Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's great to be back.
To all members of the committee, thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you. At the outset, I want you to know that I truly anticipate and look forward to these sessions. In my role, I think it's important to be able to answer your questions and give you the information that you want, need and deserve.
Today, I will provide you with an update about Operation Impact. Our specific military activities for this operation have evolved over time, but I want you to know the aim of Operation Impact remains clear and unchanged. We are one of 79 coalition members committed to defeating Daesh and setting the conditions for security and stability in the region. As you know, Daesh has lost over 98% of the territory it once held. Almost eight million people have been liberated from their control and the coalition has trained and equipped more than 170,000 members of the Iraqi security forces.
All that to say that the coalition's efforts have been effective. Daesh's territorial control has been severely reduced. People are returning to their homes and rebuilding their lives.
The coalition is moving into a phase of stabilization. In other words, it is focusing on aiding the Government of Iraq in restoring, maintaining and establishing civil order and governance.
The fight is not over. There is more work to be done.
Daesh has moved underground. Although significantly weakened, it is likely that the group will continue to launch small-scale attacks and try to reorganize. The prevailing ideology and instability that enabled it to rise are not yet defeated. Therefore, this is not a risk-free environment, but I can assure you that the men and women on the ground, your soldiers, are well trained and carefully selected for their expertise.
We conduct rigorous planning to make sure our people have the right equipment, the right support, and the right command and control structures. In short, we ensure that they have everything they need to accomplish their tasks.
We have been gradually shifting from achieving tactical effects to setting the conditions for regional stability and security.
As we move forward, we will remain flexible to meet the evolving demands of the campaign. In the air, our Polaris tanker has enabled coalition partners to fly longer and farther, which enhances their operational effectiveness. Our C-130 Hercules aircraft have transported more than eight million pounds of cargo.
In northern Iraq, three CH-146 Griffon helicopters provide our deployed personnel with tactical airlift, transporting Canadian troops, equipment and supplies, who are conducting the train, advise and assist mission to support the ISF. Also in northern Iraq, we have led our role 2 medical facilities since October 2016. We have provided medical and dental care to over 2,500 people.
On the intelligence front, we have a team that collects, synthesizes and analyzes intelligence to support the coalition. This is used to protect our partner forces and plan operations.
In moving to more of a regional outlook, we have multiple teams working to build resilience and enable long-term security and stability. Brigadier-General Rob Delaney leads the ministerial liaison team. We took on that leadership role in 2016 and have been working to build enduring relationships with the Iraqi government. In the past year and a half, we have also increased our focus on training. Our combat engineers are delivering counter-improvised explosive device training and route clearance training to Iraqi security forces. This September, we started a training facility, called Q-West, in the north. We've trained over 500 Iraqi security forces members thus far. In Jordan and Lebanon, our training and assistance teams are working to build our partners' military capacities.
Now, I would like to take a moment to clarify a few points about our special operations forces' train, advise and assist mission. Early on during Operation Impact, special operations forces' members partnered with the Kurdish peshmerga, who were facing an immediate threat as Daesh swept over northern Iraq. In coordination with our coalition partners, we determined that we could achieve the greatest effect by working with them. Our train, advise and assist efforts enabled the Kurdish security forces to refine their skills, bolster their defences and set the stage for their participation in the Mosul operation in October 2016.
As you know, the Iraqi security forces successfully took back Mosul last summer. Canada was a key contributor to this success, in an advisory capacity at the tactical level.
As the campaign evolved—from degrading Daesh, to counterattack, to defeating their organized efforts—our partnerships have also evolved.
In order to support Iraqi-led efforts in Mosul, we partnered with select Iraqi security force units—all of which were carefully vetted.
These decisions were based on the coalition campaign requirements, and based on where our special operations forces members could provide the most effective contribution.
We continue to take that approach, working with specific Iraqi units to achieve the greatest effect in maintaining security.
Looking to the future, in addition to other activities under Operation Impact, a Canadian will lead the NATO training mission in Iraq. This mission is not a replacement of the coalition. It's complementary. Our contribution to the NATO mission includes up to 250 troops. A number of Canadians have already arrived and are setting up, and the mission is expected to start fully early in the new year. It's being led by Major-General Dany Fortin, late of commanding the 1st Canadian Division. I have great confidence in his leadership.
The NATO mission will provide training to Iraqi security forces and help Iraq build a more effective national defence and security structure. We are taking a train-the-trainer approach to create sustainable change, particularly in their educational and training institutions. Along with our allies, we'll help our Iraqi partners to develop skills in key areas like bomb disposal, combat medicine and logistics. Throughout all of it, we will place emphasis on the law of armed conflict.
To conclude, as we move forward, the Canadian Armed Forces will be contributing to both coalition and NATO efforts in the region during Operation Impact. These efforts are being well coordinated and are complementary to each other. This is a complex problem that cannot be solved by military might alone. Our efforts are part of a broader international and Government of Canada strategy, which includes humanitarian assistance, development aid and political and security sector reform.
As the conditions in Iraq and the region evolve, I will continue to work with the minister, the deputy minister, and our allies and partners to develop, execute and assess our plans. Through all of that, ladies and gentlemen, our deployed men and women are doing what they do best. They're professional, they lead and they demonstrate every day operational excellence in challenging areas of operations.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I will be very happy to take your questions.
It's a great question, sir.
I'll start off by saying that the longer I've been in the forces and in this job, the more I realize that not only are our families the strength behind the uniform, but they actually in many ways form an integral part of our operational capability. One cannot conduct operations or conceive of operations without being confident that the member is supported and stable and the family is able to continue to function.
The seamless Canada initiative is a function of a wider initiative that we've called “Canadian Forces Base Canada”, where it is clear to me and clear to the senior leadership of the armed forces that we were once entirely designed as a military to be in single-income families that thrived, that lived on bases, that lived largely a subsidized life on bases where your police force, your school, your gas station and your shopping centre were all sort of inside the wire on your base. Decisions were made some time ago for a variety of very good reasons to isolate the forces less—because we were isolated from society at that time, I think—and to be more present in communities. We are and that's good. We benefit from all of what Canadian communities offer.
Nonetheless, the one thing that didn't change was the mobile lifestyle of the military, moving from base to base around the world or across Canada. Though it's delightful to live in communities around the country, it's a challenge to pick up and move, when now we largely live in an economy and lifestyle that takes two incomes to properly raise your family, when it's not as easy to assure yourself of access to a doctor or to the childhood education that your children particularly need, particularly as you transfer between different school systems. There's also the challenge of your paycheque. You move between different tax brackets or different taxation regimes and so on.
It makes for an uneven existence for military families. It adds stress to things that even the best of MFRCs can't solve. We're investing in MFRCs and we desperately need them and we want to continue to improve and strengthen what the MFRCs do.
If I may, I'll just finish. The idea of Seamless Canada and the Canadian Forces Base Canada approach is to find ways to make that experience—where we must move—both the move itself and the experience of arriving somewhere, much less stressful.
First of all, thank you so much for being here with us today.
I would like to follow up on what my colleague said about wishing our members out there all the very best. I also would like to add that we're incredibly proud, and we appreciate not only them but their families and the sacrifice they make for their work.
I want to say that I also appreciate what you said in the last bit of your report, about our deployed men and women are doing what they do best: demonstrating their professionalism, leadership, and operational excellence in challenging areas of operations.
I know in the work that I do with the NATO Parliamentary Association, every country has nothing but praise for the men and women in uniform from Canada. I just think we should all be incredibly proud of that in this country.
As the person who has the honour of representing CFB Comox 19 Wing, I appreciate also that you talked in your report about the amazing work that the Canadian Air Force has been doing in Operation Impact. As a member who represents not only the base but the many veterans who retire in the Comox region, I certainly get a lot of calls and questions about the work that's being done, so I am grateful that you are here today.
In your report you mentioned that Daesh has lost over 98% of the territory it once held. I know that some Canadians feel very strongly that the reason the Canadian troops were there was to do that work. They're asking me questions about why we're still there. I think you did a little bit of that in the report, but could you expand on what has been going on more recently?
Thank you for the question.
It's important and I think many people would recognize the challenge from going from winning the battles and the kinetic war to securing the peace. I think the west has been somewhat criticized on different operations where we now find ourselves in that uncomfortable space between having won the clear military fight—or largely won. It's not completely won at this juncture. How do you best set conditions for peaceful resolution when the reasons underpinning the fighting in the first place had much to do with what was going on in society, in government and so on?
There is a role for the military to play in setting conditions so that effective and legitimate governance can re-emerge, and where the security sector can be reformed in such a way as to be credible to their people and serve as a useful instrument for their government in terms of the defence of their territory.
If the question is “Why are we still there?” or “What ought we be doing going forward?”, I would boil the answer down to this: We've learned lessons through a number of conflicts, including Iraq. Having won part of the challenge, one cannot easily walk away without having secured long-term peace and security, for which there is a military role but not an exclusive military role.
I suspect that many people may feel we are in this uncomfortable space between the two as we now work with the Iraqi government. They go through their elections. There are all sorts of social, political and economic things that must happen in that country to weave together the fabric of their society. We remain there to support them as they try to rebuild their defence and security sector. We also provide a measure of security. That's really how this materializes.
If I may, we also have to be ready for reversals. The bad guys always get a vote, so there isn't an element here.... It's not done and over. I think many people are accustomed to the nature of war in the past. It was over, a truce was declared or someone surrendered. Then a political process took place, new governments emerged and everything was won and set.
We're not dealing with that kind of a conflict. Therefore, we must have different answers from perhaps what we're accustomed to in terms of how to secure the peace.
It's a whole-of-government effort. To do justice to this, I would simply say that other elements of Canadian and international power beyond the military are being employed, where we are financing activities that seek to re-establish neighbourhoods and care for the people who have been displaced.
We have police on the ground—RCMP and others—to try to help them re-establish an effective police force. Remember, this country has been ravaged.
We have a diplomatic mission there that continues to engage.
The military part gets quite practical, making certain that they have good skills in mine clearance and the removal of explosive devices and remnants of war, so that as families move back into neighbourhoods, they can call on their own security forces to help them re-establish some sort of safety.
This goes all the way through to providing the best support we can, in terms of re-establishing their professionalism. They have been dealing with an emergency, so they have recruited rapidly, trained rapidly and engaged as best they could against an enemy of their state. Now they have to rebuild their state, including the institutions that we take for granted. A professional, loyal and fully trained armed forces that is ready to do the bidding of their government is something they're working towards.
They've increased in professionalism, they've increased in capability and they've done a very good job dealing with the clear and present danger: the threat of Daesh. Now they want to professionalize and return to a state of peace, with credible armed forces.
I see the white flag.
Thank you once again for your question.
I have to tell you, sir, I'm very proud of our response to that, as I am every time we respond to support Canadians. I've said it before and I'll say it again: All members of the armed forces love to support Canadians first. It's a real point of pride, when Canadians are in trouble and we are asked to support, that we can be there.
We've learned a lot over the years about how to make that faster, so we have good liaison—in this case with the Government of Quebec—and excellent work through the government operations centre, where, from the provincial level down through the ministerial level and to orders to me to act—because I cannot act in Canada without a request—and in support of other government departments, we responded.
In this case, it was with Hercules and troops to support not only the movement of Hydro-Québec and other workers onto the island, but also, which was important, to do a welfare check of individuals to support the police, not in a law enforcement role but just to make sure that everybody was okay. The time from when we were requested to think about this until we left and started doing the job was, I think, 24 hours or less.
I would say that the impact of such things as climate change or the advent of natural disasters has certainly made it clear to me.... You asked me about how we are prepared to respond. We maintain force structure. We maintain a part of the armed forces at readiness, and in some cases quite high readiness, to be able to respond to Canadians in need. We have now a process whereby we anticipate fire season, flood season and increases in the requirement for search and rescue response, depending on when people will be out on the water and land. We are then poised to respond more quickly.
It has, though, become not a case of the odd occurrence. It's now almost routine. We have, I think, for the last three years, deployed to support provinces in firefighting and managing floods. It's now becoming a routine occurrence, which it had not been in the past. We take that into consideration in terms of the force structure and employment of the reserves. I've given direction to look at developing ways to make the reserves far more capable and ready, in terms of initial response, because they are present there.
I'd be delighted. Thank you for the question.
I have given direction in writing and verbal guidance to my commanders—and that has cascaded down to the forces—to seek to be transparent and to lean into that transparency, that where there's a doubt, be transparent and communicate. I've encouraged my senior commanders—and I lead by example in this regard—to try to ensure that we answer questions and that we do that with integrity and credibility.
As it relates to Team Canada, the first job of the chain of command was to attend to the needs and care of the affected person. In consultation with that affected person, a course of action was selected. In hindsight, there was another course of action, but nonetheless a course of action was selected that ensured that our drill as it related to Operation Honour was to take care of the victim first. That was done in consultation with the victim. Decisions were made, and I was briefed on those decisions.
Thereafter, an investigation was commenced. That investigation was interrupted when the police, the NIS, commenced an investigation. That investigation, once completed, with charges laid, allowed us to recommence the administrative investigation by the RCAF. That investigation was completed. I read it. It didn't answer all my questions. I launched a more formal, detailed summary investigation led by a two-star rear-admiral not inside the air force.
That investigation, which is called a summary investigation, was completed. I read it. I still had more questions. I sent it back for more questions to be answered. It was answered. When I finished that, I made all of those reports, including my final letter, available to the media as quickly as I could, proactively, so that those who were interested and who were covering this could see what our objective was: job one, take care of the victim; job two, find out what happened; job three, ensure it never happens again. It's my responsibility. I have to make certain that it never happens again.
In the course of answering questions throughout the investigation, we answer the questions that we know to be true, but until the investigation is complete I don't know all of it. We are slower than the media because I cannot deal in maybes. I have to deal in facts. Once the investigations were complete and once the summary was complete, I proactively made them available. More importantly, I've given direction to the armed forces so that this never happens again. I am accountable for that and I take full responsibility for it. My job going forward is to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Meanwhile, there is another process, a legal process, under way with the alleged victim and assailant that will be taken care of and that I have absolutely no part in.
I believe I have been as transparent.... I believe in the transparency of this. I want people to understand what happened, and I have offered all the available information that I possibly can.
As it relates to costs, costs were offered as we went, as we knew. I think we've learned lessons in this process about how to do better. Again, it goes to I think even our procedures and that which we include in costs, including full exposure of costs. We must be prepared to do that more quickly and more readily.
At no time was there ever a decision made or advice given to deliberately mislead anybody. We gave what we had, and if it wasn't good enough and we found out more later, we gave that too. There was no effort to deliberately mislead the media—ever.
Once again, it's a great question.
The permanent destruction of ISIS in its military form and complete eradication is unlikely to ever happen. I think there will be disaffected persons who may or may not wish to conduct crimes against their state. However, as an organized credible force that could unseat government, or indeed bring harm to the state...I think they are well on their way to achieving that.
It's more serious than just Iraq. It's Iraq and Syria. The phenomenon of ISIS has spread and is spreading, and they have franchises, if you will, spreading globally.
Attacking and dealing with the ideology is not a question of the use of military force. Military forces can help set conditions. We can collect intelligence. Where necessary, we can use force to stop activities and actions by another armed group. This is really about establishing the legal and political frameworks and about supporting countries that may fail or are failing as it relates to the protection of their borders, which creates that ungoverned space that allows for organizations like ISIL to thrive.
We are involved in that actively around the world, and not just in Iraq. We are doing capacity building around the world. We are involved in intelligence gathering. We are involved across government departments in supporting and trying to prevent governments from failing in the face of these kinds of pressures.
Given where we are in the conflict right now, I think the tension and potential around the resurgence of Daesh is a real thing. That is to say, we cannot assume away anything about Daesh. They will try and are trying to recover. They could re-emerge. It's unlikely at this juncture, but they could. Even if they didn't, in the process of trying, they would cause damage, harm and fear to the population.
When you speak of climate, what I am seeing is a government seized of trying to be as inclusive as possible, including in how they appoint their ministers. The secret will be—and I'm no expert on the governance of any nation, let alone Iraq—to ensure that those grievances by any segment of the population are addressed and that what we would call “good order and government” spreads across the country, including in all manner of ethnic divisions. They also need to ensure those things that we assume to be part of good order and government: a police force that conducts itself correctly, a military that conducts itself correctly and is professionalized, a judiciary, and indeed, right up through the ministers of government. I think that is the ambition of the Government of Iraq. That's what I'm seeing.
I think we're at the stage where that ambition needs to be supported. That is what they are asking for, the support to do that. It remains to be seen how smoothly that will be implemented, how successfully it will be implemented, but I believe that there is great reason for assessing the climate to be positive in that regard.
We're proud of the mission, too. I think we responded very quickly and we put the right troops on the ground to do the right thing at the right time. I think we continue to evolve that mission, ensuring that we, as best as we can, meet the training needs of the Ukrainian forces. I'm proud of them too, sir, and thank you for mentioning that.
I don't think it's a premise, but one thing you said I just can't let stand because it's of material importance. They are a NATO partner and not a NATO ally. It might not mean a lot to some people, but I have to tell you it means a great deal when you're dealing with the specifics of the use of military force.
That said, they have acquitted themselves very well and they are geographically positioned in such a way that I understand completely what you mean by that, that they are indeed on the eastern flank of the alliance, and that's, I think, one of the reasons Canada is so supportive of them.
Ukraine and their forces need to continue to evolve, and I think we have learned from them. One of the great things that happens when you have the privilege of working with other forces in a train, advise and assist role is that it's not all one way. You learn about their culture, about what worries them, and you learn a bit about what they are dealing with. We have indeed learned lots from them.
I'm going to go quickly. You've asked a lot there, and all of what you just asked are things I am deeply engaged in. I would love to give you a more fulsome answer, and perhaps we can do it another time.
What I will say is, number one, our recruitment is going well. We have experienced net growth in the armed forces since 2015, and we are now just shy of 600 short of our pay ceiling. Before, we've been some thousands short. Recruiting is going well and retention is going better, but we're not where we want to be, because we have to grow. We have a mandate to grow the armed forces, and there is a cadence of growth that we must achieve.
My job is to ensure, on a strategic horizon, that the armed forces is fit and that it's the correct instrument for the Government of Canada for the conflicts that will come in the future. The armed forces is as it is today. My team and I manage as best we can dealing with the problems of today as they relate to the changes we must undertake.
We must attract and recruit from a broader segment of Canadian society. We want diversity not simply for the sake of diversity. We want to be able to take full advantage in a competitive world where we want the best, whether it's physical, mental or any other skill sets that you possess. We want to select from the best that Canadians have to offer to be able to field that in the conflicts of the future. I spend an awful lot of my time working on building the conditions, setting the conditions for an armed forces that will acquit itself well in the future, in the 20- to 50-year horizon. To attract and appeal to a wider segment of the Canadian population—the entire Canadian population—is very much what this is about.
We must be able to fight the fights that will come in the future. That means a changing skill set. I've said this before. It's not simply going to be the old style of military on military. We must be competent in cyberspace. We must be competent in the information space. We must be competent in all manner of technical capacity to prevail in the future. It's about being credible as a combat force in the future.
Mr. Chair, thank you very much.
General Vance, it's great to be with you. Thank you for your service and, through you, I'd like to thank all members of the Canadian Forces for their tremendous work and service.
Operation Impact is a mission with which this committee has been seized from the outset of this parliamentary mandate. Iraq is a case that's near and dear to my heart, having had the chance to serve for just under seven years with the political wing of the U.N. mission there. One of the issues that we were seized with at the time was the question of the status of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. As we all know, we have very strong relationships to Iraq's north, commercial, cultural and otherwise.
I'm wondering if you can give us your sense of how the relationship between the federal government of Iraq and the Kurdistan region is currently evolving. Do you see any risk points? At one point, there was heightened risk of military tensions between the federal centre and the Kurdistan region. I think that's substantially diminished, but I'd like to hear your views on that.
Then, if you could cast a regional lens on that from a military security perspective, where do you see the Kurdish nation and its aspirations and plans in 2018?
It's a great question. None of these places where we work are easy to understand, let alone easy to fix, and that's probably why they had the problem in the first place. In this case, it's very clear that Iran is an actor. It's an interested party and, in some cases, a malign agent in Iraq.
That said, the PMF and Shia militia forces did help with the destruction of Daesh. We never worked with them, and I gave orders that we would be entirely deconflicted with anything that they were involved with. We don't do any train, advise and assist. We did no fire support. We did nothing with those forces. That said, it is up to the Government of Iraq, sir, to decide on its go-ahead relationship. It's not up to us.
We train, advise and assist in the NATO mission, and in the current mission we're in, in Erbil, we are dealing with vetted, approved Iraqi security forces. I want to assure you of that. These are not PMF forces. They are not Shia militia. They are bona fide, enrolled, recruited Iraqi security forces.
I think it is really a question for you, or an issue for you and other political leaders and foreign affairs departments to determine what posture we take as we go forward in supporting Iraq to become the Iraq that it wants to be.
There are. I think, broadly speaking, we need to be very conscious as we make decisions, whether it's going through lean years where budgets are reduced, or rich years where budgets are going up, to pay down the people part first. We haven't always done that.
We've tried to maintain a balance to ensure we have operational output, which is good. Nobody has ever made a bad decision, but as we make those decisions over time there is a gradual erosion of support to people. The medical system—you cut a few here. The personnel management system—you cut a few here.
Over time, as we arrived at the work we did to put advice before the minister on the defence policy, I arrived very firmly at the conclusion that we've eroded too far. We had processes in place that were largely designed to be so balanced as to sometimes be unfair to the people. Actions that were designed to find efficiencies and all of that bureaucratic language ended up meaning you're going to do it to the troops. It was never intended, nobody ever does that on purpose, and no individual act did it. I'm not blaming anybody.
However, I think it's fair to say that as we look back there has been an erosion of the power and support that we have to support our people and their families. I believe that we need to pay that down first—the certainly does—and that's where the policy is. From a compensation and benefits review, to how your career is managed, to what type of a career path you can have, all of that, I think we have to ensure that our human capital is in great shape first, before we start using it. As the military does, you employ people to get things done. Let's make certain they're good before we do that.
I think what I've done as a result of that policy is to be able to sponsor a bit more of an emphasis on the people and their families, at least in what I would consider to be a less pejorative balance as it relates to other things that we might do in terms of their operations and procurement and all the rest of it.