| Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman | Nov. 4, 2015
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning, and thank you for coming out at the earlier time. Sorry for the technical delay. We've worked through it, though.
Of course, as you know, we fall back and folks in Baghdad do not. So we've moved the time back on our end to accommodate Steve.
Steve, can you hear us okay?
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Jeff, I can hear you loud and clear. Thanks.
CAPT. DAVIS: We'll turn it over to you.
COL. WARREN: Thanks, Jeff. And Pentagon press corps, it's good to be with you. I can't see you today, which normally I can, so if I look down more than usual, that's why.
I've got a few prepared comments I'll start with. We'll go to questions.
Today, I'd like to start with an overview of the battlefield. I'm going to begin out west in Syria and move to the east. So I'll jump right into it.
On October 31st, along the so-called Mora line north of Aleppo, friendly forces of the Syrian opposition resumed the offense in the vicinity of (inaudible) and (inaudible), this is north, like I said, of Aleppo. Vetted Syrian opposition groups along with Syrian forces that we trained in Turkey participated in this effort to pressure ISIL along the Turkish-Syrian border. Of note, Turkey provided synchronized air support for this mission. Using F-16s, the Turks conducted several strikes which destroyed enemy fighting positions and killed over a score of enemy fighters.
Further east in Syria in the vicinity of Al-Hawl, the Syria Democratic Forces conducted an attack from the northeast to the southwest, driving ISIL back and reclaiming approximately 255 square kilometers of ground. Of note, because we supplied the vetted Syrian-Arab coalition, what we're calling the SAC, with ammunition on October 12th, that force was able to conduct this assault as part of the SDF. This is important because Al-Hawl is predominantly an Arab area and the SAC is the Arab component of the SDF.
Coalition aircraft supported this advance with 17 air strikes, destroyed ISIL vehicles, fighting positions, weapons systems and killed 79 enemy fighters. While this is not a large tactical action, we believe the operation demonstrates the viability of our program to provide support to these forces and further demonstrates our operational effort to pressure ISIL from multiple directions at the same time.
Both of these actions also tie into the accelerants that we announced on Friday. As you recall, Friday's announcement mentioned deploying A-10s and F-15s to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Those A-10s, along with a Specter gunship were among the platforms that provided the air power for this action.
Continuing east into Iraq, Kurdish forces are massing near Mount Sinjar. The city of Sinjar sits astride highway 47, which is one of ISIL's primary routes for funneling equipment and fighters between Mosul and Raqqa. I'm not going to get into the specifics of our operational plan, but I can tell you that since October 1st, the coalition has conducted 104 airstrikes as part of the shaping fires; 48 of those strikes just since October 21st.
Continuing east to Ramadi, after several days of bad weather, Iraqi forces have re-started offensive operations there. CTS forces along the western access have advanced several kilometers, and as we speak, they are fighting inside (inaudible). All forces continue to encounter small arms fire and IED clusters, but have held the line in the south and the east, while advancing in the west and the north. Coalition forces have conducted 18 strikes in Ramadi since we last spoke on the 28th.
In Baiji, ISF and federal police continue to reinforce their positions while conducting secondary clearances of Baiji City, to Baiji Oil Refinery in -- (inaudible).
The Iraqi air force continues to fly in close support of operations in Baiji, and continues to operate throughout Iraq, striking ISIL targets as they are able to develop the intelligence picture.
So, to finish up, I know there's been a lot of discussion about the accelerant announcement on Friday. From our perspective here in Baghdad, the coalition strategy has not changed. Those two other battlefields I just gave you is, in our view, illustrative of how the whole of this effort can equal more than the sum of its parts, much as a pack of wolves will hound, pursue, or wear down and ultimately kill its prey, local forces in Iraq and Syria are pressuring ISIL, from the ground and multiple areas simultaneously while the coalition provides devastating air power all along the way.
This week, ISIL lost ground. We're going to continue to operate this way as long as it works well. If needed, we'll adjust.
We've demonstrated we're willing to recognize when an approach needs improvement; we're seeing -- and you're seeing that we're willing to reinforce success and amplify an approach when it's working well.
So, that's the end of my prepared comments. Again, this is awkward for me, because unlike normal, I can't see you.
But I guess Bob or Lita, whoever is there, we'll start with you.
Q: Hi, Steve, it's Lita. Thanks for doing this.
So, is this success you're talking about, in terms of the air coalition, suggest that there will be another drop of weapons, of ammunition soon, and/or is there more consideration to providing them actual weaponry.
And then, could you just give us a quick update on Russian airstrike activity, please, in Syria?
COL. WARREN: Sure. On the weapons resupply, yes. The answer is yes.
In fact, this Al-Hawl operation, really was the validator for that program, right?
I think I told you, when we first did this airdrop, that we were going to keep an eye on this -- the initial 50 tons of ammunition that we dropped, we were going to ensure that it was used -- or we were going to validate that it was distributed and used properly.
We have seen that. We believe that the success is 200-plus kilometers of ground that the Syrian-Arab coalition has managed to take, to some extent, validates this program.
It's not a complete validation -- I want to be clear about that. But we're encouraged by what we see, and we -- we -- as I said earlier, we intend to reinforce success.
On Russia, there has been an increase in Russian air activity this week.
They are supporting, as you know, regime forces, which have -- have initiated offensive operations in several areas. I think, probably most notably in Aleppo.
And that, with mixed success. The -- the regime forces in some areas have managed to gain a little bit of ground. In other areas, they gained ground. They were counter attacked, and lost the ground that they gained.
So, it's a tough fight in Aleppo and in other areas where the Russians are operating. And you know, it really belies the point that, you know, we believe that the Russian decision to double down on their support of the Assad regime is -- is -- you know, strategically short-sighted.
We've seen, you know, reckless use of munitions, primarily dumb bombs, dropped without precision. And, you know, this is concerning to us. We've long asked -- we've long called on the Russians to do what they originally said that they would do, which is to fight ISIL. We have not seen that.
Q: Just to follow up, will we see another ammunition drop in the near future? And has there been a decision made to definitely provide small arms to the Arab Coalition?
COL. WARREN: Right. Sorry about that.
Yeah, so I think you will see continued resupply of these forces. I don't want to telegraph times, obviously, or even approximate them. But I am comfortable saying that you will see us continue to reinforce the successes we've already seen.
I don't have a good answer for you on weapons. My understanding is that weapons are in the decision matrix, but frankly, I don't know if we've -- if we've made that final decision yet.
Q: Steve, I want to ask you about the YPG. We were told by a senior defense official on Friday that the YPG would not be getting any ammunition or weapons. And if that were to happen, you'd work something out with Turkey. Where are you on that? Presumably, the Kurds would like -- the YPG would like weapons and ammunition. So where does that stand?
COL. WARREN: As of now, we are not providing weapons or ammunition to the YPG. The weapons that we've provided thus far, with the ammunition that we've provided in our one airdrop that executed, was for the Syrian-Arab coalition. As of now, future resupplies will also go to Arab -- vetted Syrian opposition members.
So, you know, as of now, that's where our policy stands.
Q: What about talking with Turkey? That's what the official suggested. Is that going to happen or not happen?
COL. WARREN: Well, I mean, the Turks are both a NATO ally and a close partner here in this fight. So, we're in continuous discussions with the Turks. I'm not going to get into the details about diplomatic discussions. But what I'll tell you is, yeah, we're in very close contact with them. You know, I'm not going to telegraph what decisions that we've made. Obviously, the Turks, you know, obviously the Turks have concerns. You know, they're our partners and allies. We're going to address those concerns. We're going to work with them to achieve our common goal, which is to -- which is to defeat ISIL, right?
But again, you know, the Turks showed, you know, tremendous work from the folks up along the Mora line in northwestern Syria. We're very pleased by the fact they were able to provide close air support to vetted Syrian opposition forces that were in direct contact with ISIL. And of note, these are the very forces that we exfiltrated out of Syria months ago, trained in Turkey, infiltrated back in. This is class one and class two that we talked about over the summer.
So, you know, and I'm highlighting that because we keep -- you know, we've heard so much discussion of how this was a failed program and -- (inaudible) -- a program that we've discontinued. But the results of that program, you know, are out there on the battlefield right now.
Q: Hi, Steve.
A quick follow-up on Al-Hawl. Can you say how big this town or village is, that was cleared by this group? And how the operation went? How long it took? Just a little more granular detail on that?
And then the other -- the other question I want to ask is, on special operations forces, has there been any additional activity in Iraq by U.S. special operations forces accompanying Iraqis?
Can you give us any sense of how far beyond the kind of training activities that they've been doing -- what kind of activities they've been doing outside the wire, in general? And especially since -- if there's been any activity since the new decision up front?
COL. WARREN: So, I'll start with the second part of that question, and then you're going to have to ask the first part again, because you broke up a little bit.
So, the second part of your question, just to review, you asked about SOF accompaniment, you know, the SOF advise and assist mission here in Iraq, and what they're doing.
So, you know, from the beginning, these SOF accompany missions have been -- I think they've been adjustable based on conditions on the battlefield.
What we're seeing up north in the Kurdish area, is that, you know, we have a static or a well held forward line of troops, right?
I mean, there's a clear line between friendly forces and enemy forces. So, that allows our SOF partners to -- or our SOF forces to be able to partner more closely with the Kurds that they're supporting.
So, they are linked up with units, they are providing advice, assist, and they are willing to move outside of the wire when conditions are right.
And the conditions really have to be that we don't believe that there's imminent threat of enemy contact. And in all cases, the SOF forces need to stay back from the front line.
So, I don't want to get into much more detail than that for, I think, fairly obviously force protection reasons. But what I'll tell you is that, our advise and assist personnel are actively advising and assisting, and we see that particularly -- as particularly notable in the north, where there is a little more freedom of movement, you know, based on things like road clearance, IED threats, things like that.
So, we're able to move more -- in accordance with our own pre-established standards, which is the threat of enemy contact as well.
So, re-ask your first question, please. You just broke up on me.
Q: Thanks for that answer. The first part of the question was on the initial operation. You said that the SAC had helped clear this -- this village. I think it was Al-Hawl, if I'm correct.
Can you give us a little more granular detail on -- you know, on that operation? How big is this place that they -- that they took? How long did the operation take?
Can you give us any kind of granular detail, so we can better understand it?
COL. WARREN: Sure. Hey, DVIDS, can you -- or whoever has got the slides, can you flip up that Al-Hawl slide that I had in the deck? Then, just -- since I can't see, you're going to have to tell me when the slide is up.
STAFF: We got you up. You're good to go.
COL. WARREN: Okay, great. So -- and of course, I can't see it, so I -- I'm going off of memory here.
But -- so, you see Al-Hawl there, and it's in the vicinity of Al-Hawl. What we had here is the Syrian-Arab coalition, again, armed with the ammunition that we provided them on October 12th, conducted an assault from the northeast to the upper right hand corner of the map. And they pushed towards the lower left hand corner of the map.
Oh, I've got the map here, now. So, you see Al-Hawl there. It's outlined in blue, and this operation was in the vicinity of that. They moved from the upper right hand corner of this map, down towards the lower left hand corner of the map.
And we have -- it was a fairly straightforward, conventional, offensive operation, where there were -- we estimated the enemy situation to be several hundred enemy, located in -- in that vicinity. There was a substantial friendly force, well over 1,000 participated in the offensive part of this operation.
And they were able to very deliberately executing the plan that they had made themselves, and supported by -- by coalition air power, they were able to take over 200 kilometers worth of territory.
I think it's notable that -- and I said this in the opener, but I want to -- I want to reemphasize it. There's -- we talked about these (inaudible). We, you know, we talk about the importance of -- of repositioning or being able to position more assets in Incirlik. And -- and what that does -- and again, it shortens our legs, right? So the aircraft -- because they're only flying from Incirlik into the -- into the battlefield, they're able to do more turns quicker. They're able to loiter longer and things like that.
And we saw that make a difference here where we were able to bring both A-10s and a Specter gunship to bear and really -- look, it can only be described as devastating -- (inaudible). I mean, it killed nearly 80 enemy fighters, wounded many more. And -- and the Syrian-Arab coalition, they fought with valor. I mean, they showed us something here and we're pleased by that.
Q: Steve, hey, it's Andrew Tilghman.
I want to ask you a little bit more detail about Ramadi. Specifically, is ISIL still able to get supplies in and out of the city? Or have the Iraqi forces been able to -- to fully isolate and essentially put the city under siege?
And also, a few weeks ago you told us that you -- you felt that the Iraqis were ready to make a final full-scale assault on the city. I mean, are you -- are you seeing that? You indicated that it stopped for a few days because of weather, but are the Iraqis mounting the kind of full-scale attack on the city that you had hoped to see a few weeks ago?
COL. WARREN: Hey DVIDS go ahead and throw the Ramadi slide up.
So, first thing, what I said a couple of weeks ago is that we believe the conditions were set for the Iraqis to -- (inaudible) -- an assault. And we've been encouraging them to do so. That said, it remains a tough fight. So, they have not completed the encirclement of the city. The enemy is able -- is the slide up?
CAPT. DAVIS: Go ahead. We've got Ramadi up.
COL. WARREN: Okay, Ramadi is up. Good.
So, yeah, what we've -- what we're seeing is, again, a tough fight. The enemy has established complex and in many cases sophisticated defenses, barriers along the various avenues of approach into Ramadi. So, ISIL's primary line of communication right now is the Euphrates River, right? So we have not been able to cut the Euphrates River yet.
So we have forces moving from the north. Along the northern access, they're moving sort of south and west. And on the western access, they're moving east. So the western access is to the left hand of the slide. They're moving towards the right hand of it.
In the south, kind of off the southern edge of this map, you know, we have the -- the southern access which is fairly well established in the vicinity of Anbar University. And then to the east, we have the federal police, primarily, which has established a blocking position to prevent any -- any enemy from -- from moving east into Fallujah.
So that's kind of what the battlefield looks like. And again, the key -- the key part here is at the upper portion of the map, where you see route one that crosses the Euphrates River. That's the Palestine Bridge. And when we're able to seize that bridge, when our friendly forces are able to seize that bridge, they will be able to then to cut the Euphrates River, which will -- which will substantially, significantly constrict ISIL's ability to resupply itself.
So, ISIL, of course, knows that. That's the primary line of communication. And so they're defending it fiercely. So this fight is going to continue and it's going to continue as long as it takes to get it done.
Q: Hi, Steve. It's Carla.
Last week, you had said that Ramadi was surrounded on four sides and that they were squeezing in. So what's the difference now? Is it just that they're squeezing, but they haven't squeezed in enough to shut out the Euphrates? Is that what you're -- is that how I should interpret this?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, that's exactly right. So, this encirclement that we're -- that the Iraqi security forces are -- are attempting to complete -- I mean, they've got the south essentially locked up. They've got the west essentially locked up. The east is blocked. To the north, there's movement, you know, south and west.
But you've still got this -- this kind of space towards the top of your map there that remains open. So when they're able to complete this encirclement, we'll be able to substantially reduce the enemy's ability to resupply itself.
That doesn't mean, you know, there's no way to, you know, to create an impermeable barrier around the city, right? There's ratlines and smuggling routes, et cetera. So the enemy will still have the opportunity and the ability to resupply itself to some extent. But once we've -- once that Euphrates River line of communication is cut, we'll see I think a really significant reduction in ISIL's ability to, you know, resupply itself with weapons, resupply itself with fighters.
And, you know, then it's on to the really hard part, which is urban fighting. You know, ISIL has had, you know, the enemy here has had months to prepare complex defenses inside the urban center of the city. And that is going to be a difficult, hot, dangerous, scary fight. And it will take -- it will take a while.
Q: Hi, it's Andrew again. Just a quick follow-up.
When you say that the river is their primary line of communication, are they bringing supplies in by boat? Is that what you're saying? The river is navigable and that's how they're bringing supplies in?
COL. WARREN: Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. And, you know, we do our best to keep an eye, and every now and then you'll see on our strike -- (inaudible) -- that we struck a boat. But that river is -- I mean, it's full of traffic, right? I mean, it's a highway. It's a water-borne highway. So you can't -- obviously, you're not going to strike every single vessel that we see. So we have to have the proper intelligence, you know, which is very stringent; civilian casualty reduction measures, right?
We're not in this to -- to accidentally strike civilians. So we go to great lengths to ensure that we don't do that. But yeah, that's the primary -- that's the primary line of communication right now.
Q: Colonel Warren, can we go back to Syria for a minute? Do you see any indications that Russian forces are moving further to the east with their helicopter or other forces closer to Palmyra, closer to ISIS strongholds? And they might increase -- plan to increase their actual ISIS strikes.
COL. WARREN: Hey, Jeff, can you repeat that question. I didn't get a word of it.
CAPT. DAVIS: Russian movements towards the east, towards Palmyra.
COL. WARREN: Well, I mean, the Russians -- the Russians are all the way to the east, or the west. They moved to the east, right?
I don't know that they're moving towards Palmyra. I've heard that -- I've seen some reporting that there are -- have been some strikes in that vicinity, but I don't know that the regime forces, yet, are really conducting any type of offensive operation -- or at least, not a significant one.
Obviously, Palmyra is a -- is a fairly major and fairly significant terrain feature. We know the regime wants it back very badly; so I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see that.
But right now, I have not seen anything to indicate significant activity there. Their focus, right now, is in Aleppo. So.
CAPT. DAVIS: And -- (inaudible), I got you.
Q: Back on Syrian Democratic Force and Syrian-Arab coalition.
I know that it has been discussed a lot, but yesterday, there was an articles in New York Times saying that, while -- after ten days of interview with the commanders and fighter on the ground, it found out that, actually, the Syrian Democratic Force is just existing in name.
And Defense officials told the same newspaper that the Syrian-Arab coalition actually is an American invention to cover up the supply to the Kurdish forces.
Could you comment on this, or at least verify the differences between these groups, the relations between these two groups? And -- that's it.
COL. WARREN: I barely heard word of that, so what -- we're definitely suffering from some technical problems.
What I think you asked was, what are the difference is between the Syrian-Democratic Force and the Syrian-Arab coalition. Jeff, is that right?
Q: He was asking about the New York Times articles yesterday, Syrian Democratic Force existing in name-only. Syrian-Arab coalition a U.S. invention to cover up actually supply to Kurds.
COL. WARREN: Yeah. Yeah, we're not trying to cover anything up. We're providing weapons, or in this case, ammunition, to the Syrian-Arab coalition.
That's what we said we're doing, that's actually what we're doing.
The Syrian Democratic Force is a larger kind of force. It is made up of Syrian-Arabs, Christians and Kurds, as well. So, it's a larger kind of force, that's -- again, sort of a team of teams, or a group of groups.
These are various groups from various sects, various religions, various organizations that have come together under a single purpose, which is to defeat ISIL.
But thus far, and you know, we've supported the SDF, right? I mean, there's the air power that we've brought to bear along the Turkish border since the beginning of this operation has been significant, and it's allowed the primarily Kurdish forces to regain territory all the way from the -- from the Syria-Iraq border all the way west to the Mara line.
I mean, we've made no -- you know, we've not tried to hide that. We've been very open about that.
That said, we understand that there are -- there's a limit to how far Kurdish forces can push south, because of the -- because of the ethnic mixes there.
So, that's why we see the Syrian-Arab coalition come into -- come in to play. This is why we're providing them with the support that they need, so that they can continue pushing further south.
Q: Do you deny the New York Times article?
COL. WARREN: Well, it was a long article, so you've got to be a little more specific.
CAPT. DAVIS: (off-mic)
Q: Steve, hi. Two things I wanted to ask you about. First of all, you'll now that Britain is now much less likely in the near future to supply any air power to assist in Syria, and also we know, of course, the Canadians with their new leader are planning to withdraw their facilities for air strikes too. Is that going to have an impact on -- on what you do over Syria?
And secondly, on the -- one the Al-Hawl thing, were there any prisoners taken? Were there any senior ranks taken? What happens to prisoners that are take in those circumstances? Who interrogates them? Where do they go?
COL. WARREN: Well, I'll start with the second part and I'll have to ask you to re-ask the first part. On al-Hal and prisoners, again, this is -- you know, we right now don't have any -- any personnel in Syria whatsoever, so you know, I don't have an answer for you frankly. You know, we expect -- when we -- when we removed the -- the leadership of the Syria-Arab coalition off the battlefield to -- to spend some time with them, give them briefings and give them some training, part of that training focused on law of land warfare, and of course, part of law of land warfare is the appropriate treatment of prisoners.
So we have trained these personnel, or at least the leadership of these personnel, in the appropriate use of -- of -- of prisoner procedures. And of course, with the Geneva Convention -- and the established international norms. So -- you know -- and of course, we expect them to follow those -- follow that training and to, you know, enforce the Geneva Convention in the law of land warfare.
That said, you know, we do not have direct eyes on the ground there. Prisoners that are taken by the Arab coalition forces there on the ground are -- (inaudible) -- for the Arab coalition forces on the ground to -- to speak to it.
Going back to your Arab -- I just couldn't quite get it. You were asking something about air strikes in Syria and the British participation, but that -- I -- I didn't quite get it.
Q: Following up on what you just said, first of all, you did say when -- when you had the raid on Howeja that you'd captured some pretty significant intelligence as part of that. So you're interested in the intelligence that was available in that operation. Why wouldn't you be interested in getting the intelligence from -- from the capture of prisoners in Syria?
And the question on air strikes is, you know, Britain is now much less likely to conduct air strikes. There's a parliamentary problem with that happening in Britain, that's gone farther down the line into -- (inaudible), and you know, of course the Canadians are planning to withdraw their support for air strikes inside Syria. Is that going to have an effect on your operational capacity at all?
COL. WARREN: I'm not going to get involved in national politics of coalition partners. What I'll tell you is we appreciate the contribution of every single one of our international partners and we understand that every single one of our international partners has to contribute in accordance with their own national security objectives and their own national policies. So any time we lose aircraft, of there's some -- some impact, but, you know, we have other coalition partners, and so we make it work.
On intelligence and prisoners, of course, we'd like intelligence. We want intelligence from anywhere we can get it. That said, we don't have personnel on the ground in Syria right now and therefore, you know, we're not interacting with any -- in any of the, you know, prisoners that are taken.
CAPT. DAVIS: Lucas -- let us know, Steve, if you're having a hard time hearing.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren. It's Lucas.
Is there any evidence that the Russians are going beyond Aleppo and striking ISIS targets?
COL. WARREN: Didn't get it. What did he say?
CAPT. DAVIS: Any indication that the Russians are going beyond Aleppo and striking ISIS targets?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, the Russians have only struck, you know, they've done hundreds of airstrikes at this point. You know, I'm not putting out the count anymore. But, you know, they conduct airstrikes, but only a fraction of them have been against ISIL targets. And when I say "fraction," I'm talking -- (inaudible) -- 10 percent.
And oh, by the way, a majority of their strikes have been using dumb bombs, gravity bombs that, you know, are unguided and very unsophisticated. So, yeah, they've hit a handful of -- (inaudible) -- ISIL targets in various locations, some in Aleppo. Yes, to answer your question, more directly. But their focus has very much been in support of the Assad regime and whatever the Assad regime's objectives are.
So if the Assad regime's objectives are in a location where ISIL is, well then, yeah, ISIL, you know, will receive, you know, some attention. But thus far, a majority of the objectives of the Assad regime has been interested in have been in areas that are held by -- by Syrian opposition who are not ISIL. So.
Q: Thank you very much.
Is the announced deployment of F-15s to Incirlik, does that have anything to do with the type of aircraft the Russians have deployed to Syria?
COL. WARREN: Well, you know, I wouldn't get into specifically those kind of details. I mean, we've said we're going to have a mix of C and D models and you can research the specific capabilities of the different models. But, you know, we -- we position the platforms at various locations based on what we expect the mission requirement to be.
Q: -- (inaudible) -- have anything to do with keeping Russian air superiority -- (inaudible) -- fighters in check?
COL. WARREN: You know, again, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to get into specific details. Obviously, we want to assure we've always got the appropriate mix of -- of air-to-air capability, air-to-ground capability and direct strike capability. So, you know, some we're always looking, and some we're always adjusting and we're going to assure that whatever aircraft we have operating in the skies of Syria is appropriately supported.
Q: Back to the boats on the Euphrates River. Does ISIS have a navy or a gunboat navy? And are they capable mariners? And that's -- that's all.
COL. WARREN: Yeah, to my knowledge, ISIL does not have a navy. What they do have is the ability to get in barges and float down the Euphrates River. So that's what we're seeing. And again, you know, when our intelligence picks up, you know, -- (inaudible) -- explosives or foreign fighters or some type of war-making material, sometimes we can see it getting loaded onto a barge, right? So we'll detect it at that time. And, you know, we're going to sink that ship or that barge or that boat.
But there is a lot of civilian traffic along that -- along that river, so we are going to be careful, just like any highway. You know, we're not going to hit every single vehicle that runs through a given highway. We have to have -- we have to be confident that we know what we're striking is the enemy. So, you know, that's our standard, it's a golden standard, unmatched throughout the world and in the history of aviation.
But when we do see an ISIL barge floating down Euphrates River, we'll sink it rapidly.
Q: Steve, this is Mik. Could you describe for us please the -- the level, the content and frequency of communications between the Russian and U.S. militaries?
COL. WARREN: So -- you know, we established this Memorandum of Understanding with the Russians, who signed several weeks ago. It establish some protocols for how we interact with -- with the Russians over the skies of Syria. One of the provisions of that MOU is that we wouldn't make it public, so we haven't.
What I'll tell you is that, you know, we are in contact with the Russians regularly to assure that we all understand the rules of the sky. As you know, we executed or we conducted a radio check last night. This is, you know, the U.S. fighter aircraft and a Russian fight aircraft. It was pre-planned that these two aircraft would -- would come together in the skies over Southwestern Syria and establish radio communications on a pre-established radio frequency.
So we executed that test, it only took about three minutes to get it all done. Afterwards, there was a phone call between the CAOC and the Russians -- the Russian version of the CAOC to kind of go over what happened. We're going to continue that because, you know, as we've always said, safety of our forces is one of our primary concerns, and in this case, establishing these safety protocols is key and critical to ensuring the safety of our personnel.
But I want to be very clear with you, Mik, that's all it is. We are not conducting any type of coordination on strikes, we are certainly not running our strikes past them, we are not asking them permission to do anything. All we're doing is establishing an open line of communication to ensure that if there is a mid-air emergency or a mid-air encounter of some sort, that we've got established lines of communication to enable us to quickly mitigate that.
Q: Hi, Steve. It's Phil again.
Just to clarify, you said that one of the provisions of the MOU is that the U.S. and Russia won't make these communications public. Could you clarify what that means exactly? And did Russia then violate the terms of the MOU by putting out a statement about those communications yesterday?
COL. WARREN: No, I don't believe they violated it, although I'm not -- (inaudible) -- to the legal community. I'm certainly no international lawyer. But the sense there was no, although they didn't tell us they were going to issue out that release. But -- yes. So no, we don't believe they violated it. The first part of your questions was -- what was it again?
Q: You said the MOU -- one of the provisions of the MOU is that -- that such communications wouldn't be made public. Could you clarify what you meant by that?
COL. WARREN: Hey, Jeff, can you just repeat that question for -- you just broke up completely.
Q: Steve, you said one of the provisions of the MOU is that the U.S. and Russia would not make such communications public. I thought that's what you said. Could you clarify what you meant by that because I'm --
COL. WARREN: Now -- okay, I got it.
No, what we said is that we would not make the MOU public, right? We will not make the MOU public.
I'm sorry. Would not make the provisions of the MOU. That might have been where you didn't hear me.
So, part of it is that we agreed that we would not make those specific provisions of the MOU public. So, no.
From where I sit, I don't believe the Russians violated anything. If you want. I can go find a lawyer and figure out if they really did. But I mean, this is a small thing, right?
I mean, it was -- it was a communications test. The communications test was conducted successfully, and we're all moving on with our day.
Q: Yeah. I don't -- I would like to come back to the question about the New York Times article about the Syrian-Arab coalition. It was -- it -- someone was quoted in the article saying that it is an invention, the Syrian-Arab coalition is an American invention.
What -- what elements can you give to explain that -- that this Syrian-Arab coalition does exist and it is active? What -- what can you give us to -- to understand that?
COL. WARREN: Sure, that's easy. The Syrian-Arab coalition seized over 200 square kilometers of terrain in the vicinity of Al-Hawl over the last couple of days.
So, I don't care who invented it; you know, it's a fighting force on the ground in Syria. It's been supplied with 50 tons of ammunition by -- you know, an American air drop executed on 12, October.
And now, they're -- now, they're battling ISIL and seizing and holding ground. I'm not sure anyone cares who invented them. What they are is a fighting force in Syria that's aligned with us, that's in the process of killing terrorists.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren, Lucas. One more time. Why was the operation chosen for the area around Al-Hawl? What's the significance of that area?
COL. WARREN: That -- that's where they wanted to fight. You know, that's where their forces already kind of were located. You know, there's an enemy -- enemy force positioned there.
I don't want to get into the specific details of what other operations, that may not have happened yet, that it's tied into. But what I'll tell you is -- it was a good -- it was a well-planned, well-executed operation, that in fact, in some ways, is still at a much smaller level. They're still conducting their consolidation and reorganization.
They'll reset, recock, and be prepared for further offensive operations.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right, we've got Nancy, see if she has her voice back.
Oh, Tom is going to ask a question on behalf of Nancy. Imagine Nancy's voice.
Q: Yeah, just imagine this is Nancy, and not me, all right?
Nancy would like to know in the area around --
Q: Around Al-Hawl, how populous is that area? Are we talking mostly desert?
And I actually have my own question. We keep hearing the term, "thicken" the airstrikes. We heard that from a senior defense official Friday, and I think Ash Carter mentioned that as well.
The airstrikes will now thicken. Why are you doing it now? Why didn't you do it many months ago, when everyone was complaining -- pilots to retired generals -- that this -- these airstrikes were too little and too late?
And lastly, from Nancy, how many fighters in Al-Hawl?
COL. WARREN: Nancy, great question. Tom's question, not so much. But Nancy, your question was really good.
So, Al-Hawl, I don't have population statistics. I know the enemy's situation -- the enemy population in that area, or the enemy's strength in that area was several hundred fighters. And I don't have a good answer for you, unfortunately. You know, you can see where -- and I don't know if you pulled the map up. I'm looking at the map right now. You can see where Al-Hawl is in relation to Sinjar and (inaudible).
So, you know, it's not a densely populated area, but certainly, you know, it's a town in Syria occupied by ISIL fighters; and again, several hundred ISIL fighters in this case.
On the thickening piece, (inaudible), the reason we're able to -- and that, I guess, I don't know, that "thicken" is necessarily a doctrinal term, but I guess it's descriptive. What we're looking at doing is not necessarily -- well, I mean, it's related or linked I think to the opening of Incirlik Air Base, right?
Now that we've got the ability to -- to fly out of Turkey, like I said earlier, our flight legs are shorter. Our loiter time is longer. Our response time is shorter. So what that does, you know, the end-impact of that down the road, so we haven't, you know, made a substantial shift. We haven't committed, you know, a number of -- a higher number of resources.
What we've done is, you know, because of the Turks allowing us this access, what we've done is be able to have more air presence in the battle space when we need it.
Does that make sense? I mean, that's, you know, and so it's kind of a cause and effect, right? As Incirlik opened to more both ISR and combat aircraft, and as other locations in Turkey have become available, what that does is allow us to reposition so that, you know, our aircraft doesn't have to fly 1,000 miles before he even has the opportunity to release its bombs.
Because that -- (inaudible) -- crew has all sorts of these second- and third-order effects when you've got these 1,000-mile legs. You know, two -- (inaudible) -- on the way out, and two on the way back. You know, so there's all sorts of different factors that -- that -- that cause the opening of, or the availability of -- (inaudible) -- space in Turkey to allow us to thicken our -- our presence in the skies over Syria and Iraq.
Does that make sense? Does that answer your question?
Q: Hi, it's Jacqueline.
You had said that per the -- (inaudible), the U.S. couldn't collect any intel from the operation in Al-Hawl was because there were no U.S. forces in Syria. So do you expect the 50 special operators deploying there will increase the U.S.'s ability to collect intelligence from things like that?
COL. WARREN: Everyone -- everyone, you know, in uniform is a collector. We're always collecting intelligence no matter where we are or what we're doing. That goes without saying, I think.
But the purpose of these forces is to advise and assist our friendly forces there.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Anyone else? Last call? Going once, going twice.
Steve, thank you very much for your time. We look forward to seeing you next week, if not sooner.
COL. WARREN: Thanks very much.
Sorry to bring you guys in an hour earlier, but if we had done this at 1900, we'd have all missed dinner here. So thanks for letting me get dinner, and we'll see you early next week.