Good afternoon, Madam Chair, honourable members.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear today alongside Major-General Paul and my colleagues from Global Affairs Canada to provide you with up-to-date information on Operation Impact.
I commend the committee for wanting to learn more about this complex, rapidly evolving mission on behalf of Canadians and I am eager to provide whatever clarity and understanding that I can from my perspective as the operational commander.
Before taking your questions, I'd like to briefly address three points to help frame the discussion.
First, I'll describe my role as the commander of Canada's joint operations command and what topics I can and cannot speak to from that position.
Second, I'll speak to different elements of Operation Impact, as described by Major-General Paul, and clarify which are under my direct command and control and which are not.
Third, I will provide you with an update on the latest developments on the ground, what's been happening there and where I believe the mission is headed in the near run.
Let's talk about my role as Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC). First, regarding my roles and responsibilities, let me say that I work on behalf of the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Vance, to provide leadership and alignment of over 20 Canadian Armed Forces operations at home and around the world.
I do not get to pick which operations I command or the ends they are meant to achieve. These are given to me through chief of the defence staff direction, which is in turn shaped by Government of Canada policy.
Within that context, I'd be more than pleased to speak to you, at a level of detail that does not risk the security of our military capabilities or deployed personnel, about how the forces under my command are executing Operation Impact, as it was assigned to me.
There are currently up to 850 military personnel assigned to Op Impact and, as Major-General Paul noted, these forces are divided into three parts. There is our U.S.-led coalition conducting Operation Inherent Resolve. The second one is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's mission in Iraq, commonly referred to as NMI. Third, there are two Canadian training and assistance teams, CTATs, that are deployed to Jordan and Lebanon. In the discussion, we sometimes lose sight of these Jordan and Lebanon elements when we talk about Operation Impact. We tend to focus exclusively on Iraq, but it's a regional piece.
The defined joint operations area for this operation includes the countries of Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It is important that the committee understand that, while I am ultimately responsible for all Op Impact personnel from a national perspective, I do not exercise daily command and control of all of these elements. Specifically, although the NATO training mission in Iraq is currently led by a Canadian officer, Major-General Carignan, she and the approximately 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel working in NMI answer to a NATO chain of command and not to the Canadian chain of command. In addition, the majority of activities conducted by Canadian special operations forces in Iraq are commanded by the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.
Let me now go over an operational update.
Now, Madam Chair, having clarified those few points, allow me to provide you with a quick overview of the situation on the ground for Operation Impact, which remains somewhat fluid, particularly in Iraq.
Currently, most of the enhanced force protection measures that we put in place following the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3—including the pause in training operations and the relocation of Canadian personnel—remain in place.
Nevertheless, despite ongoing tension and uncertainty, the multinational commitment to defeating Daesh remains, and military operations are gradually returning to normal.
Under coalition leadership, joint military operations against Daesh have resumed, and I have authorized the redeployment of certain Canadian personnel from Canada to Kuwait in anticipation of moving them into Iraq in the coming days to ultimately resume their training mission as the situation permits. To be clear, these moves are conditions-based, not time-based, and I cannot predict exactly when the resumption will take place.
A very short few days ago, it appeared that we would be in a position to resume operations imminently, but now the latest source of uncertainty affecting the timeline of the mission is the spread of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. I can assure you that we are monitoring the situation closely, taking steps to protect our personnel and maintaining the operational flexibility to get back to our core business as soon as the situation allows.
In looking ahead, at this point, as a result of force protection and various other considerations, the immediate future of Operation Impact is not clear. However, what is clear is that the operational mandate to support the coalition and NMI and to conduct capacity building in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon extends until March 31, 2021. I intend to do everything with my team and within our capacity to fulfill that mandate until the CDS directs me otherwise.
I've been very fortunate to witness the Canadian Armed Forces and their partners make tremendous progress against Daesh over the past few years. I got promoted to general in 2014. Shortly thereafter, when I was commanding, we put special forces into Iraq, so I've personally been involved in this mission since September of 2014 as a commander of either a special forces command or, now, CJOC.
We now find ourselves in a crucial phase of the mission where, having helped defeat Daesh militarily, we must now help consolidate that defeat and ensure that Daesh cannot return. Achieving this will require a nuanced understanding of various regional dynamics and close collaboration with civilian partners. It will also require strong leadership on the ground, along with flexibility and agility to respond to challenges and changing circumstances.
I am proud to say that the commanders and forces under my command exhibit all these qualities. I saw these on display in early January as we successfully adapted to the very rapid changes on January 3, as a result of the strike, to protect our forces and preserve our operational capabilities.
If we can retain this level of leadership and collaboration going forward in Operation Impact, then Canada will continue to make a contribution we can be proud of.
I thank you for your time and welcome any questions you may have.