Technical Briefing to provide an update on Canada’s strategy to counter Daesh
Archived Transcript / November 16, 2016
Moderator: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the update on Canada’s strategy to counter Daesh. With us today are Lieutenant-General Stephen Bowes, Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command who will provide an overall update on the Canadian Armed Forces operations against Daesh and Major-General Mike Rouleau, Commander, Canadian Special Operations Forces Command who will provide an update on the Canadian Special Operations Forces contribution in operations against Daesh.
We will also hear from Sean Boyd, Director, Strategic Policy and Programming Coherence - Middle East Development at Global Affairs Canada who will provide an update on the Government of Canada’s ongoing strategy to counter Daesh in the Middle East. He is joined by Stephen Salewicz, Director, International Humanitarian Assistance Operations at Global Affairs Canada who will be available for questions.
LGen Stephen Bowes: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity. I’m Lieutenant-General Stephen Bowes, Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command. I’ll start this briefing by providing you with an update on coalition military operations to dismantle and ultimately defeat Daesh. I should mention that the coalition recognizes that the military aspect must be followed up with action focussed on stabilization and governance efforts in support of the Iraqi government.
The coalition is maintaining momentum. So far, the Iraqi security forces have taken back about 56 percent of the territory initially controlled by Daesh in Iraq and have cleared some 115 towns and villages.
Last month, Iraqi forces started their campaign to clear Mosul of Daesh’s presence. Currently, they continue securing Mosul’s northern axis. On the eastern axis, the Iraqi security forces, known as the Counterterrorism Service, continues to make incremental gains to secure several blocks of the city and to the northeast, Bashiqa’s now considered cleared from Daesh’s presence, and back clearance is underway while progress continues on this axis. And finally, to the south, Iraqi security forces control some key locations on the approaches to Mosul.
However, considering the strategic importance of Mosul for Daesh, the coalition expects its centre to be fiercely defended. Daesh has had two years to dig in and has gotten to work setting up berms, trenches, tunnels, improvised explosive devices in homes, and traps.
Mosul’s population prewar was estimated to be in the two million range, currently estimated at between 800,000 and 1.5 million—quite a variance. Mosul’s dense population is too many times used by Daesh as a human shield. To their credit, the Iraqi forces have upheld their government’s principle that protection of civilians is fundamental. They’re also well aware of the humanitarian crisis as thousands of displaced civilians are seeking protection and shelter.
The fight occurs in a complex and difficult urban environment and the coalition estimates about 5,000 core fighters in and around Mosul, reinforced by some thousand foreign fighters in Mosul and another 1,500 to 2,000 core fighters are located in the area surrounding Mosul, and those numbers are just estimates. Many of the fighters defending the city’s core have nowhere to retreat, and we expect that they will prefer to die fighting rather than surrender. Compounding the problem is the Tigris River, which splits the city in half and is a significant obstacle to forces coming in from the east and the north.
The campaign for Mosul is large scale and while the coalition expects it will be a difficult fight and it will take time, it is going according to the Iraqi plan and on the Iraqi timeline. The outcome is inevitable: Mosul will be taken back. Nonetheless, this excess will not mean the end of Daesh as a threat in Iraq, Syria, the region and internationally.
Military capability, primarily through building partner capacity, will likely be needed as part of the broader whole-of-government stabilization approach along with diplomatic, humanitarian, governance and reconstruction assistance.
You are perhaps wondering what the post-Mosul role of the Canadian Armed Forces will be. That remains to be seen. The Chief of the Defence Staff will be providing advice to the government on possible courses of action and we will await instructions from the Government of Canada.
In Syria, some 40,000 Syrian democratic forces have also started their campaign to recapture Raqqa, Daesh’s other main stronghold. Again, the coalition approach is deliberate and will be conducted in phases and progress will be deliberate.
The first phase is to isolate Raqqa. The SDF continue to advance along two axes north of Raqqa and have assumed control of several small villages. As this isolation phase is underway, the coalition continues to plan for subsequent phases in coordination with allies and partners. They intend to set the stage for an assault on the city itself to purge it from Daesh’s control and hold it to prevent its return. We are in very early days.
The Canadian Armed Forces is not directly involved in these operations. However, we continue to fulfill a number of functions that support the coalition’s efforts in Iraq. We are providing support through air operations. We continue to conduct intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance missions using Aurora aircraft. We are also conducting air-to-air refuelling of coalition aircraft with our Polaris aircraft. Further, our tactical aviation detachment is providing in-theatre tactical transport of Canadian troops, equipment and supplies near Erbil in northern Iraq with our Griffon helicopters. And through our all-source intelligence centre, we are collecting intelligence to identify Daesh targets to the coalition, which is using this information to support Iraqi security forces in their operations.
We continue to provide advice to the Iraqi security forces, and my colleague, Major-General Rouleau of the Canadian Special Operations Forces, will talk about that line of business in a few minutes.
The Canadian-led coalition Ministerial Liaison Team continues to engage and liaise with Iraq’s Ministries of Defence and Interior to further synchronize coalition efforts to clear from Daesh from Iraq and assist the ministries in planning efforts to build and sustain stable security institutions.
In the regions surrounding Iraq, we are assisting our partners and have sent teams to Jordan and Lebanon to lay foundations for capacity-building programs and possible training opportunities in concert with our allies. And last month we briefed that, in accordance with government direction, the CAF would take command of a Role 2 medical facility in northern Iraq. I’m pleased to announce that this facility is now operating under CAF’s lead and some of the members of the media were able to witness its operations as part of our recent media visit program.
Approximately 50 CAF members are now working in this facility with a mandate to provide lifesaving medical and surgical care to coalition forces. The CAF team includes command and control personnel, physicians, nurses, medical technicians, laboratory and diagnostic imaging technicians, a dental team and support staff. And through all of these efforts, CAF members are providing outstanding support to the coalition to dismantling and ultimately defeating Daesh in Iraq. We are incredibly proud of their efforts.
Thank you. Merci.
Moderator: Thank you, General Bowes. We will now proceed with Major-General Mike Rouleau, Commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. General.
MGen Michael Rouleau: Thanks, Melina. My name is Major-General Mike Rouleau, Canadian Special Forces Commander. My brief comments today will serve as an overview of the context in which we are operating in Iraq, and I will summarize with a few highlights with respect to our mission.
When we began this mission in the fall of 2014, we reported to Canadians that the Special Forces’ mandate was to advise and assist Iraqi security forces. That mandate has not changed. CANSOF continues to advise and assist the security forces of the sovereign state of Iraq. The Chief of the Defence Staff has himself made this point unequivocally many times.
The enduring nature of the Special Forces’ mission is to enable the indigenous security forces who are in a tough combat mission to win every fight. As my Deputy Commander noted several weeks ago, this involved quite a bit of training early on, decreasing over time as we have been in theatre.
To describe the mission since fall 2014, we arrived when the Kurds were in an urgent reaction phase created by the Daesh offensive. The Kurds had managed to halt Daesh’s advance east of Mosul, where the mountainous terrain meets the Nineveh Plain.
The situation between Daesh and the Kurds remained largely unchanged until the summer of 2016. During that time, the Special Forces provided training, the frequency of which decreased over time. Why? Because the Kurds were assimilating our training well and were incorporating it into their units. Also, they were less and less inclined to pull their troops off of the defensive lines so they could take part in our training. Therefore, the training need decreased.
So from the fall of 2014 until this past summer when the Kurdish security forces were largely holding a defensive line, the training aspect of our advise and assist mission declined because the Kurds successfully embedded training into their fighting units and because their appetite to cut forces from the line to do the training itself decreased.
Around the time of Canada’s last federal election, we were anticipating that Iraqi security forces would shift their focus in the north from defensive to offensive operations at a point in the future dictated by conditions on the ground. This formed the basis of a series of Special Forces recommendations to the CDS as the mission was reviewed.
The government’s direction in February of 2016 altered the look of the Special Operations Task Force last spring, and we got bigger on the ground. To be clear, I’m speaking of a change in the capabilities and the composition of our Special Forces Task Force and not of the mandate or the nature of the mission itself. My forces would continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces in their fight through the provision of training, advice in planning and preparations for operations and in the assistance and the conduct of those operations in accordance with our mandate, with CDS orders and with rules of engagement.
This summer marked a shift where Kurd forces began to mount more offensive operations meant to drive Daesh off the Nineveh Plain in order to set conditions for an eventual recapture of Mosul by Iraqi security forces. This shaping has happened and those operations have gone quite well in part because of the tremendous work of CANSOF working as part of a wider Canadian Armed Forces and coalition effort.
Over the past – over the past several months and several weeks in particular, CANSOF has advised and assisted relentlessly and now the Government of Iraq is poised at Mosul’s steps.
Before I conclude with several takeaways, I’ll echo General Bowes’ comment about future planning. I am engaged with General Bowes and with General Vance, providing my advice to the CDS on the next steps for CANSOF in Iraq. That future disposition is the Chief of the Defence Staff’s space. He alone provides advice to the Prime Minister and government. Suffice it to say his generals are decisively engaged so we arrive at the soundest outcomes possible.
To conclude, I offer you a few key facts. One: The Canadian Special Forces are working hard to deliver on the objectives established by the Government of Canada and to support our partners in Iraq. The young men and women deployed on our behalf are making us proud through their dedication, judgment and effectiveness on the ground.
As people parse certain issues, I would just highlight that Daesh is being defeated. They are being rolled back, and we are helping Iraqis take their country back from this menace.
Two, CANSOF has advised and assisted Kurdish security forces. We have never accompanied any leading combat elements. My troops have not engaged in direct combat as a fighting element in offensive combat operations. We do not plan on that basis because our mandate does not allow us to do so.
Three, in the execution of our advise and assist mandate, there have been use of force engagements by CANSOF, especially in the past several weeks of Kurd offensive operations. From deliberately selected positions that maximize our utility to advancing Kurd forces, we have either defended ourselves, defended friendly forces or defended civilians who are caught in the middle, and we have done so with kinetic force against Daesh. The number of use of force engagements in the past several weeks has been substantial. When CANSOF troops do engage with forces, they are clearly localized combat conditions. Such conditions can exist in this advise and assist mission, just like they can exist in any international armed Canadian Armed Forces deployment. This is a reality of modern conflict.
And I’ll just offer a quick comment on the issue that arose yesterday in the media with, you know, using force first. And I’ll say that in my brief experience as a police officer in the City of Ottawa, police officers carry lethal force with them every day that they do their job, and they carry with them a mandate to do their job. When confronted with a situation of serious bodily harm or death, a police officer in this country does not have to wait to be stabbed, does not have to wait to be shot at in order to use force, consistent with his or her use of force continuum to exercise his functions. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we would not expect to deploy our soldiers overseas with any lesser ability to defend themselves than our police officers have here in Canada, the brave women and men who protect us in our beds at night.
Number four, in all of the fighting undertaken by Iraqi security forces, we have not seen a single violation of the Laws of Armed Conflict by either Kurdish or Iraqi security forces. We have not seen a single one.
Number five, CANSOF has not suffered any casualties as a result of our advise and assist mission since those last reported to Canadians in March of 2015.
And finally, CANSOF’s assistance has also included the establishment of casualty collection points. There are rear of the fighting areas where soft medical professionals have treated in excess of 600 Kurdish and Iraqi wounded in action in the fighting in the recent weeks.
I’ll be happy to take your questions in the Q&A. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you, General Rouleau. We will now proceed with Sean Boyd, Director, Strategic Policy and Program Coherence - Middle East Development at Global Affairs Canada. Mr. Boyd.
Sean Boyd: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for this update on Canada’s strategy to counter Daesh and our support to the Iraqi government and its people as they rebuild a stable and secure country.
From the outset, this has been a joined-up effort, bringing together DND, Global Affairs and other departments and agencies as part of an integrated Government of Canada initiative. Many of you may know we are implementing a comprehensive, integrated and sustained strategy that invests in military, political and stabilization efforts on the one hand and separately in humanitarian and development assistance on the other. Combined, all of these efforts are essential to finding a durable solution that helps to defeat Daesh, restore basic government services, enable citizens to return to their homes in newly-liberated areas and respond to the needs of conflict-affected people in Iraq and the region.
As you have just heard from the two previous speakers, military efforts continue to play an important role in halting and degrading Daesh. As the campaign to retake Mosul continues, the humanitarian operation associated with it will likely be the largest, most complex in the world in 2016. We know that in the first month of the military operation to retake Mosul, over 54,000 people have been displaced by fighting. With many civilians having chosen to shelter in place, the sudden large-scale displacement of civilians many had feared has not occurred. Still, humanitarians continue to plan for the worst case scenarios.
Working with experienced humanitarian partners, Canada continues to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Iraqis, including internally displaced people, children and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Since 2014, Canada has contributed over $171 million in humanitarian assistance funding to respond to the crisis in Iraq. This includes $63.5 million in 2016 to our humanitarian partners in the UN, the ICRC and NGOs, which is allowing them to prepare and respond to humanitarian needs in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq.
There is now an acute need to set the conditions on the ground necessary for liberated areas to be held by Iraqi government forces and for displaced persons to return to their homes. Returns must be carefully planned, including through efforts to clear areas of unexploded ordnance and IEDs to ensure that basic services are restored as quickly as possible and that adequate shelter is provided. Canada has already been supporting this process in other newly-liberated parts of Iraq and is expanding its support to the Mosul area.
To assist and set the conditions necessary for the return of the displaced persons, Canada has provided four million dollars to support the funding mechanism for immediate stabilization. This funding will go towards, among other things, providing the services of gender-equality advisors.
We have also committed to making a four million dollar contribution to support the US-led multidonor initiative to remove the IEDs planted by Daesh in Ramadi and other newly liberated areas. A portion of that funding will be reassigned to supporting the IED-clearing efforts that will be led in Mosul following the liberation of that city. This effort is led by Iraq, and Canada remains resolved to support the goverment and the population of Iraq in restoring stability and security.
From Canada’s point of view, stabilization is a very important component that promotes the establishment of a legitimate political power through integrated civilian and military action to reduce violence, restore security and set the right conditions for longer-term recovery.
Through the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program, or PSOPs, Canada seeks to enhance stability, promote reconciliation and conflict mediation, hold individuals to account for international crimes, and ensure that civilian populations in newly-liberated areas have access to essential services. Moreover, for example, our increased development assistance helps local authorities provide basic services such as education and water and create jobs. Canada is working with international partners to support Iraq’s economic reform efforts and will provide up to $200 million in additional financial support through the Department of Finance to support the Government of Iraq, including through a guarantee contribution to the World Bank to help increase its lending to Iraq.
Canada is supporting institutional and fiscal decentralization across Iraq, thereby addressing some of the longer term grievances and sources of discord between the central government and Iraq’s regions. We are also providing $1.5 million to the Commission of International Justice and Accountability to investigate violations of international criminal and humanitarian law, including sexual violence committed by Daesh in Iraq.
Going forward, Canada will continue to work in close cooperation with local and international allies and partners to defeat Daesh and bring peace and stability to the region. An increased diplomatic presence on the ground enhances our engagement and cooperation with local and international partners. Progress has been made in Iraq, and Canada remains fully committed to supporting the Iraqi government and its people on the road to a stable and secure country.
Thank you. Merci.
Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Boyd. We will now start with questions from the floor. There are microphones on each side of the room, and we’ll alternate between the two, starting with the right side. Please identify yourselves as well as your news agency. Please limit yourself to one question and one follow-up.
Please identify yourself as well as the news agency. Please limit yourself to one question and one follow-up. Sir.
Question: Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair from Radio-Canada. You made a comparison with the work of police officers. In what context have Canadian soldiers been first to intervene in the theatre of operations?
MGen Michael Rouleau: To begin with, I would say to you that it is the minority of situations in which we – where we have been first to engage Daesh without being engaged by them. It’s the minority of cases. But given the fact that our equipment is better than the Kurds’, our optics, our weapons, it has happened a few times that we have seen threats, positions that were assembling to engage Kurd positions. We saw them first. We engaged them before they had the chance to engage the Kurds. So that gives you an illustration of what we’re talking about.
Question: And so you spoke about the fact that it’s a bit like the – you compare it to the work that a police officer in Canada does, being able to shoot first.
MGen Michael Rouleau: The point that I made is that, like a police officer in Canada, you do not have to allow yourself to be shot at – allow yourself to be attacked, before you can use force. That was the point I was making.
Moderator: Thank you. Sir.
Question: Hi. Major-General Rouleau, it’s Omar Sachedina from CTV News. I’m just wondering along the same lines if you could flesh that out a little bit and quantify. When you say there has been a substantial increase in these incidents, in terms of a hard number, what are we talking about? And you know, how much of a fold increase has it been over what period of time? So in other words, you know, how many times have Canadians shot at first? Do you have that number? Have shot first, I should say.
MGen Michael Rouleau: Right. So let me just, Omar, start by making sure that we’re clear on the record on the record here in terms of the perception that this might be news that we have the ability within our Rules of Engagement to use force first.
Question: Well, I think the General was pretty clear yesterday when we spoke to him and I think you’ve included a quote, too, from March of this year where he has said it isn’t new, and I think you’ve done a pretty good job of reiterating that today, but what I’m looking for, sir, is just a hard number. When you use words like minority of incidents —
MGen Michael Rouleau: Yeah.
Question: — or substantial increase, what does that mean?
MGen Michael Rouleau: Yeah. So you are in fact correct. The Chief used the words anticipate, act, engage before a threat materializes in March when he testified before committee, so this is not new, operating within the bounds of our mandate. I don’t have a hard number to give you, Omar. I said that there have been a substantial number of engagements. That correlates to the Kurdish offensive operations. So yes, as the Kurds move from their defensive positions into a decisive offensive regime, our use of force engagements increased with that because Daesh was decisively engaged to try to prevent the Kurds from retaking the ground. And so there has been a substantial number of use of force.
It’s not sustainable. It’s not necessarily something that, you know, tracking it on a tick by tick context, but I will tell you that there’s been about an order of magnitude increase in the use of force engagements that have occurred over the last month since the Kurds went on the offensive.
Question: And in terms of your plan for briefing the Canadian public, there has – I can’t remember the last time there was a briefing of this nature. I realize General Vance was at committee yesterday, and part of the reasoning has been, you know, our CF-18s are no longer there and so certainly from the military’s position there hasn’t been a need to address the public, but is this type of briefing activity going to continue and at what sort of intervals moving forward?
MGen Michael Rouleau: From my perspective, Omar, I would just say that it’s true, there has been a lag. I mean the – you know, the Chief, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Public Affairs, the generals, we’re going to get together and sort of discuss, I think, with the Chief’s intent perhaps a renewed frequency. But people shouldn’t interpret that fact that there has maybe been a lag in some of the press conferences over the summer with the fact that we’re trying to hide anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. And so I just want to make sure that that point’s clearly understood.
What we’re doing today is exceptionally similar to what we were doing on day one of this mission except the nature of the Kurdish activity has changed over time. They went on the offensive, which is why there have been an increase in some of the events.
Question: Thank you.
Question: Michelle Lamarche, TVA Nouvelles. General Rouleau, the last time there was a briefing like this one was in October of this year. It was Peter Dawe who was there who was telling us that it was not possible to speak to the frequency of engagements. But today, considering the nature of the mission, which is changing constantly, what can you tell us about the frequency of engagements and the number of times you have had to fire first on Daesh combatants?
MGen Michael Rouleau: Yes. I would just simply say to you that the number of times we have opened fire before Daesh has attacked us is clearly the minority of situations. Generally speaking, we’re attacked by Daesh, or Daesh attacks the Kurds before we strike back. It’s not that we want to wait for them to attack us. It’s just because the events are unfolding in that context.
It is not sustainable, Michelle, necessarily as Commander of the Special Forces to show up every time and say, every time, every week, here’s the number of engagements we’ve had in the past week. I mean, we’ve got work to do, and just the work of informing Canadiens to that level, in my opinion, it is not sustainable.
That being said, there’s a balance. There’s a balance between the fact that Canadians have the right to be kept informed about our mission and how we, what we can say, in order to protect the operational security of what is happening in theatre. The battle is far from over.
So, as Special Forces Commander, I’m trying to maintain some room to manoeuvre, but ultimately, it is up to the Chief of the Defence Staff how we are going to proceed, so we’re going to see in the weeks to come.
Question: When – when you open fire first, when you have to defend yourself, whether it’s self-defence or otherwise, how often is it to protect you yourselves, to protect the Kurds, to protect the coalition members or civilians? Can you be a little more precise?
MGen Michael Rouleau: A little more precise, that would be difficult for me, Michelle. I would tell you that, generally speaking, it’s either to protect us or the Kurds. In fact, it’s the vast majority of the cases. It’s to protect us, my own forces or the Kurdish forces that are close to us. Yes, occasionally, it’s occurred that we’ve protected civilians. In fact, there was – at one point, there was a family that showed up on the lines at night and Daesh tried to attack the families in question – the family in question with mortar fire. We engaged the mortar position to try to protect the family in question. That gives you an example, but generally, it’s to protect either ourselves or the Kurds we’re assisting.
Moderator: Mr. Brewster.
Question: Murray Brewster with – Murray Brewster with CBC News. I’ll throw the question out to whoever wants to answer it on the panel. The government’s promised to deliver weapons to the Kurds, small arms specifically. As of Monday, they haven’t received anything, and can you explain what the holdup might be and what sort of assurances the Canadian government has sought about the use of these weapons, if and when they’re delivered?
Sean Boyd: Just to start from a – from a Global Affairs perspective, clearly the – we have – what we do is in consultation and with the consent of the Government of Iraq and at this point Iraqi officials have not provided to the Canadian government that consent for these weapons to be brought in.
MGen Michael Rouleau: And from a Special Forces perspective, Murray, as the Minister and the Chief have both said, our intent is once we receive the lethal aid to proceed with training the Kurdish element and that those are still our plans, now we’ll see how the situation develops moving forward.
Question: The other question I have is more in the humanitarian side. As of last week, the United Nations had said that it had received only 57 percent of the emergency relief funding it required for the operation in the Mosul area and they’re saying that under funding is going to limit its capacity to be able to respond as winter approaches. Can you outline what Canada is prepared to do about that?
Stephen Salewicz: Sure. My name is Stephen Salewicz. I work at Global Affairs on the humanitarian programming. Indeed, the humanitarian response, as you suggest, is at around 57 percent of the UN appeal. From the Canadian perspective, we’ve provided, as already mentioned $63.5 million this year—a very significant amount of support to the UN operation and to other humanitarian actors. With that assistance, our partners within the UN, ICRC and NGOs are actually building the camps, pre-positioning the supplies in advance of the campaign for Mosul, and are now responding to the needs of the individuals who are fleeing.
And we must remember that there were 3.3 million Iraqis that were internally displaced even before the fighting for Mosul began. So the operation is very significant. The response required is tremendous.
I think from our part, we’ve made a pledge in July—Minister Dion did—of $150 million over the next three years. So Canada’s playing a significant role there. I think we’d call on other members or other countries that were also pledging at that time. Two billion were pledged for humanitarian assistance. We’d call on them to also meet those pledges. I think it’s a shared responsibility and one where Canada is playing an important role. Thank you.
Question: Yes, hello. Marie Vastel from the newspaper Le Devoir. I understand that you don’t want to give us absolute numbers, but allow me to try to get just a little more information. Can you tell us, even if just in terms of dozens or hundreds of times, that there have been exchanges of fire with the enemy? And you say that most of the time, it’s returning fire, not initiating because of an anticipated threat. So in those cases where we’re firing first, is that dozens, hundreds, or just a handful of times?
MGen Michael Rouleau: Yes, without going into specific details, it was reported before summer that we were involved in, I believe it was 11 engagements since the start of the mission. I would say that over the past month in which the Kurds have commenced offensive operations, it’s been few dozen scenarios in which we have engaged. The minority have been where we engaged first. But as Chief of the Defence Staff General Vance stated yesterday, when we shoot first, it’s because there are emergent threats that are manifesting, and in a short timeframe we have to decide whether or not to react. The consequence of not reacting is that there will be Kurdish casualties.
Question: And when you say a minority of times, are we talking 48 percent or 10 percent or 15 percent? And as a second follow-up question —
MGen Michael Rouleau: Less (crosstalk) percent.
Question: Thanks. So as a second follow-up question, can you tell us the number of civilians perhaps who have been – civilian victims, that is, sorry, there have been as a result of our exchanges of fire and the number of Daesh victims?
MGen Michael Rouleau: On the question of how many civilians casualties there have been involving Canadian Special Forces engagements, the answer is zero. To our knowledge, we have not been involved, not even once, with any civilian casualties with respect to our engagements. That is a – that’s something that we – obviously, that we take very seriously as a professional force. We are very careful about that. Every man or woman who makes the decision to use force always looks at it in the context of whether there are civilians around and makes decisions with that in mind as well.
Question: And the Daesh victims, can you —
Moderator: Madame —
MGen Michael Rouleau: I don’t have those figures.
Moderator: A gentle reminder, one follow-up question. You’re more than welcome to go back in line. Thank you. Sir.
Question: Yes. Lee Berthiaume from The Canadian Press. Yesterday, General Vance had talked about the Role 2 Hospital and he said that among those who might be treated by it would be ISIL fighters, Daesh fighters. Today, you guys didn’t mention that. I’m just wondering if any ISIL fighters or Daesh fighters have been either treated at the hospital or been treated by CANSOF members.
LGen Stephen Bowes: None at the hospital thus far, but the Chief is spot on. You know, from medical practice, our practice is we treat the wounded; we sort out the rest later. And I’m unaware if the American-led facility previous to that had any occasion to offer such – such medical treatment
MGen Michael Rouleau: CANSOF medics have not treated a single Daesh casualty. What we’re seeing is generally they want to right to the death. You know, we – when we see dismounted Daesh troops, they’re often dismounted fighters also doubling as suicide bombers. So we are not treating any because we haven’t come across them. If we did, we would definitely treat them.
Question: And General Rouleau, I guess – maybe correct me if I’m wrong, but I get a sense of frustration from you around kind of this parsing of comments, if you will. I was hoping you could just kind of – I mean are you feeling frustrated about this debate over is this combat, is this not, this wordsmithing, as General Vance described it yesterday?
MGen Michael Rouleau: I’m not frustrated at all. I mean I’m a general. My job is to help manage the violence to achieve policy objectives for the Government of Canada. That’s what we do. We’re not politicized. We don’t spin. We don’t get frustrated. It’s my job.
Question: Guillaume St-Pierre, Agence QMI. Mr. Rouleau, just to go back a bit to my colleague’s question, can you give us a general idea without – when you say that you don’t have those figures, the number of Daesh combatants that have been killed, but to have a general idea. Are we talking dozens, or hundreds, or…?
MGen Michael Rouleau: The number of Daesh who have been killed by —
Question: By the Canadian Forces.
MGen Michael Rouleau: I have those figures, but as we say, we don’t do body counts. It’s useless for me to declare a specific number of Daesh that we think we’ve killed because obviously, those engagements, they’re at a certain distance. So to be precise at that level is impossible.
But if the question relates to the question of whether events are unfolding well in the Kurds’ favour, the answer would be yes, because you have to look at the major trends, and the Kurds have retaken a few hundred square kilometres of territory recently.
Question: At this time, there is sort of a debate raging in Parliament about the nature of the mission. The opposition says that we’re – that this is a combat mission. The Armed Forces and the Government say it’s not. Why is there this confusion about the nature of the combat mission?
MGen Michael Rouleau: As the Chief of the Defence Staff General Vance said, there is no confusion. At the level of the Chief of the Defence Staff, it is not a combat mission. That is the primary authority with respect to defining military terms in our country. So there is no confusion at the level of General Vance. There is no confusion for me. If we were in a combat mission as such, the way we’d be conducting our operations, the equipment we’d be taking over there, the planning we’d be doing, would be different from what it is now. We are in an advise and assist mission. That is very clear to me. It is very clear to my soldiers, and we are operating within that mandate.
Question: Thank you.
Question: Good afternoon. It’s Bruce Campion Smith, The Toronto Star. Just a first question to General Rouleau. Just on the subject of engagement, it was said yesterday that Canadian troops are operating sort of back from the frontline. Can you say much about, sir, the type of engagement? Is it primarily snipers? Are they calling in air strikes?
MGen Michael Rouleau: So it is true, Bruce, that as the CDS mentioned yesterday in his testimony, we are operating rear of the forward Kurd elements. We are not advancing with the forward Kurd elements, so that is absolutely true. Broadly speaking, there is a subset of small arms engagements where we use either sniper weapons or crew-served weapons. There might be mortar engagements, and then sometimes we will use different systems like for the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, we would use an anti-armour rocket system to be able to neutralize that threat at range. The selection of what types of weapons are used are made by troops on the ground.
And in the context of the overall fighting that has occurred in the last month or month and a half, we’re talking about a tiny fraction of the overall engagements in the fight that the Kurds have taken to Daesh. So I know we’re focussing on the CANSOF piece, that’s – that’s great—that’s why we’re here—but I would just put it into context. We’re talking about the absolute minority of kinetic action that has happened in that part of the world being CANSOF’s, only as a last resort, only to protect ourselves, our partner forces or civilians.
Question: Perhaps a question to whoever wants to take it. Can we just look forward how you see the battle for Mosul progressing, whether you think this is a weeks long battle or months long? And then the implications for the Canadian mission, that once Mosul falls, does the – you know, our rationale for being there evaporate a bit?
LGen Stephen Bowes: The last part is a policy issue, that the Chief will take up the options and furnish advice to the Minister. That’s his prerogative.
I wouldn’t talk about the battle in terms of weeks. I talk about it in terms of months. It will be deliberate. It’ll be slow. It’s an urban environment, an enemy that has had two years to prepare defences. And one of the challenges, and I talked a little bit about numbers, there’s always a reluctance to talk about enemy strength because where we’re looking at it’s – there are ways that we can determine core defence capability and how many troops might be – enemy fighters might be in a particular area, but when you’re in the kind of fight that they’re in now, anybody that was part of their police apparatus and governance structures that is a military age male becomes available to contribute to the fight. And it’s very difficult for us to understand the quality of forces. Not all foreign fighters are very good fighters. Some sources of foreign fighters are very good fighters. And so it’s very difficult to put this into what it means in terms of coherent defence.
The Iraqis have moved up a long distance aside from the Kurds to get into position. They have to be able to sustain multiple axes of advance into a large urban environment, and the analogy, you know, with that river there, they’re fighting through neighbourhoods at the moment invested into the city. It’s going to take time to move through that. So a lot of it depends on the quality of the Daesh defence. A lot of it depends on the value that is provided by coalition-enabling capabilities, air power, indirect fire, etc. in weakening the defences, and a lot of it depends on Iraqi resolve. This is an Iraqi fight. It’ll be won by Iraqis.
Question: Hi. Laura Payton from ctvnews.ca. I want to get back to the humanitarian assistance. You threw out some numbers, and I don’t think you actually answered whether or not Canada has paid up all of its emergency funding to the UN.
Stephen Salewicz: As I said, we have a – we’ve made a pledge of $150 million. That pledge is a three-year pledge, so we’re in it. We’ve made a significant pledge over the long term. We’re providing predictability to the UN partners. We’re entering into agreements with them to give them that predictability over the long term. This year alone, we have spent $63.5 million. So we’ve made good on our commitments to date and we will continue to fund those – the responses over the next three years. So that’s – is there some confusion around that number?
Question: Well, you said 63.5 million has gone to the UN and other organizations.
Stephen Salewicz: To NGOs and to the Red Cross.
Question: So how much of our commitment of the first year of the 150 million has gone out, and if there’s a holdup, what’s the holdup?
Stephen Salewicz: There’s no holdup. We’ve done a significant amount of money. We’ve met all our commitments under that 150 million, and we will continue over the next three years to allocate those resources. We have agreements in place with our partners to continue to finance their operations.
Moderator: Thank you. That was the last question from the floor. We will now go to the phone for any questions. Please identify yourselves as well as your news agency.
Operator: Thank you. Merci. Please press star, 1 at this time if you have a question. There will be a brief pause while participants register for questions. We thank you for your patience. Our first question comes from Mélanie Marquis of the Canadian Press. Go ahead.
Question: Yes, hello. My question is for Major-General Rouleau. I know you said that Canadian soldiers from the Canadian Forces had not caused any civilian deaths, but there is an investigative journalist who is currently – well actually, who was in Iraq recently and who was told by a Kurdish colonel that jihadists were killed by Canadian Special Forces soldiers. Can you tell me a little more about those reports that are circulating?
MGen Michael Rouleau: But I can’t comment on comments made by a random Kurd. I don’t have the context. I wasn’t there. Is it possible that Canadian Special Forces killed a jihadist in Northern Iraq? It’s possible. We have engaged Daesh on several occasions over the past month and since – so that’s all I can offer you on the comment that you, that you’re talking about.
Question: Okay. And if I understood correctly a little earlier, what you said is that you cannot give that figure. Do you have an estimate of the number of jihadists that have been killed by – by Canadians?
MGen Michael Rouleau: I have the approximate figure that we have, but I do not want to divulge that figure because, as we say, we don’t do the body count. I’m not going to start divulging the figures, the number of enemy fighters we’ve killed. We can’t even be sure in the vast majority of cases because those engagements happen at a considerable distance. So it’s – I am not going to start saying those figures that we cannot verify.
Question: But do you have an order of magnitude? We’re talking dozens, hundreds?
MGen Michael Rouleau: I do not want to start talking about the numbers.
Modératrice: Madame, thanks very much. We’re going to go to the next question.
Operator: Merci. Thank you. Our next question is from Nicolas Laffont of 45e Nord. Please go ahead.
Question: Yes, hello. My question is for General Rouleau regarding the mentoring. So you’ve already talked a bit about this, but what kind of return have you been getting (inaudible) regarding those we’ve mentored, considering that we’re now sending them really directly into a major operation in Mosul? What feedback have you had about whether they’ve performed well?
Moderator: Nicolas – Nicolas, we can’t hear you. Can you repeat your question louder.
Question: Yes. I was saying, in terms of the mentees, the ones we’ve trained, has there been a good return in terms of the operation underway, the people who have been trained in the last few months?
Moderator: Okay, Nicolas, I am going to try to repeat your question. Just confirm whether I’ve understood correctly. You want to know whether the training has paid off, whether we’re seeing results in the current operation?
Question: Yes, that’s right.
MGen Michael Rouleau: Okay. All right, it was complicated, but we got there. Yes, Nicolas, the answer is yes. Of course, the frequency decreased over time, but we have trained over 2,000 Kurdish soldiers since we arrived in fall of 2014. We have absolutely seen the fruits of that labour in the sense that what they’re able to do today is very different from what it was when we arrived two years ago.
Question: And so I am going to try to talk louder. What are the gaps that still need to be filled?
MGen Michael Rouleau: Well, Nicolas, I think it might not be wise for me to start talking about gaps in the Kurdish military when the fighting around Mosul is still happening. So with your permission, I am going to dodge that question.
Moderator: Thank you. Next question please.
Operator: Thank you. Our following question is from David Pugliese from The Ottawa Citizen. Please go ahead.
Question: Because it was in French, I thought you said when you were asked about engagements, there is a few dozen times, so I was wondering if you clarify that, please.
MGen Michael Rouleau: David, I only got the last part of your question, but if you’re asking how often we have engaged in the past month or month and a half since Kurd offensive operations started, I said we have had several dozen use of force engagements in that period of time.
Question: Okay. Thank you. My follow-up question is can you give some statistics on the number of times you’ve – your folks have fired antitank weapons?
MGen Michael Rouleau: The number would be—and I believe this to be accurate—three that we have used our anti-armour weapon systems on three different vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices that were charging at high speed at the Kurdish defensive line. Had we not engaged those vehicles, because the Kurds do not possess weapons like we have, then it would have been like happened last December where the VBIED detonates at the – at the forward positions, creates a breach and then the Daesh flow through that breach, and is mayhem to try to reestablish the line. So our three engagements with anti-armour weapon systems provided that from happening several thousand metres before they wanted to detonate.
Moderator: Thank you, sir.
Question: Great. Thank you.
Moderator: Do we have any other questions on the line?
Operator: Yes, we do. Our next question is from Justin Ling from VICE News. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi, there. I was wondering if you could specify a little bit about any new sort of equipment our Special Forces would have access to. Obviously, you’ve talked a bit about anti-armour, antitank weaponry. The Defence Minister said that that’s a pretty new addition over the last 12 months or so. Can you give any indication of any other sort of additional resources or equipment that our forces have gotten in the last several months, especially since the push to retake Mosul has actually begun?
MGen Michael Rouleau: So no, sir, I won’t go into specifics, but I would tell you that the Department of National Defence, the Department of Public Services who helps acquire equipment, the Canadian Armed Forces, there is an entire team of teams that is around my command, but also other elements of the Canadian Armed Forces as we continuously adjust what we have, what we need, what might make us more performing in theatre and we adapt. We’re a learning organization. And so you know, while there’s a lot of people who talk about Canada’s Special Forces, I just want to underscore that there’s a whole bunch of people, many of whom work in this building and get no credit for what they do, people who work in town that do a lot of tremendous work to help us in the field.
Moderator: Thank you. We’ll take one last question from the phone and then we’ll go back to the floor. Thank you.
Operator: We have no further questions registered from the phone.
Moderator: From the left this time.
Question: Sure. General Rouleau, I was just hoping to ask you, you compared – made a comparison to police officers in the way they’re able to intervene, and I’m just wondering why you think that’s a fair comparison.
MGen Michael Rouleau: Well, because a little bit of what I heard in the media yesterday was questioning the legitimacy of the Special Forces operator to use force before he or she had been engaged. And so I think it’s a righteous comparison to, you know, say that we don’t expect our police officers in our cities in Canada to get injured before they can use force. They use their judgment within their mandate. They’re accountable for those use of force, and it’s the same thing for us. People use judgment in applying force to try to protect themselves to try to fulfill their mandate, and we are accountable for that. And we – we welcome that accountability, and every time we use force, I look into it. And if we ever think that there’s maybe something that happened with respect to civilians or whatever, we’re exceptionally transparent with that, and we ask other authorities to look into it. Now that hasn’t happened because we haven’t been implicated with any civilian casualties in the use of force that we’ve undertaken, but I think it’s a useful comparison.
As generals, our job is not to push risk down. Our job is to set the conditions that the young men and women we send into harm’s way can do their job to the best abilities possible. And so that’s part of giving them, as the CDS said, the right rules of engagement that they can do the things that we ask them to do.
Question: I understand that you’re saying that the mandate of the mission has not changed. On the other hand, you’ve referred a lot to the fact that the forces you’re working with, the Kurds, have been a lot more on the offensive for some time now. Does the fact that our partners, the people we’re training – if their mission on the ground is changing, wouldn’t that necessitate or justify revising the mandate of our soldiers present on the ground?
MGen Michael Rouleau: Not at all.
MGen Michael Rouleau: I can achieve – my troops can achieve the advise and assist mandate whether it’s on the defensive or on the offensive. That being said, we have to think very narrowly about our roles in that context when it changes. The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Bowes, and myself, we talk about that continually to ensure that we are operating firmly within the parameters of the mandate given to us by the government.
Moderator: We’ll take one final question. Last question, Mr. Brewster.
Question: Just to follow up on the question related to arms shipments. The first part is you’re waiting for Iraqi government approval. Given the tensions between Baghdad and Erbil over autonomy, do you really expect that approval to take place? And also, as a supplement to our folks in uniform, the Kurds have asked for anti-armour weapons. Is that a wise move given the circumstances? Mr. Boyd first.
Sean Boyd: Unfortunately, I’m not able to speak for – for the Iraqi government. How they organize themselves in the relationships between the Kurdish region and the government in Baghdad is an internal matter. As I said earlier, obviously, we have to wait until we have the approval of the Government of the Republic of Iraq before we could move forward.
MGen Michael Rouleau: Just implicit in your question, Murray, is the notion of tension. I’ll just tell you the operations that we’ve seen on the ground, I mean Kurdish forces, Kurdish security forces and Iraqi security forces have been collaborating extensively. You’re talking about moving brigades and divisions through Kurdish lines. That demands very high levels of complementarity so what we’re seeing on the ground is not friction, it’s not tension, it’s collaboration in pursuit of a common enemy.
LGen Stephen Bowes: So your question’s fundamentally political, Murray, and so – but you know, just to elaborate, most of the Iraqi security force divisions that moved through were Shia based and they moved through Kurdish territory to take up their positions to go on the offensive, so.
Moderator: You’re good? No follow-up. All right. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today’s technical briefing. Thank you for attending. Mesdames et messieurs, ceci conclut cette séance d’information technique. Merci d’avoir assisté à notre événement.
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