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NEWS | Nov. 16, 2016

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Col.Dorrian via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS:  Good morning, everybody.

Before we get started, J.D., just want to make sure we can hear you and you can hear us.

COLONEL JOHN DORRIAN:  I've got you loud and clear, Jeff.  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Great.  Thanks.

Ladies and gentlemen, we're pleased to be welcomed today by Colonel John Dorrian, the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, coming to us live from Baghdad.

J.D., we'll turn it over to you for any opening comments you have.

COL. DORRIAN:  Great.  Thanks, Jeff.

Good morning, all.  Today, we'll start in Syria and we'll move on to Iraq.

In Syria, significant progress is being made in liberating previously held Daesh territory.  In the past week, the coalition conducted more than 60 kinetic strikes against ISIL fighters, leaders and infrastructure to support the Syrian Democratic Forces operations to isolate Raqqa along two converging axes of advance.  The SDF has liberated 270 square kilometers, 321 since the beginning of the operation.

As you know, Daesh considers Raqqa their capital in Syria, so we expect resistance to stiffen as forces move closer to the city.

Of note, coalition forces conducted a strike resulting in the death of Iraqi national Abd al-Basit al-Iraqi, who was emir of ISIL's Middle East external networks, including against Americans, Turkish and European targets.  Abd al-Basit was struck and killed November 12th in Raqqa, Syria. He was a key facilitator for ISIL's external operations routes through Turkey and was responsible for attacks within the Middle East.

Along with these external attacks and plots, he has also been connected to convoy, reconnaissance, and facilitation extremist travel, finances and weapons in the region.  His death degrades and delays ISIL's current plots against regional targets and deprives them of a capable senior manager who provided oversight over many external attacks.

In Iraq, Iraqi security forces continue making progress in clearing areas of Daesh presence in Mosul and have seen fierce resistance that they had planned for and that we've been talking about for months.  This is neighborhood-to-neighborhood fighting, particularly in the east, and the Iraqi security forces have moved deliberately and exercised a laudable level of restraint in an effort to protect civilian life.

Daesh have done the opposite, taking human shields, dressing as ISF, and arresting people who react positively to their presence; arresting civilians for having phones, and using tunnels to infiltrate civilian neighborhoods.  This is extremely tough fighting, but the ISF has continued their advance, liberating Nimrud this past week after initial tough fighting, followed by Daesh retreating toward Mosul.

As many of you know, the enemy destroyed a lot of ancient architecture at Nimrud and then sold artifacts on the black market in order to finance their operations.  This is another in a string of atrocities conducted by Daesh and the evidence of these events mounts as they continue to lose territory.

Finally, I'd like to show a video taken near Tal Afar.  Jeff, if you could roll that video.  Coalition air --


COL. DORRIAN:  -- photo.

CAPT. DAVIS:  J.D., if we could ask you to go back, we -- we lost you when we switched to the video.  Can we ask you to tell us about the video again?  And then -- we do now have the photo up.  You can talk to the photo as well.

COL. DORRIAN:  Okay.  Well, the -- the video that you're seeing is of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device factory near Tal Afar.  As you can see, there is some pretty significant secondary explosions as that's taken out from an airstrike.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Tell us about the photo we see.

COL. DORRIAN:  You'll have to let me know once the video's done, Jeff.

CAPT. DAVIS:  We're ready to talk about that cool photo.

COL. DORRIAN:  The photo that you're looking at is a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that was captured -- captured in Peshmerga territory and it's now used to train Peshmerga forces at one of our training sites in northern Iraq.

As you can see, it's reminiscent of a Mad Max vehicle, with armored plating in the front to protect the driver until he can detonate the explosives he's carrying on board.  The coalition has used strikes mostly form the air to destroy these anywhere that they can be found.  Around Mosul, we've destroyed 60-plus since the Iraqi forces commenced their operation to liberate the city on October 17.  And I'm sure you'll recall that we destroyed hundreds of these during the shaping operations in the months leading up to the Mosul operation.

Okay.  So now, I'll be delighted to take your questions.

CAPT. DAVIS:  We'll start with Lita Baldor from the Associated Press.

Q:  Thanks, John.

Can you -- Turkey has today been talking about how close they are in -- getting into Al-Bab.  Can you give us a sense of are they within a couple kilometers of getting in?  What kind of resistance are you hearing that they're meeting?  And -- and I have second follow-up.

COL. DORRIAN:  Sure.  They are very close.  The last I heard, they were within a couple of kilometers.  I just checked in with our ops center.  They've not yet moved into Al-Bab and taken the city, but they are very, very close, encountering some very pretty tough resistance.  They do expect to be able to power through that.

Q:  And secondly, we keep hearing about this effort and need to train up more Syrian Arab fighters.  Can you give us an update on how that's going?  How many are coming in?  How many do you have trained up now?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, you know what, the number that we have -- I -- I don't have an updated number on that.  I can tell you that our partners are very keen to increase the size of the force, particularly of Syrian Arabs, from the local area there.  We'll have to owe you an update on the numbers that -- that they're getting.

Q:  But do you have any sense as to whether or not the effort is actually moving?  Are -- is there an increase at all, do you know?

COL. DORRIAN:  I just don't have any figures for you, Lita.  I -- I don't know.  I'll have to check in on that and owe you that answer.

One thing I would say, though, is we do expect this isolation phase to go on for a number of weeks, perhaps months even.  And it's going to be a deliberate approach.  So, you know, there's plenty of time for our partners to work this issue.

Q:  Tom Bowman from National Public Radio.

Hey, colonel, I want to stay in Al-Bab for a second.  There were a lot of people here in Washington who were concerned about the Turks moving on Al-Bab, you know, basically cutting off the two Kurdish enclaves and maybe -- and Syria, you know, made some comments about maybe we'll attack the Turks as they head to Al-Bab.

Just give us your sense from the command over there.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing that the Turks are heading to Al-Bab?  And will it, you know, have problems with the Kurdish forces heading toward Raqqa?  They'll be looking over their shoulder.

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, this is a situation where Turkey, with their partnered force, have made the decision that they're going to take Al-Bab.  It's a very complicated battlefield with a lot of actors, with sometimes competing interests.  So, certainly we're not going to wish that any area of northern Syria remain in Daesh hands, but we have been working in ongoing dialogue with Turkey and with our partners and with other coalition members to try and make sure that we de-conflict all of our operations because we don't want there to be problems such as you describe.

Q:  Well, is the command supportive of this Turkish move into Al-Bab?  Is it a good thing?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, you know what?  What I would -- what I would say about that is the coalition has not been a part of the -- the Turkish advance toward Al-Bab.  This is a national decision that they made.  What we are definitely positive about is that everybody here -- Turkey and us and our partners on the ground and the partnered force that's working with Turkey -- all have a vested interest in defeating Daesh.  And this is something that there will be ongoing political discussions about.  So it's really not for me to characterize that at this point.

Q:  That the Turkish troops have moved deeper into Syria after the Al-Bab operation?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, that's a decision that they'll make and it will be one, again, that will be the focus of ongoing political discussion.  The coalition continues to work with our partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces and there’re a contingent of Syrian Arabs, to isolate Raqqa, and then we'll continue the political dialogue with Turkey and our partners and our allies on the way forward from there.

CAPT. DAVIS:  We'll go to Courtney Kube from NBC News.

Q:  Hey, J.D.  Just one more on Al-Bab.

So, when you're saying political -- there's political discussion, you're saying that there's no military to, I guess, the coalition or U.S. military, to Turkish military discussion encouraging them to, you know, continue to go after ISIS, but leave the YPG alone and maybe not move towards Al-Bab?  There's no mil-to-mil discussion going on about that?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, there -- there are daily mil-to-mil discussions between the coalition and Turkey because Turkey is a part of the international coalition to defeat Daesh.

As far as the deconfliction effort, that's kind of what we're talking about here.  So what we want to do is keep everybody focused on defeating Daesh, make sure there are clear lanes in the road for all of our partners to make sure that there's no miscalculation of misunderstanding or -- where we end up with a situation that complicates matters rather than facilitating Daesh's defeat.

Q:  And this -- the Turkish towards Al-Bab, you haven't seen that slowing down the SDF move towards -- south towards Raqqa?  That's not having an impact on the movement with the YPG component of the SDF?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, the SDF has continued their operations along two axes of advance, and what we expect is that once those axes converge, they'll back-clear some of the area behind there.

There's a significant pocket with a lot of Daesh presence, and this has been their plan.  It's -- it's going according to their plan and along the timeline that they expected to do. 

Q:  And then could you just tell us a little bit more that guy -- I'm sorry, I didn't get his name.  What is Abdel Baqqah I think, who you mentioned was killed on the 12th.  It was a -- what it a U.S. airstrike?  What was the platform?  And when you talk about some of his external attack plots, can you give us some specifics about things he might have been involved in either planning or actually executing? 

COL. DORRIAN:  No.  You know what, Courtney, I just don't really have that level of detail to provide.  So we can take those questions and follow up with you afterward.

Q:  Cool.  Thank you. 

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next we'll go to Kasim Ileri with Anadolu. 

Q:  Colonel, thanks for doing this. 

My question would be a controversial tweet by presidential envoy Ambassador McGurk, who said that YPG elements are still in Manbij to train the local fighters and these guys are going to leave -- (inaudible) -- and cross the east of Euphrates after local units complete training, McGurk said. 

I have asked this question maybe 100 times from different platforms, to you to all other officials, and they categorically denied that any YPG elements are in the city.  They have left, they have crossed the city.  And even Pentagon made an announcement saying that they appreciate that the YPG elements or SDF elements crossed back to the east of the city.  And now, we hear the presidential envoy saying that these guys are there to train local forces. 

Could you square this circle for me, please?  What does -- what does this tell us about all you have been saying from the beginning? 

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, what we have been saying from the beginning is that the -- the YPG had largely left and that the leadership elements were gone.  They did leave some people in place to train the Manbij Military Council so that Daesh can't re-infiltrate and take the city that so many had fought so hard to take.

So that's what was happening there and I can verify for you that the -- the YPG elements have indeed moved out of Manbij.

Q:  So -- so you're saying that no YPG elements are still in Manbij?

COL. DORRIAN:  That's right.

Q:  And -- and McGurk says they are there, they will depart after they complete the -- the training of the local forces first.

And secondly, this is the first time that I hear from you saying that the leadership has left, while some forces -- some part of the forces are going to remain inside city to train the local the Manbij military council.  This is the first time, frankly, that I hear this, and today that you are saying it.

So you -- you say that now they have -- they have trained, they completed, and they have left.  Is that what you say?  So do you deny what McGurk has said?

COL. DORRIAN:  No, I'm verifying what Special Envoy McGurk said.

Q:  So this says they will depart when they complete training.  And you say they have left.

COL. DORRIAN:  That -- that's my understanding.  Yes.

CAPT. DAVIS:  (inaudible) -- Kurdistan 24.

Q:  Right.  Lauren Milroy, Kurdistan 24.

The Shiite militia, the Hashd al Shaabi, are now moving on Tal Afar.  They're very close to it.  How do you see that offensive going?  And are you concerned about their committing human rights violations against the Sunnis and the Sunni areas that they'll move in to?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, what -- what we know about the Popular Mobilization Forces is that they've moved out southwest of Tal Afar.  They're not in the city.  They're very close to it.  And that move is intended to block any egress area for Daesh who are in Mosul.  It will block them so that they don't be able to move westward as the pressure inside Mosul increases.

So that's the Iraqi plan.  That's what's been briefed to us and that's what we've observed on the battlefield thus far.

Q:  And -- (inaudible) in to Tal Afar once they are on the edge of the city?

COL. DORRIAN:  I -- I heard you said something on the edge of the city.  I didn't hear the first part of your question.

Q:  Once they get to the edge of Tal Afar -- they're very close, as you have said -- will they move in to the city itself?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, what I have heard is that the plan is for them to stay outside the city, and that the Iraqi army will indeed be the force that goes in to Tal Afar.  And that they'll remain in their blocking positions.  That's -- that's what I've seen of the plan and thus far that's what's happened.

Q:  And if I could ask you about the SDF.  You mentioned there were two axes of advance that were going to converge.  This is advance on Raqqa?

COL. DORRIAN:  Yeah, that's correct.  It's -- it's advancing toward Raqqa, and then they'll converge and then back-clear the pocket that they created with their advance.  So, they're moving toward Raqqa and then they'll back-clear the area that they create on the two axes of advance.

Q:  How do you assess their progress so far?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, they're on plan.  We've dropped about 250 munitions to support their operations, and these are against Daesh targets, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, fighting positions, their fighters.  So they've been successful and they've been able to move in the directions that they intended to.  They've met moderate resistance along the way, but they've been able to execute their plan.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next we'll go to Laurent Barthelemy with Agence France-Press.

Q:  Hi, colonel.  Thank you for doing this.

I'm not sure I understand the position of the -- of the coalition towards the Turkish offensive on Al-Bab.  Are you saying that the coalition will not do any airstrikes, for instance, to support the Turkish forces as they fought?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, what I'm -- what I'm telling you is we've not supported the advance to Al-Bab thus far.  We did conduct a lot of strikes in support of the -- of the Turkish military and their partnered force as they conducted operations to clear Daesh along their border.

So this is a decision they've made to go into Al-Bab, but it's not one that the coalition has provided strikes in support of.

Q:  Can you explain why the coalition has taken this position?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, we believe that all of the operations in Syria against Daesh should be coordinated very closely between all the parties that are involved.  This is something that they've decided to do independently and what we'd like to do is to continue to work with them to develop a plan where everyone remains focused on Daesh.  We have good deconfliction measures in place and we don't have any chance of partners that both have an interest in defeating Daesh converging in a way that would be unhelpful.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Next we'll go to Ryan Browne with CNN.

Q:  Hello, colonel.  Thank you for doing this.

Just a question on Mosul.  So is it -- have U.S. advisers entered the city as the CTS kind of makes progress going neighborhood by neighborhood?  Have they at any point entered the city and maybe have left or are in the city now?  Could you -- could you talk a little bit about whether or not U.S. personnel or coalition personnel have actually breached the city limits?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, what I would say about that is that the Iraqi forces have gotten about a third of the way into eastern Mosul.  That's a very small area and we're not gonna comment on the position of our U.S. or coalition advisers in relation to those forces.  They remain behind the forward line of troops.  They're there in an advisory role.

And one of the things that's very important to understand here is that the -- it's not the role of the coalition to close on the enemy and try to take that terrain.  That's a job for the Iraqi security forces and that's an enduring theme.  So we're not gonna get into the exact position of U.S. or coalition forces in Mosul.  That's not something we're going to do.

Q:  Okay.  And I -- I just want to have a follow-up on Al-Bab.  Just -- just a point of clarity.  So currently, ISIS is on control of Al-Bab, is that correct?

COL. DORRIAN:  That is correct.  Not for long, probably.

Q:  That's -- that's good to know.  I know some -- just I guess following up on Laurent’s question about, you know, the decision not to conduct airstrikes against ISIS in Al-Bab in support of the Turkish incursion.  Is that -- I mean, that seems to be a signal that there is, you know -- it seems to be a pretty strong signal to a member of the coalition that what they're doing is not appropriate.

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, it's a signal that there needs to be some continued, ongoing diplomatic discussions about the manner in which we continue to fight Daesh in northern Syria.  That's been something that we've talked about for quite some time.  Beyond that, I really don't have any detail to provide about that.

CAPT. DAVIS:  All right.  Next, we'll go with Tolga Tanis from Hurriyet.

Q:  Hi, colonel.  A quick question on Al-Bab to clarify something.

You were supporting Turkish forces in clearing this border area since the -- (inaudible) -- situation -- for one week or 10 days after the Jarabulus operation.

When did you stop the support this advance?  I mean, is there any limit, for example, from the Turkish border -- 20 kilometers, 25 kilometers, something like that?

COL. DORRIAN:  You know what?  I'm not going to get into the coordination process that we have with Turkey.  That's something that we do between us and our ally.  I -- I understand why you're asking, but as a matter of operational security, that's just not something that we're going to get into.

Q:  Can you give us a timeline?  I mean, when was the last time that you supported this advance?  One week ago or two weeks ago?  When did you stop this support to the Turkish advance in the area?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, we've -- we've continued to provide air support for Turkey in a variety of locations across northern Syria.  As far as when we stopped supporting it, I'm not going to get into the details.

Q:  (inaudible) -- this advance -- (inaudible) -- conducting airstrikes in the area.  Did they conflict this with you?

COL. DORRIAN:  I couldn't hear what you said.  Did --

Q:  (inaudible) military -- did they conflict -- de-conflict the airstrikes that they are conducting in the area with the coalition?

COL. DORRIAN:  I would have to check on that.  I know we have a lot of ongoing dialogue with Turkey about airstrikes and de-conflicting those and making sure we maintain safety of flight.  But I don't know that answer to that.  We'll take that question and get back with you.

Q:  Last one, colonel.  Do you have any communication channels with the Afrin Kurds who are also advancing to Al-Bab?  And are you concerned any clash between Afrin Kurds and the Turkish military in the area?

COL. DORRIAN:  I'll have to take that question as well.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next, we'll go to Joe Tabe with Al Hurra.

Q:  Thank you, J.D.

In regards to the operation to isolate Raqqa, could you give us a sense about the size of the YPG who are involved in the operation?  And also, could you confirm that British and American special forces are with the YPG on the ground?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, I'm not going to -- I'm not gonna confirm the location of coalition forces in Syria.  We've not done that and we're not gonna get into that business now.

The size of the force is also something that just detail-wise, it'd be really inappropriate for me to get into that level of detail.  So you know, it's fraction of their overall force in order to isolate Raqqa.  It doesn't require all their forces, and indeed, it's important that the -- they have remaining forces in areas that have been taken from Daesh control elsewhere so that Daesh is unable to reinfiltrate those areas.  But they do have adequate forces to continue their advance and to continue the isolation effort.

Q:  Quick follow-up.  What about Turkey in regards to the Raqqa operation?  Do you know if Turkey will have -- will play any role in that operation?

COL. DORRIAN:  This is an area where the chairman and our leadership have been very clear that we're still working out the details for the -- the overall effort and there will be an ongoing diplomatic effort with Turkey and with our partners and with the coalition to determine what roles and how we might do this in the most productive and effective possible way.

So I don't have any details on where we are with all that.  That's in a diplomatic channel.  And so really, it has yet to be determined what role Turkey might have.

Q:  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  I think we'll go to Luis Martinez with ABC News.

Q:  Hey, John.  Question about Al-Bab.  Don't -- aren't the U.S. advisers accompanying Turkish supported rebel forces or Turkish forces?  I mean, I think that was happening at some point.  Is that still continuing?  And are they involved in the support of the Al-Bab operation?

COL. DORRIAN:  That -- that was -- we did have forces partnered with Turkey and their partnered forces for quite some time through a lot of the operations in northern Syria.  They -- they are not a part of the advance on Al-Bab.

Q:  Does that mean that they were removed after that advance on Al-Bab began?

COL. DORRIAN:  That's -- yes.

Q:  Can I ask you a question about Mosul, please?  How -- you're talking about the -- the tough fight between -- in the eastern part of Mosul.  How -- how is that complicating- the presence of civilians in that battle space- how is that complicating the potential for airstrikes there to -- support of the ISF?  And can you describe the efforts to prevent civilian casualties on that battle space?

COL. DORRIAN:  Anytime that you have dense urban warfare like you see in Mosul, it's a very challenging situation, but we do have the capability to strike enemy targets.  What that does, it influences the manner in which we conduct our strikes.

Now, we continue to use our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, our eyes in the sky, in order to verify targets and we continue to coordinate those with the Iraqis both in our operation centers and on the ground.  And we also think about things like the size of the weapons that we use.

Now, the -- the Air Force in -- in our -- all of our coalition forces have 2,000-pound bombs.  We also have small diameter bombs, 250 pounds.  And so we might influence the types of choices that we make with regard to what weapons are used.

We are following the Iraqi lead.  They've shown a considerable amount of restraint with the manner in which they've advanced into the city.  They've tried very hard to protect civilians.  We see some of the open source reports with Iraqi security forces sharing their rations, sharing their medical supplies with civilians.

That's a pretty laudable effort.  We think it's something that all Iraqis ought to be proud of.  And we're going to follow suit with that.  But make no mistake, we will take every opportunity that we can to remove capabilities that Daesh would use on the battlefield in order to create danger.  We'll take every opportunity to do that.

Q:  Can I ask you one last question about this Mad Max vehicle you describe here?  You said it's now being used for training.  Is there a standardized kind of concept for how these vehicles are created?  And what kind of training is involved?  What are the Pesh doing with this vehicle?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, as far as, you know, that vehicle, that is a captured vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.  So it was stopped with 50-caliber weapons fire.  As you can see, the front of it has a significant amount of armor plating.  And what that does is it protects the driver so he can maneuver the VBIED into position and then detonate the explosives that are in there.

So as the -- as we conduct our training, and this is something that's been going on for some months, with the Peshmerga and with the Iraqi security forces, we knew that they were going to go into a dense urban-type fight in order to take Mosul.  And so they use this capability and teach the forces how to react to that threat and don the appropriate weapon so that they can stop those.

Q:  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  We'll go to Lucas Tomlinson with Fox News.

Q:  Colonel, just to follow up on Ryan's question.  Can you rule out that U.S. forces are inside Mosul?

COL. DORRIAN:  No, I cannot.  We -- we're not going to verify the location of U.S. or coalition forces in Mosul.  That's -- that would just be inappropriate to do that.  We do remain behind the forward line of troops.  It's not our role to take terrain or close with the enemy.  They're there as advisers.  As the Iraqis move, if they need us, we'll go where they need us.

Q:  How important are those U.S. advisers to this fight?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, there's no question that U.S. advisers are in harm's way.  We do advise the CTS.  They are in the thick of a very tough battle.  So there is a significant amount of danger here, especially on the eastern axis as they moved into the city.  They moved through some very tough resistance as they've approached the city.  Our advisers are close by.

So the enemy does get a vote, but our -- our forces are not really going to be trifled with.  They will most certainly defend themselves.  And they are there strictly to advise and assist the Iraqi security forces and in this case the CTS.

Q:  How many more months will this Mosul operation take?

COL. DORRIAN:  It's very difficult to predict how long it's going to take.  As all the Iraqi security forces converge on the city and the Iraqis continue to maneuver through there, and we continue to conduct our strikes.  We've conducted more than 4,000 so far, dropping -- dropping bombs on Daesh targets, and that's killed hundreds of their fighters, it's removed hundreds of their fighting positions and weapons.  We've taken out more than 80 tunnels, taken out more than 60 vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.

Eventually, the enemy is gonna break.  It's gonna take quite some time, and what they've done, all these tactics that they've used to increase danger for the civilians there, what that means is it's gonna be a very deliberate fight, very dangerous fight for the forces that are advancing there.  But we'll continue striking the enemy until ultimately the Iraqis are gonna take that city.

And that is, as you know, the Daesh capital in Iraq.  It's gonna be taken from them and then they'll be back to just being a garden variety terrorist group.  And the Iraqis will be in mop-up duty then.

Q:  Lastly, how tenacious is ISIS in this fight?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, I -- you know, you -- you have to say they're tenacious.  I would also say they're despicable because what they've done is they've poisoned the air that Iraqi children breathe.  They've lit a bunch of oil fires that also poison the air.  They've used vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and detonated them in civilian areas.  They've hid behind civilians and it's just a cowardly tactic.  They've driven millions of people from their homes and they've killed tens of thousands of people.

So really, while they are certainly, you know, a very tough and adaptive enemy, really what they are is a despicable enemy with absolutely no legitimacy whatsoever, using cowardly tactics.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay Courtney Kube- I think you had a follow-up.

Q:  Can I just ask you about Aleppo and Russia's -- the recent strikes in Aleppo in the last 24 to 48 hours?  What's your assessment now that they've been going on for a while on who's conducting most of the strikes?  Is it Russia or is it the Syrian regime?  And what are -- are the -- the fighter jets that are flying off the Russian carrier, do you see them actually dropping anything in Aleppo?  And can you give us any sense of what -- what they're -- they're striking?

COL. DORRIAN:  You know what, Courtney, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to refer you to my esteemed colleagues in the Pentagon for that one.  We are focused strictly on the fight against Daesh and those -- all those issues are not really a part of our portfolio.  Although they're in Syria, that's -- there's not really a significant Daesh presence in Aleppo and all the things you're asking about are -- are just not things that we track day-to-day here in -- in the Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

Q:  Did the Russians give you a heads up that they were going to be firing any cruise missiles on the -- in the deconfliction line or that they were gonna be flying any new aircraft?  Was there any discussion over that -- about that?

COL. DORRIAN:  I'll have to circle back with you on that.  I know we continue our deconfliction effort with the Russians.  That is an ongoing process.  I'll have to check and we'll owe you that answer, Courtney.

Q:  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Ma’m, I'm sorry, I don't know your name.

Q:  Caroline Houck, Defense One.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Hi, Caroline.  Go ahead.

Q:  Hi.  In the immediate week after the Kurdish allies announced the -- their intent to advance -- beginning advancing on Raqqa, we saw a quick ramp-up of supporting strikes in some places Anisa, and now kind of a tapering to a maybe average or slightly above average pace.  Can you talk to me a little bit about the pace of the advance and how you -- how long you expect it to continue in the -- the support -- U.S. support of it?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, it'll be a deliberate plan.  It's gonna be conducted in phases.  What I would say is that our -- our partners are exactly where they intended to be at the time they intended to be there.  They've been able to move against the enemy very effectively.  They've encountered moderate resistance, but they've been able to continue their advance.

Our strikes have been relatively consistent in that are and we'll continue to do that.  Certainly, we're gonna take every opportunity we can to destroy Daesh targets anywhere on the battlefield that they can be found.  They should sleep with one eye open because we're not gonna give them a moment's peace.  Any time that we can remove danger from the battlefield, we'll do so very similar to the video we showed you in Tal Afar.  We're gonna remove any dangerous capability that Daesh has any time that we have a window of opportunity to do it.

Q:  Can you -- do you have any specific examples of the dangerous capabilities that you have -- that the strikes have been targeting in support of that advance?

COL. DORRIAN:  Well, what -- what we've encountered is that Daesh, in anticipation of the advance on Raqqa, they've created a significant number of fighting positions.  They have formations, groups of fighters positioned in order to try and harass the advance.

And what we've done is we've taken every opportunity to remove those from the battlefield with extreme prejudice.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next we'll go to Kasim.  You had a follow-up, sorry.

Q:  Colonel, I don't want to misreport you, so I want to make something very clear.  Could you just clearly say whether there are YPG forces in Manbij or not?

COL. DORRIAN:  I don't believe there are any.  My understanding is they were moving out.

Q:  And then the other question, you said -- you characterized the suspension of air support to the Kurdish -- sorry -- Turkish-backed forces in northwest Syria as a significant signal for continuing diplomatic discussions that -- (inaudible) -- about how the counter-ISIL fight should be conducted in northwest Syria.

COL. DORRIAN:  I'm not sure I understand the question.  Help me --

Q:  You -- you characterized the -- the suspension of airstrikes in support of the Turkish-backed forces in northern Syria as a signal for the continuing diplomatic discussions about how to -- to conduct the fight against ISIS in northwestern part of -- northwestern part of Syria. Because we have -- we know that there are, for example, in northern -- northeastern Syria, there was also a discussion between Turkey and United States and all other coalition partners whether you should continue to support YPG or not because of their controversial separatist ideologies and so on.

And despite all these discussions, the strikes in northern Syria continue.  But when it comes to the northwest part of Syria -- the Syrian territory, now you are putting some kind of condition, saying that before we resume, the diplomatic discussion should come to a point.

Could you tell us what is the condition that would have you resume the airstrikes in northwestern Syria in support of the Turkish-backed forces?

COL. DORRIAN:  I think what you're asking about is the subject of ongoing diplomatic discussions.  It's beyond me, and I don't have insight into what those discussions are.  So I think we'll just have to let those discussions play out and that's really all there is to it.

Q:  You're not aware of the conditions that will have you resume the airstrikes in northwest Syria toward Al-Bab or in support of the Turkish-backed forces?  Is that what you are saying?

COL. DORRIAN:  That's exactly what I'm saying.  I'm a spokesman for military operations.  This is a diplomatic issue that's the subject of ongoing discussion.  I need to let the diplomatic side work that issue out.  It's not my place to opine about it.


Q:  Yeah, I wanted to follow up on your answer to my question on the popular mobilization unit in Tal Afar.  You said the Iraqi army will be the force that enters the city.  Is the Iraqi army prepared to do so in the near future?  Or have difficulties with Mosul sort of slowed that down?

COL. DORRIAN:  My understanding is the Iraqis have adequate force in order to take Tal Afar as well.  They'll do so on the timeline of their choosing.  They're going to continue operations in Mosul.  We're not going to put a timeline on Tal Afar.

Q:  So do you have a sense whether it's like two weeks or a month from now?  Do you have any idea?

COL. DORRIAN:  I do not.  And if I did, I probably wouldn't present it in a Pentagon press brief.  I think I would let the Iraqi army conduct their operations with operational security in mind.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Lita Baldor with a follow-up.

Q:  Just so I can close the loop on Manbij, do you know if the YPG trainers are still there, as -- (inaudible) -- suggested?  You seem to suggest that the YPG elements have left or are leaving.  Are the trainers still there doing their training?

COL. DORRIAN:  You know what?  I think I'd have to circle back with you.  My understanding is they were departing and they were doing that today.  But as far as whether every single one of them is gone, I think we -- you know, I -- I would be very uncomfortable saying every single one.  I know that they plan to leave.  I know that they were doing so.  But I think we'd have to circle back with you if you're asking for a granular -- granular answer.

Q:  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  And Tolga Tanis for a follow-up.

Q:  Colonel, just to clarify the situation in Al-Bab.  Do you think that Turkish advance in Al-Bab is undermining the effort to liberate Raqqa?

COL. DORRIAN:  I said nothing of the sort.  I just said that we haven't supported that operation and there are ongoing diplomatic discussions about the way forward for how Raqqa will be retaken.

Q:  Townsend had said to Wall Street Journal that Raqqa operations hampered by the Jarablus operation, and the Turks started in August to clear the area from Daesh -- the region -- the border area.  He had said to Wall Street Journal that Raqqa operation had -- was hampered.

So, is this implication -- the same implication that is the basic concern of you stopped this -- (inaudible) -- support to advance of Turkish military?  Is this the same concern that you have regarding Raqqa operation?

COL. DORRIAN:  I haven't seen those reports and I really wouldn't want to comment on that.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Laurent Barthelemy?

Q:  Just a follow up on the Manbij situation.  Can you just record who is in charge now of the security of -- in Manbij?  Who is in charge of the population in Manbij?

COL. DORRIAN:  That would be the Manbij Military Council is in charge of maintaining the security there.

Q:  Can you just describe how -- its composition, for instance?  Who is -- who is manning this council?

COL. DORRIAN:  You know what?  I think I'd have to owe you the answer on that, with the details.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Kevin Baron with Defense One.

Q:  J.D., how are you?  I'm going to have fun and ask you about Trump -- actually, about the transition.

With the presidential transition, has there been any request from the Iraqi government to meet with U.S. commanders to go over any kind of what comes next or concerns about the, you know, incoming administration or questions?  Has anything like that happened with -- with the, you know, the Combined Joint Task Force, Commander Townsend?

COL. DORRIAN:  I'm not aware of any such request.  Indeed, what I've seen is that everyone has remained focused on the task at hand, which is a very difficult, difficult fight to liberate Mosul.  The Iraqis have stayed on that.  It's the appropriate thing to stay on because it's a very tough fight and it's going to take some time for us to get through that.

Q:  All right, thanks.  I'm sure you look forward to your first visit from the incoming commander in chief.  Good luck.

CAPT. DAVIS:  All right.  I think we're out of time.

Colonel Dorrian, we thank you for joining us and look forward to seeing you again soon.

COL. DORRIAN:  All right.  Thanks, Jeff.