Operation Inherent Resolve

 

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

By | April 13, 2016

CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS:  All right.  Steve, just want to verify you can hear us.

 

Can you hear us?

 

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

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  We hear you great.

 

And thanks for joining us.  We've got Colonel Steve Warren with us from Operation Inherent Resolve coming to us live from Baghdad.

 

Steve, we'll turn it over to you.

 

COL. WARREN:  Thank you, Jeff.  And good morning, Pentagon press corps.  I hear the Russians are up to their old tricks again in the EUCOM AOR, so I'll try to get through this rapidly so you can chase that.

 

I do have some prepared remarks I want to get through, so here we go.

 

Operations against ISIL began on 8 August in 2014. In the 20 months since then, we have achieved much.  A year-and-a-half ago, we saw images of ISIL convoys moving freely into Mosul and throughout Iraq. Those days are gone. All right? Our enemy has been weakened and we are now working to fracture him.

 

Phase one of the military campaign is complete. And we are now in phase two, which is to dismantle this enemy. Phase one was to degrade the enemy. We focused on stopping ISIL from advancing and degrading their military capabilities both in Iraq and in Syria. This was an effort to eliminate ISIL's ability to operate as a conventional force.

 

We are in the second phase of this operation now, and our task is to dismantle the enemy, fragment them in Iraq and Syria. ISIL has lost more than 40 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and in Syria. Opposition forces have routed the enemy from most of the Turkish border.

 

While ISIL can still put together some complex attacks, they have not been able to take hold of any key terrain for almost a year now. We've struck leaders, supply lines, fighters, industrial base and funding sources in both Iraq and Syria.

 

During this phase, we will enable our partners to dismantle the enemy, fragment his forces, isolate his centers of gravity and liberate the terrain he holds.

 

In Iraq, we are enabling these operations in the Tigris and along the Sinjar, we were -- where we are isolating to eventually seize Mosul.

 

In the Euphrates River Valley, ISF operations are stabilizing Anbar. In Syria, we are enabling operations of Hasakah province, around Manbij and along the Mara line in order to pressure and isolate Raqqa.

 

And you can see all three of those illustrated on your map.  Hopefully, that map is up.

 

Our strategy requires well-equipped and trained partners on the ground.  We've seen that, with effective training, proper equipment and devastating coalition air power, Iraqi forces can win. We've seen this in Tikrit, Baiji, Sinjar, Ramadi and most recently in Hiit.

 

Now, let's talk about the operations more specifically. In the Euphrates River Valley on April 11th, the ISF raised the Iraqi flag over the city of Hiit, in their government building, there. We estimate that 75 percent of the city is now clear, and that ISF will push ISIL completely out of the city in the coming days.

 

CTS has evacuated an estimated 7,000 civilians over the last several days, and the coalition has conducted 21 air strikes against 108 separate enemy targets, resulting in more than 500 enemy killed in action.

 

In Fallujah, the 14th division is in defensive positions preparing for future operations.

 

You can pull the map back up for a second. In the Tigris River Valley, which is the blue circle on your map, operations are heavily contested. The territory there is essentially for ISIL's defense in depth of Mosul.

 

Now, the enemy knows that once they lose this territory, the Iraqi Security Forces will be able to posture for the eventual liberation of Mosul.

 

We are seeing ISIL put up some of its toughest fighting in the Kara Soar area. But we're also seeing the ISF dig in and successful repel attacks.  Coalition forces have supported operations of 25 strikes in that sector since April the 8th.

 

On the red circle on your map, which is pressuring and isolating Raqqa, since about the 1st of April, local forces have liberated more than a dozen small villages to the northwest in the Mara area.

 

While these operations don't encompass a lot of territory, this is critically important terrain for ISIL, because it is their last, best route to move people, money and supplies into Syria and Iraq.

 

There is now less than 100 kilometers of uncontested border crossing in the Manbij pocket. Since the 1st of April, the coalition has enabled operations in this sector, with 16 airstrikes that resulted in several dozen dead terrorists and much equipment destroyed.

 

In Hasakah Province to the east, near Shaddadi, the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, have secured approximately 6,200 square kilometers, which is a piece of ground roughly the size of Delaware. These most recent gains are the result of successful Syrian-Arab coalition and Syrian democratic force operations to stabilize the forward line of troops and further fragment the enemy's position between Mosul and Raqqa.

 

So that completes my operational update.  And with that, I saw Bob in the audience.

 

Bob, what's your --

 

Q:  Good morning, Colonel Warren.

 

You mentioned -- when you talked about stabilizing Anbar, I have a question for you about Ramadi. What's the status of efforts to repopulate the city, to reconstruct the city, and do you have any idea of how many civilian casualties occurred during the fighting for Anbar? I mean -- for Ramadi.

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, the Ramadi piece is continuing. You know, there were land mines, booby traps, IEDs sewn throughout the city and Iraqi security forces along with some civilian humanitarian agencies are working to reduce those obstacles, booby traps and et. cetera. So it's a process and it's a slow process. That city is -- parts of that city remain very, very dangerous to this day.

 

That said, there have been some notable numbers returning to Ramadi. We estimate approximately 9,000 families have returned. That adds up to more than -- by our count -- 60.000 individual people have now returned to Ramadi over the course of the last several weeks and months.

 

So we are seeing some progress. The Iraqi are working hard to get the infrastructure back up and running, whether it's electricity or water. They also have backup systems to provide water by a truck and provide electricity by an external generator. So there are systems and processes in place.

 

Just over the weekend, the American Secretary of State announced an additional $155 million that the United States was committing to the reconstruction and stabilization and humanitarian effort here in Iraq. So there are systems in place and we are seeing -- very slow -- but notable progress in Ramadi.

 

We don't have a good count, Bob, of how many civilians were killed during the entire course of ISIL's occupation of that city. We know it's a brutal enemy. We know it's a deadly enemy. We know that ISIL takes great pleasure in executions, beheadings, humiliations, and other assorted acts of barbarism and terror. So we can only imagine what life must have been like in Ramadi under the boot heel of these terrorists. But we do not yet have a reliable figure for how many civilians they killed.

 

Q:  Thanks a lot.

 

On that question of civilian casualties, I was thinking more in terms of whether you have an idea of whether civilians were killed during the bombing or other fighting that involved Iraqi forces supported by American forces in the city, you know, over the past -- in the final period there when the fighting was very heavy.

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, we've announced -- as you know, any time there is an allegation of a civilian casualty, we take that allegation very seriously.

 

We conduct a credibility assessment of that allegation. If the allegation is deemed credible, then we initiate a full investigation. When the investigation is complete, we very transparently and publicly announce the results of that investigation.

 

So, we can go back and look through the investigation results that have been made public so far. We have no additional investigation results to announce today. So, I would refer you back to our already published civilian casualty announcements for -- I don't recall if any of those were in Ramadi or not, frankly, Bob.

 

As far as any civilians that have -- that were -- became casualties as a result of Iraqi ground operations, we don't have those numbers.

 

Q:  Thank you.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Joe Tabet.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, I would like to ask you a broad question.

 

You mentioned in your opening statement that you're working to degrade and dismantle Daesh in Raqqa, Mosul and the Anbar Province.

 

I'm wondering if you could answer my question -- the same techniques and tactics have been used in the past against Al Qaida in Iraq. And every time the United States leaves the battle field, the terrorists make a come back.

 

What makes -- what makes you confident this time that this strategy against ISIL is going to work?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, first off, phase one was degrade. What I said today was that we are in phase two, which is dismantle.

 

So, degrade -- we've completed that phase -- now, we're in the dismantle phase, which is phase two.

 

We are confident that our approach this time will work for one simple reason -- rather than use large numbers of American forces, or coalition and western forces here on the ground, we've made a very conscious decision, and this is, of course, through our consultations with the government of Iraq who have asked us not to send any ground forces here.

 

So, there are no, you know, ground combat maneuver, you know, offensively oriented forces here. There are only trainers, advisers, assisters.

 

So, we believe that the way to defeat this enemy in such a way that the defeat will stick -- so, in other words beat them so that they stay beat -- we believe the key to that is for it to happen through the use of indigenous forces.

 

So, we are using Iraqi forces -- well, we're not using them, the Iraqis are fighting this enemy. And we believe that the Iraqis are the only ones who can defeat this enemy on the ground in such a way that they stay beat, and so that they don't come back, as you indicated.

 

So, that's -- that's our strategy.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Cami.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, hi.  It's Cami from CBS.

 

If I could just follow up on Joe's question to you, you mentioned fragmenting and fracturing the enemy.  Does not a scatter ISIS lead to a more complicated battle?

 

And I know you're using Iraqi forces on the ground to go after this, but if you have the same sort of situation in Syria, where you don't have a large force that you're working with, isn't this just complicating the situation if you start having a few hundred fighters all over the place?

 

COL. WARREN:  It's not. Certainly, we would rather have our enemy all just grouped together, and allow us to shoot them as fish in a barrel. But I don't think they'll do that.

 

So, our intent here is to deliver them a lasting defeat. And we believe that by degrading them in phase one and then dismantling them in phase two, we believe that that will set us up for phase three which, of course, is the ultimate defeat of this enemy.

 

So a fractured enemy, an enemy that's shattered and scattered, has significantly reduced ability to mass combat power. They're not able to create mass, which means they're not able to create decisive effects on the battlefield.

 

Sure, one guy with an RPG can shoot a vehicle. One committed terrorist with a shovel can dig a hole and plant an IED. This is what we will face. But one guy with a shovel cannot seize a town. One guy with an RPG cannot take control of a piece of terrain.

 

So we believe that by shattering them, fragmenting them and dismantling them, we will move ourselves one step closer to the ultimate defeat.

 

Q:  … toward North Africa, toward Europe?

 

COL. WARREN:  Cami, your question got clipped.  Would you please ask it again?

 

Q:  That -- does the pressure that they're taking in Iraq, especially and in Syria, does that not force more cells of fighters into North Africa and Europe?

 

COL. WARREN: We don't believe it does. I mean, this enemy has already made it clear that they want to expand into these places. But as we dismantle them -- because remember dismantle, you have to look at dismantle maybe as a little bit bigger picture. That means peeling back their command and control capabilities. That means taking apart their ability to earn money, to finance their own operations. You're thinking just individual people running around like cockroaches when the light turns on. That's not what we're talking about here.

 

We're talking about systematically dismantling all of their systems. Whether it's the ability to generate weapons, generate money, build truck bombs, command and control themselves, communicate amongst each other and to hold a controlled territory. Remember, ISIL, it exists to be a so-called caliphate. Right? So as we gobble up more and more territory, they are less and less of a caliphate until eventually they won't be one anymore. Then they'll just be another group of terrorists, which is a different problem set, fair enough.

 

But it is a significantly reduced problem set that an organization that has safe haven in an area where they can sit and freely plan their external operations around the world. So this idea that somehow by beating them that they're becoming more dangerous is, in my view, ludicrous. I mean, it's stupid. Nobody is really thinking about it.

 

As we continue to dismantle and defeat this enemy, they become automatically less capable. They become less effective. If they don't have a place where they can sit around and plan their external attack, if they don't have funds coming in that allows them to fund their external desires, if they don't have the command and control, the ability to talk to each other and synchronize their external operations, they are by definition less effective. So that's what's going on here.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  All right.

 

Next to Phil Stewart.

 

Q:  Hey, Colonel Warren. Good morning.

 

On that point, you know, you've had some really -- a couple very high value targets taken off the battle field in recent weeks. Has there been any concrete evidence that that's affected the Islamic State in any way? And if you could offer any detail on any impact from that, I'd be grateful.

 

And I have a question about the Manbij pocket, as well.

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, concrete evidence is something -- I don't know what your definition of concrete evidence is, Phil.  What I'll tell you is, that any organization that has lost three of its most senior leaders in a span of 30 days is going to suffer for it.

 

These were three leaders, Shishani, Haji Imam and Abu Dawud, who were significant players inside of that organization.  You know, their -- their equivalent of their, you know, minister of war, their equivalent -- kind of their deputy and chief finance officer, and you know, their chief weapons officer. Like the COO and the CFO, and the chief research guy, all wiped out in a short window.

 

This is a significant blow to the organization. And so, what we see is -- as we see every time we conduct leadership strikes, is the organization then turning in on itself. You know, there has been an increase in the number of executions of -- you know, ISIL executing their own people, accusing them of being spies, or leaks or whatever the case.

 

And it will create -- it creates confusion, creates paranoia, it creates this organization.  And ultimately, it weakens this enemy.

 

But as far as a piece of concrete that I can show you, no, I don't have that.

 

Q:  Why is it they're unable to mobilize fighters at the same speed as before?  Or no signs that their communications have been affected, from what you're able to pick up? Or nothing -- they did not change strategy in how they communicate?

 

They've not changed tactics in a way that you've noticed?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, they are continuously evolving, I will tell you that, Phil.  I mean, we see that all the time, is how their -- how their communications nodes move around, you know, how they are talking to each other.

 

But this is a continuous thing. So, every time, you know, it's the old idea of, you know, action, reaction and counter action.

 

So, every time we act, they will react. And then we will, of course, we will counter act their reaction. This is the nature of warfare. We do see that really continuously, whether it's an adjustment to the way that they try to transmit information between Iraq and Syria, whether it's an adjustment to the way that they flow forces and equipment from one place to another, or whether it's an adjustment, you know, to way they're -- you know, the way they are physically defending or physically fighting.

 

We see this really continuously, Phil. And we will continue to observe it, and we will continue to act on what we see.

 

Q: Quick on the Manbij pocket.  Have you seen any evidence of fighting between Kurdish forces and Arab forces of -- backed by the West?

 

COL. WARREN: We've not seen anything significant. You know, there is always friction on the battlefield.

 

There are some very ancient animosities through that region. Certainly, those have to be accounted for, certainly those will show themselves from time to time as different groups brush up against each other in the course of pursuing and fighting ISIL.

 

So, we do see some of this. But we don't see it as a problem. This is battle field friction that we're able to account for and work through.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Barbara -- (inaudible).  So, next up is Ingar.

 

Q:  Colonel, I'd like to ask you about some of the concerns and criticisms we've heard about the Iraqi forces being kind of slow in the pace of their operations, and you know, not fighting as aggressively as some people might like. Or as the secretary said last year, lacking a will to fight.

 

My question is, to what extent are -- is some of the more forward-leaning support the U.S. has provided over the past few months, and maybe some of the other accelerants we're going to see in the near future -- to what extent is that designed to instill more confidence in the Iraqis and encourage them to, you know, fight more aggressively and pick up the pace of their operations?

 

COL. WARREN:  Well, good, very good question, fair question. It reminds me of a story I want to tell you.  There's an Iraqi army M-1 Abrams tank, a single tank that's operating inside the city of Hiit. And frankly, it has been handing it to the enemy regularly now for several days. They push continuously along the front lines of the CTS troops. So this is a great example of the Iraqi army interacting with and working together in a combined-arms fashion with the counterterrorist service.

 

And so this M-1 tank has been driving all around Hiit, crazy, and blasting IEDs, punching holes in enemy defenses, and maneuvering between multiple engagements and allowing the CTS and other Iraqi army ground forces, you know, to clear and help evacuate civilians.

 

So this tank has been so successful, this one tank crew, that the American advisers who actually watch this tank in action have -- have given it the hero-of-the-day award for, like, several days running. And our guys will set in the op center there and will track this tank.  And in fact, at one point, they thought there were multiple tanks, and we actually had to reach into the unit and discover it was just one tank that was tearing up Hiit all by itself.

 

And so then this tank has become a little bit of a folk hero here in Iraq.  If you check the social media feeds here, they've nicknamed it -- "they" being I guess the social -- the Twitter people, the tweets, the twits. They've nicknamed this tank "the beast." So now all of a sudden, the beast has become a thing here in this part of Iraq.

 

And in fact, I've got a video of the beast that I'm going to tweet out.  So if you're not following me @OIRSPOX – at OIR SPOX. And I'm going to tweet this video of the beast out and you can watch it and see, you know, kind of what we believe right looks like.

 

So, we are seeing the Iraqi army step up. We know that the CTS -- we know that the Peshmerga have been really the examples for several years of an effective force. The Iraqi army over the course of the last 20 months, we've trained nearly 20,000 of them, has begun to elevate their performance levels every day. And we've seen them now conduct operations in Baiji, conduct operations in Tikrit, conduct operations in Ramadi.

 

And what -- what this has done, the effect this has had is that they have tasted victory. And in battle, as in life, victory tastes sweet. And they like the way victory tastes. And they want to taste more of it.

 

So we are seeing these examples over and over now of small units whose confidence, whose competence, whose morale is growing and strengthening and expanding. And that tends to have an effect -- it has a ripple effect across units.

 

So we believe that the training, the advising, the equipping that we've done has had a significant and notable impact on the capabilities of the Iraqi army.

 

Now, that said, I have to be clear. Not every Iraqi unit is alike, just like not every unit in any army is alike. So there are units that still have problems. I want to be very clear about that. We’ve seen -- we've had some problems up around Makhmour with some of the units who have not fought up at the level that we'd like them to. We've had problems with some of the leaders who have not been aggressive -- who have not been as aggressive as we would like them to.

 

But what's encouraging is that the Iraqi senior leaders have noticed this as well and they have fired division commanders. Division commander -- I think the 10th division -- was on the northern access into Ramadi which fired over the winter, they recently fired one of the commanders in command of one of the units in the vicinity of Makhmour, replaced him with a more aggressive commander.

 

So we're starting to see this army act like an army. And yes there’s been moments where they could have done better. But broadly speaking across the board, we believe that overall their level is coming up. And it's a good time for that to happen because I'm here to tell you, as this army begins to drive north towards Mosul, the fighting is only going to get harder.  This enemy does not want to give up Mosul. They want to preserve their defense in depth along the Tigris River and they will continue to fight hard.

 

And oh, by the way, as they move north from Baghdad, they then become increasingly distance from their support zone, which is Baghdad. The primary support zone to the Iraqi army is Baghdad. So as they move north, they find themselves with additional logistics hurdles that they have to surmount. So the timing is right for the Iraqi army to raise its capability level and its morale level. I hope that answers your question. It got a little long, but --

 

Q:  Sure.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Corey --

 

Q:  Hey, Colonel Warren. Corey Dickstein with "Stars and Stripes."  I got a couple questions.

 

First, I wanted to -- on that tank, the beast, how many tank crews are you -- are in heat and why is this particular one so good?  Does it -- did it get different training or is it just the people who are running this tank?

 

COL. WARREN: I don't think it's Brad Pitt running it, but it's the crew. This is one M1A1 Abrams tank with a motivated crew demonstrating the enormous capabilities and combat power available in an M1 Abrams tank, by the way. So this is a trained crew. We trained them. This is a motivated crew. And they're out there just plain old getting after it.

 

Q:  Um, and you mentioned 500 enemy killed in heat. Is that just in coalition airstrikes, or does that include the Iraqi army and CTS as well?

 

Q:  Or is it all the tank?

 

(Laughter.)

 

COL. WARREN: That number is a result of coalition airstrikes. I don't have the numbers that the Iraqis are keeping.

 

Q:  Uh, okay. And then on a different topic. Are the Americans, are we directly arming the Peshmerga at this point?

 

COL. WARREN: 100 percent of the arms and equipment that we provide goes through the central government of Iraq. There will be times when, of course, there's coordination and you know -- it's the coordination piece that goes through and the delivery will be to the CG. But it all goes through the central government of Iraqi. The central government decides where every piece of equipment goes.

 

Q:  Sure.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay. Next to Kassim.

 

Q:  I will -- hi.  I will follow up on Joe and Cami's question about your comments on the strategy against ISIS.

 

You said you have based your strategy to degrade and dismantle ISIS on the indigenous forces. But those indigenous forces are already fragmented among themselves as well. And they are divided more than ever.

 

So, in Iraq, you see Shia militias, Sunni tribes and the Kurds, and also Iraqi Central Government. And also in Syria, you see YPG opposition groups, Islamist groups, and also the regime, Hezbollah, they are divided in a -- you know, in irreconcilable way.

 

So, how are you going to bring all these fragments together to maintain -- to maintain Daesh or ISIS' defeat in Iraq and Syria?

 

COL. WARREN: Well, they are coming together around a common purpose, which is the defeat of this -- this enemy.

 

We certainly see that in Iraq, and we see that, frankly, in Syria as well.  You know, we have a small contingent of forces there who are helping to stitch this Syrian Democratic Force together.

 

And we see it working. You can't argue with 6,000 square kilometers liberated in the last month, an area larger than the size of Delaware. You simply can't argue with that as progress.

 

Nor can you argue with the amount of clearance that we've seen up through both the Tigris and the Euphrates River in the past six to eight months. So, these forces have coalesced in both countries around a very common enemy.

 

And it is these ground forces, along with the devastating air power that we provide that are dismantling and -- this enemy.

 

Q:  And also, the coalition partners are also not -- you know, they do not have a consensus about those indigenous groups as well.

 

How are you going to facilitate this as well? For example, Turkey is not happy with what the YPG is doing in the Northern Syria -- Northeastern Syria.  And there are certain other groups who are supporting -- certain other partners who are supporting some other groups other than the ones that the United States tries to support.

 

How are you going to facilitate that as well, for a longer term?

 

COL. WARREN: Well, this coalition has gotten stronger every day over the last 20 months.

 

And we see that in the results. As our coalition comes closer together, we see more effectiveness in our air power. We see more effectiveness -- we see coalition members contributing a greater and greater number of enablers.

 

You know, very recently, you know, we've seen European partners over the course of the last several months commit additional trainers, commit additional air power, commit additional enablers.

 

And so, these are all very concrete signs that this coalition is coming together, is becoming stronger, is becoming more potent with every single passing day.  And -- so, we will continue. The United States of America will continue as a leadership of this coalition.

 

And we will continue to bring them together against this very common enemy, which makes itself known through its attacks, you know, that we've seen.  Whether it's a Russian airliner being shot down in Egypt, whether it's a -- several series of bombs in Turkey, whether it's Paris, whether it's Brussels, the world has been -- the world is clear. The world understands that this is an enemy that must be defeated.  And -- and we are watching this 66-member coalition come together stronger every day.

 

Q: Hi, Colonel Warren.  This is Tolga.

 

I have two quick questions regarding, one on Peshmerga; and the other one on the situation in -- (inaudible).

 

First, on the Peshmerga forces, they are not paid over the last three months. How does it impact the situation on the ground, this financial crisis in -- (inaudible)?

 

COL. WARREN: The financial crisis in Iraq certainly is having an impact.  There's no way around it. But it is something that the Iraqi government is working very hard to get through. And so while the Peshmerga have missed some payments, as have other portions of the Iraqi security force, they continue to fight. And we are working with our partners to determine if there's anything that we can do to help.

 

And the Iraqi government is working very hard both with its partners and with the international community writ large to find a way out of this financial crisis, this economic crisis.

 

But it's certainly a challenge.  It's certainly something that we are very acutely aware of. But, you know, so far, we've seen these forces not only continue to fight, but continue to win. And so we're going to, you know, we're going to continue working with them to achieve those goals.

 

Q:  Then impact -- what's the impact been? So if they keep fighting, and did you realize any morale problem with the Peshmerga?

 

COL. WARREN: No, no problem with the Peshmerga. They're committed fighters. They've done great work.  The impact is that they haven't been paid.  So, that's the impact. But they're still fighting.

 

Q:  On the situation in northern -- in northern Syria. According to the -- (inaudible) -- reports, the airstrikes against Manbij area and the Mara area are intense -- (inaudible) -- over the last one week or two weeks. When you are talking about pressuring Raqqah, is it safe to assume that before liberating Raqqah, the priority for the coalition is to secure the last part of the Syrian-Turkish border, which is under control of ISIS, in terms of the security of Turkey, or in terms of the way of ISIS guys to escape from this operation?

 

COL. WARREN: Well, we certainly don't want to transmit our plans ahead of our execution of those plans. What I'll tell you is you see the noose begin to slowly tighten around Raqqah. You see the pressure beginning to -- continuing to mount, whether that's pressure from the ground or from the air. And that will keep up until Raqqah is eventually liberated.

 

But I'm certainly not going to announce what tactical actions we're going to do on the road to Raqqah. No, I'm not going to do that.

 

Q:  Okay.  -- (inaudible) -- followup -- (inaudible) -- question.

 

(inaudible) -- because I didn't hear what -- (inaudible).

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

Q:  Hey, colonel. Luis with ABC.

 

A quick follow-up on the Beast.

 

Why is there only one tank in Hiit? Is that an indicator of low resourcing for that operation?

 

COL. WARREN: No, it's not an indicator of low resourcing. Three were deployed up there, two of them broke.  So, there is one remaining.

 

So, we were still working with them on their maintenance, but the one that's up is up, and it is tearing it up in Hiit.

 

Q:  And to follow up on that, I mean, that's part of, I think the larger Euphrates River operation that you all have.

 

Last -- a couple of weeks ago, you talked about the flow of residents moving out because of the violence. Is that still continuing? Have those numbers increased, or are people returning to their homes?

 

COL. WARREN: Luis. I'm sorry.  Where -- are we talking about in -- we're talking about in Hiit?

 

Q: In the Euphrates River, that whole operation as a whole, I think you talked about how there was a flow of displaced people a couple of weeks ago.

 

Have those numbers gone up, or are people returning?

 

COL. WARREN: Right. So, they're slowly returning. You know, what we saw was the enemy, in this case, did not sort of salt the earth with -- with explosives to the extent they did in Ramadi.

 

Why? We're not sure. But it doesn't appear to be the case. It's always the goal of the humanitarian community to return folks back to their homes as rapidly as possible.

 

So, it's still early. They'll -- I mean, this operation has only been going not even a month, yet. We are seeing some return, often it will be the head of household who will return to assess and stay for a while, and kind of get things going, and then he'll draw the rest of the family.

 

I don't have numbers for you right now; we know that the Iraqi army did a very admirable job of working with the U.N. ahead of this push through the Euphrates River Valley to establish several IDP camps just south of the line of advance, or line of attack.

 

And those IDP camps were used. They were stocked, fairly well run. So, we have actually been very satisfied with the conduct of both the CTS and the Iraqi army through the course of this operation.

 

So, it has been heartening and good to see.  But unfortunately, Louis), I don't have good -- a good set of numbers for you.

 

Largely speaking, the IDPs are still out of their homes.  But we are beginning to see a trickle back.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Lucas.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, is there any plan to arm Syrian rebels with shoulder-fired surface to air missiles?

 

COL. WARREN: Lucas, right now, we are only providing ammunition and small arms.

 

I certainly wouldn't get into future plans and operations. I will leave that to more senior people to announce. As of now, the support we provide to the Syrian-Arab coalition, which we call the SAC, has primarily been ammunition, and in some cases small arms -- .50 cal machine guns, mortars, mortar rounds, that type of thing.

 

Certainly no -- no MANPADS.  Those -- we have not issued any out.

 

Q:  Can I follow up on that?

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Yeah, go ahead, Cami.

 

Q:  Steve, it's Cami. Do you know how many MANPADS are approximately in Syria?

 

COL. WARREN: No idea, Cami. I'm sorry.

 

Q:  And can I ask one other question? Can you give us an update on the status of the cessation of hostilities in Syria?

 

COL. WARREN: Well, the cessation of hostilities still largely holds.  There have been violations, of course, primarily in the Aleppo area.

 

But largely speaking, it's holding. And I know there's -- there's talks going on in Geneva that are about to start, there's several working groups.  I know the Americans and the Russians are co-chairs of one of them.

 

So that process appears to be going from a purely military perspective.  There have been violations, none of them significant enough to declare that it's collapsed or anything. They do seem to be increasing, but marginally at this point.  So difficult to tell whether it's a trend or if it's just happening right now for some reason.

 

Our focus, of course, remains righting ISIL.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Andrew.

 

Q:  Colonel Warren, just a quick follow-up on -- on Hiit. What has the American and coalition role in that operation over the past few weeks been?  Anything other than airstrikes and advising from inside the wire at division headquarters? Anything beyond that?

 

COL. WARREN: Nothing beyond that, Andrew. Our role has been to provide devastating combat power, to give advise and assistance, you know, from Taqaddum and of course to cheer on the beast-- (inaudible).

 

Q:  My question is kind of tied to Andrew's and -- and it's basically is whether or not there have been any kind of new U.S. bases or positions along the lines of Fire Base Bell or anything else remotely like it where U.S. -- U.S. soldiers are put into a different -- marines or anybody put in a different location.

 

COL. WARREN: We don't have anything to announce along those lines.

 

CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Anybody else?

 

Q:  Yes. Colonel Warren, can you help us understand how the U.S. and Russia are co-chairing the cessation of hostilities talks in Geneva, but at the same time, Russian attack aircraft are buzzing a U.S. destroyer in the Baltic Sea?

 

COL. WARREN:  It is a complex world, Lucas. You know, these are all -- these -- these co-chairs and things like that, these are all nation matters.  Baltic Sea, not part of our area of operations. Our focus here is to destroy this ruthless and brutal enemy, and that's what -- that's what we're doing.

 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Last call for --

 

Q:  Yes. Last -- last one on the cessation of hostilities, Colonel. I know the State Department is watching the implementation of this agreement, but my question is on the situation in northern Aleppo. State Department confirmed that there was a violation of this agreement by Syrian forces and Russian forces, but I'm wondering if the groups were attacked by these two forces on -- in Syria were cooperating at the same time with U.S. in terms of the fighting against ISIS?

 

COL. WARREN: Tolga, I didn't understand a single word of that.

 

Q: I know that the situation in northern Aleppo is kind of a violation of cessation of hostilities, according to the State Department officials. Syrian and Russian forces attacked some groups in there non-Nusra or non-ISIS, let's say. The groups were not the -- part of the -- who are the part -- who are part of the agreement, actually, who are not supposed to be attacked by any forces, according to the agreement.

 

But State Department confirmed that there is a violation of agreement in northern Aleppo. I'm wondering if these groups who were attacked by Russian and Syrian forces in northern Aleppo are -- at the same time are cooperating with U.S. forces on the ground against ISIS?

 

COL. WARREN:  So we -- we don't have a piece of the enforcement of the -- of the cessation of hostilities. What we're doing in -- we, the coalition -- what we're doing in Syria is fighting ISIL. So that -- whatever it was that you just described there, had nothing to do with fighting ISIL.

 

So what we're doing is fighting ISIL. We're providing support to forces who are fighting ISIL. So that's where our focus remains.

 

CAPT. DAVIS: Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you next week.

 

COL. WARREN: All right. Thanks, guys. See you next week.



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