Operation Inherent Resolve

 

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Colonel Warren via Teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq

By | March 16, 2016

CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS:  Steve, good morning to you.  Just want to get a quick check.  Can you hear us all right?

 

COLONEL STEVE WARREN:  I hear you loud and clear.  How do you hear me?

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  We hear you.  We hear you great.  Sir, the floor is yours.  Good morning.

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, good morning.  And Jeff, thanks for having me in again, as always.

 

And reporters, forgive me for being a little bit late.  The Baghdad Metro here is running slow.  It's driving me crazy.  But hopefully, they'll get it cleared up.

 

So good morning, Pentagon Press Corps, I have -- do have a few remarks, and then we'll get to questions.  So let's get the map pulled up and get started.

 

I'm going to start off with Operation Desert Lynx.  Last week, as part of Operation Desert Lynx, the ISF dropped some leaflets in a number of villages along the Euphrates River Valley.  This is in between star one and star six on the map that you can see.

 

These leaflets provided citizens with safety instructions and it warned ISIL that, and I'm quoting here, "CTS lions are close," end quote.  The aim of the leaflet drop was to reduce civilian casualties and weaken ISIL morale.

 

Since the drop, an estimated 35,000 civilians have been evacuated and have received life-saving assistance.  Also, the ISF detained 149 ISIL fighter who were attempting to blend in among the fleeing civilians.  These cowards are now in ISF custody and will be prosecuted by the Iraqi government.

 

Closer to Ramadi, a little bit to the north of Ramadi in a town called Hamdia, ISIL forces attacked and briefly managed to seize a police station.  The ISF, along with coalition air support, counter attacked and successfully re-took that station, killing about 50 ISIL fighters along the way.

 

Before we move to Syria, I would like to highlight our ongoing training efforts in Iraq.  To date, the U.S.-led coalition has trained more than 20,000 members of the ISF, providing them the skills and equipment to succeed on the battlefield.  Particularly noteworthy has been the training the coalition has provided Iraqi special operations forces.

 

Recently, 459 trainees graduated from the commando course in Baghdad.  The commando course is eight weeks long and included training in marksmanship, urban combat, close quarters battle and battlefield medicine.  Of note, the course was taught by Iraqis with advisers from the coalition serving as mentors, so we welcome those new 459 members of the Iraqi counter-terrorist service into the fight.

 

Now, moving to Syria, on the Mara Line, which is star number seven in the upper left-hand corner of your map, opposition forces continue to engage ISIL along the forward line of troops.  Opposition forces seized several thousand villages and repelled its attacks in other villages.

 

I do have some video from the Mara Line which I would like to show you.  This video demonstrates some of the extraordinary precision that our strikes bring to this battlefield.  So DVIDS, if you could please roll the video.

 

(VIDEO PRESENTATION)

 

COL. WARREN:  So just two -- two examples of the type of precision we can bring as we strike trucks, technicals and other enemy capabilities.

 

Last point.  In Shaddadi, which is star number nine on the map, Syrian Democratic Forces continue clearing operations, supported by more than 150 coalition airstrikes.  These operations have killed 636 enemy fighters, freed 32 Yazidi women who had been held as slaves by ISIL, and gained 3,217 square kilometers.  So this is a good and successful operation.

 

And that concludes my update, and I didn't see who's there, so Jeff, if it's Bob or Lita, I'll take the first question.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Go ahead, Bob.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, hello.  On your last point there about gaining -- regaining territory around Shaddadi, do you have -- what -- what's your latest estimate of the, say, percentage of territory that Islamic state has lost in Syria as opposed to Iraq over the past whatever -- year-and-a-half?

 

COL. WARREN:  Right.  So Iraq, it's between 21,000 and 25,000 square kilometers, or approximately 40 percent of the territory they once held.  Our update on -- on Syria really is as of 1 February, so it doesn't include all of these Shaddadi operations.  As of then, it was about 10 percent of the territory they once held, approximately between 4,000 and 5,000 square kilometers.

 

So obviously, I just read out an additional 3,000, so that number is increasing rapidly.  So, I think you can go -- you're safe to report, you know, more than 5,000 or between 5,000 and 7,000 is probably going to be about where it lands once we get the final monthly analysis.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  All right.  Next to -- (inaudible).

 

Q:  Hi, Colonel Warren.

 

On the 20,000 trained ISIS fighters, we had previously heard that Iraq would need about eight brigades worth of fighters before it approached Mosul.  How close are we with the 20,000, you know, since a brigade is I guess around 3,000 fighters?

 

COL. WARREN:  Right.  So, the numbers won't work like that.  A lot of the fighters that we have trained are operating in Anbar and will continue to operate in Anbar.  So we have to train some new ones.  Additionally, some of the ones we've already trained we're going to retrain, re-touch.

 

So, it's not going to be that clean of a cut.  So, up until now, 20,000 trained.  That's -- and that includes the Sunni tribal fighters.  It includes CTS.  That includes federal police.  So that's a, you know, the full-blown Iraqi security force, the ISF picture.

 

It's going to need somewhere in the ballpark of eight army brigades for that assault into Mosul.  Additionally, we expect to need some Pesh brigades as well as some CTS.

 

Q:  And then a separate topic.  Today, various news agencies are reporting that Iraq is preparing to take Kirkuk.  Can you confirm that?  Or does it gel with what you're seeing on the ground or what you've heard?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, Kirkuk is already -- we already have control of Kirkuk.  It's really -- what you're seeing is discussion of kind of the areas west of Kirkuk.  And the answer is yes.  You know, the Iraqis obviously are preparing to take back their whole country.

 

And so there are various operations happening simultaneously.  And you can see on the map there, you know, I only highlighted kind of the most active ones recently, but we've got -- we're close to nine stars and about nine circles, which represent the close -- the deep fights.

 

So, there is activity across the breadth and the depth of this battle field.  Iraqi Security Forces are fighting as far north as Sinjar and you know, as far south as around Fallujah, as far west as I guess Haditha, and as far east as, you know, the Makhmur Mountains or maybe Taji.  So, you know, there's operations being conducted across this entire battlefield.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Tom Bowman.

 

Q:  Hey, Steve, Tom Bowman with NPR.  As far as the Russian forces are concerned, can you give us a sense how many if any more Russian aircraft have left?

 

Also, Russian officials have said they would continue airstrikes against what they call terrorists.  Can you give us a sense of any airstrikes over the past 24, 48 hours by the Russians and where they've been?

 

COL. WARREN:  Yeah.  So, we have seen a small handful of Russian aircraft depart, eight to ten, somewhere in there.

 

We have seen the Russians fly sorties in the last 24 hours, but they have not conducted any strikes.  We have seen some movement of troops.  No troops -- there are no significant numbers of troops have departed Syria yet, but we have seen some indications of small units packing up.

 

So, it's still a little early to tell exactly how this Russian withdrawal is going to develop.  So, we're continuing to watch it.

 

Q:  Well, the eight to ten you mentioned, was that the initial the first day the aircraft left?  Have you seen any additional aircraft leaving, beyond day one?

 

COL. WARREN:  So, I mean, they didn't fly off in one single sortie.  It was stretched out; so, I guess it was all day one for us and it was probably overnight for you guys, I think.

 

Q:  Thanks.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next, to Andrew Tilghman.

 

Q:  Colonel, hey, it's Andrew Tilghman.

 

I want to ask you about Ramadi.  It has been at least a month since we heard that Ramadi was cleared, but the daily airstrike reports continue to show that there are strikes in and near Ramadi on fighting positions, and tactical units and artillery positions.

 

And I'm just wondering if you could give us a little sense of what's going on there, and is there any evidence or concern that ISIS is trying to regain a foothold there?

 

COL. WARREN:  ISIL is not operating in the city of Ramadi.  And we don't believe they've got the capability or the combat power to try and regain any type of a foothold.

 

The strikes that we report out, you know, we use Ramadi kind of as the reference point -- for example, this operation I just mentioned in the Hamdiya town, north of Ramadi.  I wouldn't count it as Ramadi, or even really a suburb of Ramadi.  It's another town north of Ramadi, but you can't find it on a map, really.

 

So, you have to look at Ramadi to get a sense of what part of the country it is in.

 

We do believe that ISIL is trying to conduct disruption operations, you know, as Iraqi forces are continuing the very difficult and painstaking process of reducing the IEDs and the bobby traps and the mines that they have discovered in Ramadi.  Small teams of one or two terrorists, really, guerrillas if you will, will try to infiltrate into Ramadi and create disruption or to slow down progress.

 

And also, really to tie up Iraqi army forces because they'll have to, you know, provide -- continue to provide security to help prevent against these types of one and two-off attacks.  Otherwise, those forces could be used in Operation Desert Lynx to more rapidly clear through the Euphrates River Valley.

 

So this is a tactic that we've seen.  We expected it.  The Iraqis understand it and are dealing with it.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next, Carla.

 

Q:  Hi, Colonel Warren.  Thanks for doing this.  The Kurds today announced that they wanted to -- that they plan to declare a federal state in northern Syria.  Have they notified OA -- OIR about this before the announcement?  And how does this affect the overall shape of the operations in Syria if they make this announcement?

 

COL. WARREN:  This is a political matter, not something that OIR really has a hand in.  That's really internal Iraqi politics.  It will not affect, one way or another, our operations against ISIL.

 

Q:  You're not concerned that they could potentially just switch from going after the Islamic State to just defending their territory that they claim is their federal state?  That's not a concern?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, as of now, they've -- they've given us no reason to believe they -- they will stop fighting ISIL.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to David Martin.

 

Q:  Steve, you mentioned movement of -- some movement of Russian troops.  Are these support troops at the -- at the air base?  Are these some of these artillery units that were forward deployed?  Who are they?  Where -- where are they located in the country?

 

COL. WARREN:  They appear to generally be support-type troops.  The artillery that we'd seen remains afield, have not seen that move.  So yes, that's the answer.

 

Q:  So support troops at the -- at the air base?

 

COL. WARREN:  Right.  This is hard to tell exactly if they were, you know, clerks or if they were, you know, what they were, but the fielded forces remain afield.  So these were -- these were forces in and around the air base.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Mik.

 

Q:  To follow up on David's question, are the -- are the Russian forces that have been essentially working with Syrian forces, are those forces -- do they remain in place?  Are they still active?  And is there any sign that the Syrian offensive against some of the rebel forces is abating in any form or fashion?  And as -- have the Russians pulled back from support of those Syrian operations?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well -- so the -- you know, in accordance with the agreed cessation of hostilities, we have seen a fairly notable reduction in the amount of -- of activity against the -- the opposition forces.  The regime are in a process of -- of attacking ISIL forces in around Palmyra.  The Russian forces that had been providing support for that continue to provide support for that operation.  So that operation in the vicinity of Palmyra against ISIL continues.

 

Nothing really to report on operations against the moderate opposition, though.  There does seem -- generally speaking, and of course there are exceptions, there are many exceptions, but generally speaking there haven't been significant offensive operations against the opposition.

 

Q:  We can look at the raw facts of what's going on on the ground, but what is the analysis from -- from your end of it, from U.S. forces, from the intelligence and taking a look at what the Russians appear to be doing or not doing?  Is there any analysis on what -- what the Russians are up to here?

 

COL. WARREN:  Right.  We're working diligently to come up with that, Jim, to be honest with you.  It's difficult to tell.  It's been less than, you know, 48 hours so far.  So, you know, the Russians have said they plan a withdrawal of their ground forces and other forces.  There's been a relatively minor withdrawal of air combat power.  There has been an equally minor withdrawal of -- of ground forces or of troops that aren't aircraft.

 

But none of it really -- we haven't seen a significant reduction in their, frankly, in their combat power, particularly their ground combat power remains static.  Their air combat power slightly reduced, but that's it.

 

So, it's difficult -- it's difficult to know what the Russians' intentions are.  We were not expecting this announcement in the first place.  So as we compare their words to their actions, we'll have to wait and see what develops.

 

Q:  There's been some public analysis that the Russian air power there -- that the Russians pretty much drove those forces as far as they could stretch them.  And they actually need to be rehabilitated and that may be in part the reason that those aircraft are being withdrawn.  Is -- is there any sense of that from your vantage point there?

 

COL. WARREN:  No, there isn't.  It's too soon to tell.  The regime could still -- they still have enough oomph to be able to take some more ground if the Russians choose to support them.  But they are beginning to thin out a little bit.  So, you know, it's a balance.

 

Our general assessment, however, is that they -- the regime could continue to push if they received Russian air support.  So, you know, the answer is at this point, at least here at the -- at the TJTF level here in Iraq and Syria, it's difficult to know what the Russians' intentions are at this point.  And we will continue to watch them.

 

There could be -- there's a long list of possibilities.  Rather than get into each and every one of them, you know, we're going to continue to focus on, you know, fighting ISIL and watching what the Russians do so that we can, you know, decide how to -- how to proceed.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, hi.  It's Paul Shinkman here.

 

Do you have any update on the detainee in Kurdish control right now, who Kurds have said may be an American?  Any update on -- on who he is or what he was doing there?

 

COL. WARREN:  I don't have an update on him.  That's really not a matter that we're involved with, frankly, at all.  You know, this is -- if it is an American, it would be, you know, simply an American who's been arrested overseas, which falls squarely in the lap of the State Department.

 

You know, if this is someone who's committed some crimes and he's an American, then that would presumably bring in the Justice Department.  But from our perspective, the military perspective, we simply don't have a dog in that hunt.

 

Q:  So just to confirm, have any members of the coalition or any U.S. members actually spoken to this detainee yet or contacted him in any way?  And just to follow up on what you just said, even if he is -- you know, whether or not he is an American, he -- he could have been an ISIS fighter.  Is this not somebody that any member of the coalition wants to speak to just to glean intelligence?

 

COL. WARREN:  We haven't spoken to him, as far as I know.  You know, the Kurds actually managed to collect up a number of ISIL fighters over the last several months, right?  You know, I've -- I've briefed this before.  You know, as we see ISIL morale begin to crack, as we see ISIL begin to take increased losses, as some of our messages begin to penetrate, as ISIL fighters wake up and realize the caliphate isn't exactly the land of rainbows and unicorns they thought it was when they went to show up, they throw down their guns and they run away and the Kurds scoops them up.

 

So we don't -- we don't interview everyone one of those.  Most of them are just low-level, you know, grunts, foot soldiers.  The Kurds are fully capable of -- of interviewing them and -- and collecting intelligence and moving it through the various synch centers -- synchronization centers.

 

So the answer is no, we're not really that interested in him.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Quick follow-up on that.

 

Q:  Quick follow-up, Colonel Warren.  You said if he is an American.  So is that implying that the Kurds have not even told OIR that they have an American captive?

 

COL. WARREN:  Again, this is a matter that -- that is being worked between the State Department and the Iraqi government.

 

Q:  With as much that's going on with the United States on that battlefield, the understanding from us here at the Pentagon would be that you guys at least would be notified if there was an American captive.  So are you saying -- have you been notified, if not through the Kurds, have you been notified through the State Department?

 

COL. WARREN:  Again, we're not interested.  Our focus is to fight ISIL.  So some -- somebody who got arrested and may or may not be an American citizen isn't an issue that -- that we're concerned about.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  We'll go to Laurent?

 

Q:  Okay.  It's Laurent from AFP.  The Turks are saying that one of the women who carried out the deadly attack in Turkey -- the last deadly attack in Turkey was connected with the YPG, that she -- she was trained by the YPG.  Are you -- are you aware of this report?  And are you -- what's your evaluation of the connection between the PKK and YPG?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, we've certainly seen the -- the press reporting on this matter, and you know, we take it for what it is, press reporting.  I have not seen the intelligence on -- on this individual, so I -- I can't confirm it for you.  You know, the connection between the YPG and the PKK I think is really not a matter for me to -- to get into at all.  I mean, this is really a national-level, you know, intelligence matter.  Probably best saved for the professors and the -- you know, the State Department wonks.

 

Q:  But is -- is there some worry that the YPG is a group that is being helped by the U.S., by -- (inaudible).  So, is there a worry that some of this help could actually be used by the PKK?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, certainly any help that we give to any group, we always have to keep an eye on what's happening with the equipment, and ammunition and supplies.  And that applies across the board to any group that we interact with.

 

This is why we conduct vetting, this is why, you know, we've sent some folks into Syria to keep an eye on things, this is why we have all of these various measures in place.  And we'll keep these measures in place.

 

And if we see, you know, equipment or weapons deliberately being transferred to places they shouldn't be transferred, then, you know, that is something that we'll have to take action on.  But for the time being, the forces that we are working with in Syria, we are satisfied that they are aligned -- that their objectives are aligned with our objectives.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next, to Barbara.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, I wanted to follow up, because I didn't really understand your answer on interrogating people that are detained.

 

So please, if you could clarify, the U.S. military, from what I'm understanding you're saying, does not question directly or interrogate anybody detained by the Iraqis, the Kurds, any other groups that you're affiliated with.  You leave it to them.

 

By that definition, are the only two people you've ever interrogated Umm Sayyaf and the detainee in charge of the chemical program?  Why are you not interested in interrogating other people for their ISIS intelligence?

 

COL. WARREN:  Great question, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify that.

 

Certainly, we do conduct interrogations.  But it depends on who the individual is.  Whoever initially collects the individual is, of course, able to make an assessment on how important or how much intelligence value, or whether or not they would have intelligence that is useful to us or of interest to us.

 

And of course, we're working very closely with the Iraqis and the Kurds, and we let them know what we're interested in, and we have this very robust relationship.

 

So, you know, we don't have the -- you know, we don't have the mass, frankly, here in Iraq to interview every single, you know, just -- I told you, just in the opening, you know, 147, or whatever the number, 149 suspected ISIL members collected up amongst the 35,000 IDPs who were flowing south as a result of -- (inaudible).  But we don't have the manpower to interview all 149 of them.

 

That's a lot and interviews take a long time; they're manpower intensive.

 

So, there is a triage and a sorting process.  And so, some we interview, some we don't.

 

Q:  Let me ask a different follow up question, then.

 

On a different location in Iraq, do you have anything you can currently tell us by ISIS' presence, influence, operations in and around Tal Afar?

 

COL. WARREN:  Tal Afar (inaudible), there is no question about it.  It is thick with bad guys.

 

We strike there as often as we find a target to strike there.  So, that's -- that's bad guy land.  Between Tal Afar and Mosul, that is really probably the thickest, strongest stronghold of ISIL in Iraq.

 

Q:  So -- seriously, so in that area between Mosul and Tal Afar, are more of a stronghold of ISIS operatives or key operatives than you think are inside Mosul at the moment?

 

I wasn't sure what you were saying when you say it's the strongest -- the biggest stronghold, so to speak.

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, I think between Mosul and Tal Afar, I look at that kind of -- what would be the word I'd use for that? -- that corridor, anchored on one end Mosul, Tal Afar on the other end.  That zone is where the enemy is thickest.  And personnel, leaders, equipment, information, money is moving, you know, back and forth within that corridor all the time, continuously.  That's where they are.

 

Now, we have to work our way up there, right?  And so, you know, moving from the north, from the south, then moving really from the east, we're beginning to build the box around that enemy stronghold.  And eventually, we'll begin to dismantle it.

 

Q:  (inaudible) -- there.

 

COL. WARREN:  I'm sorry.  You broke up.  You'll have to repeat that one.

 

Q:  Colonel, ISIS -- you said leaders.  So what you're telling us ISIS leaders, if I'm understanding you correctly, can still move through this Tal Afar-Mosul corridor?

 

COL. WARREN:  Right.  And in fact, a lot of it -- we've seen some of the leaders move their families, we believe, into Tal Afar as we've placed increased pressure on Mosul.  So, yeah, I mean this is -- this is an area where they shuttle back and forth from.

 

Q:  Colin Hyatt.

 

I'm going to follow up your response to Carla's question about Syrian Kurds' aspirations for a federal state in northern Syria.  You have said that it's a political matter and we are not really interested in this.  But could you just tell us while deciding about a group that you are going to support, do you pay attention to their political motivations or ideological background or ideological goals?

 

COL. WARREN:  All of those things get paid attention to, but they're paid attention to by people in Washington.  They probably can't talk to you now because they can't catch the Metro, but these are things that they worry about in the national capital.

 

What we worry about is -- is finding ISIL and killing them.  That's our focus.  And as we work with various partners, they get vetted through D.C. and through national capital.  It comes back -- they come back with -- with having been appropriately vetted and we'll work with them.

 

Q:  So you don't recommend or you don't look, like, for example, oversee what these people are doing over there and then -- (inaudible) -- D.C.?  Is that what you are saying?  It's just -- this is looking at the ground, looking at the country, and then decide about the group, and then bring the group to you and say that, "Okay, Colonel Warren, here you are; give these people ammunitions or air cover so that they can fight against ISIS."  Is that the process?

 

To what extent do -- (inaudible) -- or CENTCOM is playing, or Pentagon is playing the role in this process?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, CENTCOM and the Pentagon can speak for themselves.

 

Our role here, at -- at -- at the ground-level, is to evaluate tactical actions, right?  So if we see reporting that individuals are violating the law of land warfare or that they're mistreating prisoners or that they are not using the equipment that we provided them correctly, that's the type of thing that we would look into and take action on.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  And next to Luis?

 

Q:  Hey, Steve, it's Luis with ABC.  Going back to your figure about 35,000 people leaving Mosul, was that a result of that one leaflet drop?  And how significant is that in comparison to other figures -- similar IDP figures?  Is this a significant uptick?  And you also talked about the -- I'll let you answer that one and I'll give another question.

 

COL. WARREN:  So as much as I'd like to attribute all 35,000 to a single leaflet drop, it's doubtful.  It's probably more bang than we get out of a leaflet buck.  But you know, it's a -- it's several things, right?  The leaflet drop certainly helped.  It may have, you know, uncorked the dam, so to speak, and -- but then there's from simply phone calls and text messages by family members.

 

You know, there are -- you know, there's still, you know, local TV and local radio still works around here so people can just see on TV Operation Desert Lynx started, you know, the good guys are coming.  But you know, there's a lot of shooting going to be involved, let's get out of the way.  So that's really what it is.  So these IDP movements tend to, you know, just kind of snowball, which is probably inappropriate for a desert, but you get my point.  They -- they start small and get bigger.

 

So what they're doing is they're kind of moving South.  We've observed that there are some, you know, IDP camps that are being hastily set up, kind of a combination of Iraqi government trying to help out and -- and the -- the IDPs themselves.  I mean, certainly, the hope is that they'll simply move out of the way, the fight will move through and then -- and then they can go back.  Obviously, that didn't happen for Ramadi, but I think a lot of the reason it didn't happen is because, you know, ISIL was so dug in and they were so deliberate about their scorched earth kind of policy in that city.

 

Too early to determine, you know, what the conditions are kind of in that stretch of the Euphrates River.  It starts, you know, a little bit west of Ramadi, vicinity of Zangora and it moves all the way up through -- to -- to Hit.  But this is the area that we're talking about, it's that space between Hit and Zangora where we dropped the leaflets, word is getting out, the Iraqi security forces are moving along the river and -- and all the -- the personnel -- the population of civilians, they're kind of moving south into that -- into the kind of the desert, there.

 

Does that answer your question?

 

Q:  It does.  And how significant of a complicating factor is this if you end up with a humanitarian situation that has to be dealt with?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, it is a factor, right?  You know, and -- and 35K, that's a -- that's a pretty large number.  I mean, that's a lot of people that have to be fed, that have to be watered, that have to sheltered, et cetera.  So it's a challenge the Iraqi government and they're working through it.  It's not perfect, even they I think would admit that, but they're trying their best to work through it.

 

And there's other partners involved.  There's humanitarian agencies, the United Nations is -- is around.  You know, so there -- I mean, there is, am I'm not really, you know, prepared to brief on the humanitarian situation writ large, but I know there's a significant -- significant humanitarian effort ongoing.  You know, there are -- there are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced personnel throughout Iraq, and so it is significant problem, more than just this one area.

 

But to get back to your question, so in one sense it helps to as the civilians move out of the way of the advancing forces, it makes the -- the job of the advancing forces easier.  They're less -- they can be less concerned about collateral damage and about harming civilians.

 

At the same time, this influx of IDPs, of internally displaced persons, creates other sets of problems.  Specifically, they have to be taken care of and protected.  Let's not forget, you're very vulnerable when you're in, you know, just a tent clumped together in a known location.

 

So it creates a protection issue as well.

 

So, these are all issues that the Iraqi government is working through.  We're trying to help where we can -- "we" the CJTF -- and of course, you know, the humanitarian agencies, the United Nations.  USAID is a big player here as well.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, this is Joe Tabet.

 

A broad question in regards to the campaign against ISIL.  Do the U.S. forces believe that after retaking Ramadi and Shaddadi and achieving many gains on the ground that the war against ISIL has reached a turning point?  Or do you still believe that this will take many years to defeat ISIL?

 

COL. WARREN:  Joe, that's a terrific question.  That is a really good question.  Have we reached a turning point?  It's -- I am not prepared to declare a turning point yet.  What I will say is that we believe that this enemy is on the defensive.  They are in a defensive crouch, like a fighter who's in the ring whose arms are getting heavy.  His knees are starting to get weak.  He's become more and more vulnerable to our punishing offensive attacks.

 

That said, he's still got a little snap left in his jab.  He's still got the ability to throw a hard right hand.  So he's still dangerous.  He's got a puncher's chance at this point.  But with every tick of the clock, he's growing weaker and weaker and weaker.

 

We believe that the end is inevitable; impossible to predict the timeline.  Unlike a fight, this isn't 12 rounds.  This goes until it's over -- Marquess of Queensberry rules, I guess.

 

But, now, we're going to stay focused.  We know that the Iraqis are going to stay focused.  We're going to continue to keep the pressure on this enemy because that's what's causing them the problems.  Every -- there's no break.  He can't breathe because we've kept pressure on them everywhere.  We've kept pressure in Anbar.  We've kept pressure in Diyala and Saladin.  We're applying pressure in Ninawa.  We pressured, you know, north out of Sinjar.  We've sliced and severed supply lines along the Iraq-Syria border.

 

So this pressure continues.  And it's that pressure that's causing them to not be able to function, not be able to make -- not really have any good decisions.  He's only in a place where all his decisions that he can make are bad.  So we're going to continue that pressure and hopefully we'll end this enemy sooner rather than later.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, you love your boxing metaphors.

 

I had a question about the 35,000 who are fleeing.  You said that a 149 ISIS fighters hiding within that group.  What happened to the wives and the children of ISIS fighters?  You found families within those 35,000.  Are they cared for the same?  Or what sort of policies have the government of Iraq and the U.S. put in place for these folks?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, they're all screened, right?  So we screen them.  And if they are determined to be some sort of a threat or potential threat, then the Iraq government will, you know, adjudicate that appropriately.  And if not a threat, then they're just, you know, brought back into the general population.

 

But they go through a screening process.

 

Q:  So, the wives -- oh, we lost him.

 

COL. WARREN:  One other thing, you know, a lot of these -- sorry, wait, let me finish.  Hold on.  Right.

 

So, remember, too, a lot of these families are not families voluntarily.  Right, we see that.  We see and we all read that amazing piece over the weekend about the Yazidi slaves being forced to take contraception so that they can continue to be passed around.

 

I mean, there is just some amazing, brutal, disgusting conduct by this enemy.

 

And so, not all of these families are willing families.  And not all of these families -- some of these families that came over, having succumbed to some of the propaganda that they put out early on, they're of course having some buyer's remorse.

 

So, this is all screening that has to be done and then determinations made in every case.  So, continue with your question.

 

Q:  Of wives or children that have been detained at this point, after failing the screening process?

 

COL. WARREN:  That is something I don't know.  I mean, we can try to look into it.  I'm not sure that is info that we would have.  The Iraqis are under no requirement to give us that kind of information.

 

But we can certainly ask around.  If I find out, I'll let you know.  But we don't know.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay, anybody else?

 

We've got one more from Luis.

 

Q:  Steve, have we seen any impacts yet in ISIS from al-Shishani’s death?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, you know, we're certainly -- you know, it was a good mission, right?  His -- taking Shishani down is going to be a blow to this enemy.

 

You know, he was probably their most important subordinate leader, other than Bakr al-Baghdadi.  He was certainly a fierce fighter.  You know, he had a nickname, right, the Father of Meat, because of his tendency to throw forces into battle kind of willy-nilly, without any consideration of how they would fare, and we saw that in Kobani where he just kept pouring forces into the meat grinder there, and they were just getting chewed up.

 

But he was a charismatic and well thought of leader, very dynamic leader.

 

And it's notable that he went down to Shaddadi as the pressure was being put on that city.  Kind of tells you how important Shaddadi was to ISIL.

 

And so, killing him is going to be -- you know, that is a hard shot to this enemy.  And they're going to have a hard time recovering.

 

There isn't a second guy at his level, to our knowledge, that is going to be able to step up and continue at the level that he was operating.

 

So, it's going to hurt them.  Have we seen the effect on the battlefield yet?  No.  But we know -- we are very confident that it will have an effect on the battlefield, and that this enemy will continue to become disoriented and disorganized and discombobulated, you know, as a result of these leader strikes.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Paul.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, Paul Shinkman again.  Just a quick follow-up on that.

 

Can you give us a sense of how you see ISIS leaders or structure kind of changing with these strikes?  Do you see them trying to kind of replace people that you kill with somebody of a -- in a similar position?

 

Or is the way that they're managing their organization changing?

 

COL. WARREN:  It seems like their organizational structure is relatively stable, except for the fact that they keep having to replace people, right?  It's a short career as a leader in ISIL.  You're not going to last very long.  You won't make it to retirement.

 

So, but what we see is that, you know, as we kill one, they'll simply promote somebody up.  We'll kill them.  They'll promote somebody else up.  And in some cases, we'll kill them.  There's been cases where we've killed -- we've gone three deep in a position.

 

So, but we -- I haven't -- we've not seen a significant kind of reorganization.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Anybody else?

 

Thank you very much, Steve, again for your time.  And you probably have more of a functional transportation system where you are than we do.  And we thank you for your service, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

 

COL. WARREN:  Thanks, guys.  I'll go catch -- catch the Blue Line over to chow now and we'll see you next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 



Staying Connected