CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning.
And before we get started, J.D., just 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: Looks like you can hear us. We can't hear you, though. Give us one more sound check there.
COL. DORRIAN: Test-1-2-3-4-5-6-- testing 1-2-3-4-5-6.
CAPT. DAVIS: We've got you. Can you hear us?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I've got you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Terrific.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're pleased to be joined today by Colonel John Dorrian, who is the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, coming to us from Baghdad.
J.D., happy new year. Good to see your face again. And we look forward to getting an update from you.
COL. DORRIAN: Outstanding.
Good morning, happy new year, everyone. We'll start in Syria; we'll move to Iraq.
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces led by their Syrian Arab Coalition, are continuing their advance to isolate Raqqah along two axes, supported by coalition forces, providing advice and assistance, and coalition air power delivering -- delivering counter-ISIL strikes to Raqqah's north and west.
Since this current phase began on December 9th, the SDF have liberated more than 500 square miles of Syrian land, home to tens of thousands of people who have been brutalized by ISIL's rule. Coalition airstrikes removed a significant number of ISIL fighters, more than 70 vehicles, and 200 fortifications from the battlefield. This degrades ISIL's ability to maneuver and defend the occupied cities.
Of these strikes, more than 100 have taken place in the vicinity of Tabqa Dam, killing many ISIL fighters, including Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti. As you know, Kuwaiti, a prominent foreign fighter and leader, had been sent to improve ISIL's control in the region in the face of SDF's advance. Recovering the Tabqa Dam from ISIL will result in return of Syria's largest dam to the Syrians, further allowing them to reclaim their homes and their liberty.
We're working with our SDF partners to ensure the dam is effectively and safely recovered. ISIL has used the dam as a headquarters, a prison for high-profile hostages, and a training and indoctrination area for leaders since they seized control of it in 2013. Loss of this key terrain will damage the enemy's prospects and legitimacy as they continue to lose territory.
In Iraq, Iraqi security forces have made significant progress since initiating phase two of their operation to liberate Mosul on the 29th of December. For phase two, Iraqi forces synchronized simultaneous attacks from three axes into the city, with elements of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service, the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi federal police conducting the operation.
What we're finding is that the synchronized attacks present the enemy with more problems than they can solve, and the Iraqi security forces are making progress with the continued benefit of coalition strikes and advisers. The axes are beginning to converge as the Iraqis make progress toward the Tigris. In Mosul and other areas around Iraq, precision coalition airstrikes have continued attacking ISIL leaders who facilitate and command and control the terrorist network.
The latest examples are three ISIL facilitators and terrorist leaders from occupied cities. I can confirm the deaths of Imad Abdullah Hamud al-Mahallawi, Abu Turk and Falah al-Rashidi. Al-Rashidi, struck on December 4th in Mosul, was an ISIL leader who was involved in ISIL's use of VBIEDs in Mosul. His -- his removal further degrades ISIL's VBIED threat, which has been the enemy's weapon of choice for attacking Iraqi security forces and civilians.
Al-Mahallawi, struck December 21st in Al-Qaim, was a legacy Al-Qaida Iraq member serving as an ISIL leader in Al-Qaim. His removal will disrupt ISIL's ability to conduct operations along the Euphrates River Valley. This is significant because as ISIL continues to lose population centers, they want to transition towards spoiler attacks in the outlying areas of Iraq and Syria. The loss of Mahallawi degrades ISIL's ability to make that transition.
Abu Turk struck on December 4th in Sharqat, was an ISIL financial facilitator in Qanfusah, Iraq, who had connections to ISIL leaders and facilitated funds to the group. He was killed by an air strike while fighting from a rooftop position in Sharqat, where he and several other fighters were moving a heavy weapon to fire upon partner forces. His removal increases pressure on the ISIL financial network, which is already severely disrupted by several hundred strikes on oil infrastructure and bulk cash sites.
Finally, I want to show you an important example of the impact of strikes against the enemy's networks. If you would, please bring up that image.
The image that you're seeing now is a screen capture from an ISIL Amaq news propaganda video decrying a recent coalition strike against a vehicle that the enemy had been using to transport weapons. The enemy was trying to accuse the coalition of attacking near a protected site. However, they neglected to notice that their own propaganda video confirms the presence of the recoilless rifles that were observed them firing at the ISF.
As you'll recall, the coalition has heavily targeted the ISIL propaganda machine. This is what happens when the enemy relies on less capable people as their subject matter experts are eliminated.
And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: We'll start with Bob Burns from the Associated Press.
Q: Colonel Dorrian, question for you on Iraq and your point about the -- the simultaneous attacks on -- on -- from multiple axes by the ISF recently. You mentioned that this present ISIL with more problems than they can solve. I'm wondering if you can flesh that out a little bit and explain what exactly it has revealed about ISIL defenses and tactics or their plans and just to flesh out that point you made?
COL. DORRIAN: Sure, Bob.
One of the things that's really important to understand about the ongoing battle in Mosul is that the city is completely surrounded without -- and the enemy doesn't have the ability to resupply or reinforce their fighters. They're increasingly isolated on the eastern side of the city because of the damage that has been done to the bridges that are there, so they don't have the ability to bring over resources or fighters from the west.
And what that means is that as their resources dwindle, and to be clear, you know, there's been a lot of discussion about the losses that Iraqis are taking, the enemy is taking an order of magnitude greater. They don't have the ability to resupply to reinforce those fighters, so as the Iraqis move along three different axes, they don't have the resources to defend all three. So what they're having to do is make hard choices to defense one or another or defend each of them more weakly, and what happens then is the Iraqis are able to move more decisively against them.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Idrees Ali with Reuters.
Q: Thank you.
Yesterday, we were told that U.S.-led coalition jets flew over or near al-Bab at the request of the Turkish government. I believe a month or a month and a half ago, you said the U.S.-led coalition was not supporting that operation. So I guess, with these flights, are you now supporting and going to continue supporting Turkey?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, Turkish operations in al-Bab have been a subject of ongoing diplomatic and leader discussion between the coalition, between the United States and Turkey. This is something that's been ongoing for several weeks and I know that at a higher level there have been discussions at the diplomatic level about the way ahead.
So, we have definitely, you know, you -- I have seen the reporting on that event where we had forces in air support to the Turkish forces that were there. This was a show of force that was conducted at the request of the Turkish forces that were operating on the ground and we do expect that there will be some ongoing support to Turkish operations in and around al-Bab.
Q: What do you mean by ongoing support? Is it just going to be continuing flying over and not dropping ordinance or -- if you could explain that a bit more?
COL. DORRIAN: I really -- really can't get into the details of what types of support are going to be offered, but I can confirm for you that those discussions have been happening and the Turks are aware of some of the things that might be in store. So, I can't get ahead of those discussions. We kind of have to leave it where it is. I hope you understand.
Q: So, just to be clear, you are now supporting their move on al-Bab when you previously were not?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, we have -- we supported with a show of force recently and there are ongoing discussions about the manner in which we'll support in the future. So I'm not going to get into the details of what is in store, but that's where it is right now.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, we'll go to Kasim Ileri with Anadolu.
Q: Colonel, I will be following up with al-Bab and then I'll have a few others. You said that you can confirm that you have offered some kind of support and the discussions about it, you know, continues. Could you -- could you also tell us whether you have put any condition for that support in return for that -- in return of the support to the Turkish forces?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I'm afraid I can't go into those kinds of details. Frankly, I'm not privy to them.
But one of the things that's very important to understand here is how much we value the Turkish support to the fight against Daesh. This -- the work that they've done in the northern part of Syria to isolate that border and stop infiltration into and out of the region has been invaluable. It's very important and it's also, you know, along that theme of giving the enemy more problems to solve than they have the command and control structure to do. It's also important on that level.
So we have ongoing operations throughout Iraq. We have ongoing operations with partner forces in Syria. We have ongoing operations with the Turkish military and their partnered force. And we do have ongoing discussions between our countries and coalition to increase the amount of support in the participation that we'll be providing to Turkey as -- as they move forward in al-Bab.
Q: Previously, when for a couple -- previously, the defense officials would say whenever we see Daesh fighters, we kill them. However, this time we see that you apparently have seen them and didn't kill them, rather just -- you just do a show of force sort of over them.
Do you -- could you just explain, what was the reason why the aircraft didn't, you know, drop ordinates on these Daesh fighters firing at Turkish forces?
COL. DORRIAN: Sure, the cardinal rule of close air support is to do no harm. And if you don't have forces on the ground and weather, you know, does not enable you to see exactly what you're firing at, you can create more danger for forces on the ground than you solve with the strike.
So we conducted the operation that we could conduct at that time. And, you know, that -- that's what we could do right then and this is something, there are limitations that are driven by weather. They're driven by limitations in intelligence information that we have.
But when we do have good fidelity on where the enemy is and where our partner forces are in relation to the enemy, then we do exactly as you described. We will strike enemy targets anywhere that they can be found.
CAPT. DAVIS: Great. Next, to Tolga Tanis with Hurriyet.
Q: Yes, colonel I had just a few quick follow-ups to this question, first to clarify, is there any U.S. adviser on the ground in Syria, in Northern -- in Northern Syria who are working with the Turkish forces? Not necessarily in al-Bab, but in the north of al-Bab?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, we do have -- we do have coalition forces in northern Syria. We do have forces that are working with the Turkish military all the time. So this is something that's ongoing.
As far as exactly where they are in relation to, you know, al-Bab, I really don't get into the -- the disposition of our forces exactly where they're operating from. But our forces are talking to the Turkish military all the time. You know, we have ongoing working relationships to share intelligence and -- and that sort of thing.
Q: (inaudible) the conversation with Turkey will end positively, the coalition forces is ready to support the Turkish forces in al-Bab in terms of the intelligence gathering or other operational capability?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, as far as the -- the details of what's gonna be offered, I just can't get into that with you. I can confirm though, that there have been some good discussions at much higher levels about what type of support there would be, so.
We'll just let that play out. That's a discussion at a higher level than I'm privy to. I hope you understand I just don't have that insight to offer right now.
Last one, colonel.
Today, Turkish officials in the cabinet levels, including the defense minister and the foreign minister, criticized U.S. for using Incirlik Air Base but not supporting Turkish forces in Al-Bab. And the defense minister said clearly that we could not reconsider the use of Incirlik Air Base.
So could you please give us some details how Incirlik Air Base is playing crucial role in the operations right now? And are you using Incirlik base in Iraq or just in Syria? And a little bit on the use of use of Incirlik, as I said. Could you give a few details about the -- how it is crucial for the coalition?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, a couple of things that are -- are really important to the -- the ongoing operations against Daesh are our provision of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to our partnered forces, and also, our conduct of strikes against the enemy and his resources.
So both of those things have been ongoing from Incirlik Air Base. It's absolutely invaluable, the base and what -- what capabilities it's made available for the coalition. Indeed, you know, really the world -- the entire world has been made safer by the operations that have been conducted there. So it's -- it's a very important base to the coalition and to the ongoing fight against Daesh.
Q: Are you using Incirlik for the operations in Iraq or only for Syria?
COL. DORRIAN: You know, I'd have to check that -- just double check that and get back to you. I'd have to check.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.
Q: I would like to follow up on Tolga’s question about what Turkey's defense minister had said today, that the NATO operations in Incirlik are questionable. Are you concerned that Turkey could take a decision or could -- could decide that -- to limit the coalition operations from Incirlik? Do you have any concerns like that?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about that. I can tell you that there has been ongoing discussion at very high levels between our two governments, between the coalition and Turkey about the -- the invaluable resource that Incirlik is and how invaluable the participation of Turkey has been in coalition operations against Daesh.
One of the things that we have tried to do very closely is to just orchestrate between all the coalition nations and all the partners in this very complex battle space, where everyone is and what they're doing, to try to have multiple axes in multiple areas in which ISIL is being attacked. So even as these discussions are ongoing and there -- I will certainly grant you that there has been a robust back and forth about those, there has been a tremendous amount of excellent work, all focused against defeating Daesh and we are going to do what we can to try and make sure that that continues.
Q: Quick -- quick follow-up, Colonel Dorrian. Is it fair to say that currently the U.S. and Turkey are not on the same page when it comes to Al-Bab and also when it comes to the Incirlik operations?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, again, I -- I just told you that there had been a lot of discussion at very high levels. I think that everyone has an interest in the defeat of Daesh. There's been a tremendous amount of cooperation and coordination that's happened in order to make very substantial progress in 2016.
We -- we're working to make sure that that continues at pace in 2017. I don't have the details to offer you about what, you know, the way forward will be in al-Bab. But, I do know that there has been some good discussion on that. And Turkey is aware that the discussion. So, we'll just kind of leave it there and let that play out.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Laurie Milroie with Kurdistan 24.
Q: Hello, Colonel Dorrian, my question concerns the Inspector General report that was issued just before the holidays regarding U.S. support for the Peshmerga fighting against Daesh. And that report was very critical of what -- of what the U.S. had done. There was a failure to arm the Peshmerga properly and to provide proper maintenance facilities for that equipment.
But since they didn't have the equipment, I suppose it didn't matter that they didn't have the maintenance facilities, but I wonder now have those problems been corrected that the I.G. report pointed to?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I'm familiar with the report that you're referencing, but I don't know that I can say that every single thing in that report has been addressed. I can tell you that there's been a substantial effort to arm and equip the Peshmerga to do what they need to do in order to support operations in Northern Iraq.
And their role has been absolutely magnificent. The cooperation between them and the government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces has enabled the operation in Mosul too to progress. And, you know, we -- we -- we do plan on continuing that.
So, if -- if, you know, as far as specifically everything in that report, I think I'd have to get back to you on -- on the status of each thing that you're asking about.
Q: On the two big issues of whether the promised arms have been, you know, all delivered and maintenance facilities are there, I'd be most grateful. The report did provide a very positive picture of the Peshmerga forces, that they were responsive to criticism. They even had -- if you recall -- pictures of -- there was criticism about how munitions were being stored in a warehouse.
And then they showed another picture a month later, and they had taken care of the problem. So, it seemed that they were really working very cooperatively with -- with the Americans. So, I mean, is that a legitimate conclusion that I'm reaching there?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, it's definitely a legitimate conclusion that they've been very cooperative and very forward leaning and very effective in defeating Daesh. So, as far as the details of where all those items are, I think, you know, I'd just have to follow up with you to give you a specificity. I wouldn't want to get ahead of my headlights and give you information that's incorrect.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, Tara Copp with Stars and Stripes.
Q: Hi, Colonel Dorrian.
I wanted to follow up on Bob's questions on Mosul. Could you give us a sense of what is still needed to have Mosul fall? Is it that there's not enough forces? Or is more gun power needed? More airstrikes? What do you see is, like, the next steps to accelerate the fall of Mosul?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, this, you know, the battle for Mosul, I've gotten a lot of questions about why it's taking a significant amount of time. The thing that you have to understand about Mosul, there are several things. The first is that the enemy has had more than two years to prepare for the battle that's now ongoing. So they have a tremendous amount of weaponry and resources, and they've had a tremendous amount of time to dig elaborate defenses and establish booby-traps to complicate the Iraqi security forces' advance.
At the same time, they also have shown no reluctance whatsoever to attack civilians or use civilians as shields. And this slows things down. And then there are more than 200,000 buildings in Mosul. And really, in order to do this properly, given the way that the enemy has conducted themselves, you end up having to clear each one. And that goes from rooftop level, often in four-story or higher buildings, through every single room, and every single closet, and into tunnels that have been dug between these buildings, and sometimes beneath them. And it's just slow-going and it's just going to take some time.
Now, what I would say is, the Iraqi security forces have done a tremendous job of doing that very, very dangerous mission and protecting civilians as they do it. But it's going to take time. It's going to be extraordinarily dangerous. And the Iraqis have definitely made sacrifices in order to do it.
I think they're to be commended for the way that they've conducted themselves with tactical patience. And what we're seeing now is that this method, this three axes of advance where they're beginning to converge, is starting to really make things very difficult for the enemy. That once they get to the river, they're going to go into the west side and then, you know, it will be another very tough fight there as well.
Q: And just to follow up, is there anything at this point that would further assist them in accelerating this advance?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, there have been, you know, a number of things that have been done in order to accelerate the advance of the Iraqi security forces. Certainly, we've continued to conduct strikes against the enemy. We've also increased the number of advise and assist forces that are there with the Iraqi security forces command elements to help advise them as they move forward and to synchronize operations.
The Iraqis have taken advantage of that, and that's been effective. If there are any other things that need to be done in order to do that, I'm sure that there will be a request made through the appropriate channels, and that would be General Townsend and his leadership team, to CENTCOM, and up to the secretary of defense and the White House for approval.
Q: Without revealing specific numbers, could you give us an idea of how much -- how much the advisers have increased? Have you doubled them? Have you increased by 10 percent, increased by 20 percent?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I would give you a ballpark maybe around 450 or so advise and assist forces for the Iraqi Security Forces. That is right about double what we had been doing before.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Courtney Kube, NBC News.
Q: Hey, JD. Happy new year.
I have a different question, but just one more thing on the advisers. So, just to be clear, what over -- what was the time period over which those numbers doubled? And are they actually -- how far forward are they? Are they actually inside the city of Mosul or are they outside the city limits?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, the arrangements for the increase in advise and assist forces was made to support phase two of the operation, so it's been in the last couple of weeks. And then, I'm sorry, your second question is where they are? They have -- they've advised the Iraqi Security Forces as they've moved forward. They remain behind the forward line of troops. You know, as far as specifically where they are, we probably won't get into in great detail.
Q: You can't say whether they're -- they've actually entered the city limits even though the Iraqi Security Forces are relatively far into the city now? You can't even say if there's any American advisers who are in the city at all?
COL. DORRIAN: They have been in the city at different times, yes.
Q: And, can you just -- I know it's two different countries and two different cities and everything but is there any way that you can compare how -- you just went into detail about how dug in ISIS is in Mosul. Can you compare that to Raqqah at all as far as what the fight there -- that you expect the SDF to see there? Are they -- do you expect ISIS to be even more dug in, even more booby traps?
Is there any way to compare those two based on the fact that now the SDF are now within, you know, 20 or 30 miles of the city?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, what I would say is that Raqqah is about 25 percent the size of Mosul. Still a very large metropolitan area and still going to be very dense urban fighting and it'll be very, very tough there. I think what we will see is a comparable level of enemy activity to dig in and fight there. So, it'll probably be a similar fight, but then, you know, smaller.
Q: If everyone doesn't mind if I ask one more question. Our colleagues at the Marine Corps Times had a story, I think it was yesterday, about a Marine dog handler who was wounded, some sort of a head injury and I of course wouldn't ask you any of the details about his injuries, but can you talk at all about -- about what happened that -- what was the incident that caused this Marine -- and were any other Americans wounded in the incident?
COL. DORRIAN: I'm afraid I haven't seen that report. I think we'll just have to take that one, Courtney, and try to get back to you.
Generally we don't release information about forces that are wounded in action. I know that those statistics get released later, but for privacy reasons and then for ongoing battle damage assessment reasons, we just don't do that right around the time that it happens. And so those kinds of details usually come from home station and then, statistically later, from the office of secretary of defense.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News.
Q: Colonel, in the opening days of the Mosul operation the Pentagon said that you were -- your coalition was ahead of schedule. Would you still say the coalition is ahead of schedule?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes. You know, I -- I remember saying that and that was pretty much day one. And day one, you know, the Iraqi security forces had allocated the entire day to get to a certain area and they reached that area by mid-day. And so that's how we characterized it then.
As far as the ongoing schedule, I'm not aware of a calendar-type schedule for the conduct of operations in Mosul for a variety of reasons; many that I've described today about, you know, the use of civilian shields, the elaborate defenses, the need to go through every single on of these buildings before they could move forward. I think that would be very difficult to predict with fidelity.
But the Iraqi security forces do continue to make progress. One of the things, as tough as it is and as long as it is, the enemy can't reinforce and they can't resupply. So time is not on the enemy's side, it's on the side of the Iraqi security forces and they are going to retake Mosul.
And they continue making progress in doing so. And we're going to continue to support the actions that they do with our air and artillery strikes, ISR and our advice and assistance.
Q: Back to the advisers, can you discuss what kind of troops these are? Are these engineers, these special operations forces, are these intelligence soldiers?
COL. DORRIAN: I would say probably all of the above.
Q: And finally, is there any concern that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is -- is on a visit to Iran right now and meeting with the ayatollah? Is that at all concern to senior U.S. leaders?
COL. DORRIAN: No. You know, Iran is a -- is a neighboring country with Iraq. They're going to have diplomatic relations and those types of things, they're very routine and ongoing. And, you know, we remain focused on fighting Daesh.
CAPT. DAVIS: Laurent Barthelemy, Agence France-Presse.
Q: About the new advisers that were sent to the Mosul area, I'm not sure I understood if they are American advisers or coalition advisers.
COL. DORRIAN: They're coalition advisers. I'm a coalition spokesperson, coalition advisers.
Q: But are they American? But are they American coalition members?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I'm not going to get into a breakdown of which nation does which number of advisers. I can't do that from memory, I'm afraid. But there are coalition nations other than the U.S. that provide advisory.
Q: (inaudible) -- point, colonel, just for clarity's sake, I -- I thought you discussed that in the context of Secretary Carter's decision to increase the number of advisers or did I misunderstand?
In other words it sounded like we were talking about Americans, but now you're saying we -- you're not talking about Americans or you might not be talking about Americans? Could you be more clear on that?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I -- I did -- I never brought up the secretary at all. So, I'm not sure where you got that from. We have American advisers and we have other nations that are also advising.
Q: Can I just, one more -- one more for clarification. It's Courtney Kube again. When I asked my question about the advisers, I specifically asked about Americans going in to Mosul with the advisers. So, that still stands right? There are Americans that have gone in and out as advisers as part of this new 450?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes. That's correct.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, you have follow-up from Lucas.
Q: Just a quick one colonel. Are these new Americans in to -- in country or are these being transferred in country to Mosul?
COL. DORRIAN: These -- these are -- these are coalition forces that are already in country.
CAPT. DAVIS: And, either follow ups? Can I get a -- yeah, Kasim?
Q: (inaudible) -- Mosul, but it's a -- (inaudible), that there are reports in the past that the United States and Turkey established a joint military delegation sent them to Manbij to oversee the withdrawal of YPG elements and it, you know, we didn't hear anything more about it.
Has this initiative failed or is it -- it still continues? Could you -- could you update us please?
COL. DORRIAN: I can tell you that that -- that institution continues -- it continues to exist. I'm not going to get -- didn't at that time -- get into the details of what they are doing or what their discussions are. But they do -- yeah they -- we're still doing that.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right, any others? Going once, going twice. All right.
J.D., thank you very much for your time, as always. Good to see you, and we look forward to getting briefed from you again soon.
COL. DORRIAN: Very good. Thanks very much.
Thanks, all. Happy new year.