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.