Interventions in Committee
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View Jason Kenney Profile
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, Prime Minister Harper 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 Prime Minister'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 Prime Minister 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.
View Jason Kenney Profile
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 Prime Minister, 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.
View Jason Kenney Profile
In this respect, Mr. Chairman, I had been advised that the Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornets carried a kind of precision-guided munition that only the United States Air Force was carrying into missions in Syria. I reflected in my public comments the advice I'd received.
I regret that we subsequently learned, I was subsequently briefed, that the information was not accurate, that there were at least some of the Middle Eastern Arab air forces carrying dynamic precision-guided munitions on their sorties over ISIL targets in Syria. I regret that I had misinformed the House, and I have apologized for that.
View Jason Kenney Profile
Mr. Chairman, the units of the Ukrainian military that will be trained at the Yavoriv training centre jointly by Canadian and American trainers, starting this summer and fall, will initially be national guard units and then eventually, we believe, Ukrainian army regular units of a battalion size during each rotation. They will be selected and screened by the Ukrainian government, and both the American and Canadian militaries will also be screening those referred to us for the training units to ensure that they are not proponents of extremist ideologies.
I think you may be referring to one media report. A militia group, I gather, is being incorporated into the Ukrainian national guard, one portion of which, I gather, one company's element of which, has extremist views. We will not train those individuals. We have been absolutely clear about that, as has the United States and the Ukrainian military. Let me be uncategorical about this: we will not be involved in training that unit.
View Jason Kenney Profile
Mr. Chairman, the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence authorize their own movements. In terms of the additional special operations forces who are deployed there, they were there as a close personal protection unit, which is one of the functions for which they are trained. It's part of their mandate.
The Prime Minister and I, for example, also visited the two Canadian air force bases out of which we are operating in Kuwait and would normally, going on a military visit of that nature to that region, have soft protection as a part of close personal protection. That would be the normal protocol, I believe. As I understand it, we were not, as you characterized it, Mr. Harris, “on the front line”. The forward line of the Kurdish peshmerga troops was ahead of us. We thought it was important, however, that we, as the Government of Canada, demonstrate our support for both our forces operating in the region and our Kurdish allies, and to demonstrate a message of resolve. I believe it was well appreciated.
View Jason Kenney Profile
We do not have.... The answer is “neither”. It's a classic leading question, as you'll know, counsel.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Jason Kenney: We do not have an independent strategy, nor are we just tagging along. We are part of the coalition, that is, part of a coalition strategy that's there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. The lead countries in that coalition are the sovereign Republic of Iraq and the United States, which is coordinating coalition efforts.
Our chief has participated in the chief of defence staff meetings with his counterparts to discuss and provide input to strategy. I've offered our views to U.S. Secretary of Defense Carter and many of my European counterparts whose forces are involved in the coalition. We met with Prime Minister al-Abadi in Baghdad about precisely this point.
You I think have mischaracterized the degree of our diplomatic presence in Iraq. In fact, Ambassador Saccomani, who, yes, is normally resident in Amman, has spent an enormous amount of time developing connections and connecting with officials in both Baghdad and Erbil, so I think we've been a meaningful presence in the international coalition meetings and military strategy, and that is what has helped to define our deployment in Operation Impact.
View Jason Kenney Profile
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.
View Jason Kenney Profile
I would describe this, like any military operation or conflict, as being complex. We should never expect an operation like this to move in one simple straight line. There are always going to be advances and setbacks, but fundamentally, it has gone in the right direction since international forces came to bear last October, including those of the Canadian military. Since that time, as I've said, according to the United States, and factually, according to the maps, ISIS has lost control of about 25% to 30% of the territory it controlled last August.
I guess what you could say to your constituents is that we're on the right side of this. We're certainly on the right side of history, the right side of human dignity in defending the vulnerable minorities who have fled the Nineveh plains to behind the Kurdish lines. We are defending the Iraqi people at the invitation of the Government of Iraq. We are defending Canada and its security interests against this genocidal death cult that has declared hostility to this country, that inspired at least two terror attacks on our own soil last year, and that has radicalized and recruited well over 100 Canadians to join its dystopian campaign to create this kind of seventh century caliphate that regards women as property and minorities as fodder for genocide.
I think it would be grossly irresponsible for Canada, in such a context, in such a conflict, to allow our historical allies to do all of the fighting for us. That would be completely inconsistent with our history, our identity, and our role as a responsible international partner.
View Jason Kenney Profile
It's extraordinarily high. I must say, I've had the privilege of being Minister of National Defence for only a few months, since February. Since that time, everywhere I've gone, to domestic bases or abroad, I have truly been impressed by the morale of the men and women in uniform.
I'll be honest, I did not expect to find how boastful they are about much of the equipment they have, including the modernized and new equipment. I could see that on HMCS Fredericton last week, and HMCS Calgary, one of our modernized frigates, during Exercise Trident Fury off the west coast last month. I could see it with C-17 crews when I received our fifth Globemaster at CFB Trenton. The maintenance crews were boasting about the new maintenance hangar they have down there. That kind of thing doesn't get a lot of media attention but is the core of operational effectiveness. I could see it in Exercise Maple Resolve in CFB Wainwright a couple of weeks ago, when I attended live-fire exercises jointly conducted by the Van Doos and the Lord Strathcona's Horse tank operators.
Everywhere I go I see a sense that they are pleased with the equipment they have, the kinds of important missions they have around the world, the training opportunities. It's hard to make an objective read of that. Of course, there must be people out there who are dissatisfied. In a big organization that will always be the case, but so far in my first four months I have not encountered them.
View Jason Kenney Profile
Sorry, Mr. Chair, I'm not entirely clear on the question but I reject its premise.
View Jason Kenney Profile
There is and must be no tolerance, nor any excuses offered for sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, particularly in an organization such as the Canadian military, which is based on the concepts of honour and professionalism.
View Jason Kenney Profile
The Prime Minister reflected the government's view on this during question period. The general has apologized for his remarks before you repeatedly here today. He has retracted them. I think we can all agree that there must be no expression or even implication of any kind of excuse for sexual misconduct in a public institution such as the Canadian Armed Forces.
View Jason Kenney Profile
Before the general.... I don't know if he has a figure. I don't have a figure, but I would say that the context would be comparable and the cost probably comparable to Prime Minister Martin flying to Sri Lanka to visit the Canadian Armed Forces' disaster assistance response team, to Prime Minister Chrétien flying to Bosnia to visit the Canadian army deployment as part of the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia—
View Jason Kenney Profile
—to Prime Minister Mackenzie King visiting Canadian troops deployed in Europe, to other heads of government who visit their troops in the field as a regular expression of public solidarity for the work their militaries do.
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