Presenter: Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Colonel Steve Warren
October 1, 2015
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Good morning, Pentagon press corps. It's nice to see the backs of your heads. It's all I could see a minute ago. Now, I'm looking at myself, which is awkward.
I don't have any announcements to make for you today, but I do want to read a few things that I prepared, some observations since I got here to Baghdad about 10 days ago.
One of the things I've noticed is, and I had noticed that I was forgetting the bigger picture here. And when you get here on the ground, you see how much is really going on here. So just a quick review before we get started. I know you've got plenty of questions and I won't take long, but I want to cover a couple of stats and facts sort of as a reminder.
We're fighting ISIL in four different and complementary areas, right? Building partner capacity, which is the training and equipping; advising and assisting in Iraq; training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition; and of course, the coalition airstrikes. Those are kind of the four complementary areas that we're trying to bring together in an effort to defeat Daesh.
So let's review those a little bit. Airstrikes -- let me give you some numbers. As of today, 1 October, we've executed a grand total of 7,184 airstrikes. That's 4,604 in Iraq; 2,580 in Syria. And I'll note, and I'm sure we'll get to this in a minute, but I will note that includes strikes in Syria yesterday and today. There has been no change to our conduct of operations in Syria.
Training -- training is a big piece of -- of this counter-Daesh puzzle. We are working very closely with the Iraqis to train. We've trained almost 15,000 total Iraqi personnel. This includes the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Sunni tribal fighters, the CTS, the ISF, all of whom work, as you know, with the government of Iraq. So that training piece is good.
And I want to -- remind me to come back to training because there's -- there's some more I want to say about that.
A quick stat update -- total coalition troops in Iraq: 5,451 as of today. That equates to, for Americans that's 3,359, with 2,092 coalition.
Equipping -- that's the other big piece of it. You know, there's been approximately $2.3 billion allocated to the equipping piece of this. Of that, $1.6 billion is U.S. dollars. Some of the -- some of what that's bought, almost 400 MRAPs and armored Humvees; 2,000 AT-4s, which have been a significant piece of the battlefield calculus here; 10,000 M-16s; 5,000 sets of body armor – millions of rounds of ammunition of note; 450 metal detectors, which is a part of the counter-IED fight.
So that's kind of where we are. The -- the building partner capacity sets, I'm not going to get into unless you've got some specific questions on there.
I guess what I want to say is, the thing that I've noticed here since I've been here is how hard everyone's working. I -- I think we are making some progress here in Iraq. We really are if you look at the entire battlefield. I notice we have a tendency -- I have a tendency to look at this fight sometimes through a narrow lens -- just Ramadi, just Baiji, just the Syria train and equip, just airstrikes, but it's a larger fight. It's an entire fight that encompasses two countries on the ground and over 60 nations participating.
And I think -- I really -- I believe that -- that there is more progress being made than sometimes we give ourselves credit for. You know, we can all go through the statistics, right? Thirty percent of the ground that Daesh once owned, they've lost. We've killed -- we've killed thousands of enemy fighters here, and we continue to do that. We've taken their leaders down. We have -- we have crushed their supply routes in many places. We have caused them to have to change how they do business.
Now, that doesn't mean that they haven't had their share of successes as well. They have. It's been a difficult fight in Ramadi. It's been a long and difficult fight in Baiji. But I think sometimes it's easy to forget that there is some positive progress being made as well.
Okay, that's enough from me. I know you have questions, so let's just get right to them.
What have you got? Bob?
Q: Hey, colonel, one, thanks for doing this. I hope to see you do this more often, or continuing in the future.
You mentioned air operations continuing in Syria. Can you be more specific about how many airstrikes today by U.S. and coalition? And also can you talk a little bit about the dangers as you see it of, you know, the associated topic of de-conflicting with Russian operations, air operations?
COL. WARREN: Right. So, in the last 24 hours, we have conducted several sorties over Syria. We -- so there's only been one strike. We destroyed two excavators, enemy excavators in northwestern Syria. But that -- that number seems low, and I thought it was low, too, until I went and checked. And our average has only been eight strikes per day. So it's lower than our average, but it's only because these are dynamic targeting processes and there simply were no targets.
So, we're continuing our strikes. We have not altered operations in Syria to accommodate new players on the battlefield. There's been a lot of talk about crowded skies. I've seen that written a few times. I think it's important to keep in mind that these -- these air operations, while there's always the potential for miscalculation and for accidents, it's important to remember that it is -- there is a lot of square miles in Syria.
Most of these strikes are two or four aircraft participating. They fly in, they strike, they depart. You know, our pilots are so good. The coalition pilots, there is no set of pilots on earth who are as good as them. And they have terrific situational awareness. So while there is always danger of -- of conflict, of inadvertent contact, and I know that there are some steps being taken out of Washington to work the de-confliction piece, we are continuing with our operations. And as the de-confliction processes get worked out, we'll incorporate those into our daily operations.
But it's important to be very clear. We are continuing our operations in Syria, bottom line.
Q: Steve, I want to talk a little bit about the Russian airstrikes. There are reports that the Russians have mounted about 30 airstrikes at this point. Can you give us a sense of is that true? Where are they hitting now? Senator McCain came out today and said they struck CIA-backed rebels. Is that true?
COL. WARREN: Thanks. Good question.
So, I don't have an exact count on the Russians. I know yesterday, they did -- there was about a half-dozen total that they did. I haven't had an update yet this morning, so I don't know exactly how many, if any, frankly, that have happened this morning.
On who they hit, you know, what I'll tell you is, you know, the Russians were very clear publicly that they were going to strike ISIL. I'm not going to get into exactly who they hit, but we don't believe that they struck ISIL targets. So that's a problem, right? I mean, the Russians have said that they're going to do one thing, and here they are doing something different than that, which we, of course, have seen before.
So I -- I don't have that level of fidelity yet. We'll continue to work this. We'll continue to watch it and develop our sight picture on what's happening there.
Q: McCain says they hit CIA-backed rebels. I mean, presumably, you guys are looking at the same information.
Is that true, or you're uncertain? Where are we on that?
COL. WARREN: Right, well -- again, what I'll say, Tom, is we don't think they were ISIL. You know, who's backing who, you know, that's -- I'm not going to get into that. I'm just not going to, particularly when you're talking about -- you know, it's not even a DOD agency you're referring to.
So, I'm going to steer clear of that one. But what I'll tell you is, you know, the Russians were clear -- or they were public when they said that they planned to strike ISIL. And yet, where they struck yesterday, we don't believe there was any ISIL there.
So, you know, Secretary Carter -- he talked about this a little bit yesterday, in that -- if there's going to be other participation, it needs to be against ISIL. That's what's important here.
Otherwise, again, to use the secretary's language again, this is fuel on the fire, which is not helpful. And is, you know, is something we've got to work on.
Q: Hi, Steve. I had a question about a comment that we heard this morning from the Russian foreign minister, allegedly that they're looking at striking Iraq next – in the run up to the strikes in Syria did the U.S. military see any indication of that?
Are you seeing any similar indications of strikes in Iraq, or is there any -- is there any preparation being made in the event that Russia should begin some kind of strike campaign in Iraq?
COL. WARREN: I have not yet seen anything militarily to indicate that the Russians are close to striking anything in Iraq.
Difficult to -- you know, it's hard, always, to predict the future. And I really don't want to -- you know, I don't want to kind of get ahead of anything, or get ahead of where we are.
I can tell you that, as of now, the Russians have stated very publicly what they are going to do, which is to strike in Syria. They said they were going to strike ISIL. We expect them to do exactly that.
Q: All right. Can you give us a sense about why Ramadi has been stalled for as long as it has been? The Iraqi campaign in Ramadi?
COL. WARREN: Sure. That -- I'm glad you asked, because that's something I wanted to talk about a little bit.
So, Ramadi. You know, it's a hard fight. Ramadi has been a difficult fight. I tell you, I feel like we are coming out of what essentially was an operational pause. Throughout the course of the summer, several things stacked up to cause, essentially, an operational pause in the fight for Ramadi.
What happened? Well, there was tremendous environmental conditions, right. This was the hottest summer on record, temperatures in the -- like, the 130s. And it's hard to fight in those conditions.
Of course, there was Ramadan, there was Eid. There were several things externally and environmentally, slowed the process.
But there was something else, too, and that's what I want to cover in a little more detail. And what we've seen is the enemy's way of war, is not exactly what we had seen here in Iraq, you know, in the early 2000s.
What ISIL is doing is -- or certainly what they've done in Ramadi is really build a hard point. They've defended Ramadi almost in an early 20th century style, with belts of defenses, defensive belts.
Now, a lot of this is the use of improvised explosive devices, IEDs that they're using not the way we saw IEDs several years ago, which is an individual, almost a booby-trap explosive on the side of the road. Rather, they're using these IEDs almost as landmines, to create these minefields, which they can then cover with fire.
So, this is not what we trained the Iraqi army back in the earlier and middle 2000s to fight against. Right? We trained and built a counterinsurgency army. And this is much more of a conventional fight.
So this is something that we observed. And so we've made some adjustments to that. Part of it is the adjustments that we're making to the training. Now, we've -- we've begun training the Iraqis how to deal with these types of defenses. So one of the phrases we use is an "in-stride breach." I'll use that as an example. When there's a minefield laid out in front of you, there are certain steps that you have to take in order to get past that minefield and continue your assault. We call that an in-stride breach.
It's -- you have to create some obscuration over the -- over the minefield. You then have to blow a hole into that minefield, so to speak. You have to rush through the minefield, secure the other side, and then assault through it. And this is a specific skill. And it's not a skill that the Iraqis have had to exercise before. It's not a skill that, you know, in the 2005 to 2008, '09, '10 that we had taught them. So, we -- we put together some specific training for this type of -- of challenge that they're seeing on the battlefield.
Additionally, we've worked some special equipment for them. There are -- there are certain types of equipment that can be brought to bear against these types of obstacles that are very, very effective. And so we're bringing those in. I mean, some of the simple examples of that are bulldozers, right? We've got more bulldozers coming in so that the Iraqis can push these mines out of the way. There's some other explosive charges, explosive line charges that could be shot and cause the minefield to detonate.
So, a combination, to kind of recap here, of -- of the -- of the environmental conditions plus the enemy's tactics brought the fight, you know, to a slow-down throughout the summer, brought it to a pause. Summer over, holiday season drawing to an end, additional training that we're bringing to bear, additional specialized equipment that we're bringing to bear -- we believe that this will all come together and hopefully we'll see the Iraqis move forward.
And I want to be clear. We are -- every day, we are encouraging -- strongly encouraging the general officers that we interact with, the government of Iraq officials that we interact with, the chain of command in the Iraqi military -- we are all urging them to begin with the utmost haste to finish this fight in Ramadi. It's an important fight and it needs to be finished.
MODERATOR: Someone in the back?
Q: Hi, Steve. This is -- (inaudible). There are reports in Russian media that the Kurdish YPG forces will also work with the Russians in the fight against ISIS over there. Would you have any concerns with respect to your operations in the areas where Kurdish rebels cooperate with Russia?
COL. WARREN: Our number one concern is the defeat of Daesh, the defeat of ISIL. So that's what our focus is, and I think you've heard everyone from the president of the United States, secretary of defense, the press secretary, and I'm happy to add my voice to that chorus.
Our focus and our determination is to -- is to defeat ISIL. If others are willing to work with us to defeat ISIL, then that is something that we are -- we are willing to -- we're willing to welcome.
Q: Okay. If the Kurdish forces work with Russians as well?
COL. WARREN: All I heard was "if" and then "Russians". You have to ask that question again.
Q: Well, I said would you be okay if the Russians work with Kurdish forces in Syria as well?
COL. WARREN: Well, I mean, you know, we can talk about 10,000 different hypothetical situations, so I'm not going to address every single one of them. What I'm saying is our focus is the defeat of ISIL, and this government, this command, this joint task force has been very clear that we will welcome any actor that will work with us against ISIL, to defeat ISIL.
If it's here in Iraq, it's through the Iraqi government. If it's elsewhere, then we'll make other arrangements. But our focus is the defeat of this enemy.
Q: The report is that the Russian government -- so if the Syrian government has requested the coalition to stop airstrikes in Syria. Do you confirm these reports?
COL. WARREN: Say that again?
Q: There are also reports that the Syrian government has asked the coalition to stop airstrikes inside Syria. Do you confirm these reports?
COL. WARREN: Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about the Syrian government. And I'd like to remind you that Assad is washed in blood. His hands are drenched in the blood of civilians, his own people. He barrel bombed them, he's done chemical weapon strikes against them, he starved them, he has done everything to hurt his own people. So we don't communicate with the Syrian government here at the Joint Task Force at all. We have nothing to say to the Syrian government.
And when -- yeah. So we have nothing else to say to them.
Q: Steve, good morning. It's good to see your face. I wanted to ask you about some words today from the prime minister of Iraq saying that Iraq is very disappointed by U.S. air support for the Iraqis. He also went on to say that Baghdad was receiving massive amounts of intelligence from the Syrians and very useful intelligence on ISIS from the Russians and Syrians.
A, what is your response to that? I noticed you came out and gave us a whole laundry list of all the things the U.S. is doing for Iraq. And B, is Iraq sharing that intelligence that it's getting from Russia and Syria with the U.S.? And if not, how awkward is that?
COL. WARREN: So two very distinct questions there. Let's start with the -- with the air power that we're providing for Iraq. And, you know, this is a tricky one. I believe that we have answered the Iraqis' call. But I completely understand sentiment if -- I mean, Daesh has brought tremendous suffering to Iraq. There are millions of Iraqis who have been displaced by Daesh.
There is -- there are countless lives that have been lost by ISIL. This is a terrible, terrible -- a group of terrorists, a terrorist army that has marched through Iraq and caused tremendous bloodshed.
So, I think if I were an Iraqi, no amount of support would be enough, because I would want this scourge out of my country, and I would want it out immediately. So, I understand the sense of it.
But I believe that we have answered the Iraqi call. We have brought a tremendous amount of air power to this fight, and I am ready to detail thousands of airstrikes, tens of thousands of tons of bombs.
And by the way, airstrikes that are the most precise in the history of warfare. The amount of care that we have taken to preserve civilian life, to preserve civilian infrastructure is unprecedented.
So, while I understand the sentiment, I really do -- I believe that this coalition has answered the call.
On the question of intelligence, I'm sorry, but I didn't jot it down. So, you asked, are the Iraqis sharing intelligence with us?
We -- so, we operate with Iraq in a joint operation center. Inappropriate for me to talk about exactly what we share. But what I will tell you is, we have a very good -- a very strong, a very active working relationship with our Iraqi partners, here. And it is a very useful relationship.
And it is a relationship that has resulted in thousands of ISIL members being killed on this battlefield.
Q: This building said that it would not be sharing -- U.S. would not be sharing intelligence with the Iraqis that would then go to the Syrians, the Iranians or the Russians.
So, is the intel that the Iraqis are getting from the Russians, Syrians and Iranians being kept in that sphere, in that cell? Or is any of it being shared with the U.S.?
And how difficult does that make the battle space, then?
COL. WARREN: Well, again, two questions there. So, let me hit a couple of things there.
Number one, you know, we have expressed our concerns about protection of the information directly to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. The Iraqi minister of defense assured us that our information will be appropriately protected. So, I want to get that out.
Again, you know, completely inappropriate for me to discuss what the Iraqis are giving us. I just -- I can't do that. It would not be right. So I won't.
But what I will say, again, is that the intelligence, the information that the Iraqis share with us and that we share with them is exceptionally good, and it results in catastrophic problems for our enemy.
Q: Hey, Steve. So just to be clear, when you say that the Iraqis assured the U.S. that intel will be protected, that means will not be shared with the Russians, Syrians and Iranians?
COL. WARREN: The Iraqi Ministry of Defense has given us assurances that our information will be appropriately protected and it includes what you've just listed. Yes.
Q: Again, about Syria. I know you don't want to talk about what -- what targets the Russians may have been going after yesterday and today, but can you talk a little bit about, since you know that there were at least a half-dozen on Wednesday, the locations that they were striking? Like Homs or Hama or, you know, Talbiseh, whatever? What the coalition's understanding of the -- the opposition who are in that area?
Like, for instance, are they -- can you say that there is more U.S.-backed moderate opposition in that area? Can you say that you know that there's some al-Nusra there? Like, can you give us any sense of the -- more of the regional who is where the strikes are occurring?
COL. WARREN: I can't right now, Courtney. I just can't, only because I'm not -- I don't know. I know that it doesn't appear to be ISIL who is operating in that area. Whether it's al-Nusra, whether it's bad opposition or opposition that we're aligned with, Courtney, I just don't -- I don't have that information. I would tell you if I did.
MODERATOR: Phil Stewart? I'm sorry. Phil Stewart was next -- (inaudible). No -- (inaudible). It was you, right? Did you signal me too? I have "Phil" down.
Q: I did.
MODERATOR: Phil Ewing.
MODERATOR: You get a free one, because Phil Stewart walked out. I called for Phil, you're the only Phil in the room.
Q: Steve, I apologize for the name confusion. Can you please give us an update on the New Syrian Force and specifically tell us how long you think this pause will be of units going into Syria itself to try to operate against ISIS there?
COL. WARREN: Sure. Good question. So, you know, there's been some confusion about -- about this. And so thank you for bringing it up, on the -- on this pause that has been talked about quite a bit. So, the reason we paused is so that we can take a look at what we're doing in -- in better detail, and make some adjustments, so that we can make this program better. That's our goal -- make the program better.
So, yeah, we've -- we've paused the exfiltration portion of this program until we complete our review. We don't have a timeline on that. There is not an established timeline. We're going to pause until we've completed our review, until we've made some adjustments.
Now, it's important to know that we're -- you know, there are other aspects of this program, by the way. We continue to train the personnel that have already exfiltrated, that were currently trained. We continue to provide support. You know, we continue to recruit, continue to vet. So all of the -- the majority of this program is continuing. I mean, there's more pieces to this stuff.
The other -- (inaudible). There's one other piece that I wanted to talk about, this pause. You know, this pause -- a lot of people have linked it to the incident where some members of the New Syrian Forces gave some of their equipment to al-Nusra. The two aren't linked. In fact, the pause happened before this al-Nusra event happened. It's not something we advertised. It wasn't something we talked about. But that had already happened.
We -- we've been looking at this program. One of the -- I think, unique features of this program, is that it is continuously evolving. From day one until day now, this program has evolved based on our understanding of the conditions.
You have got to remember, we did not -- when we began this, we didn't, you know, have a great understanding of Syrians, right? Of the Syrian personnel that we'd be operating with.
So, we've learned, right? We've learned, we've adjusted, we've fine-tuned that program, and we're going to continue to do that.
So, pause. No specific timeline linked to the pause, but the purpose of it is to make the program better.
Q: There's still hundreds of people in the pipeline, as you guys have said, getting ready to be trained? Or has that reserve been used up so far?
COL. WARREN: Well, there's -- there are moderate Syrian opposition members who have exfiltrated Syria, and are at our training grounds and are conducting training. That training will continue.
There is a queue of others who are in various stages of being vetted. We will continue the vetting process, and we will continue to allow that queue to grow. But for the time being, no additional ones -- no additional personnel are being exfiltrated out of there.
Does that answer your question, Phil? I'm not sure if I did or not.
Q: I'm trying to figure out the scale of the people who are still in processing, even if none of these guys are going back to Syria.
COL. WARREN: Well, we've been -- we've been very disciplined for a while now, about not talking about specific numbers of personnel in our training programs. I'm going to stick with that today.
So, there are -- there are -- there is a cohort of moderate Syrian opposition members who have exfiltrated Syria, who -- they are at our training grounds, and they are conducting their training.
I have to stay away from numbers, as you know, but this cohort that has exfiltrated, their training continues. If an individual has not yet exfiltrated Syria, the program can exfiltrate them is paused right now.
Q: Steve, good to see you.
Is there a point where the U.S. would provide air cover to U.S.-backed or U.S.-allied Syrian rebels on the ground in Syria?
COL. WARREN: Well, Lucas, it's good to see you. That's already happened, right?
You know, the -- there was a class -- the first class of moderate Syrian opposition members that we trained, so New Syrian Forces. When they exfill back into Syria -- and I think this has been reported on. If not, here's some news.
The first class that exfiltrated back into Syria, and not long after that exfilitration, they got into a fight. And part of that fight included U.S. air power, providing some very precise fires to assist those New Syrian Force members, along with other members of the moderate Syrian opposition.
They were integrated together, so this is Syrians that we trained fighting side by side with Syrians that we had not trained with American air power -- coalition air power providing fires for them.
So, this has already happened, Lucas, and it will continue.
Q: Will the United States provide air cover for moderate rebels such as the Free Syrian force that have been backed by the United States and supplied with things for the last few years, and are under attack by the Russians right now?
COL. WARREN: Well -- so again, so there's really two parts to that. I think the most important thing to remember -- let me -- let me rewind, all right? Our focus is ISIL. Our focus is ISIL. That's who we are -- that's where our focus is, whether it's in Syria or in Iraq. You know, in the case of the New Syrian forces who had -- returned back to Syria and they were under attack, they called for help and we provided it.
I'm not going to speculate about, you know, any one of a thousand different scenarios that could play out in Syria. It's an extraordinarily complex battlefield. Now, what I'll say is our focus is ISIL, and I'll leave it there.
Q: Steve, a question -- a follow-on question on the new Syrian forces. Are these Russian airstrikes currently complicating recruitment effort in the sense that some of these potential recruits may be -- may worry about vulnerability to Russian airstrikes in the future?
COL. WARREN: Thanks Jim. The Russians have only, you know, conducted operations for 24 hours. Impossible to answer that question yet.
Q: Quick, on another subject. The Russians did sort of provide warning for the initial strikes. Is there any indication that they will continue to do so, and have these deconfliction talks that are supposed to start very soon, have they started yet or are about to start?
COL. WARREN: Secretary Carter and others have been, I think, clear on deconfliction talks. Not part of my operation here, so I'm not really prepared to answer that. And I think kind of the step-by-step, you know, kind of the scheme of maneuver, the unfolding of events yesterday has been, I think, pretty public, so not much to go back to there. So I guess I don't have a good answer for your question.
MODERATOR: And if I could just actually intervene here and interject really quick. We do -- the talks are happening now, and we expect some readout on that very shortly.
We're going to go to Joe next.
Q: Colonel Warren, this is Joe Tabet. How are you, sir? Could you explain why the number of airstrikes against ISIL in Syria has decreased in the last two weeks? For example, in the last 24 hours, the U.S. and the coalition have launched 22 airstrikes against ISIL, 21 in Iraq and only one in Syria.
Is this something related to Russia's military action in Syria? Or do you think the U.S. and the coalition are running short on targets? Or maybe you are clearing the skies to Russian aircraft? Could you -- could you answer that please?
COL. WARREN: Great question, Joe. Thank you.
So, the presence of -- of -- of uncoordinated players on this battlefield has not impacted our operations. I want to be very clear about that. The reason you've seen a spike in strikes in Iraq -- there are several reasons for that. Number one, we issued a press release yesterday. There's -- there's an operation ongoing called Operation Clover Field, happening towards the vicinity of Kirkuk -- a very successful operation, by the way.
The Peshmerga fighters reclaimed 100 square kilometers of territory. They liberated eight villages. They moved their forward lines quite a bit. That in and of itself, we put dozens of additional airstrikes into that fight. So that -- that accounts for some of it.
We've been -- we've been doing a lot of strikes in and around Ramadi. We are continuing to support all of the various operations. I think that's sometimes what we forget. I mentioned this at the beginning. There are a lot of different components to this battlefield. There are -- there are -- are active operations across Iraq and throughout Syria. There are -- there are close fights. There are deep fights happening all over.
And so we provide this air power based on where -- really, here in Iraq, where the Iraqis need it to support a lot of what they're doing. And sometimes these -- sometimes these fires come from the air, by the way, and sometimes they come from some of our -- from our artillery and our HIMARS systems that we've got on the ground here.
But -- but, you know, we move the strikes around based on several things. One, you know, where we find the enemy, and two, where the operations are being conducted.
So, I guess the most important point to make here is that the presence of the Russians have nothing to do with our pace, our tempo and our focus of airstrikes.
Q: I want to go back, Colonel Warren, to what you have said on the Assad regime. As you may know, the Iraqi government, or many officials within the Iraqi government consider Assad as a vital element to counter terrorism. That's what they think. And they also keep raising the relation and the cooperation with Tehran and Moscow.
I'm wondering, what is -- what is the common ground between what you have said, the U.S. strategy against ISIL, and what the Iraqi government thinks?
COL. WARREN: Joe, let me be clear. The Assad regime is part of the reason, if not the major reason, that ISIL exists. Their brutalization -- Assad's brutalization of his population -- his barrel bombing, his chemical weapons strikes, his repression -- this is part of the reason, if not a major reason, that ISIL exists today.
The common ground we have with the Iraqis is very clear. We want ISIL destroyed and we're working very closely with the Iraqis to achieve just that.
Q: Steve, there are reports this morning that there are several hundred Iranian troops in Syria. Have you seen any movement of Iranian ground forces or equipment into Syria?
COL. WARREN: Right. So, I mean, we know the Iranians are a part of this. We've known that since day one. The Iranians have a presence here in Iraq, the Iranians have a presence in Syria.
You know, this has been something that's, I think, been fairly public, really since this all began.
Q: Any new movements of troops or equipment into Syria from Iran?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, I don't have any updates for you. I probably wouldn't give specific updates on it, you know, Iranian troop movements, anyway.
But again, it's no surprise to us that the Iranians are present here, obviously. They've been part of this since the very beginning.
Q: Steve, it’s Gary O’Donoghue. Just a quick one. Can you give us anything on what's happening with the training of the Sunni tribes at Taqaddum? Is that -- is that going? Are you getting lots of recruits? Can you put any numbers on it for us?
How many of them are getting into the Iraqi security forces from there? What's happening there?
COL. WARREN: Thanks. Great question. Training the Sunni tribes, yet another component of our training program, and another example of all that this coalition is doing to help rid Daesh -- or rid Iraq of this ISIL problem.
We've trained the -- there's over 5,000 Sunni tribal fighters that our program trained. That training continues. We find them a very key and critical part of operations here.
The tribal fighters have been immediately going back into the fight in many cases, particularly around Ramadi. Additionally, the Sunni tribal fighters, what they really bring to this fight is as the stability they're hoping for, right?
So, after an area is cleared, these trained Sunnis, they move back to their homes, to their towns, their villages, to their cities. They are who help provide the security there to keep ISIL from coming back.
Q: Steve, can you -- you mentioned that there was one fight that the New Syrian Forces had engaged in. Are they currently fighting right now, anywhere in Syria?
And have you resupplied them with weapons and the vehicles that they surrendered last week?
COL. WARREN: Great question, Tom. Unfortunately, I -- I'm going to take that one for you.
I don't know the answer to that, but I want to give you that answer. So, let me take that one, and my trusty sidekick, Elissa Smith, will deliver the answer to that question within 24 hours.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren, good to see you, even from afar. Thanks for doing this.
Beyond the specifics of the Iranian nuclear deal, President Obama, Secretary Carter, Secretary Kerry and others have forcefully defended it in broad strokes by saying that we need to negotiate even with our enemies, we need to engage with them. It's much better when we engage, than when we turn our backs.
So, why can't we negotiate with the Assad government in Syria? Iran has been just as bad of an actor over the years, if not worse than Syria. They've sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East.
Why can we negotiate with the Iranians, but we can't negotiate with Assad, especially when the Assad forces are, in part, killing ISIL fighters, which is one of our aims?
COL. WARREN: Yeah. Who we negotiate with, when we negotiate with them and why we negotiate with them, that doesn't come from here. All I know is this. Those are some -- that is an evil ruler who has -- who has brought so much suffering to his people. Yeah.
Q: Follow up. You said we have nothing to say to them. Are you saying that that decision, you have nothing to say to them, is not coming from you, it's coming from above you? Is that what -- is that what I understand?
COL. WARREN: Yeah. We do not interact with the Syrian regime here in the Joint Task Force. We do not do it.
Q: Colonel Warren --
MODERATOR: We're going to go to Carla next.
Q: Hi Colonel Warren. Great to see you. One quick question. I know the focus is ISIL, but have the new Syrian forces received confirmation from the United States that they will be protected if they come up against ISIL, Nusra, Assad, the Russians? Has -- have you guys given them those assurances that they will be protected against all threats?
COL. WARREN: Fair question. Again, Carla, to review, the new Syrian forces will -- not long after the first group returned to Syria, got into a fight with al-Nusra. They needed our help and we provided that help.
Important to remember, I mean, it's a war there, so, I mean, we can't protect everyone from everything, but as these forces engage ISIL, we are there with them to help destroy ISIL.
The other situations, you know -- several times I've gone back to this, and I will again, there are a countless number of scenarios that could play out on this battlefield, and I can't speculate on any -- on any of them, frankly. What I know is that our mission is to defeat ISIL, that our New Syrian Force troops, their mission is to defeat ISIL. And as that happens, we will provide them with airstrike capabilities.
Q: Hey Steve, I know you don't want to address the report of the several hundred Iranian troops that have gone into Syria, but what about their intentions? If they do intend to fight ISIS, would you welcome them into the coalition efforts against ISIS since you left the door open saying that any country that's willing to help as part of the coalition can do so?
And the second part is about there have been big Kurdish movements, I guess, in the north that have been supported by U.S. airstrikes and they've taken over significant amounts of territory. How important is the territory that they've re-taken?
COL. WARREN: So the second part of that, I think you're referring to Operation Clover Field. Were you talking Iraq or in Syria, this Kurdish --
Q: Yes, in Iraq.
COL. WARREN: In Iraq. I think the -- on the operation I just talked about, Clover Field, eight villages, several hundred square kilometer liberated. Every inch of Iraqi soil is important. I think any Iraqi would tell you that.
So of course it's important. They -- every square inch that we -- that we throw Daesh out of, that we throw ISIL out of, is an important square inch. And we're going to continue to do that until we've purged them, again, by, with, through the Iraqis, until they've been -- been kicked out of this country once and for all. So it's all important.
Your question was Iranians in Syria? I'll tell you, you know, the Iranians have been here in Iraq fighting ISIL for a year. So, there you go.
MODERATOR: We're about out of time. We're going quickly to Bill, and then Richard.
Q: Hey, Steve. You spoke about Assad's actions on his own people rather poetically. But isn't the Russian strikes -- aren't they just extending his hold on power? And on the battle damage assessment, on those strikes, I mean, have you seen civilian casualties and things like that that have been reported?
COL. WARREN: Bill, the Russians have said publicly that they're -- that they're going to strike ISIL. So we -- we expect the Russians to strike ISIL. That's what they said they're going to do and that's what we want them to do.
So as long as they do that, you know, there's room. If they don't do what they say they're going to do, well then that, you know, that's a problem. And that's a problem that, you know, is going to have to be worked through. But that won't be worked through, Bill, here at this level.
Q: And the damage assessment -- CIVCAS?
COL. WARREN: Civilian casualties -- I -- I --. Sorry, we've got a (inaudible). So on civilian casualties, Bill, sorry. I just don't have anything for you on that one.
Q: Yeah, hi, colonel. Richard Sisk. And while de-confliction is being worked out at a higher level, supposedly, what is the guidance? Can you tell us anything about the guidance to U.S. and coalition pilots right now if they come across a Sukhoi in the same airspace?
COL. WARREN: Richard, professional aviators have protocols. They have techniques. They have procedures for what to do when they're occupying the same airspace. And -- and our aviators will absolutely follow those tactics, techniques and procedures. I would expect the Russians or any other pilot in that airspace to follow suit.
MODERATOR: Okay, let's -- we've got time. Steve, do you have any final words for us?
COL. WARREN: I hope we can -- I hope we can keep doing this. This was -- I hope you found it useful. I want to continue to keep this dialogue going. Feel free to contact me if you need some help with anything. And I look forward to doing this again.
MODERATOR: See you. Thanks for joining us.