The first woman to command a combat unit in the history of the Canadian Armed Forces, Jennie Carignan is not on her first mission in a war zone abroad. A mother of four, the 50-year-old has served in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Golan Heights and Afghanistan, the former Taliban stronghold.
But the one that most recently commanded the 2nd Canadian Division and the Joint Task Force East, which notably intervened with the flood victims in Quebec last spring, has no illusions:
The great lesson I learned from my previous missions is that we should never take anything for granted and never think we have seen everything. We must keep a certain modesty in the face of (new) situations.
Strengthen the Iraqi forces
The mission it will lead was put in place just one year ago by another senior Canadian, Major-General Dany Fortin, with the goal of training and strengthening the military capabilities of the Iraqi forces. General Carignan will oversee for one year the efforts of nearly 600 military and advisers from the Atlantic Alliance, including 250 Canadian soldiers. His team will provide advice and training to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense on the fight against homemade bombs, cooperation with civilians, the maintenance of armored vehicles and military medicine, among others.
One month before his departure, preparations are well underway. First and foremost is basic military training, called NIAC, or "Individual Combat Fitness Standards" in military jargon. It is a question of reviewing "the basics that soldiers must know before being deployed (…) such as first aid in combat, the handling of weapons, biological and radiological defenses", explains the Canadian officer.
Then comes the cultural and mental preparation to "get a good understanding of the Iraqi context and the mandate of the mission".
We need to understand the culture and the system of Iraqi governance because we will work closely with the Ministry of Defense there and the national security advisor. (…) But I must say that my past experiences in the Middle East have prepared me well for this deployment.
Once on site, one of his priorities will be to spend time on the ground with Commander Fortin and his team to "help me get a vision and develop my way of operating there."
The other prerogative will be to establish "good relations" with its Iraqi and international partners – from 29 different nationalities – in the field. "In my opinion, this is one of the key factors in the success of this mission," she says.
Having evolved during her career in an environment dominated mainly by men, namely the army, General Carignan says she has developed her own style of leadership that she intends to apply in her new role. "It's hard to change because leadership is based on personality and I can not change who I am when I arrive there," she says. It is also her style that she describes as "open" which allowed her to be selected, according to her.
I have a leadership style based on respect for people, respect for dignity. I tend to trust my team, to give a lot of space to the initiative and the mistake too. But I demand a lot of rigor and discipline.
The threat of Daesh palpable
Its deployment comes at a critical moment when the fear of a resurgence of the ISIS armed group is growing. Although US President Donald Trump announced the end of 2018 the death of the jihadist organization in Iraq and Syria, a recent Pentagon report contradicts it. The group, with between 14,000 and 18,000 men, including 3,000 foreigners, has strengthened its insurgency in the region, according to the document published in early August.
With a war fund estimated at nearly US $ 400 million, the terrorist group has carried out more than 140 attacks in Iraq alone, killing 274 people, mostly Iraqi troops, according to a countdown revealed last week by the New York Times.
According to the Pentagon, Daesh was able to "consolidate and support operations" in Iraq and Syria because local forces "remain unable to maintain long-term operations, conduct operations simultaneously or keep the territory they have cleared ".
The tense political context in the region, particularly between the United States and Iran on the one hand, and between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds on the other, may also undermine efforts on the ground.
General Carignan, who does not wish to speak about the current situation in Iraq before assuming her new duties, assures that she is well aware of the political and security developments in the country. For her, it is important to listen to forces on the ground "to understand the type of threats they face".
Developing a professional army requires years of extremely rigorous work. Anyone can manipulate a rifle, but having an integrated army with the government in place and supported by the population, that's very difficult.
According to her, it will be necessary to wait before being able to measure the success of the mission "which is still very young". "The criteria for success are developed and refined as the mission progresses," she says. I can not wait to get there, hopefully, to make a difference. "