Evidence of meeting #2 for National Defence in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was daesh.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jocelyn Paul  Director General, International Security Policy, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, Department of National Defence
Mike Rouleau  Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence
Sandra McCardell  Director General, Middle East, Middle East Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

4:30 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

There are in the order of 70,000 PMF Shia militia groups. There's a significant number of them. The ones that concern us the most number about 30,000, groups like Kataib Hezbollah and those sorts of groups that are very closely aligned with Iran. They are a very big concern. In fact, they're my number one concern. At the moment, relative to force protection, I am more concerned about that swath of Shia militia groups than I necessarily am about Daesh, because Daesh has been defeated militarily. They're off balance. They're reorganizing. They're spending time on themselves more than they are spending time on attack planning.

These Shia militia groups that we're concerned about are very well equipped. They have tube artillery. They have multiple launch rocket systems and armed UAVs. They have air defence equipment. They are equipped. They are a proto-state entity equipped like a state military, so yes, I'm very concerned about them, but we're monitoring very closely from an intelligence perspective what their intent is.

We know what their capabilities are, and when you add capability and intent, you have the probability of something happening. They have been muted since the attacks and since the U.S. threat that, if any coalition or U.S. serviceperson dies at the hands of these groups, there will be an outsized response. That has muted somewhat the potential, but on the ground we are taking every possible precaution to make sure that we're safeguarded against that threat that I just described and not just a light fighting Daesh threat. We're paying very close attention to this.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

General, when you first went over to Iraq, it was to work with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Are any of those relationships still ongoing? They definitely did their job in securing the north. Canada can take a big pat on the back for helping them out in that process, but is Operation Inherent Resolve still working with the Peshmerga, or have they been left by the wayside ever since their separation vote?

4:30 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

I would echo your comments. The Kurds led the fight, and we helped them at the time and, you know, the Barzanis and the rest of it. We enjoyed a special relationship with them over the four-plus years that we fought alongside them and advised and assisted to push ISIS back.

The first time I went there, they were 900 metres from the Kurdish trench lines, and then they were pushed off and into a plain. Then they were pushed out of the city of Mosul. It has been an amazing thing to watch, and the Kurds deserve a great deal of credit for that.

The relationships that we enjoyed with the Kurds have not evaporated. They still exist, and I think are paid into from time to time with personal contact and can be mobilized, but I don't know specifically what actual relationships CANSOFCON keeps on a week-to-week basis with KSF. We could find that out, sir, if you wanted that as a follow-up.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

I'd love to find out how things are going.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

Go ahead, Mr. Bagnell.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Thank you very much.

As all the other members have said, thank you very much for your service. I was on the defence committee about a dozen years ago, and it has been tremendous what you have done for our country.

Just before I ask my question, you said we don't talk about what we do in Lebanon and Jordan, so go ahead.

4:30 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:30 p.m.

Director General, International Security Policy, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, Department of National Defence

MGen Jocelyn Paul

Thank you for your great question.

Actually, what we do in both countries is not only focus on the military instrument. Under the other line of operation, there are great effects being delivered by the Canadian government. If I can make some links here, we were talking earlier about refugees. Through our programs, there are a lot of refugee children who are given access to school when they're living in Lebanon or Jordan. This is a very good example of what we're doing.

With respect to Lebanon, we've been training them in terms of a winter type of environment. We've been making some interesting segues out there. Also, if I'm not mistaken, we ended up delivering a bit of medical training, but I don't want to go too much into the details. General Rouleau masters that much more than I do.

Project management is a key aspect of it. Right now we're working, for instance, on additional projects in Jordan aimed at increasing the level of security inside the country. We are still studying what these projects can be, but this is something we're working on hand in hand with our Global Affairs colleagues. It's a mix of infrastructure, training and specific military training, and on that, maybe General Rouleau can expand a little.

4:35 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

Today we have about 40 people in Lebanon and just under 30 in Jordan. That's today, but these numbers flex. The thing I would point out is that for all of these environments, whether it's Iraq, Jordan or Lebanon, they're never static. They're always evolving.

When we think of the work we're doing in Lebanon and Jordan, in Jordan we have a combat service support training team that is there. We have a female engagement team element there. We just wrapped up chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear TTP work with CBRN specialists. In Lebanon, we're doing a logistics enhancement piece so that they can better sustain their force further back from the front, if you will. It's more of an institutional sustainment thing. Also, of course, there's the winter training.

When we think about what we're doing there, we're really enhancing the security and promoting increased security capacity in these countries. That's what we're doing. We're fundamentally trying to increase the depth and, in some cases, the capabilities, but we can't think of this training in terms of just people.

It takes people and expertise to train another military to do something, but those people need to have the right permissions and authorities from people like the CDS and me to make sure that they can adjust on the ground and do the things they have to do. Also, we need access to funds and resources in many cases to help enable that training and to buy things or build things. It's a system that comes together in order to be able to do this.

I would close by saying that we send young people on these missions, people with, in some cases, very little operational experience. We've reduced a bit the ranks that we're sending there to try to empower the youth a little more and to try to husband some of our key ranks for the long run. These young people step up and they do a great job with it. I'm proud of what they're doing.

Thank you, sir.

4:35 p.m.

Director General, International Security Policy, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, Department of National Defence

MGen Jocelyn Paul

If I may give you an additional example, it's not only about sending Canadian soldiers abroad. It's also about bringing some of these people to Canada.

One of the programs that is falling under my purview is the military training capacity program. In Saint-Jean, Quebec, at the military base there, we have people from the regions coming to Canada to learn French and English, so obviously we are enhancing the operational capability of our allies in the regions.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Mr. Bezan.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Dowdall was wanting to know about the report you referenced, Ms. McCardell. It was on what exactly?

March 9th, 2020 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

There was a question on the other side about what you could say to your residents about the improvements that have been made in that area. It would be nice if we could get a copy of that.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

If you can share that with me, that would be great.

I'm intrigued, General Rouleau, by your comments on the concern about the Shia militia that are being armed up and trained by the Quds Force. What role do they have right now in Iraq? There's no question that they played a part in getting rid of ISIS, but what's their long-term strategy there? Who is their support? Is it the Iranian government or is it the Iraqi government?

4:35 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

Thank you for the question.

I'd respectfully say that's beyond my purview and operational command.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Perhaps Global Affairs might want to shed some light on any concerns they have with that evolving situation.

4:35 p.m.

Director General, Middle East, Middle East Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

Sandra McCardell

Thank you.

If I may say so, “evolving” is probably the key word for this. As the general alluded to earlier, a few months ago we saw demonstrations in Iraq. They were cross-sectarian and, quite frankly, in those, consular generals of the Iranian government were attacked. That is just to say that there are many Iraqis who have been frustrated and resentful of the foreign influence in their country and who have been disappointed by what their government has provided them in terms of both the unity and coherence of the structure and also the ability to deliver the services they are expecting.

What we have seen more recently, particularly since the killing of Qasem Soleimani, is that there has been pressure to return again to sectarian camps a bit, compared with what we had seen before, which was much more of a unified demand on the government to govern appropriately.

How it will go from here remains to be seen. I think there is a need at this point to select a prime minister who can run the country. The country has been under a caretaker prime minister for several months now, and the most recent candidate was unable to form a government. I think that speaks to the profound differences you're seeing in the parliament itself.

Going forward what will Iran try to do in Iraq? Obviously, there are many people who can speculate on that. What I will say is that clearly Iran is in difficulty right now. The economic situation, as you're likely aware, is very poor. A number of very strict sanctions have been put in place by the American government. The joint comprehensive plan of action, which was to contain the nuclear program of Iran, is currently under a dispute resolution mechanism because of a lack of compliance by Iran. Finally, as the news will tell you every morning, the situation with coronavirus is a very grave domestic health concern for the Iranian government.

If I may close where I began, the situation is very much evolving, and I think it will need to be watched. Certainly, there will continue to be a need for Operation Impact and also for the work we're doing on the development and humanitarian fronts across the region.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

On the NATO mission in Iraq, as that winds down, are the Canadians going to be handing off leadership of that operation to some other NATO member?

4:40 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

Yes, sir. I can tell you our commander is going to be there until December 2020 and General Carignan is going to hand off to the Danes, I think, to Denmark, at that time.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Will Canada still be involved in the mission and stay on?

4:40 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

Yes, sir, we will. There will be some adjustments to what we committed to when we commanded the mission—the helicopters, the additional three helicopters in Taji and the force protection company in Baghdad. We will take a fresh look at all of our commitments in light of no longer having command and maybe make some local adjustments.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Ms. Vandenbeld.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thanks very much.

I would like to echo the words of my colleagues in terms of thanks for your service and the service of our women and men who are over there, and also for the answers you are giving today and the information you are providing, which I think is very helpful to the committee.

Something that has been mentioned is that even with the suspension, within days and certainly now, a number of the core training activities have continued. We spoke about Jordan and Lebanon and the Canadian training advisory teams.

You mentioned the female engagement training that's happening in Jordan. As we know, Canada is committed to the action plan on women, peace and security. We have a woman, Major-General Carignan, who is the commander of the NATO mission.

Can you tell us a little more about what is happening in terms of training the women in Jordan and whether or not there's a cascade effect to that training? I understand we're training trainers who are then going out and training others.

4:40 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

I can't speak in excruciating detail about that. I command 20 missions and that is one small part of one mission, but when I was there a month or two ago, I sat and had lunch with our officer who is in charge of the FET element, a PPCLI lieutenant, and I walked away very impressed.

She is mentoring a platoon of Jordanian females and mentoring them in their ability to wage essential combat arms and basic infantry tactics. They are taking well to it. It's a bit of a slow thing, the progress we're going to be able to make, because a lot of these militaries are not as advanced as the Canadian Armed Forces are. They have pressing concerns in many areas, so our ability to influence that one particular area that you speak of might not always advance as quickly as we would want, and in all capacity building, we can't foist on them what they don't want or what they don't need. In fact, it should be quite the opposite, where we're addressing their challenge areas.

This is one of those cases where we are and it's going to progress. We're going to keep pushing, but ultimately we will progress at the speed the Jordanians decide on. It's off to a good start. We're sending good people and we're making good progress.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

What would you say are the advantages of having women in the military and having women as part of these missions? Are there advantages in terms of the actual operation of the missions and successful outcomes?