Thank you very much, Chair.
Honourable colleagues, it's a pleasure to be here with you today.
As you know, just a few days ago, and I were aboard HMCS Fredericton in the Baltic Sea, observing its participation in NATO's Operation BaltOps, which constitutes part of NATO's assurance measures for our friends and allies in eastern Europe and part of Canada's Operation Reassurance.
It was very encouraging to be aboard the first fully modernized Halifax-class Royal Canadian Navy frigate to be deployed in such a fashion overseas and to see the excellent equipment and kit resulting from this $4-billion modernization of the frigates in our navy, but also to see first-hand the remarkable skills and dedication of our men and women in uniform.
Mr. Chair, speaking of my trip last week, let me start with Canada's contributions in Europe.
In response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine, under the umbrella of Operation Reassurance, the Canadian Armed Forces have, once again, deployed to Europe; training in Central and Eastern Europe to increase interoperability with our allies in the region; and sailing the Mediterranean, Black and Baltic seas as part of NATO assurance measures.
Canada has also provided extensive support to Ukraine in the form of financial assistance, the donation of key military equipment of a non-lethal nature, and later this year, the provision of training to Ukrainian military forces. In fact, I hope to be able to see the initial deployment of some of our trainers in Ukraine first-hand. Of course, this is in addition to diplomatic and political support, represented recently by the 's third visit to Ukraine in the last 18 months.
On April 13, we announced this training operation. Our contribution will consist of approximately 200 personnel who will provide training assistance until March 31, 2017, in the fields of individual and unit tactics training, military police skills and procedures, explosive ordnance disposal, flight safety training, combat first aid, and logistics systems modernization.
Through our efforts and those of other allies, we are demonstrating the continuing strength and unity of NATO.
Next week I will travel to Brussels to meet with my NATO counterparts and reaffirm our commitment to the alliance and our solidarity with our eastern European allies, as I did in meetings with the defence ministers of Poland, Italy, and the United Kingdom last week. We will take key decisions on the implementation of practical measures to strengthen the readiness and responsiveness of our alliance, wherever the threat comes from.
Chairman, Russia's aggression in Ukraine has shown NATO's resolve and resiliency, and Russia must understand that the long-standing principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are non-negotiable. Indeed, I think there's a broad consensus that the best and most effective way to prevent a miscalculation on the part of Mr. Putin's posture of aggression is through a posture of readiness and a message of deterrence.
Mr. Chair, the Canadian Armed Forces are also engaged in battling a significant danger to international stability. Since last year, Canada has played a strong role in the multinational coalition countering the atrocities of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has been complicit in absolute atrocities: committed against children, women, men, and religious and ethnic minorities.
ISIS has been complicit in unspeakable atrocities, including the rape and enslavement of countless women and children. It is estimated that 7,000 Yazidi women alone are being kept as sex slaves by ISIS. A recent report by the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights contains countless reports of abductions, rape, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated against both women and children.
They are particularly targeting religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq, many of whom are slaughtered.
We have demonstrated our clear determination to confront this menace to Iraqi and regional security. Indeed, last year we sent troops in an advisory capacity, providing assistance to local peshmerga forces. As you know, the and I also had an opportunity to meet our special operations forces troops, who are engaged in an extremely effective advice and training mission near Erbil in northern Iraq.
In addition, approximately 600 personnel were deployed to the region in October to support Joint Task Force-Iraq and the Royal Canadian Air Force operation of three types of aircraft there. The CC-150T Polaris supports coalition air assets in the region with aerial refuelling, and has now delivered over 10,000 pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft. CP-140 Auroras, recently modernized aircraft, are providing critical aerial reconnaissance intelligence to the coalition. Of course, six CF-18 Hornets have just completed their 100th air strike against ISIS. Earlier this month, altogether the Royal Canadian Air Force has conducted over 1,000 sorties.
Recently the Government of Canada extended the mission and expanded it to include air strikes, as you know, against targets in Syria. Although there have been very few of those, in large measure because of limited intelligence on the ground, it is important as a strategic statement we are making. Insofar as ISIS or Daesh does not recognize a border between Iraq and Syria and they are completely interoperable between the two sides of that border, nor should the coalition, in our view.
Mr. Chairman, the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces are providing critical support to the coalition effort. While much has been achieved to stop the advance of ISIS since the start of coalition operations last October, there is more to do. We are committed to this continued effort to support Iraq's security forces, who must be primarily responsible for their own country's security.
The cumulative effects of striking ISIS targets along with training support to Iraqi forces will ultimately allow Iraqi forces to transition into offensive operations. A few offensive operations have been carried out, but Iraqis on the ground must clearly do more.
The weakening of ISIS, whether it's through destroying or disrupting equipment, leadership, or infrastructure, will provide the necessary freedom of movement for Iraqi forces to make more tactical gains. Over the long term, success will be achieved when ISIS capabilities are significantly degraded to the point where they can no longer claim credibly to have caliphate control over large swaths of territory or to pose an international security risk.
That said, Mr. Chairman, obviously in any military campaign there will be regrettable setbacks, as there have been in Ramadi and elsewhere in the region. But fundamentally, in part thanks to the support of coalition forces, ISIS has lost control of approximately 25% to 30% of the territory it controlled last August, representing 13,000 to 17,000 square kilometres.
This will require continued persistence. As we know, some of our allies, including the United States, are calibrating somewhat their approach with additional training resources. We will observe that with interest, but we are committed to the current level of operations as defined in the motion that was tabled and supported by the House of Commons recently.
I think their efforts I have outlined today—in Operation Reassurance and Operation Impact—are a great example of Canada's and our forces' effectiveness.
I would be delighted to take any questions. Thank you.
First of all, I must make it entirely clear that sexual misconduct of any kind in the military is absolutely unacceptable. There is nothing that I could say or would ever say that would indicate it's acceptable. In my comments yesterday, I stand by the apology, for they were an introduction to comments that make it clear that we are committed from the very top—myself, my key generals, commodores, flag officers, chief petty officers, chief warrant officers—right through the chain of command to our aviators, sailors, and soldiers, to rid the Canadian Armed Forces of this problem.
What is probably most damaging about my opening comments yesterday is that they obscure the work going on in the military right now on this. It obscures the fact that we have surveys that indicate our men and women in uniform have never been so confident in the sanctity, the safety, and the satisfaction with the workplace these days. But that doesn't matter. We still have an issue with sexual misconduct.
We had an internal review. We acted on it. We brought in Madam Deschamps to carry out an external review, from which she has come up with 10 recommendations, all of which we will meet the intent of. I have raised, under Lieutenant-General Whitecross, a team of 25 men and women to work on this. This work is all under way now.
I didn't ask Madam Deschamps whether we were better than we were 10 years ago. We have all kinds of indications, including retention figures with our women, which are actually better than with our men, that indicate we are much better. But that doesn't matter; we have a problem.
I didn't ask her to look backwards. I asked her to look at where we are today and how we can get better. She's come back with 10 points, all of which we will be actioning.
There were some completely inaccurate media reports, Chairman, in this respect. In order to help clarify those inaccurate reports, I would be happy to table with the committee a declassified version of the incident report that came to us from the commander of the Fredericton—or FRE—who explained that:
||...during an underway replenishment at sea, two Russian warplanes closed FRE's position and operated in airspace in the vicinity of FRE for approximately 30 minutes. The aircraft closed FRE's position one at a time at medium altitude conducting manoeuvres to demonstrate they were not carrying weapons. Thereafter, the aircraft continued to operate in the vicinity of FRE, flying at low and medium altitudes at distances that ranged from “over top” to several miles from FRE.
I'd be happy to table this. In fact, while I was aboard Fredericton last week with the , the commander and his crew showed us a recording of their radar-tracking of the Russian aircraft flying around and over the vessel in the Black Sea. There have in fact been several such instances of interaction with Russian aircraft, both in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, including most recently last week, I understand, with five such incidents in the Black Sea and five in the Baltic Sea.
I do want to underscore what I said on this matter when I was first questioned about it, I believe, in March, which is that at no time have our RCN personnel felt that the Russian aerial reconnaissance missions around and over their vessels constituted a threat. The Russian aircraft appeared to have clearly demonstrated they were not carrying weapons. I have never suggested, nor would I, that this poses a threat, but it does demonstrate that the Russian military is aware of our presence as part of the NATO assurance measures, which is the entire point of our deployment.
Yes. As I indicated in my opening statement, Chair, the Royal Canadian Air Force, as of last week, has flown over 1,000 sorties altogether. I understand that the Hornets have struck just over 100 ISIS targets. Typically, they do so in firing two munitions at each target, so I believe we've expended over 200 munitions.
I mentioned the volume of aviation fuel that has been delivered through aerial refuelling through our Polaris aircraft, and our modernized Auroras, as I was briefed when I was in the region, have been regarded as an extremely effective platform for aerial reconnaissance, which has been very rich in providing targeting information to coalition headquarters.
I could also inform the committee.... Mr. Harris, understandably, I think, for partisan political reasons, mischaracterized our visit to Erbil as a “stunt”. In fact, I think it is hugely important to actually get on the ground and to get a tactile sense of the context of what's really happening.
As for what we could see in talking to our relatively junior officers of the SOF, the forces who are actually doing the training, they were able to describe to us the kinds of tactics that they have been able to transfer to the peshmerga, the kinds of tactics that they perfected during their own operations, their Canadian operations in Afghanistan. They told us that the peshmerga who they've been dealing with are eager to learn and are very quick to pick up on the principles of the training they have received. We would infer, from the relative success of the peshmerga both defensively and offensively against ISIS in that region, that the training has been effective.
One might even go a step further and infer that it has been more effective than some of the conventional military training provided to Iraqi army units in southern Iraq, which have been, shall we say, less effective in maintaining their territory.
With respect to Operation Reassurance specifically, we will continue through the balance of 2015 to have a company-sized force of roughly 200 infantry personnel deployed in Poland. In fact the and I saw some of them. They came to Warsaw to participate in some of our events during our meetings in Poland.
The current rotation are from Madam Gallant's riding the RCRs from Garrison Petawawa and they're doing a great job. I believe they're going to be rotated out next month and replaced by a company-sized formation from the Van Doos in Valcartier. We have had as you know several CF-18 Hornets that have flown a Baltic air-policing mission over the Baltic states and they were, for part of that time at least, based in Romania. They've since been repatriated back to Canada, but we've indicated at some point in the future that if there's an opening for us to participate in Baltic air policing we would be willing to give that serious consideration, and of course the forward deployment of a frigate, the HMCS Fredericton, in the Baltic as part of NATO assurance measures currently as part of Exercise BaltOps.
In addition to the Operation Reassurance mission, there will be other very important NATO joint training exercises this summer. Exercise Trident Juncture I understand will be one of the largest NATO joint training exercises in the post-Cold War period, largely occurring in southern Europe, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. I understand that we will be deploying some 1,650 personnel through all three services to Exercise Trident Juncture, which sends another important message to others in Europe who might be forces of instability.
Finally, again outside the box of Operation Reassurance there is what we are doing in Ukraine. We have a map up on the screen, and I hope the paper copy has also been distributed. You can see Yavoriv in far west central Ukraine, which is between Lviv and the Polish border. That's where we'll have our largest training operation. We'll have approximately 200 troops doing conventional combat training, initially of national guard units, starting in full force there in September. We have the smaller more discrete training operations we'll be doing down in Kamyanets-Podilsky, the IED training. We're doing MP training, not members of Parliament but military police to be clear, around Kiev, and other operations including aerial safety training, medical training, etc. All of that will be in central or western Ukraine.