Mr. Chairman, last Thursday you announced that this meeting was going to be held here in this room for the reason that the public would be able to see it because it's being televised, and we're grateful for that. We're also very grateful to have our witnesses here today.
My concern is that at the same time this is taking place, General Jonathan Vance, the chief of the joint operations command, is making a technical briefing for the media; therefore, the media can't be here. The same thing happened on October 17, when Parliament was not in session and no members of Parliament were here.
This is the committee that is given responsibility for accountability of the government to Parliament. We are the parliamentarians, yet we somehow seem to be dragging the media away from the parliamentary process. In fact, there is a general in charge of joint operations doing these briefings for the media, which can't, therefore, be here with this Parliament.
I find that objectionable, Mr. Chair, and I want to put that on the record.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear in front of you today. I'm pleased to be here today to provide you with a summary of Operation Impact, the Canadian Armed Forces contribution to the U.S.-led multinational coalition in Iraq, assisting the Government of Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
I'm Major-General Michael Hood, the director of staff. I'm pleased to have with me Rear-Admiral Gilles Couturier, who is director general of international security policy; and Colonel Mark Gendron, deputy judge advocate general for operations.
Today, I would like to walk you through the Canadian Armed Forces current contributions to the mission. We would then be pleased to answer your questions.
Earlier this year, ISIL began seizing territory throughout the Republic of Iraq, and since that time Iraqi security forces have been engaged in an ongoing struggle with this well-armed and well-organized terrorist entity. Its strategy in Iraq is to create a state based on its radical ideology, and its advances have threatened and displaced many thousands of Iraqis and have caused a humanitarian crisis threatening the stability of the entire region. Its reach, however, is not simply limited to the Middle East, as even outside of Iraq's borders ISIL threatens the security of western countries, with calls for sympathizers to conduct targeted attacks.
In late September, the Government of Iraq requested, through the United Nations Security Council, that the U.S. help lead an international coalition to help Iraq defend itself against ISIL. The U.S. has responded to Iraq's request and has facilitated the creation of an international coalition committed to containing further ISIL expansion and countering the threat posed by ISIL to regional and international security.
The Canadian Armed Forces' contribution to Iraq's fight against ISIL began in August, when the Government of Canada directed the armed forces to provide strategic airlift of military aid in support of international efforts to assist the Republic of Iraq. The Canadian Air Task Force Iraq, consisting of one Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130J Hercules, and one C-17 Globemaster III, and approximately 100 air crew technicians and logistics specialists were quickly deployed to the Middle East for this task.
Over the following six weeks, the Royal Canadian Air Force flew 25 flights and delivered over 1.6 million pounds of badly needed military supplies donated by Albania and the Czech Republic to Iraqi security forces. As well, since early October a team of highly trained special operations forces has been deployed to Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi security forces with their struggle against ISIL.
The team of Canadian special operations forces personnel will mentor and facilitate training of Iraqi forces, focusing on the planning, preparation, and conduct of operations against ISIL. This valuable assistance will help Iraqi forces improve their tactical and technical proficiency so that they are better able to train for and conduct operations against ISIL.
On October 5, the Government of Canada announced that the Canadian Armed Forces will contribute to the international coalition conducting air strikes in Iraq, with the aim of degrading ISIL's ability to carry out military operations against the people of the Republic of Iraq.
Using our tactical and strategic airlift capabilities, the Airbus, Hercules, and Globemaster, the CAF has deployed a joint task force to augment ongoing coalition operations in Iraq. It includes six CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft, one CC-150T Polaris aerial refueller, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft, and nearly 600 personnel, including air crew and support personnel. We also have planning teams working alongside coalition counterparts, and a wide network of liaison officers deployed with our mission partners.
The joint task force commenced operations on October 30 and is currently employed in three distinct lines of operations. The Polaris is conducting air-to-air refuelling operations in support of Canadian and coalition aircraft operating against ISIL. The two Aurora aircraft are conducting valuable intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, ISR, missions over Iraq to gather information on ISIL. The Hornets are conducting strike missions against identified ISIL targets. The Hornets, operating under national rules of engagement, use precision-guided munitions against targets that have been validated by a rigorous targeting process and authorized by our own national chain of command.
Operation IMPACT is a significant and valuable contribution to the international coalition assisting the Republic of Iraq in its fight against ISIL. The mission clearly demonstrates the Canadian resolve to combat ISIL's radical ideology and supports coalition efforts to rapidly contain ISIL, and degrade their combat capability, so that Iraqi forces can advance and expel ISIL from the Republic of Iraq. Furthermore, it demonstrates our resolve to stand with our allies and make positive contributions to international peace and security.
Much has been achieved in the fight to stem the advance of ISIL since the beginning of coalition operations. Iraqi security forces in northern Iraq, who received military supplies airlifted by our RCAF aircraft, have stemmed the ISIL advance. However, more remains to be done. The Canadian Armed Forces are committed to this continued effort to support Iraqi security forces and the democratically elected Government of Iraq.
Thank you for your time. I and my colleagues would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
I would like to know whether I will have an opportunity to question the witnesses today and at all the meetings I will be participating in. I wanted to raise a quick point of order, so that my rights and privileges as a member of this committee, pursuant to Standing Order 104, will be recognized.
I want to remind you that the motion adopted by the committee on November 5, 2013, states the following with regards to the second round of questioning: “[...] based on the principle that each committee member should have a full opportunity to question the witness(es).”
So I would like to repeat my question, Mr. Chair. Will I have the right to question the witnesses today and at subsequent committee meetings?
Colleagues know that as chair of this committee I have to ensure that the rules of the committee, both as prescribed by the House of Commons Procedure and Practice as well as the routine motion, which was passed at the time this committee was constituted, are carried out. My role is to ensure that those rules and procedures are carried out fairly. In recent days, that has been somewhat more challenging. Mr. Larose is quite correct in recognizing that the principle stated in the routine motion is that each committee member should have a full opportunity to question the witnesses. There is a need, and we respected that at our last meeting.
Colleagues, I would ask you, because of the time lost due to parliamentary business today, that we limit further discussion on this. I've decided that based on the routine motion and my interpretation of the intent of the motion, I will give the member for Repentigny, Mr. Larose, a slot at the end of the second round of questioning at today's meeting.
That said, and to ensure continuing decorum of this committee, I would suggest that the committee take time on Thursday, November 6, two days hence, to discuss the order of questioning and to deliver clear instructions to the chair going forward.
So, colleagues, again with your approval, we will now begin the first round of questioning with seven-minute slots, with Mr. Norlock, please.
Through you to the witnesses, thank you for attending today.
My first question will be a question that I think is on all Canadians' minds right now. In the last 48 hours we have seen our Canadian Armed Forces, and particularly the RCAF, directly engaged in the theatre. I know there are some things you can say, and some things you can't say, but for the benefit of those Canadians who are watching and this committee, could you give us a rundown or run-through of what occurred in the last 48 hours, vis-à-vis the air strikes that occurred most recently?
I can. Thank you, Mr. Norlock.
I did take the opportunity before coming here to actually close with Lieutenant-General Vance so I have a reasonably fresh summary from the operational command.
The Air Task Force, and the aircraft involved, arrived at destination, in Kuwait, on the October 28 and commenced flying operations on October 30. Since that time, and including in the last 24 hours, our CF aircraft have flown 27 sorties, which include 18 by fighter aircraft, 4 by our Polaris tanker, and 5 by the CP-140 ISR aircraft.
On October 31, one CP-140 Aurora conducted intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations that directly supported coalition efforts. The Aurora enabled multiple coalition fighter aircraft to strike ISIL targets in the vicinity of al-Qaim. The strike resulted in the destruction of a key ISIL base that was used to stage operations from the border area into the Euphrates line of communications. The Aurora was the platform lead for the mission and provided important battle damage assessments to evaluate the success of strikes.
On November 2, Sunday, CF-18 Hornets conducted their first combat air strike on ISIL targets. The four targets were located near a dam west of Fallujah, and consisted of heavy engineering vehicles. They were being used to divert water from the Euphrates River to create flooding and displace the population in Anbar Province, while also denying water to other populations downstream. By flooding certain areas, ISIL forced civilians and Iraqi security forces onto specific routes, which they then placed improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, on. Additionally, the heavy engineering vehicles were being used to develop enhanced defensive positions, which would have made future clearing operations for the Iraqi security forces more difficult.
Our forces worked with the combined air operations centre and coalition targeting assets during the approximately four-hour flight. Five-hundred pound laser-guided bombs destroyed and damaged the heavy engineering vehicles identified, and removed them from further employment.
The degradation of ISIL's ability to use the dam as a weapon contributes to ensuring that they will not be able to use the Euphrates River against the population of Anbar Province. The attacks also assured the removal of heavy equipment necessary to develop defensive positions that would eventually have been taken by security forces.
That's a summary of some of the activity over the last four days. Certainly the intent would be to continue to provide regular updates through tech briefings, likely on a weekly briefing where we'd be able to summarize what has transpired.
Thank you very much, General Hood.
My second question is I think more than just a personal observation, it's something that other members of Parliament have discussed with me, and for sure some of my constituents, and I wonder if you wouldn't mind commenting.
Some many hours prior to the official release by the Canadian Forces as to our actions that you have just described to us, we heard it from U.S. news sources. I'm wondering if there isn't a better coordinated way that you either can respond to today or can bring back to senior command staff so that we cooperate in a theatre of war but cooperate also on the news releases, so that Canadians, who are very much heavily invested in this operation, at least get to know what's going on at the same time as our American counterparts and we don't have to watch American television to find out what's going on. I wonder if you would like to comment on that.
I'll certainly offer just a brief perspective, sir.
What I saw in the first announcements of the strikes that had taken place on Sunday was through a press release by the Minister of National Defence. We coordinate very closely with allies and the U.S. command in the central command in Tampa, and move forward. I think as you well can imagine, in coordinating the size of activity, with the number of partners that are in there, it's definitely going to take some close coordination. We appreciate that some of this information was subsequently released by CENTCOM before we were able to organize a tech brief. At the time General Vance was down in Tampa liaising with General Austin, the commander of CENTCOM, and, in fact, the timing of his tech brief today was related to his return travel for that. But we will put every endeavour to get better at that, sir.
Thank you very much. It's just really helpful from our perspective, and we'll try to do the same from the civilian side of things.
I have one other question. One of the things we're asked—once again, on this tremendous investment, absolutely, especially the human investment that we have in this operation—is whether we are making gains. You can corroborate this or not, but I'm led to believe that our operations, our allied operations that are occurring currently and that we are actively engaged in now, have resulted in the ability to support the Kurds, the Shias, and the other folks on our side, shall we say, in making gains that they may not have been able to make otherwise. You alluded to our strike.
I wonder if you could give us some observations as to the success of the endeavour so far in our aim to assist the Iraqi government forces.
I can certainly try. While Canada has just started air operations, other coalition allies have been active for quite some period. You'll recall how quick the ISIL advance was into Iraq. In fact, the map I put up really shows their areas of advance towards their main objective, which is the capture of Baghdad.
In that quick advance, they were gaining momentum, travelling in some very large and sometimes armoured formations that in many events as they approached Iraqi-controlled areas were able to quickly advance through there, in part just by the mass and sheer size of the force that was coming forward. Allied air activity has blunted that advance.
In fact, as you may have heard—it was certainly reported publicly—they no longer travel in large formations because those are simply too easy a target for air power to take forward. We've now seen ISIL move to a more asymmetric style of attack, which, by and large, while still a challenge for Iraqi security forces, does not pose the same level of threat as their massed advances previously.
Absolutely, Mr. Harris.
First of all with respect to a coalition campaign, there is a shared joint view of the targets, in this case in Iraq. Those are prioritized against the objectives that may be in play at the time, in coordination with Iraqis.
The tasking of missions, so for Canadian aircraft or any of our allied aircraft, is coordinated through CENTCOM, and targets are assigned against those missions.
Those then come into a Canadian chain of command. We have a theatre engagement authority in the air operation centre that is ultimately in charge of viewing that every target Canada would consider striking is, as a Canadian view, in line with our rules of engagement, which I'll get to.
If there is a risk of collateral damage or another risk in the conduct of that target, it is then pushed out of theatre to General Vance. He can approve a certain level of targets. If he can't approve something, it ultimately goes up to the Chief of the Defence Staff. That targeting chain is completely approved by Canada, and ultimately by the pilot when he releases the weapons.
We don't generally talk about rules of engagement writ large. Suffice it to say the chief approves specific rules of engagement that enable the disciplined use of force by Canadian Forces in this particular conduct.
There is a set of rules of engagement, which I'm not going to discuss right now, but I can tell you from an allied perspective that this is the most accurate conflict we've ever been party to. It's accurate because of the weapons we're using; it's accurate because of the limits we've put on collateral damage, and because we are taking such care, you haven't seen aircraft drop on every strike mission.
With respect to the targets and this specific one, it's clear that as a campaign objective, the flooding of the Euphrates or the denying of water to downstream is of great concern to the Iraqi government. Hence that target would come up and be prioritized within that period of time.
My army colleagues would tell you that engineering equipment is some of the most valuable and it is greatly protected on a battlefield. Hence in this case, it was viewed as a highly prioritized target by CENTCOM and then by the Canadian chain, and it was ultimately approved for a Canadian strike.
That's correct. I have just an initial question.
General Hood, I was rather surprised, I guess, at your answer to Ms. Murray about the question of cost estimates. On October 17 General Lawson told the media, in a press briefing, that the cost estimates for the military contribution had actually been provided to cabinet. So why would you tell us that the CFO is actually preparing them, giving us the impression that there are no such things as cost estimates available?
That bothers me a little bit. Is this maybe a public relations gesture of some sort?
Perhaps we can follow up on that, in terms of the capability of the Iraqi army. Mr. Chisu talked about the large forces and equipment that it had, although in looking at a paper prepared by the Library of Parliament, we're talking 60 or 70 tanks and perhaps a large number of Humvees. The army that they defeated appeared to have just disappeared by virtue of the commanders disappearing.
We read about what was left behind by the Americans, a million-soldier ground force owned by the Iraqi army. Is that the army we're talking about that's going to take the ground fight? That seems to be a very large number of soldiers when we're talking about maybe 20,000 or 50,000 fighters that ISIS has both in Iraq and in Syria.
We have a report here prepared by the parliamentary information research service dealing with the equipment that ISIL has, it's believed, from sources. I notice that they have access to, as mentioned, maybe 60 or 70 battle tanks, but they also have MANPADS, shoulder-launched, both U.S.-made and Russian-made, and anti-aircraft guns. I don't know if these so-called MANPADS, the portable ones, have the range to go near our F-18s or the C-140s, but what about the anti-aircraft guns? Is there a concern about the safety of our air crews in these circumstances?
A lot is being said about conventional targets, but I would rather talk about unconventional targets. I think our fellow Canadians are concerned about the fact that they are now affected in their homes, through the Internet. In committee, we have often discussed establishing something of an army that would be tasked specifically with handling Internet issues.
What are currently our capacities in that area?
Earlier, you talked about collaboration with the Department of Public Safety, but the situation may be a bit more advanced. The map presents a very conventional situation, but we are facing unconventional enemies. They can reach our children directly at home and create local cells.
Does your strategic planning involve specific targets related to the Internet? Is anything being done to limit the access those enemies have to the Internet? Is any kind of equipment targeted? What concrete measures are you taking in this respect?