CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning -- or actually, afternoon as of two minutes ago, ladies and gentlemen.
Pleased to be joined today from Baghdad live by Colonel John Dorrian.
J.D., we want to make sure you can hear us and we can hear you.
COLONEL JOHN DORRIAN: I've got you loud and clear, Jeff.
CAPT. DAVIS: Without any further hesitation or ado, we will hand it over to you for your opening comments.
COL. DORRIAN: Very good. Thanks very much.
Good afternoon. I've seen a lot of discussion in recent days about plans for isolating and liberating Raqqah. And I thought it would be appropriate to spend a few minutes on where we are now, the impact of past operations, and what we're going to do to set conditions for the liberation of Raqqah.
In Syria, Operation Noble Lance, the operation with Turkey and their partnered forces, has liberated approximately 50 villages to date, further isolating pockets of Daesh's presence, including Raqqah. Before -- excuse me -- further isolating the areas in the northern -- in the north of Syria surrounding Raqqah.
Before Noble Lance, Turkey and their partner forces conducted Operation Euphrates Shield, liberating Jarablus and a number of villages along the border. Those operations built a significant buffer along Syria's Northern border, making it much more difficult for Daesh to infiltrate across the border into Europe.
Before that operation, our partner force -- the Syrian Democratic Forces -- liberated Manbij after fierce resistance from Daesh. The enemy fought hard to retain this territory, which they've used as a command and control node for external operations, leveraging its strategic location along the border. Ultimately, Daesh were forced to retreat and used human shields as they were driven from the city. Those operations have already done quite a bit to isolate Raqqah, reducing the access to infiltration roots to and from Europe.
Throughout these operations, which were designed to increase pressure on the enemy, coalition forces have continued to relentlessly attack Daesh leadership figures, decimating Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's Shura Council, and extended leadership network. We've also continuously attacked their ability to make money in both Iraq and Syria from illicit sales of petroleum products, and we've used strikes to destroy their favored supply and infiltration run.
All of these operations are intended to disrupt and dismantle the enemy's ability to function as a coherent organization or respond to coalition and partner operations. And we've also seen a reduced ability to maintain the tempo of propaganda that we saw early in their campaign. In August of 2015, the group released more than 700 items from their official outlets. In August of 2016, after having lost a considerable amount of territory and a year of air strikes, that number declined to under 200 items.
Of course, the advance of the Iraqi Security Forces on Mosul further complicates the enemy's ability to command and control its fighters. Daesh fighters have fought hard, but continue to lose ground against advancing Iraqi and Kurdish Security Forces.
As many of you know, some Iraqi forces have reached Mosul, and others continue advancing toward the city, making steady progress as Daesh are forced to fall back. The ISF are conducting their advance deliberately as Daesh continue their tactics to intimidate civilians and complicate the Iraqi advance.
To assist the ISF and KSF, the coalition has conducted a relentless campaign of precision air, artillery and rocket strikes; more than 3,000 since the operation to liberate Mosul started on October 17.
With the government of Iraq, we've been planning for the liberation of Mosul for a long time. We'll continue to use precision as we support the Iraqi operations to liberate the city not just in our use of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, but also in our procedures for coordinating strikes and our selection of munitions.
Again, the government of Iraq has been clear that the protection of civilian life is a fundamental principle of their operations, and we'll offer our very best efforts to support that same principle.
A word about our logistical support in Iraq. The coalition continues delivering equipment, vehicles, ammunition and food, to support the ISF and KSF advances.
To give you some data on these efforts, the coalition's provided 279 Humvees, 84 MRAPs, 31 bulldozers, plus ambulances, bridging material, and obstacle breaching equipment. We believe all of these things will help provide a decisive advantage to our partners as the tougher phases of the battle ensue.
And with that, let's open it up for questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: We'll start Lita Baldor from the Associated Press.
Q: Hi, John.
A follow up on your comments on Raqqah and then I have a quick Mosul question. You said that there's -- quite a bit has been done to isolate Raqqah. Can you give us a little bit more granularity on how isolated are we talking about? Has Raqqah -- have there been efforts to encircle Raqqah? Has that begun and how much of the city would you consider has been either isolated or encircled? And then just a quick one on Mosul. Can you tell us a little bit about these efforts by the Islamic State to collect and use human shields?
There's a lot of reports about them doing that. I'm wondering if you've been able to gather any data or any numbers of where and how much that's happening.
COL. DORRIAN: Yes. Now, with regard to Raqqah, we'll start there. The enemy still has freedom of movement into and out of Raqqah. Now, it's as it's been for many months. They don't have the ability to move large troop formations, large convoys but they do have the ability to move into and out of the area. What we've done to try to limit that is we've conducted a lot of strikes on their favored supply routes and infiltration routes so we've done more than 100 strikes on that. We're talking about roads -- in order to limit their freedom of movement, make it take longer for them to move and move around the battlefield.
So, that's one of the tangible things that's been done. Now, there is a degree of isolation and pressure that's put on Raqqah on all the operations that I just described, so one of the things that I think it's very important for people to understand is all of that work that's been done up around the Northern border between Turkey and Syria, all of that isolates Raqqah because it limits their ability to resupply. It limits their ability to bring in fighters and equipment. It limits their ability to get out and conduct external operations in Europe and other places around the world.
So, if I were to characterize it I would say still freedom of movement. Not fully isolated by any means and not encircled but that's what's coming in the -- in the near future.
CAPT. DAVIS: We've lost sound.
COL. DORRIAN: We have seen and heard the same reports as you've had. There have been many reports of Daesh trying to gather civilians and push them closer to the city for use as human shields. We've also seen a lot of reports of executions of people that are in these areas that are around Mosul. People that they believe might be plotting to do attacks inside the city against Daesh, sort of an internal uprising situation. So, we've seen and we've heard those types of reports as well. I think I'll leave it there.
CAPT. DAVIS: We're back to Barbara Starr in the back with CNN.
Q: Thank you, Colonel Dorrian.
Can you go back on a couple of points you were making? You had mentioned some things that happened that you felt decimated Baghdadi Shura. Can you talk about -- now that we have this latest recording overnight which appears to be his voice for the first time in many months? What is the assessment about his state of command of his forces, his role right now, how isolated he may or may not be, what it says that he can get communication even out the door?
What do you assess about Baghdadi? And my follow-up, other quick question on Mosul. Now that Iraqi troops have entered the eastern edge of the city, can you bring us up to date on any indication you have that U.S. military advisers will be entering with them?
COL. DORRIAN: Okay, well, we'll start with Baghdadi. As far as that audio tape is concerned -- the audio release -- we cannot at this time verify its authenticity. There's probably an intelligence community expert that would be a better resource for that than I.
But it is quite clearly an effort on the part of Daesh to communicate to their fighters. And this is probably excellent evidence that their command and control and ability to communicate directly with their fighters and control them has been severely reduced.
So there are some indications inside Mosul that there are people that are abandoning their posts or trying to get away. We have seen reports that Daesh had executed people who do that and that you know, one of the interesting things that we've seen in this English translation of this is that Baghdadi is saying, don't fight amongst yourselves.
This is the type of thing that a leader who's losing command and control and ability to keep everybody on the same page says. We don't believe that it's going to work. We don't know -- again, we don't know if it's him. But you know, Daesh has a long track record, more than a year, they've been going backwards, losing territory. They've had a number of fighters very near to Baghdadi that have been killed in targeted strikes.
Not just his number two, that -- I think that's probably the least popular job in the world because your shelf life is not gonna be very long as his number two. But people that are responsible for creating their propaganda, their network is just much less effective than it’s been, you know, prior to the Iraqi advance and the coalition involvement here in Iraq and in Syria.
Let's see, in back to Mosul, Barb, I'm sorry, I just wrote Mosul, what's the rest of your question on that?
Q: That's okay. Do -- can you tell us anything now that Iraqi troops have entered eastern Mosul, the most eastern edges of the city. What is the current state of whether or not U.S. troops will join them in entering Mosul?
Will U.S. advisers go into Mosul with them and as long as I have you back on Baghdadi, just have to ask, any idea where he is?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I'll take the Baghdadi piece off the table, if we knew where he was he would be killed at once. So we don't know where he is.
As far as U.S. forces or coalition forces going into Mosul, we're executing the Iraqi plan and the Iraqi plan is that the only ones going in there right now are Iraqi forces. So, that's the Army, that's the CTS, and that's the police. As far as I know, I -- I have not seen any change in the plan with that. I have been doing public affairs for a very long time. And I don't like to use the word never.
So, I don't -- I won't say that. But I -- I do know that right now, where we at, there is no plan for coalition forces to go in there. And the Iraqis have said, it's just gonna be their forces.
CAPT. DAVIS: Great. Next we'll go to Kasim Ileri with Anadolu.
Q: Colonel, thanks for doing is. There are reports coming out of Turkey right now claiming that Turkey and U.S. have -- are establishing a joint task force to facilitate the withdrawal of YPG forces from Manbij.
Could you confirm that?
COL. DORRIAN: I -- I'm afraid I can't. I've not seen those reports. And -- and I'm not up to speed on it. I -- I would ask you to follow that up with my -- my colleagues in the Pentagon there.
Q: And the other question on isolation of Raqqah. We know that the U.S. is intending to use SDF forces to encircle -- to -- to -- to isolate the city from the north. But what about the southern flank of Raqqah city?
Who -- who do -- do you think to use -- to isolate -- to encircle the city with -- from the south?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, there are significant numbers of Arab forces in that area as well, and we -- we intend to train as many of them as we possibly can.
We'll continue to work with our partners in Syria and to continue to enlarge that force and create enough that we'll be able to -- to have that force encircle -- encircle Raqqah. So that -- that's -- that is the plan at this point.
Right now I don't think that all the forces that'll be involved in that liberation campaign for Raqqah are yet trained. But that'll be the part of the effort. As well, ongoing diplomatic discussions with our allies and our partners and coalition members to make sure that we get everybody on the same page and -- and isolate Raqqah, and then move in at a time of our partner's choosing.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next we'll go to Tara Copp with Stars and Stripes.
Q: Hi, Colonel Dorrian. Good to see you again.
So, with Mosul, the western flank of the city appears to still be open. Are you -- are you seeing freedom of movement of ISIS fighters out of Mosul from the west? And if so, are they able to freely move to Raqqah?
Are you seeing that at all?
COL. DORRIAN: Daesh has very limited freedom of movement. They don't have the ability to move in large columns. I don't think that I would characterize them as having freedom of movement to the west at all. So, we're -- we're not seeing significant numbers of Daesh leaving the city or going in for that matter. I've been asked that before. So, we'll have to just let that play out.
My understanding is that the government of Iraq has a -- a plan for -- for dealing with western Mosul. And we're -- we're certainly not gonna facilitate the exit for Daesh, if that's the question.
Q: Okay. And just a follow -- are you seeing any additional ISIS fighters moving in to Raqqah as Mosul is more sealed off?
COL. DORRIAN: (inaudible) -- pretty limited numbers, Tara. They're -- we don't see a lot of that. You know, really, throughout northern Syria, Daesh is on the back foot. They're on the back foot coming from the north against Turkey and they're a partnered force.
And they'll -- they're going to stay on the back foot -- back foot. Because ultimately, we're going to move in with our partner forces and the noose will start to close on Mosul -- or on Raqqah as well.
One of the elements here, and I tried to capture that in the opening comments, is that it's in the coalition forces’ and our partnered forces’ interests to pressure Daesh across every formation in every area where they have a presence. So there's an ongoing operation to liberate Mosul.
The Iraqis are largely on plan. They're able to advance on every axis. They've really taken it to Daesh, although Daesh continues to fight hard. It would be a desirable situation to pressure them by having concurrent operations to isolate and then liberate Mosul, because they just would not have the ability to control all that.
Again, you know, see this announcement today. It's an effort to rally the troops who are under constant pressure, who have been pushed back and pushed out of the areas that they used to control; that are no longer able to make as much money from illicit sales of oil; no longer able to tax the residents that are around them in as many areas.
So they're under pressure all the time and subject to being struck anywhere where they mass. So, you know, it -- it's a -- it's a developing situation for our partners in Raqqah. And I think what you'll see is that they'll start to move on Raqqah here very soon.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Now next we'll go to Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.
Q: Thank you.
Colonel Dorrian, could you give us an update on the current status of Tal Afar? Are you concerned if the PMF takes over the supply route to Mosul, this could trigger or could lead to a Turkish intervention to protect the Sunni Turkmen in the city?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I understand that the Popular Mobilization Forces are moving in the direction of Tal Afar. I also understand that this is a part of the government of Iraq's plan. And Prime Minister Abadi has been very clear that he doesn't want any human rights abuses or any types of abuses and that he's going to hold people accountable if he sees those sorts of things.
The forces that are moving in that direction have acknowledged that and said that they would operate within the parameters that they've been given. And so that's kind of where this is at this point. The plan is being executed in accordance with what the government of Iraq planned and that's where this is headed.
Q: A quick follow-up. Given what you said, I mean, are you concerned about Turkey -- Turkish position in regards to the presence of the PMF in Tal Afar?
COL. DORRIAN: We have seen the comments coming out of Turkey, we understand their position, they want to make sure that the Turkmen who live in that area are not subject to any types of abuses, we do understand that. And so right now we don't see any indicator that there is any situation like that developing. The government of Iraq understands that, they understand that the world is watching what happens as the popular mobilization forces move into position.
So this will be an opportunity to execute that operation, which is consistent with our plan and we'll see how it plays out.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next we'll go to David Martin with CBS.
Q: Gentlemen, would you distinguish between the isolation and the liberation of Raqqah and specifically will the same forces that are involved in the isolation be involved in the liberation?
COL. DORRIAN: David, the isolation and the liberation probably have one thing in common. There will probably be some very tough fighting to do either. There will be tough fighting to do both. As far as who will actually move into the city, I think what we're going to see is that the isolation will occur first. There will be some ongoing dialogue between our partners and our allies and the coalition about who's actually going to go in.
I know that there's been discussion about that being a force that's primarily Arabs that are local and there's a good model for that, the Arab forces that still control Manbij. So we'll see how that plays out, I think there'll be some ongoing political dialogue many levels above me about who actually goes in, but I think we can probably get the isolation on Raqqah and sort of encircle it much more before and set conditions for the liberation while those diplomatic efforts and planning and coordination occur and training of additional forces occur for the liberation part.
Q: You said that the -- some of the Arab forces who would be involved have not yet had training. How long is the training going to take? Is there a specific one week, four week program that they go through?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, David I'm familiar with some of the training that's been conducted in the past. I've seen that we've had periods of instruction that are ballpark two weeks and these are two weeks of training for people that have already been involved in some fighting before so they're not just a bunch of rookies. So we'll let that play out and we'll see how long that takes and we'll see how many forces will be generated.
I know General Townsend, when he's discussed this, what he's said is that the forces that are on the ground there, the SDF, do have some experience in recruiting a good force and they have some plans to try to open the aperture and enlarge the Arab contingent of their force.
Q: Any estimates on how many more need to be trained?
COL. DORRIAN: I don't. I wouldn't hazard a guess. I think that'll be up to our partner force.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, we'll go to Richard Sisk with Military.com.
Q: Hi, colonel. There have been some reports that U.S. advisers moving with the counterterrorist service units on the outskirts of Mosul have been seen, spotted, possibly photographed wearing the black uniforms of the CTS.
Is that so? And what is the policy on that?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I'm -- I'm not familiar with either of those reports or if you've seen an image. I've not seen that. I think we'll have to take that one for you and I'll look into it.
Q: Sir, what is the -- what is the policy? Are U.S. troops allowed to wear the -- wear the uniform, the garb of partner units that they're working with? There was the flap a few months ago about some special forces troops in Syria wearing the patches of the YPG.
So what is the policy for the troops now advising, partnering with the Iraqis around Mosul?
COL. DORRIAN: You know what, Richard, I'm just going to have to take that one. I'm not an expert on what the rules are for uniform wear. I had to get a good consult to make sure that I was wearing this one correctly. So I'll have to take that one. I'm sorry, but just not the expert. We'll have to make sure we get you an answer on that.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Gordon Lubold with Wall Street Journal.
Q: Hey, colonel. It's Gordon. Two questions on Mosul, and sorry if I missed it. Can you just characterize where exactly Iraqi forces are with regard to the city? Because I -- I'm not clear if they're kind of still on the doorstep, inside the outer parts of the city or where. You may have said it and I missed it.
But also, you know, there was a report about restoring cell service to residents inside Mosul, turning the switch back on. But part of the idea was to see what kind of intel could be gleamed from residents phoning in information. I just wonder if you could update us on that, and if you -- if the Iraqi forces and U.S. forces have gotten anything out of that.
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, Gordon, I'm going to have to be a little bit careful for reasons of operational security with regard to talking about where specifically troops are. And then there's also just a kind of gooey matter of, you know, when do you reach Houston.
You know, the -- I think if you ask 10 people around Houston, they would tell you they're Houston residents; and there would be people that tell you some suburb, too. And so it's almost kind of a difficult one to firm up.
Now, the -- on the western -- or excuse me, the eastern access to the city, my understanding is they're right at, you know, the -- the entrance in sort of some industrial areas. I've seen those in open-source reports and I'm seeing the counter-terrorism service make those statements, but I really don't want to get into the business of sort of, a street by street discussion of where those forces are, it just wouldn't be appropriate for me to do that. It just wouldn't be appropriate, so I hope you understand.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay.
Q: He’s still talking.
COL. DORRIAN: That one, with regard to the status of that effort, I'm not -- I'm not familiar with -- with that program. I know that there have been efforts to communicate with people inside the city, I can certainly acknowledge that piece. There have been radio broadcasts into the city to give instructions to people that live there. There have been substantial efforts to drop leaflets and give instructions, and let people know that they are going to be liberated. I also know it's a very dangerous situation for people that are in the city because Daesh -- I've seen plenty of reports of Daesh executing people that they think are collaborators, and I don't want to further endanger somebody that would be helping out with useful intelligence.
CAPT. DAVIS: Let him know (inaudible).
Q: (Off-mic.) Kurdistan 24.
My question for Colonel Dorrian, regarding Raqqah and the difficulties with Turkey and the YPG, are we to understand from what you've said that regarding the phase of the isolation of Raqqah, those difficulties have been worked -- have been cleared up enough so that you can proceed with the isolation of Raqqah. But there are still issues remaining, regarding the liberation of Raqqah?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I -- I -- I'm not in those conversations, and I'm not a part of the diplomatic effort. I know that, you know, the secretary of defense and General Townsend have both been clear that we're working with our partnered forces. They've proven that they can help with the isolation of Raqqah on a timeline that reduces the ability of the terrorists that are there, to conduct external operations, and that we need to go ahead and start that isolation effort. As far as what the diplomatic discussions are, I just don't have that level of fidelity to share.
CAPT. DAVIS: (Off-mic.)
Q: Hey, J.D.
Okay, I'm sorry, because I know we keep asking about this, but I just want to make sure I understand this Raqqah thing. So, when you were talking earlier to David's question, when you were talking about the isolation, you said that there's an ongoing dialog about who's going to be conducting that, right?
Were you talking about the dialog is ongoing about who's doing the isolation phase, or who's doing the liberation phase? And just to be clear, the liberation phase is what's also sometimes called assault, or the maneuver phase right? Like that's the -- like essentially what they're doing right now in Mosul, is the liberation phase?
COL. DORRIAN: You've got it exactly right, Courtney. So, the ongoing dialog is about who will liberate the city. So, there may be a role for a variety of forces there, all the options are on the table. Where we're at now is, that the isolation phase, then plan is to work with our partnered force. They've proven that they've been very effective, and they've proven that they can defeat Daesh, because they did that in Manbij. And they've done it, really all up throughout their area.
Q: -- need to be trained. Are they all for the liberation, or are there any that are -- for the isolation phase that still need to be trained?
COL. DORRIAN: There're adequate forces to do the isolation now.
Q: And how many forces is that?
COL. DORRIAN: Ballpark, somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000.
Q: And just to be clear, the isolation phase has not yet begun, right? You're still in the shaping phase. Is that right?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, you know, that's probably a little bit on the gooier side, Courtney. I would suggest to you that the operations that have been conducted up until now have isolated Raqqah somewhat.
What I think we're talking about is a higher level of isolation that greatly reduces the freedom of movement of Daesh to go into and come out of that city. So there's already been a significant amount of pressure put on them. You know, whether that, you know, -- whether you would characterize that as isolation, that's probably something that reasonable people could agree or disagree on.
I think the intent, though, is to intensify that effort, to move closer to the city, to envelop the city and then once everything is in place, to liberate it.
Q: What is the military spelling of the word "gooey," since you've used it twice now?
Just for quoting purposes. I'm just kidding.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Laurent, I had you on the list next. Laurent with Agence France-Press.
Q: Hi, Colonel. Still about Raqqah. Do you think that the Syrian Democratic Forces will start to gain ground, to gain new ground in the next few weeks?
COL. DORRIAN: I would characterize it as soon, and I think that would be for them to announce when they're going to start. And I'd really like to leave it at that level because, you know, they're the ones that would be moving and they would be the ones that would be fighting. We'll be there to support them with our strikes, and then our advice and assistance, but I think that's an announcement for them to make. And as far as their timing, it'll be their timeline and not our timeline.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. And next to Kristina Wong with The Hill.
Q: Thank you. Hi, Colonel Dorrian. I wanted to follow up on Raqqah. About what percentage of the 10,000 force SAC is ready to liberate Raqqah?
COL. DORRIAN: I -- you sort of broke up there a little bit. Were you saying what percentage of the force is ready to liberate Raqqah?
Q: The Syrian-Arab Coalition, which I understand is about 10,000.
COL. DORRIAN: Yes. Yes, that's ball park correct. It's about a third of the SDF. I think that force is trained and ready to go. One of the things that we hope to do is to increase the training pipeline and create more local Arab forces. So that's one of the things that's being worked now. That doesn't stop you from moving into position and isolating the city.
Q: Are they ready to liberate Raqqah or just isolate?
COL. DORRIAN: Not -- not alone.
Q: And on -- on -- on another issue, do you -- do you anticipate an increase of air operations with the isolation of Raqqah?
And do you think -- does that increase the need to communicate with the Russians or are the Russians not really flying over Raqqah?
COL. DORRIAN: I think I would -- I would have to take that one in order to get you an answer with any depth. I will tell you though that we do continue our coordination channel, our -- in de-conflicting, our operations with the Russians.
We will continue to do that, certainly. As far as the number of operations that would be required to support partner forces in Syria, that sort of remains to be seen. We'll see what plan comes together you know, in the weeks ahead here.
And then we'll probably get more meat on the bone with regard to having some depth on what the requirements from the air would be.
Q: Real quick, where do things stand with the Russians now after the last near miss incident on October 17th? Have any steps been taken to further de-conflict the airspace over Syria?
COL. DORRIAN: We continue to use the de-confliction channel that -- that is in place. I think that it would be good for you to follow-up with the team at OSDPA after this, because my understanding is there were some senior level discussions.
But that is a newer thing that I’m really not privvy to any of the details on, so I think that's -- that's something that happened here in the last day or two.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Thomas Watkins with Agence France-Presse.
Q: Hi Colonel, I missed the very beginning of the briefing so I'm sorry if you already addressed this. But can you help me, I'm a bit confused with the timing of the Iraqi stuff.
So last week, Secretary Carter said it would begin the assault, I'm not talking about shaping or isolation of softening operations, he said the assault itself would begin within weeks.
What you just said about the Arab forces still needing training that would suggest that that, within weeks, the time table would be offset by at least I think you said two to four weeks.
So we're already in the month's arena. Can you -- could you just clarify when the -- when do you anticipate -- I'm not talking about the isolation stuff. When do you anticipate the actual assault beginning? Thank you.
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, I don't know that I'm gonna be able to provide you a tremendous amount of clarity on that, just in the interest of operational security. General Townsend has said, soon and one of the things that I think might be at play here is that both the further isolation and the assault on Raqqah probably entail a significant amount of very tough fighting.
It could be that we're basically talking about the same thing here and it's more of a semantic discussion that's at play here. I think that might be where we're at.
Q: Do you think that the secretary misspoke when he said weeks?
COL. DORRIAN: No.
Q: And then, finally, how big of a constraining factor is this as yet undone training in terms of time limitations?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, I -- I -- well, that remains to be seen because the work has to start to recruit a force and then train it. The period of instruction is not really a very long period of instruction, but a lot of the fighters that get involved in this type of activity are not a bunch of rookies, they're people that have done some of this type of fighting before to protect their own villages and their own areas.
So, I don't think that I can give you a great detail on the timing but I do know there is an intent to enlarge the force. And in particular, the Arab contingent of the force because we do understand that Raqqa is primarily an Arab city. And just like we have, just like the Iraqis have done in Mosul, we do understand that there is a political dimension and a local acceptance dimension to this fight.
And we want to make sure that the right forces are going in there. And then we want to set diplomatic conditions so that they will be successful and be able to go in there and fight Daesh unconstrained.
STAFF: Next we'll go to Lucas Tomlinson with Fox News.
Q: Colonel, can you talk about the importance of U.S. and coalition air strikes in the Mosul operation?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, the -- the coalition air strikes have set conditions really where Daesh's command and control have been severely disrupted. And that's really been very impactful as far as the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga and the CTS to move forward.
They're very tough fighters. They plan for quite some time. But one of the things that we tried very much to do is to time our strikes so that they're out in front of these forces as they're moving forward. Not only does that disrupt the enemy, but it also gives a lot of confidence to forces that already had tremendous momentum as they, you know, moved into this fight.
So, for months before Mosul, we were disrupting Daesh's ability to make money from illicit oil sales, and that means that every fighter in that area gets a nice pay cut. We were going against Daesh leaders and took out a very significant number of them. We've talked about that a number of times over the past several weeks.
That disrupts their command and control and ability to respond as the Iraqi Security Forces advance toward them. They still have some ability to do that, but it's significantly disrupted. And timing is everything. That's one of the reasons why it was very important to the government of Iraq to move forward and capitalize on all the work that's been done from that disruption.
And then, since the campaign started, we dropped more than 3,000 munitions on Daesh targets. So, we're talking about a couple of hundred fighting positions. We're talking about, you know, hundreds of fighters. We're talking at about scores of vehicle-born improvised explosive devices. We're talking about scores of tunnels that Daesh used to create freedom of movement in localized areas. So all those obstacles have been reduced. They haven't all been taken away because it would be virtually impossible to do that with Daesh having been in this area for two years with chances to build these elaborate defenses.
But there's no question that it's very impactful and it makes a big difference. So we're very proud of that work.
Q: Do you -- some of the forward air controllers -- some of these U.S. forces that are forward with the Iraqi forces and Peshmerga, are they playing a big role in these air strikes as well?
COL. DORRIAN: The overwhelming preponderance of the forward air control activity is done from our strike cells far from the front. So really, forward air controllers are effective anywhere that you put them but the overwhelming preponderance of these strikes are coordinated through our strike cell. Now these are areas that are well away from the front. We have one here in Baghdad that's involved in a lot of the ongoing activity here.
So this is people using ISR platforms, they're getting pattern of life, they're examining these targets, they're coordinating with the Iraqis and then making decisions about what types of munitions should be used. So we recognize for example that when you're fighting in dense urban terrain, maybe smaller bombs are better. So we're trying to make those kinds of calculated decisions so that we advance the same goals as the government of Iraq, which is can we do this and do everything that we can to limit collateral damage and reduce the possibility of loss of life for the civilians that are affected by this.
Q: And lastly Colonel, have the popular mobilization forces succeeded in cutting off the road between Tal Afar and Mosul and how popular are these forces with the U.S. military and does it bother you that some of these forces are designated terrorists by the U.S. State Department?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, as far as how successful they've been in cutting off roads, I think I'd have to check that and I'm not even sure that I could get total fidelity on that. What I would say is some of the reporting on these popular mobilization forces doesn't have as much depth as we would like to see. We do understand that they've played a role in responding when Daesh was on the advance.
COL. DORRIAN: Not all of them are involved in human rights abuses. Some of them are working very closely with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces and so we absolutely understand that these groups that have been involved in acts of terror and human rights abuses, we just -- obviously we're not going to help them. That's the law, for one, but a lot of these other groups are working hand in hand with the government of Iraq to execute the government of Iraq's plan.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next we'll go to Jim Michaels with USA Today.
Q: Colonel, regarding Raqqah, does the SDF currently have a command hierarchy capable of planning and operation of the complexity of Raqqah? And also, then, the ability to command forces on the ground once the liberation phase begins? Or -- and is the coalition working to develop those capabilities within the SDF now?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, we advise and assist the SDF, our partner force. We do believe that they have the expertise. They -- they were very successful in developing a plan for the liberation of Manbij.
And we believe that certainly, with coalition help, they can do the same in Raqqah. So we do believe that they have the capability to do this and that's one of the reasons why General Townsend has said and the secretary has said that, you know, we will move forward soon with that force.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Luis Martinez with ABC News.
Q: Hey, John. Quick question about the offensive -- the Iraqi security force offensive out of Qayyarah. That seems directed to go up along the west bank of the Tigris toward Mosul. Why is that one progressing much slower than the eastward offenses on the other side of the Tigris?
COL. DORRIAN: You know what, Luis, I think I'd probably have to refer you to the government of Iraq as far as their progress. I would say that these types of operations have their own pace.
Sometimes, you know, when you -- when you're up against a tough enemy, it may be a variety of factors. It has to do with the aggressiveness of the advancing force. It has to do with the toughness and the amount of distance covered.
I think the -- the southern advance was a much further distance away from the city at the start. There are a variety of reasons and, you know, nobody ever said as we began this and as the Iraqis began this that everybody would show up at exactly the same time.
So the Iraqis have been very pleased with their progress. I've talked to them. They've made substantial progress on every axis so they're on plan.
CAPT. DAVIS: Jeff Seldin with Voice of America.
Q: Colonel, thank you very much. I'm wondering -- I know you said there's not a lot of movement to the west of Mosul with Islamic State fighters going in or out of the city.
But given all the area between Mosul and Raqqah, can you characterize in any way just how strong the Islamic State fighting force presence is in that area? Whether you have numbers or just a sense of how difficult the fight would be in those areas outside of the cities?
And also, even though there hasn't been as many civilians fleeing Mosul so far, as some of the aid groups have anticipated, is there any sense of within those that have, how many Islamic State fighters have tried to sneak out with them?
I know that at some of the IDP camps, they've been doing some of the screening already in that a number of people have been taken away. Do you have any -- any sense of how many of those are actually ISIS?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, first to the -- to the west of -- of Mosul, a lot of that area out there is just desert. So, you know, it would be very difficult for me to do an estimate of exactly how many are out there. It's sort of an unforgiving area. There's not -- not that much out there.
Now, there is a substantial Daesh presence in Tal Afar. And, you know, we expect to see some tough fighting there in the days and weeks ahead.
As far as, let's see -- the number of -- of IDPs that are coming out of Mosul, I think we're still very early in the campaign, very early. And so we don't want to, you know, get ahead of ourselves and suggest that there won't be a lot.
You know, I saw some numbers the other day that it was ballpark 21,000. That may be evolving, and we may see that grow much larger in the days ahead. The Iraqis have been planning for this for quite some time. And they do have procedures in place. And they do plan to make sure that its forces that are under the government's command and control that are doing the screening of the IDPs to make sure that, you know, that's done in an appropriate fashion.
Daesh has pretty much done everything that they can to make things more dangerous. And the Iraqis are going into that effort -- that screening effort understanding that they are almost certain to see Daesh fighters try to infiltrate the internally displaced persons.
So, they're going to be very careful about this and very deliberate about it. And really, everything about the campaign I think is going to move at a pace that allows the Iraqi security forces to try and protect civilian life and protect themselves from an enemy that has shown at every turn that they don't care about the civilians that are around them, and they're willing to do horrible, horrible things in order to inflict damage on civilians and certainly the Iraqi security forces.
So, a very dangerous situation. It's one that's very complicated for the Iraqis. But they are ready for this and they do know that -- they know what they're doing.
Q: Have any Islamic State fighters have been captured so far trying to sneak out with the IDPs?
COL. DORRIAN: I'm afraid I don't -- I don't know if that would be available. We'll take that question and see. I think that might be one that we just have to refer you to the Iraqis to see what they say.
CAPT. DAVIS: Kasim, I believe you had a follow-up?
Q: About this 30,000 to 40,000 number, colonel. You know, what other groups are also included in this number? Because we know that the number does not apply just to SDF.
COL. DORRIAN: That -- that includes the Syrian-Arab coalition, too.
Q: Syrian-Arab coalition is already under the umbrella of SDF, right? Am I correct?
COL. DORRIAN: That's right.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Yeah, we're about out of time, but go ahead fast.
Q: Also, you know, what is the incentive for a group to take part in isolation -- isolation of Raqqah city, but not allowed to get in or to hold territory out of it.
COL. DORRIAN: Well, that's an easy one. That -- what we're trying to do is facilitate the defeat of Daesh. And Daesh has driven millions of people from their homes, killed tens of thousands, some in the most horrible possible way. So, if you have an opportunity to contribute to their defeat and demise, I think that they're going to be people that are interested in doing that.
CAPT. DAVIS: And with that, J.D., thank you very much for your time. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
COL. DORRIAN: Thanks very much, Jeff.