknown to Sergeant Doiron’s detachment at the time and the new Kurdish element was not aware of the planned visit later that night. The Kurds on position 7 were legitimately concerned about an additional attack by ISIS similar to the one they had experienced the night before.

The CANSOF detachment was operating overtly. It is our assessment that the barking dogs likely further heightened already high Kurdish anxiety levels. The first Kurd shooter clearly saw Sergeant Doiron and his detachment but we assess that under severe stress he was looking at Canadians but he saw what he thought was an ISIS infiltration and attack on his position.

Finally, the CANSOF detachment made no mistakes. Led by an outstanding commander in Sergeant Doiron they performed very well that night before, during and after the shooting.  We should all be very proud of them and we shall always honour Drew’s loss.  The shooting was a case of accidental fratricide as a result of mistaken identity. It was an accident.

In conclusion, I would say that Sergeant Doiron in particular, and his detachment in general, performed their duties very well on the night of March 6th. Notwithstanding this tragic event, we have maintained positive relations with the Kurds, which we have established over the past eight months. The Kurds are a good and a proud people. We are there advising and assisting them expressly to increase their levels of military proficiency.

Since the tragic accident we invoked certain restrictions pending the CDS final consideration. One change that I will share is we only move now at night for similar evolutions with a Kurdish soldier. I would add that our presence at or near the forward positions remains very much the exception and definitely not the rule. I will now touch briefly on the commander’s inquiry conducted by coalition special forces.

Following the accident the coalition special forces headquarters dispatched two officers who worked for one week speaking to all the relevant actors involved in the accident. Their mandate was to examine if Special Forces processes or procedures needed to change in the Iraq theatre of operations. This inquiry found that the Canadians followed all pre-established procedures coordinating and announcing the visit properly.

Moreover they confirmed the Canadian detachment could not have anticipated the guard’s actions that night. The bottom line is this inquiry aligns fully with our own summary investigation. Let me close by telling Canadians I have spoken at length to Drew’s wonderful mom, dad and sister. They are a terrific Canadian family. As you can imagine they are grieving Drew’s loss but they are very proud of him as they should be.

He was a leader among leaders who loved his job and did it to our highest standards. He died with his brothers in arms. I will now be happy to take any questions. Thank you.

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