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

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Thank you, General.

I have finished, Madam Chair.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Mr. Bachrach.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Taylor Bachrach NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you for being here today. I'd like to echo the comments of my colleague in thanking you for your service. If you could convey that to the men and women who also work on behalf of our country it would be much appreciated.

My question has to do with your remarks at the beginning about military operations gradually returning to normal. I'm curious if you could inform the committee as to whether the scope of the mission has remained the same, and whether changes to the scope would be required to ensure its success moving forward.

4 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

From the ground up, if you will, the scope has not changed. The essential fabric of the mandate is absolutely as it was, and that is to stabilize the region, to improve security, to assist with other partners in inclusive governance and to isolate and counter the VEO threat. From an Operation Inherent Resolve perspective, again it's unchanged: degrade Daesh, enable Government of Iraq security and governance—OIR does the same for Syrian security and governance—and finally, to provide for partner nation defence.

There has been no change to the core mandate. Of course, all of the activities were suspended immediately after the strike, because we were very uncertain of what was happening on the ground. I implemented a full stop. We call it “get in the squat”. It's a “hunker down, look out to make sure you're not going to be attacked and defend yourself” sort of thing. In the days that immediately followed, we started repositioning non-essential people out of Iraq into Kuwait to minimize the footprint of how many people were in certain locations if other missiles were going to be launched. I can say that staying in the squat only lasted for a number of days for the Lebanon and Jordan missions, and then I allowed them to resume their core training. In Iraq, we remained in that posture. At the end of January, the chief of the defence staff for Iraq sent a letter to the coalition saying they were prepared to have us resume counter-Daesh operations.

I would hasten to add that, while we were not helping the Iraqis, they were prosecuting certain counter-Daesh operations alone, which is in itself a metric for some success that we should all be reminded of.

There has been limited work that has recommenced in the counter-Daesh space since the end of January, but we are still not in the space where we have recommenced core training and capacity building. That remains suspended for the time being.

4 p.m.

NDP

Taylor Bachrach NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

If I may, you mentioned one measure of success. I'm wondering if you could expand a little on what other measures of success you look at when evaluating the impact of the overall operation.

4 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

In my headquarters, we've put an emphasis on our ability to measure and adjust, and we're wrapping our heads around exactly what that means. I am hopeful that in the next six months we'll start to see the fruit of some of that renewed focus, not just focusing on the execution but actually assessing what we're doing and and adjusting.

Here are a few examples. In Lebanon, we have trained the Lebanese forces to operate in winter environments, and there has been a clear enabling of their ability to do that in the Beqaa Valley. We were training ISF in Qayyarah West on wide area security tasks and we have worked ourselves out of a job. In the next three months, it'll be done. We've trained the Iraqis and they will now train themselves. Just this week, the Iraqis conducted a mission in Anbar province, where 1,000 Iraqi security forces operated in Anbar to root out elements of Daesh. That was an exclusively Iraqi mission. We have the female engagement team in Jordan, which has clearly elevated the Jordanian armed forces' ability to assimilate, adequately train and leverage female troops.

Those are just a few touch points.

4 p.m.

NDP

Taylor Bachrach NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Madam Gallant.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Turkey's difficult relationship with the rest of NATO and its relationship with Russia are complicating factors to operations in the region. How has that impacted, if at all, our ability establish the conditions for peace and stability in the region?

4 p.m.

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

Sandra McCardell

Certainly, the situation that has brought Turkey into this question around Operation Impact is, of course, the situation in Syria, specifically in Idlib. Certainly, there have been discussions under way at NATO to look at how that organization can work with Turkey.

There have been many challenges. I think you will recall that when Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring into northeast Syria, Canada responded to that and criticized Turkey, as did many of our like-minded colleagues. Obviously, the situation has evolved since then, and with the number of migrants Turkey has taken in and is supporting in Turkey, clearly they have engaged in an effort to protect their borders.

How it has engaged with Russia to do that has resulted in a ceasefire. While we welcome any step that will end the violence against civilians in Syria and Idlib, that ceasefire does not give confidence that we will be enduring the efforts to bring the direct confrontation between Syria and Turkey to a close. It was much more about the relationship between Russia and Syria than it was about the civilians of Idlib.

While we've welcomed that step thus far, we're not certain how long it will last. We can remain committed to the political process led by the UN, although many are frustrated by the lack of progress on that track. We will continue to work strongly with our NATO allies, but we're very conscious of the suffering of the civilians in Syria.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Then it's not going to have an impact on what our women and men over there are doing.

4:05 p.m.

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

Sandra McCardell

I will leave that part for the general to respond to.

4:05 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

From my perspective, with regard to the forces I command in Iraq, there's no material impact to the business we're doing in Iraq because of what's happening in Idlib. At the operational level, I am not feeling that at this time.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

While the terrorists have been diminished, they're still there and they're putting up a more ferocious counterattack now that they are being smoked out. Apparently the United States had its first casualties as a consequence of the heightened work that's being done to get rid of the terrorists.

How is Canada preparing the Iraqi military for the counterterrorism and counter-insurgency tactics that will be required to permanently destroy them?

4:05 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

I would just disagree a little with the premise of the question in the sense that these are not the first casualties the U.S. has taken in the fight against Daesh. There have been troops killed in action before this. I think it just broke in the open press a couple of hours ago that the U.S. had suffered two killed in action in a counter-Daesh operation in the area of the Hamrin mountains just to the west of Kirkuk. We're tracking that.

How are we helping them from a counterterrorism perspective? I would say that's the work of, very specifically, Canada's special forces command working with the wider coalition special forces organization, which is doing train, advise and assist work with Iraqi special forces or special-purpose forces to train them in the best practices and the best tactics, techniques and procedures, and on how to conduct the right sorts of operations based on strong intelligence, strong governance of the mission and strong application of the laws of armed conflict regarding how you use force in those situations.

Broader than that, general purpose forces are contributing at some level in the small “c”, small “t” counterterrorism by trying to elevate the rest of the Iraqi security force capability to a higher level. It takes more than just a small group of special forces people, ultimately, to get through this problem. It takes aircraft, helicopters, medical people and a whole enterprise behind those folks. We're contributing in that sense.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Are our forces—

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

I'm afraid that's it.

Mr. Robillard, you have the floor.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Good afternoon.

Thank you for coming to share some quite important things with us.

I understand that, following the NATO ministerial meeting on defence, progress has been made with respect to our training mission in Iraq. Can you explain the next steps from now on?

4:05 p.m.

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

MGen Jocelyn Paul

Thank you for your question.

Indeed, when we had the NATO ministerial meeting, the ministers agreed in principle to continue with the first part. This is what we call stage 1 of the expansion of the NATO mission in Iraq.

Right now, in terms of NATO, military staffs are looking at what training activities currently conducted by the coalition could be carried out under the NATO umbrella with short and medium notice.

So the staffs are looking at all that. This is being done in close co-operation with the Iraqi government. The acting Prime Minister has agreed that NATO will continue to work in this area in co-operation with his government. That's stage 1.

The strategic staffs are having discussions at NATO with respect to stage 2. What training activities beyond NATO's current mandate could it possibly take on in the future? Right now, in terms of stage 2, we are at the discussion stage.

NATO military staffs, in co-operation with the various missions, are studying the whole thing. The result of the deliberations will be presented at the next meeting of NATO ministers of Foreign Affairs, which will take place in early April, if I am not mistaken.

A report will therefore be provided to the various ministers. We will then continue to do some planning in terms of time and space. There will certainly be a follow-up at the ministerial meeting of defence ministers, which is scheduled for June.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

What are our troops doing right now?

4:10 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

Thank you for your question.

Mr. Robillard, we have sent some troops back to Canada. Even though there were troops who had two weeks left on normal rotations, they were sent back to Canada and told that it was over.

The troops that were supposed to replace those troops were kept in Canada. Recently, they were sent to Kuwait because we thought the time was right to send them to Iraq. The troops in Iraq have stayed there, and they are helping to protect our areas. Our vehicles need to be maintained and they need to move. We have to maintain all the logistics, as well as contacts with our Iraqi and coalition partners.

So the few troops left in Iraq are working. In addition, the troops in Kuwait are doing their normal work. People are busy. The troops that remain to carry out the training mission will be sent to Iraq as soon as the conditions are right.

March 9th, 2020 / 4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

I have one last question.

If possible, could you comment on the role of Major-General Carignan as commander of the NATO mission in Iraq? She's one of the highest ranking women in the Canadian Armed Forces, isn't she?

4:10 p.m.

Commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Department of National Defence

LGen Mike Rouleau

Major-General Carignan is the commander of the NATO training mission in Iraq. Like Major-General Fortin before her, she commands all NATO forces working in Iraq to carry out the NATO mission in Iraq. She is a tactical commander of the approximately 100 forces working in Iraq. That's absolutely true.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Mr. Dowdall.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I, too, would like to echo the earlier comments. Thank you for being here today. This is my first committee meeting, so I'm honoured to have you here as guests and to hear these updates today. I want to also thank you for allowing us the freedoms we have here in this country. Hopefully, one day other countries can enjoy what we have here, so thank you very much.

Was there anytime during this mission that any of our Canadian soldiers might have felt they were lacking the tools necessary to do their jobs? Was there anything we could have done from an organizational perspective to be more effective in our role?