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NEWS | April 1, 2016

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

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

CAPT. DAVIS:  Good morning.  We are pleased to be joined, I hope.  We'll wait for the screen to shift here.  Live from Baghdad, Colonel Steve Warren.


Steve, just want to make sure you can hear us and we can hear you.


COL. WARREN:  I can hear you loud and clear.


CAPT. DAVIS:  I can hear you loud -- we got you clear now, but it could be a little louder if we could.  And welcome, good morning, and we'll turn it over to you.


COL. WARREN:  Well, Jeff, thanks again as always and good morning Pentagon Press Corp.  Although it’s been awhile since I briefed you about our targeting of ISIL leadership, I want you all to rest assured that we remain active on this front. 


We've been dismantling their headquarters and disrupting their efforts to plan attacks here on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria, or abroad. 


ISIL's leadership is having an increasingly difficult time governing their so called caliphate and they're hunkered down with a degraded ability to shoot, move or communicate.


In the last month, three senior leaders were retired from ISIL's service, Abu Shishani, also known as Omar the Chechen, Omar the Chechen.  Haji Imam and Abu Dawud were important leaders that ISIL will struggle to replace. 


In any organization, however, middle management is also important, and we've targeted them as well.  On January 28, Ma’n Abd al-Jabbar al Rashidi, also known as Abu Zayd, was killed by a coalition air-strike near Mosul.  Zaid was the deputy security emir for Mosul and was responsible for the brutal enforcement of ISIL security measures and for purging dissidence.


On March 7th, Ezat Taha Nargis al-Jaburi   was killed by a coalition air-strike near Nus Tal, Iraq.  Jaburi  was ISIL's chief of staff for Dijlah State.  Two other ISIL members were also fortunately killed in this strike.


Now, let's move on to the battlefield update.  Last week, Iraqi security forces, supported by the coalition, kicked off a new offensive in the Tigris River Valley.  This offensive is called Operation Valley Wolf.  This shaping operation, which is taking place about 45 miles south of Mosul, will help set the conditions for the liberation of Mosul.  So far, units from the 15th Division have pushed west out of  Makhmour, liberating the villages of Kudilah, Kharbardan and Karmadi.  


To the west, in the Euphrates River Valley, Operation Desert Lynx continued.  The 7th Division seized the Kubasis cement factory and cleared Kubasi itself.  ISF and tribal fighters are now clearing that town of IEDs.  Tribal forces are key to maintaining long-term stability after the -- the army moves out of the area.  Yesterday, the ISF continued their attack and are now nearing the outskirts of Hit.


Moving on to Syria, in Shaddadi, the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, are improving their defenses and preparing for future operations.  In the last six weeks, they have gained more than 3,200 square kilometers.


Finally, at star eight.  Along the Mar’a  line, operations have been a shoving match; SDF and ISIL have both gained and lost several villages and towns in that sector.  The shoving match continues.


So that's a brief update because we've had a lot this week.  So nothing else to open with.  Let's move to questions.  And I think I saw Bob sitting there.  Bob, do you have a question this morning?


Q:  Good morning, Colonel Warren.  Thanks. Let me -- if you could -- I was just wondering what became of that operation against the Islamic state's oil infrastructure that you talked about so much a number of weeks ago?  Has that been completed?  And have you assessed the impact on their oil resources and revenue?


COL. WARREN:  Great question.  We -- it's called Operation Tidal Wave II.  As you recall, it is named after Operation Tidal Wave I, which was our effort to strike Nazi oil in Romania.  So I do have some statistics, here.  So we've struck a total of 247 targets in Operation Tidal Wave II. 


I don't have an updated set of numbers here for you, Bob.  The last Tidal Wave II strike was conducted on March 11th, which was a strike against a gas and oil separation plant and a well head.  But looking at this, it looks like we've conducted strikes associated with that operation roughly every -- we've got a March 11th, a March 8th, a March 7th, 4th, February 28th.


So, those operations continue a pace.  We don't have updated estimates of the amount of financial damage that it has done.  We're waiting for those estimates to come in.  If you recall, our last estimate was several months ago, and it was roughly a third of their ability to produce income through oil had been destroyed.


Q:  Steve, you mentioned March 11th was the last -- as far as you can tell, the last strike in that campaign.  That has been a few weeks ago.  Does that suggest that it has been interrupted, or ended?


COL. WARREN:  Tidal Wave II operations continue.  Often, what we'll have to do is either wait for a new target to be developed or allocate resources elsewhere.  I don't know what the case is in this particular instance.


But as targets become available and those target are matched with resources, there is a priority list and those strikes are conducted.


Q:  Thanks.  Thank you.


Q:  Good morning, Colonel Warren.  


I want to go back to your opening statement, sir.  You mentioned -- you mentioned that you are always committed to target ISIL leaders, either in Iraq, or in Syria or abroad.


After taking many leaders in the last few months, my question is, how close do you think you are from targeting ISIL leader, Al Baghdadi?  And do you have any information if he is in Syria or in Iraq?  Can you share it with us?


COL. WARREN:  Well, for one thing, I hope that Al Baghdadi watches these press conferences because I want him to know that we are hunting him, and we will find him.  Just like we found his mentor, Zarqawi, and killed him.  Just like we found the grand master of terrorism, Osama bin Laden, we killed him.


We are going to find Baghdadi, and we -- he will taste justice.  I don't know if that justice will look like a Hellfire missile, or if it will look like a dark prison cell somewhere, but he will find justice one day.


We know he's alive.  We -- or we can -- we believe he's alive.  We also believe that he moves in between Syria and Iraq.


Q:  Just a quick follow-up.  Even now, do -- you think he's take -- he has the capability to move, right now, from Syria to Iraq, or vice versa?




Q:  Thank you.


Q:  Steve, back to that opening statement.  What I wrote down was you are dismantling ISIS headquarters on the battle field in Iraq and Syria and abroad.


And so, other than that strike in Libya, which got the head ISIS guy in Libya, what -- I'm not aware of any other strikes that haven't been just against training camps abroad.


So, what is your reference there, abroad?


COL. WARREN:  Well, I think what I said -- and I'm looking at -- looking at my notes here.  We've been dismantling their headquarters and disrupting their efforts to plan attacks here on the battlefield or abroad.  So often they will plan their attacks abroad from here.  So that is the reference there. 


So we, the CJTF have only struck in Iraq and Syria.  But we know that they plan attacks from Iraq and from Syria, and some of that attack planning is directed at the battlefield, and some of that attack planning, we believe, is externally directed.


And so that is what we believe we are disrupting, so to be clear.


Q:  Hey Steve, the Russians have, and the Syrian forces have taken Palmyra.  Have they also take the adjoining town first of all?  And it appears the Russians are bombing east of Palmyra now, maybe in preparation to either to go to Raqqa or Deir Ezzor.  Can you give us an update on what you're seeing with the Russians?


COL. WARREN:  All right.  So they do have Palmyra.  They're still working on Tadmore, which was the military complex adjacent to it.  Which we don't believe that they have fully seized yet.  We have seen some strikes east of Palmyra, but those, frankly, are probably more defensive in nature, you know, to prevent a counterattack.


Difficult to know whether they plan to advance any further east or not.  Also, of course, difficult to predict, if they do advance, whether they will go -- you know, east and a little bit north to Raqqa or east and a little bit south to Deir Ezzor.  We'll have to wait and see.  We'll also have to wait and see if the Syrians have the logistical oomph to be able to push any further.  That's an open question at this point as well Tom.


Q:  Also, you talk about the liberation of Mosul.  Iraqi officials estimate that they can retake the city end of this year or early next.  Do you guys agree with that estimate?


COL.  WARREN:  Well, that's certainly something that we would like to see.  You know, we're trying to stay out of the timeline business, primarily because almost every time we give it, the time line estimate is wrong.  So, it's something we would like very much to see.  We know they're developing and finalizing their plan. 


We also know that -- we've got a saying in the Army.  It says, the enemy gets a vote.  So you never -- it is really tough to predict exactly how a battle is going to unfold.  But we know that the Iraqis have a -- the beginnings of a very trained and increasingly capable force.  We know that they are supported by devastating air power. 


And we know that they have allocated already one -- more than $1.6 billion worth of Iraq train and equip funds.  So we believe that all of these things combined, along with the Iraqis increasing confidence and competence, -- we believe that their push to Mosul, whenever it is, will be successful.


Q:  OK.  Next, just a quick follow-up?


CAPT. DAVIS:  Yes.  Go ahead.


Q:  Colonel Warren, thank you.  Just a follow-up to Tom's question.  Do you welcome a Russian-backed Syrian offensive on Raqqa?


COL. WARREN:  Any time Daesh is hurt, we consider that a good thing, or ISIL.  I forgot who I was talking to. Anytime ISIL is hurt, we consider that a good thing.


But it's a tricky situation, right?  Because, you know, what do you see in Palmyra?  You see the Russian regime has pushed out ISIL.  So, in our view, that is kind of like going -- at least for the people of Palmyra, that is certainly a movement from the frying pan into the fire, isn't it?


Assad is a brutal, ruthless dictator who has, you know, gassed his own people with chemical weapons.  He is the problem, right?  He is responsible for this bloody civil war that has taken more than a quarter million Syrian lives, in the estimation of many humanitarian organizations.


And so, the situation for the people in Palmyra has -- probably not going to improve that much.  They're still -- they went from being under the boot heel of ISIL to being under the boot heel of Bashar al-Assad.  And I'm not sure that that is much of an improvement for those poor people in Palmyra.


So, anytime ISIL gets hurt, we're happy.  But anytime the people of Syria are hurt, we don't think that, that is a good thing.  So, it's a question that's very difficult to answer, Lucas.


Q:  Is there some kind of race to Raqqa?  Would -- is the coalition --do you want this Syrian defense force, these Arabs and Kurds to arrive in Raqqa before a potential arrival of Syrian forces?


COL. WARREN:  We do.  We believe that the moderate Syrian opposition forces, who we have supported and are continuing to support are the appropriate forces to enter Raqqa and Deir el-Zor, because they will bring with them goals that are in alignment with our goals, which is a peaceful and prosperous Syria.


There is certainly no evidence that Bashar al-Assad has interest in anything other the continuation of his brutal and ruthless dictatorship.


Q:  Is there a sense of urgency on the coalition's part to get to Raqqa first?


COL. WARREN:  Well, nobody's going to get to Raqqa anytime soon, frankly, neither the Russians nor the SDF.  This is going to require a significant generation of combat power; this is going to require significant shaping operations in and around the area.


So, right now, there -- certainly no race is on but we'll have to see what the future holds.


Q:  Finally, Colonel --


CAPT. DAVIS:  That's it.  This is a four-part follow up.


Q:  Okay, sorry.  Finally, Colonel, how badly do you want to kill Baghdadi?


COL. WARREN:  Well, we're in the business of taking terrorists off the battle field.  And whether we take them off and slam them into a dark cell somewhere in the international courts, or put a Hellfire missile at his location -- either one of those would make us equally happy.


But this is a terrorist who has to go.  And this is a terrorist who should not sleep well, ever.  For two reasons -- one, certainly his conscious will keep him awake for all the brutal acts that he's -- he's been behind.


But more importantly, because eventually, someone is either going to come in the window and snatch him up, or the entire house that he's in will get reduced to rubble.


So, we want to see him brought to justice.  We'd like to see him taste justice.  And whenever that happens, it won't be soon enough.


Q:  Oh, thanks.  Hi, Colonel Warren.  I was wondering if you could give us an update on the -- on Task Force Spartan.  Have those marines come in contact with ISIS since the last time?  And are they still at Fire Base Bell? 


 Could you give us a little bit of an update on are they moving forward at all?  Are they assisting Iraqi security forces in any of these additional village skirmishes?


COL. WARREN:  So, Task Force Spartan is more than just artillery pieces, it's an advise and assist operation that's conducted out of the Makhmur area.  There's kind of a base cluster there.  So they are providing advice and assistance to the 15th Iraqi Division, which is in the process of fighting Operation Valley Wolf, which I mentioned in the opener.


The -- the force protection and -- and the fires that we brought there can take on two roles, whether it's force protection or fire in support of maneuver.  Those guns have been firing, probably daily.  They have not received much in the way of enemy contact since the Iraqis began their push west, and that's for the simple reason that the Iraqi -- that the enemy now has its hand full with Iraqis. 


So the enemy's fires have been focused on the advancing Iraqi army forces.  Our fires have been focused on countering those fires.  So we shoot counter-battery fire.  So the enemy fires a shot, we shoot at where they shot from; that's called counter-battery fire.  Additionally, of course, we have fires delivered from the air, which do much the same.


So there was, over the last -- since last time I spoke with you, there has been a handful of rocket attacks directed towards those guns.  None of them have been effective.  And by a handful, I think the number is -- I can't remember.  It's either two or four, so small number, none of them effective. 


But the pressure really is on the enemy at this point because of two reasons.  One, the Iraqi security forces are continuing to push west, and two, fires delivered by the coalition, both air and ground-based fires, have also kept fairly steady pressure on this enemy.


Q:  Are the Marines still operating out of Fire Base Bell or has -- is that base moving?


COL. WARREN:  Nobody's moved; everybody is operating out of -- out of where they've been.


Q:  Hi, Steve.  Back to Palmyra.  Have you -- have you seen any evidence or any anecdotes that the Syrian civilians who are there have faced any kind of bad -- brutal behavior from the Syrian regime forces, where the Russians or anyone who've retaken the city?  And then you -- when you were talking about Palmyra earlier, you mentioned that it's a question of whether the Syrians have the power to go past there.  Are you seeing any evidence that the Syrian regime forces are stretched thin?  Are they having trouble moving?  Any kind of operational problems?


COL. WARREN:  So I don't have any anecdotes for you on how the regime has treated the population of Palmyra, but we surely know that Bashar al-Assad has a very long and well-documented history.


As far as the logistical capability of the regime forces, you know, it's always difficult to know exactly, but certainly, they are as far east as they've ever been since the civil war really got going, so we know that they've been degraded significantly over the last five years.  So it remains to be seen whether or not they have, you know, the logistical capabilities to move much further to the east.  It's simply something that, you know, remains to be seen.


You know, we know that they've been significantly degraded, but we also know they've been resupplied by the Russians and others, so we have to wait and see.


Q:  Any evidence that the Russians have brought -- we spoke with a British general yesterday and he said that they haven't -- he hasn't seen any evidence that Russians have brought any new equipment in.  But then there were some reports that they sent in some sappers overnight, or in the last day or so.


Are you seeing any new equipment or can you give us -- do you have any sense of like, roughly, how many aircraft they have in Syria, operating right now?


COL. WARREN:  I can check.  Off the top my head I want to say it is in the two dozen range, maybe a little more of total, you know, fighter jets.  And then there's some helicopters and there's some ground combat power also at play.  Now, what was the first part of your question again?


Q:  Have they sent anything new?  And there was a report overnight about sappers.


COL. WARREN:  Right.  I didn't see the sappers report, it wouldn't surprise me.  You know, most likely they'll need sappers, which is just another word for engineers to help produce the obstacles or the IEDs that ISIL left behind in Palmyra.  This is pure speculation though.  I have not seen a particular or a specific sapper report. But that is just another words for engineers.


Q:  So yes.  I work for British television.  I don't know if you can answer this, but can I ask you anyway?  We had a big court case coming today with a terrorist who targeted a U.S. air base in Lakenheath in the U.K. 


He's being convicted.  He was helped by a terrorist base in Raqqa, who U.S. forces took out with a drone shortly after his arrest.  I want to ask you, is this kind of cooperation something you know about between the U.K. and U.S. forces?  Do you know about this specific case?  Can you comment on it at all?


COL. WARREN:  Right.  So, we of course cooperate, very closely, with our British allies.  You know, certainly, the special relationship continues to extend here to Iraq and Syria as well. 


So, I do not know specifically which terrorist in Raqqa that we killed, who helped to plan this operation that you are referring to.  But it's certainly a great illustration of what I spoke about in the opener isn't it?  That we know these operatives are planning operations outside of Iraq and Syria, which is why we target them.  And it is why we're going to continue to target them.  It's why we're going to continue to work very closely with all of our partners and allies in this region: on intelligence front, on the targeting front, and on the training and equipping  front.


So, you know, again, I guess to zoom out a little bit and this is kind of a big answer to a very specific question.  This 66 member coalition is here for a very important purpose, and that is to cooperate in any effort to dismantle and ultimately defeat ISIL.  So, that will continue.


And I want to go back to Courtney's question.  There's one thing I wanted to add that -- to your question Courtney, we have not seen any significant combat power or significant pieces of equipment or significant capabilities come in for the Russians. 


As there is with any, you know, force that fully deployed, there's a continuous flow back and forth of everything, presumably from mail, to spare parts, to resupply, to you know, replacement personnel, et cetera.  But there have not been any significant, you know, plus ups of combat power or of capabilities, so hopefully, that closes your question out.


Q:  I had one -- ask one extra thing.  I mean, this man was called, Junaid Hussain.  But if you were asked by the U.K. to target someone specifically, and you have that intelligence, is that something you would do?


COL. WARREN:  Absolutely.  I mean, we have our own set of checks that we have to run.  But assuming that the proposed target got through all of the -- the very rigorous targeting criteria that we have, then of course we would strike them.


And this -- and this is true for any -- any partner nation.  The targeting process is nominative, so anyone can nominate a target to our -- to our core targeters, whether it's another agency within the United States government or another government.


And so, those targets get nominated.  We receive the target package, and then we work the target package in a joint and combined environment.  So, it is a coalition effort to even go through the vetting piece of these -- of these targets.


Once the target is vetted, then it'll get added to the target list, and somebody will -- somebody will service that target.  And then there's a bidding process for who strikes what target, because each nation has its own set of -- you know, national caveats and rules.


But at the end of the day, the short answer to your question is yes.


Q:  Hi, Steve.  Quick -- first, just a house-keeping question.


So, there are no new positions like Fire Base Bell right now in Iraq.  That's correct?


COL. WARREN:  Phil, can you ask that again?  You broke up a little at the beginning.


Q:  Double checking if there's no U.S. -- no new U.S. positions in Iraq now, like Fire Base Bell?  That haven't been disclosed yet?


COL. WARREN:  That's correct.


Q:  Do you -- could you bring us up to date on the Syria train and equip mission that has been launched now, the new one?  And kind of tell me -- you know, or tell us, you know, how it is at work?  And how people -- how many people are being trained or have been trained.


Are we talking about, you know, dozens of people?  Hundreds of people?  Thank you.


COL. WARREN:  Yeah, so, dozens of people are now being trained.  These are individuals as opposed to units.


So, what we did the first time was try to pull full units off the line and cycle them through training.  We realized that didn't work.


So, in accordance with our commitment to find things that work, we're trying this.  And so, what this is, is pull some individuals out of units, vet them, give them some training, give them some capability, and then reinsert them back into the battle field.


So, that’s what the program is.  And we're going to keep an eye on this program, we're going to keep working it, and if it works, we'll do more.  And if it doesn't work, we'll shift again.


And I think we've been very, I think, clear and open about that fact, that, you know, some of this is us working through different scenarios, and ideas and programs through a simple process of trial and error, to see what works and what doesn't work.


And when we find things that work, we're going to do more of them.  And when we find things that don't work, we're going to cut sling and move on.


Q:  You were before, when you were just working with the SDF folks and giving them, you know, training on helping coordinate the -- the air-strikes


COL. WARREN:  Phil, unfortunately, the beginning of your question got clipped again, but what I heard was, you know, are we going to work with these new trainees to help train them how to spot targets?   And the answer is yes, of course we are.  That's probably the largest single combat multiplier on the Syrian battlefield.


The Syrians who we trained in the old program are still operating on the battlefield and they're still able to identify targets for us, and that is a legitimate and real combat multiplier.  That allows us to bring significantly more fires into play in any of these -- in any of these skirmishes, battles and fire-fights there are taking place, you know, throughout Syria.


Q:  I guess, I was trying to get a sense of scale because there were also folks that we given some cursory training as well from the SDF, or the SAC, I guess, and I'm just wondering scale.  Is there more folks that are being trained now?  Does this represent an increase in the level of training than you were doing before when you were just looking at the Syrian-Arabs?  Thanks.


COL. WARREN:  Well, that SAC mission was, I think unique, right?  That was a very discrete -- and by discrete, I mean, you know, isolated, singular operation.  So what that was, was we brought the leaders of various armed groups out of Syria for a week-long training and briefings and some relationship building, et cetera. 


So that was a very specific thing.  That was leaders from about a dozen different armed groups, but the leaders of these smaller of these subgroups that came together to form the SAC, the Syrian-Arab Coalition.  So that was a very kind of unique and not -- has not yet been repeated training mission. 


What we're talking about -- what you first asked about was a train -- a training and equipping program that we are now doing that is based on the lessons that we learned from our ill-fated train and equip program of 2015.  In that program, in the old 2015 program, we would identify an entire unit, exfiltrate that unit to a training location, train the unit, equip the unit, infiltrate the unit back into the battlefield and have them go fight. 


And you know, that program didn't work out the way we wanted it to, so we -- we paused it, stopped it, ceased it, didn't do it anymore.  We conducted some assessments, we figured out what went right, what went wrong, how can we do this better.  And so now, we are trying again with adjustments.


And the adjustment in this case is that it's a group of individuals.  So I'm trying to think of a way to explain it that would be easy to understand.  Imagine, you know, a unit, we would take some members out of each unit and pull those members out of the unit.  So the unit remains in the fight, right?  Because one of the lessons we learned is people didn't want to come off the line for the training.  Why?  Because they were fighting for their homes, their families -- dedicated enemy, et cetera.


So what we learned is pulling a full unit off a line is problematic.  So, now what we're trying is to take a few individuals out of the unit -- not the head -- not the leader of the unit.  The leader of the unit needs to stick with his unit and fight.


So, a few individuals out of the unit, pull them off, get them some training, and then get them back into the fight with this new, increased capability -- with the theory that, if you have a highly trained individual here, well, the man on his left and right are going to benefit from his great training.


So, now, for the price of training one, you've got three who are better, and maybe even more than that.


So, that's kind of what we're looking at doing here.  And then of course, there's an equipment piece, and again, the capability piece, right?  That these guys are able to really be combat multipliers, because they've got the ability to assist with the -- with air power.


So, scale, we're not comfortable talking about.  I'll just -- I'll leave at, you know, it's still relatively small as we see if this works.  Like I said, dozens.  And that's all I'm going to say.


Q:  You actually answered a little bit of this, Colonel Warren.  But are there other lessons learned from the first go-round that are being applied now?  It sounds like, instead of taking out whole units, you've got -- you're taking out key leaders from units.  What else is the U.S. doing differently?


COL. WARREN:  Well, a lot of what we learned is -- is, you know, will seem insignificant, maybe in Washington or in the United States, but certainly, you know, cultural things.  You know, when to start the training, when not to train, how much leave to plan.


It's the little things like that, individual -- you know, personal management almost type things that we learned, that we believe now we can apply to get a better result.


And that -- that's really the only one that I have at my fingertips.  I can look into it and see what else there is.  But you know, we learned a lot of lessons from that first -- from that first go-round.


Q:  Hi, Colonel Warren.  Thanks for doing this.  I was just wondering if you had an update on the total number of Islamic State fighters that are in Iraq and Syria right now?


We had heard on Friday from General Dunford an estimate of up to 35,000, which is -- which is higher than what we had heard last time.  And I know that estimates are exactly that, they fluctuate.


But have you seen an increase or a decrease in fighters?  And to follow up on that question, what is being done by the United States and the coalition to hinder some of the recruitment, because that would -- the assumption to that, if the numbers haven't gone up or down, is that the recruitment still remains strong.


Would you agree with that, and what's being done to stop that?


COL. WARREN:  I won't disagree with General Dunford.  But I will say that our estimate here is that they're between 20 and 25,000 enemy fighters on the ground.


And we believe that, that's a reduction from the number that we had been using for the previous year, which was up to 31,000.  So, we believe -- so, our estimate has reduced from a top end of 31 down to a top end of 25.  So, that's what we believe based on the information that we have.


Recruitment certainly is -- is one of the lines of effort, right?  It's one of the things that we want to stop.  We want to stop the flow of foreign fighters.


Now, there's two types of fighters in ISIL:  foreign fighters and then local fighters.  The local fighters, we're seeing increasingly that they are conscripts.  In other words, they are forced to fight against their will.


There is another category of local fighters, which is fighters who maybe aren't committed to the ISIL ideology and the ISIL ideology and philosophy, but they need a job and so they're fighting just for the money.  And these two categories are the types of fighters that we see increasingly deserting, throwing down their weapons and running away because they're -- you know, they're not, you know, committed the way the foreign fighters are.


The foreign fighters certainly are the most committed, right?  They've gone through quite a bit of effort just to get to Syria, so they are both the most committed fighters and they benefit -- they received, we believe, superior training from ISIL and they're used often as either shock troops, or a quick reaction force, or as specialty troops.


So those are the different types of fighters.  So to get to your question, how do we reduce recruiting?  Well locally, you know, that really is happening on its own, right?  As people realize that ISIL does not really offer what they claim to offer, there's much lower propensity for people to want to join them. 


You know, if you watch ISIL propaganda or read their ridiculous magazine, you would think that ISIL is a land of sunshine and rainbows where there's unicorns, you know, being ridden by Leprechauns, everyone's happy.  But then when you show up here, you realize that it's closer to hell on Earth, right?  It's apocalyptic. 


So these are bad people.  Well, that word's gotten out fairly well here in the region.  I think people get that, so they're not really -- we're not seeing easy recruitment locally. 


Less the case, obviously, externally, right?  We still see foreign fighters as a problem that needs to be addressed.  And those -- those problems are really being addressed at the government level within our partner nations, right?  Each nation has its own way of communicating to its own population that ISIL's a bad idea.


So those efforts continue, along with our efforts to, you know, to degrade the enemy and trip the enemy here on the ground.


Q:  Good morning, Colonel.  Back to Fire Base Bell.  The -- (inaudible) -- and the 26 MEU, where those marines came from is due to the dropout of  a fifth CENTCOM AOR.  Are you expecting another unit to come in and replace the marines that are at Bell?


COL. WARREN:  So those marines have been detached from the 26th and attached to us here, so we're not going to really talk about our future plans for replacement and such until there's an announcement to make.  But those marines have been detached and the MEU will continue on its way.


Q:  Hi, Colonel.  Thanks for appearing today.  Just a quick question about Makhmour.  What's the advantage of having a training program up there in Makhumr?  And is this a new model that you're going to be pursuing at other locations for the Mosul offensive?


COL. WARREN:  So Makhmour is an advise and assist location, so there's -- it's not a formal training area.  The training areas are at Al-Asad, at Taji and Besmaya, and then there's more here in Baghdad, too.  Those are training sites where the infrastructure and, you know, the range complexes, et cetera, are set up to train units. 


What you have at Makhmour is similar to what we set up at Taqaddum. If you recall, Taqaddum when we set that up, that's not a training base.  That is an advise and assist location.  So, it's advise and assist personnel, coalition advise and assisters are located there.  You know, they are embedded if you will, with the divisional headquarters or the 15th division.


And they are providing them the advice -- the operational and tactical advise and assistance that they need, as well as the coordination required for fires.


So, that's what's happening there.  So, you know, certainly, there is going to be hip pocket training and things as, you know, as forces are there.  But that is not a training location.  That is an advise and assist location, strictly.


And then I missed the second part of your question, Luis.


Q:  And is this a model that you're going to pursue against another location, as you move towards Mosul?


And just following up on those divisions, were they, some of those divisions that had gone through training at those other locations that you mentioned?


COL. WARREN:  Right.  The two brigades -- there's two brigades from the 15th division that are currently fighting Operation Valley Wolf.  Those two brigades were trained by the coalition.


One of the brigades was trained by the Spanish and the Portuguese.  And the other was trained primarily by, I think American -- and maybe there's some Australians as part of that, too.


So, one of them was trained at Taji and the other one was trained at Besmaya. 


CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  I think there are follow ups.  I think Tom, you had one?  Yeah.


Q:  Steve, you talk about working with allies and partners in the region.  I wanted to ask you about the Sunni countries.


I think it was about seven weeks ago, Secretary Carter talked -- say he was confident that Jordan and Saudi would send in special forces.  Has that happened yet?


COL. WARREN:  Yeah.  So, that's -- we're still working with our Gulf partners to sort out exactly what additional contributions they can make.  I'm not aware that that has happened yet.


I don't believe it has.  Btu it is certainly something that we're discussing and working through.


You know, it does take some time, right?  There's going to be lead time, and yes, it has been -- it's been several weeks now.  But to set up the coordination does take some efforts, and so, those coordination -- those coordinating efforts continue.


Q:  Talk to you about the trainers there, I think Portuguese, you said, the Australians.  Are there any Jordanians or Saudi trainers on the ground, there?


COL. WARREN:  Not to my knowledge, no.


Q:  Just one quick clarification on the Syria train and equip.


You said dozens of people are being trained.  So, how many -- is it also dozens that have been trained in this latest tranche, and are back out on the battle field?  Is that the same rough, broad number?


And then, can you say how many of the original, the 2015 Syrians who were trained are out fighting still?


COL. WARREN:  Of the original group, I have to go back and get the exact number, but I believe it's -- it's over 100, right?  It's more than a 100 from that original group that remain on the battle field.


At one point, it was up in the 100 -- over 150.  But I think there has been some attrition, both through, you know, loss through combat and other ways.


But -- but that's not an exact number, and we can probably go back and get that for you.


This -- this new program that we're doing, it's in the very early stages.  So -- so far, no one has returned to the battle field.


Q:  Thanks.


Q:  Colonel Warren, can you talk to us about some of these new types of Russian helicopters, these attack gun ships that are on the battlefield right now in Syria?


COL. WARREN:  The Russians, they are bringing a lot of their more advanced equipment to the battlefield, helicopters, armored vehicles, and fixed wing aircraft as well.  So they're kind of bringing it all out there for their own reasons presumably, you know, to see how it performs under combat conditions. 


I don't have any specifics to share with you on the Russian helicopters, on these new advance helicopters yet.  We will continue to keep watching and finding out what they're doing.  And then perhaps, maybe there will be something we can talk about later.


Q:  Colonel Warren, overall, would you say the Russians are pulling out of Syria?


COL. WARREN:  No, the Russians - I mean, there's been a reduction in capabilities, a slight reduction in numbers but they still retain significant capability in Syria. 


CAPT. DAVIS: Anything else?


Thank you Steve very much for your time today and we look forward to seeing you next week. 


And for everyone's benefit in ten minutes, we do expect the Secretary's remarks at MIT to be live streamed.  So we would commend that to you.


Thank you very much.  Have a nice day.