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NEWS | May 18, 2016

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

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS:  Good morning.


We'll wait for Steve to come up here and kick off.


Look at that.


Steve, just checking.  Can you hear us okay?


COLONEL STEVE WARREN:  I can hear you loud and clear, Jeff.  How do you hear me?


CAPT. DAVIS:  Great.  We hear you just fine.


Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome.  Good morning.  We're pleased to have with us our Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson from Baghdad, Colonel Steve Warren, joining us.


Steve, over to you.  And for Casper, I think there might be a map you're supposed to put up.


COL. WARREN:  Well, good morning.  Good morning, Pentagon press corps.


Today, I'll start with Baghdad.  Tragically, the recent series of attacks in the city have killed hundreds of civilians.  These attacks appear to be a shift in ISIL's tactics.  Over the last six months, our enemy has suffered a string of defeats because the ISF is proving increasingly effective.


ISIL wants to throw punches that land.  To do this, they appear to have chosen to revert to some of their terrorist roots.  Thus far, these attacks have not impacted operations on the battlefield, however.  These indiscriminate attacks are heinous, and we grieve with Iraq, but we are undeterred.


Casper, I'm getting feedback here.  I'm getting an echo -- if there's a way to cut that off?


So, while Casper clears that up, I'll continue.  Let's talk about what our partners are doing on the ground to defeat these terrorists.


In Anbar, as part of Operation Desert Lynx, the Seventh Iraqi army and Sunni tribal fighters liberated Juba and have progressed an additional 25 kilometers north through Barwanah.


They met with generally light resistance, comprised of IEDs and small arms fire.  Dulab is now the last enemy holdout on the Jazeera side of the Euphrates River -- Jazeera means west.


We had an added bonus from the Juba operation.  On May 13th, we struck and killed two high-value individuals.  Abu Hamza was a mid-level military commander who was responsible for the area between Nasiriyah and Juba.  Hamza was a former AQI member who we know planned and conducted attacks against Americans during Operation Iraqi Freedom.


More recently, he has been responsible for coordinating ISIL fighters, reinforcements and finances in the Euphrates River Valley.  Local fighters thought highly of him as a motivator and a leader.


Now he's dead.  As is his associate Abu Sufiyah, who is responsible for staging chemical attacks in the Euphrates River Valley.


Now, this is important news and it's good news, but today's real headline is that Iraqi Security Forces have entered Rutbah.  Although a small town, Rutbah has outsized strategic value.  Rutbah lies on the main route between Baghdad and Jordan, and opening it will impact the economies of both Iraq and Jordan, and will deny ISIL a critical support zone as well.


Another reason this operation is important is because it highlights the increased interoperability of Iraqi forces.  The Iraqi Counterterror Service, who are without any question, the most elite forces on this battlefield are spearheading the operation.


But for this fight, the CTS is working closely with several other forces -- the Anbar Police Special Tactics Battalion is fighting side-by-side with the CTS to clear the town, while the Iraqi border force and Anbar Sunni tribal fighters have established a blocking position outside the town.


Over the past several months, we have been preparing these forces specifically for this operation, with equipment and advanced, mission-specific training.


So, this is a win.  We also logged a win up north, building on the recent liberation of Bashir.  An elite group of Peshmerga commandos conducted an early morning raid to destroy ISIL positions along the forward line of troops.


A dozen fighters, along with some machine guns and mortars met their maker that day.


Moving to Syria, operations along the Maa’ra line remain contested.  However, this week, opposition forces conducted several operations and managed to seize five villages.


Also this week, the SDF training camp in northern Syria will graduate another group of 200 Arab fighters who will join the Syrian Arab Coalition.


So, 18 months into this campaign, we continue to pressure ISIL across the depth and breadth of this battlefield.  Our devastating air power is chipping away at our enemy.  Strikes against HVIs, industrial-based targets and financial assets are hurting ISIL, while our building partner capacity efforts are strengthening the Iraqi security forces.


So let's take a quick look.  Since the start of 2015, we have targeted and killed more than 120 high-value individuals in ISIL's attack network.  We've removed attack cell leaders, facilitators, planners, recruiters.  These strikes have had a measurable impact on ISIL.  Strikes in Iraq have disrupted their media operations, deprived them of experienced operators, and removed some of the active ties between foreign fighters and Mosul-based ISIL leadership.


Our strikes in Syria have choked off supplies, removed key links between Western extremists and the organization, and disrupted their recruitment.  We've also gone after their ability to communicate.  We've conducted about 10 airstrikes against ISIL facilities used to spread propaganda and misinformation in Mosul, Sharkat, and Tal Afar.


This is not all we've done.  Since March, we've conducted 40 airstrikes against 24 financial targets, destroying Daesh cash to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.  Our Daesh cash strikes have obviously had an impact and combined with Operation Tidal Wave II, which targets their oil, we've hit them where it hurts.  The Treasury Department recently shared figures with us that estimate ISIL's oil production has been reduced by at least 30 percent and their total oil revenues could be down by as much as 50 percent.


As we weaken our enemy, we're strengthening our friends.  We continue to build partner capacity through our training sites across Iraq.  Today, we've trained more than 31,000 Iraqi security forces.  This includes army, CTS, Peshmerga, police, tribal fighters and border security forces.


Today, this very day, there are 3,800 Iraqi army soldiers in training, which is the most we've had in training at one time to date.  And simultaneously, in Erbil, 1,100 Peshmerga fighters have completed training within the last 30 days.  There are an additional 1,100 in training right now.


Along with the training, equipment continues to flow.  In the past month, we've delivered the following:  800 sets of body armor; a brigade set of basic soldier kit including weapons; 154 hi-lux trucks; 100 AT-4s; 12 fuel trucks; and two bulldozers.


And finally, I have an updated territory loss map to show you.  Hopefully, it's up by now.  And so I'll read out the statistics.  In Iraq, our estimate is that ISIL has lost about 45 percent of the territory it once controlled.  This translates to approximately 25,000 square kilometers lost.  In Syria, ISIL has lost about 20 percent of their territory, which equals approximately 9,000 square kilometers.


So, in total, ISIL has lost between 3- and 35 percent of the populated area it once held in Iraq and Syria combined.


So, this concludes my prepared comments, and I'll be happy to take your questions.  I expect we'll start with -- I couldn't see you, but it should be hopefully Lita or Bob.  Are you out there?


Q:  Hey.


Q:  Hey, Steve, it's Lita.  A couple questions.


Can you say whether or not these Baghdad attacks have had any impact at all on Iraqi troops leaving the fight up in the north or elsewhere, and coming back to Baghdad at all?


You said it's not having measurable impact on the operations, but are you seeing any of the troops going back?


And then, just a quick question.  When you talked about Rutbah, you said they've entered it.  Did the troops have control of it?


COL. WARREN:  So, the first question, Lita, as of today, we have not seen the Iraqi government redeploy any troops to Baghdad.


There was some discussion of it, but they changed their mind.  So, as of now, none of the field forces have returned to Baghdad.


On Rutbah, they've entered Rutbah and are in the process of clearing.  They have possession.


As of a few hours ago, roughly a third of the city had been cleared.  The -- the Iraqi Security Forces, the CTS and others are working methodically through that city.  We expect they'll be cleared in fairly short order; a lot of the enemy frankly, ran away when they saw this force coming.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Next to Courtney Kube from NBC.


Q:  Hey, Steve.  One more on Rutbah.  How many roughly Iraqi Security Forces have been used to -- well, entered, I guess, have now been used?  And then you said it was that they expect quite a long time training gearing up for that.


How long exactly did it take for those ISF to train for Rutbah?  And then I have one other.


COL. WARREN:  So, we've been working on the -- on the -- on training, equipping and planning for this thing for about six or seven weeks, and there's a ballpark figure of about 1,000 total forces involved.  And like I said, it's, you know, a battalion of this, a couple of battalions of that.


So, it's a really good mix of the various flavors of Iraqi Security Forces -- the CTS, the border police, the Anbar tribal fighters and the others.


So, good operation.  Good, interoperable operation.


Q:  Can you answer how many ISIS fighters are -- were in Rutbah when they first started, when they first went in?


COL. WARREN:  All right, so, Rutbah has been interesting.  It's really -- it has been kind of a way station.  It's one of their support zones.


So, we've seen at times, as many as 5 to 700.  It's clearly a lot less now, because frankly, the enemy has not put up a whole lot of a fight.


So, difficult to know yet.  Certainly no more than a few hundred though, and that would be the high end -- you know, 200, 250 at the high end.  It may prove to -- when all is said and done, it may end up that there weren't even that many there.


Q:  Just one more, on the 1,100 Pesh in training --


COL. WARREN:  Let me jump -- hold on.  No, it's okay.  Just one point I just remembered that I wanted to add.  And then Rutbah is interesting, when you look at it on the map.  Rutbah, you'll see, it's along this highway.  You know, it's a southern highway between Baghdad and Jordan.  And Rutbah is kind of -- kind of in the middle of nowhere, frankly.


And so the Iraqi security forces, you know, this -- this assault force had to move more than 100 kilometers along this straight highway.  And so it took them about two days to get that move done.  The enemy knew we were coming to some extent and had some IEDs and things out there which probably bought the enemy some time to melt away.


But this is a -- this is a fairly significant move for this force, right?  More than 100 kilometers of kind of open road movement, get into an attack position, you know, work your way through some obstacle belts that weren't manned, establish your attack position, and then go in and clear the city.


So, all of those factors we expect allowed this enemy some ability to escape.  Of course, we were looking from the air and took a few strikes when we saw what we could clearly identify as retreating enemy.  So, when this operation is over, hopefully in the next day or two, we'll have a better sense of what the enemy's situation was when we entered it.


But they're not putting up too much -- at this point anyways -- too much of a fight.  We characterize it as probably light to moderate resistance.


So sorry I interrupted you, Courtney.  Go ahead with your last question.


Q:  Just wanted a clarification:  1,100 Pesh you've completed training and the ones who are in training.  Are those -- they all being trained specifically for Mosul?


COL. WARREN:  That's right.  I wouldn't say they were being trained specifically for Mosul, but these are the ones that are being earmarked for Mosul.  But obviously, you know, battlefield conditions and local commanders can move things around.  But these are -- these are Mosul -- Mosul Peshmerga being trained.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Joe Tabet?


Q:  Joe Tabet, Colonel Warren.


I want to go back to your opening statement.  You mentioned two things.  First, you talked about ISIS has changed its tactics; and also about the latest attacks in Baghdad.  How important do you think stabilizing Anbar province is important to secure Baghdad?  Do you know if the latest attacks in the city have been launched from the Anbar province?


COL. WARREN:  It's difficult to know with certainty, especially since it has been a string of attacks, where they all came from.  Certainly, finishing the clearance of Anbar will contribute to the security of -- of Baghdad.  There's no question about it.  Fallujah remains in ISIL control, and so therefore remains a safe haven for this enemy where they can construct their bombs and plan their operations in relatively close proximity to Baghdad.


So difficult to know exactly where each bomb originated from.  You know, in some cases it's an individual with a suicide vest.  You know, that obviously can be -- could in theory be constructed in the very neighborhood that it's detonated in.  So impossible to know exactly, but certainly at the end of the day the way to stop all of the bombs is to close out the fighting with ISIL.


Q:  Thank you.


Colonel Warren, could you confirm that the coalition will be using the AWACS in the air campaign against ISIS?  And if yes, how would be the AWACS useful in the war against a terrorist group?


COL. WARREN:  Joe, you know, we use a variety of collection systems.  AWACS is just simply an airborne control station.  I don't know -- frankly, I'd have to go check whether or not we're using that particular one.  We may well be.  AFCENT would know for sure.  But it's just another command and control platform.  We've got a lot of birds in the air that need to be controlled.  There's a lot of activity on the ground that needs to be collected against.


So you know, AFCENT will have that answer, but it's just another platform.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Next, to Carlo Munoz.


Q:  Hey, Steve.  It's Carlo.  I just wanted to piggy back on Joe's question about this change in tactics, sort of the terminology used in the beginning.  Before that, we heard this was ISIL lashing out kind of -- sort of just, you know, launching these attacks in response to the loss of ground out near -- out in -- out in the rest of the country.


But now, you're saying it's sort of a shift in tactic.  So is this how you see -- do you see ISIS using these attacks to intentionally pressure the government to start bringing these troops back in?  And if that is the case, at what point does the government -- at what point -- what attack happens that they have no choice but to start -- (inaudible) -- ISIS -- Iraqi troops back from Mosul and elsewhere?


COL. WARREN:  Well, like I said, you know, this enemy is -- has -- has really suffered a string of defeats on the battlefield, right?  Nothing that they've done over the last several months have been effective.


Sure, they can try and launch a raid up in Tal Asquf, but at the end of the day, they're pretty much wiped out and driven away.  They can attempt to defend their support zone in -- in the city of Hit, but after several weeks or less, they're drive out.  They can attempt to generate combat power and conduct planning operations in Mosul, but we find them with our airpower and disrupt them.


So this is an enemy who has not found success in some time, so what they are trying to do is find a way to throw a punch that actually can land.  And what they've resorted to are these kind of old, you know, mid-2000's terrorist tactics that are really a part of their AQI roots.  That's how they got their start is through terror tactics.


So it's an Iraqi government decision as to when they begin or if they begin to pull forces back, that's not something I could -- I would ever know, nor would I venture a prediction.  Our advice to the Iraqi government is to keep the pressure up.  The way to -- the way to win is to expel ISIL completely from Iraq, to wipe them out, to cause them to stop existing as a threatening force.


So that's our advice to them.  We're going to support them in whatever decision they make, but our advice to them is to keep their foot on the gas, continue.


As we've begun accelerating, we -- the United States and this coalition -- have continued to identify and provide what we're calling accelerants.  These are operations and capabilities that will accelerate the campaign to liberate Mosul.  And our advice is for -- let's continue with the process of acceleration, push this enemy out of Iraq and then, you know, begin the process of rebuilding.


Q:  Steve, just one quick follow-up; when you said that there were discussions held amongst Iraqi government officials about possibly moving troops from outside of Baghdad into the city.


You said, as of today, they're not doing that.  Can you give me an idea of maybe the tenor of that conversation, if you can?  Is -- was it something that really was sort of splitting these -- splitting different groups within the government apart?


Are they really behind continuing with the sort of plan of action that has been laid out in Mosul and elsewhere?


COL. WARREN:  They're behind continuing with the plan of action that has been laid out in Mosul and elsewhere, and that's what they're doing.


You know, they have responded to every request and every bit of coordination that we've made with them to increase the number of troops, for example, by 217 trainers and advisers to come in, to begin the use of Apache aircraft in support of operations.


They have responded to all of these.  They want ISIL out of their country, you know, that's clear.  And so, they are, you know, continuing along that path.


CAPT. DAVIS:  I think next to Tara.


Q:  Hey, Colonel Warren.  Do you have an estimate for us on how many ISIS fighters are in and around Baghdad?  And basically, with their -- the tactic -- another tactics change question.


What do you think their goal is of this tactics shift to be hitting inside the city?


COL. WARREN:  All right.  Well, you know, we think there are between 20 and 25,000 total ISIL fighters, about half each in Iraq and Syria.


So, of the, you know, 10 to 12,000 that are in Iraq, a majority of them are concentrated around Mosul, in the Tal Afar area, in Nineveh province.  And then there are, you know, probably up to several hundred, if not just under 1,000 that remain kind of in Anbar.


And these are broad numbers, but it gives you an idea.


The tactics change, you know -- we -- I think what they want to do, and you know, it's impossible to know.  We're just kind of trying to read this enemy's mind.  Obviously, what they want to do is create terror inside of Baghdad, right?


They want to terrorize the citizens of Baghdad; they want to try to convince the citizens of Baghdad that they are unsafe.


This is their goal.  And you know, this is what they're trying to do, and they believe that the use of these car bombs to kill women and children, and regular every day citizens who are going about their normal lives, this enemy believes that that is somehow the path to success for them.


You know, which is just another indicator of who we're dealing with here.


Q:  Just another follow-up.  With the ultimate goal making the people of Baghdad feel unsafe, would that be to force political change, force upheaval in their government system?


And then, for the Green Zone, I know we've asked this a couple of times, but have the increased attacks led to any sort of change in security measures or force posture for the U.S. personnel that are there?


COL. WARREN:  Well, I don't think ISIL is interested in a change of government in Baghdad.  I think ISIL is interested in establishing a worldwide caliphate and -- and -- which is initiates the end of days.  At least that's what they say.


So what they're trying to do is create terror, right?  They're terrorists.  That's why we call them terrorists, because they like to create terror.  That's one of the things that they do and that's what they're attempting to do in Baghdad, is to create terror and to cause, you know, cause -- you know, it's a fight.


I mean, it's a war.  And -- and so there's fighting in involved in war, and this is the -- this is the weapon that they are choosing.  The weapon that they are choosing to establish their desired goals, which is to establish a forever caliphate and bring in the end of days, right, that's their stated strategic objective, and the weapon that they are choosing to -- to use to help them get closer to that stated goal is bombs in marketplaces, right?


So that's one of the weapons that they're using.  They believe that it will get them towards their desired end-estate, which is the end of the world, according to their own doctrine.  So that's what that is.


In -- in the Green Zone -- you know, we won't go into a lot of details on -- on what our force protection measures and postures are.  We believe that the force protection that we have in place internal to the coalition and the United States, combined with the force protection that's provided to us by the counterterrorist service and others in the Iraqi government is adequate.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to June.


Q:  Hi, Steve.  You mentioned the -- the Treasury Department's estimate of the -- the drop in ISIL annual oil revenues and that they said it was kind of about 50 percent, down to around $250 million a year.  Is -- does that reflect the consensus estimate within the government?  Does the military have its own independent assessment?  I think towards the beginning of this year, the -- the number was 30 percent drop.  And then I have another question.


COL. WARREN:  I'm not aware of any other estimates.  The Treasury Department kind of has the lead on that, so we use their numbers -- I use their numbers.


Q:  You mentioned when it came to the battle in Rutbah that the ISIL fighters didn't really put up much of a fight.  Were any of those fighters detained?


COL. WARREN:  I haven't seen any reports of detained fighters yet.  There -- there may have been.  That -- that's a little bit lower in the tactical level -- (inaudible) -- than I normally see.  I can certainly check on it.  I don't know is the answer.


Q:  (inaudible)


CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Lucas.


Q:  Colonel Warren, is there any -- is the U.S. military giving any consideration to bolstering the security in the Green Zone to protect U.S. assets, like the embassy for instance?


COL. WARREN:  Well, fair question, Lucas.  You know, as of now, we don't believe we need any additional security.  We believe that the security that we have in place is adequate to the threat.  You know, certainly, we're always evaluating whether it's here or elsewhere.  We have specific requirement to always protect our force, and this is an ongoing -- every single day, we evaluate our own -- we look at ourselves and we look at the enemy and we see if we're where we need to be.


So this is an everyday thing.  But right now, we believe that what we have is adequate to the task.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to -- (inaudible).


Q:  Colonel Warren, you talked about Abu Hamza and Abu Sufiyah, his associate who is responsible for conducting chemical attacks in Euphrates River.


Could you just elaborate on this?  Have you seen Daesh conducting chemical attacks on Iraqi forces?  And also, as they are sometimes infiltrating in the front lines, approaching to American forces, do you have concerns that these guys at some point may conduct chemical attacks against U.S. forces as well?


COL. WARREN:  Well, so, you know, Abu Hamza, you know, this guy was, you know, kind of, you know, he was sort of a local commander, if you will, almost like a brigade-level commander.  But he was important I think to this enemy because they saw him as very much of a motivator.


And -- and really, you know, they saw him as a cheerleader, right?  That's kind of how we referred to him, right?  He was sort of a cheerleader for the local forces here.  And he's a cheerleader who will cheer no more because he's dead.


On the chem side, you know, this is a threat that we're aware of and that we've taken into account.  We've certainly reported out that, I mean, it's not new that this enemy has used chemical weapons.  They killed three children in Taza with chemical weapons.  They've conducted chem strikes along the -- the Kurdish forward line of troops on several occasions.


So, you know, the enemy use of chem weapons is -- is something that we've accounted for.  And we understand, and you know, and this is why we conducted our operations to seize Abu Dawud, who was their chemical weapons emir.  This is why we conducted operations in Mosul to destroy their chemical weapons facility.  This is why we conducted a significant strike in Anbar province a month or so ago to destroy another one of their chemical weapons production facilities.


So this is a threat that we're aware of.  This is a threat that we're accounting for.  And this is a threat that we're actively targeting.  This is why we were very happy that we killed Sufiyah, because -- Abu Sufiyah because he's, you know, associated with chemical weapons.  And we're going to continue doing it.  If there is another Daesh operative out there watching and he's involved with chemical weapons, he can rest assured that we are looking for him and that we're coming after him.


Q:  On Syria, yesterday there was a hearing in the Senate, and there the former ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, told the senators that the YPG is interested in taking the Manbij pocket in order to connect its cantons in Afrin and Kobani.  And do you have any indications of this kind of political motivation, other than just fighting Daesh?  Have you -- (inaudible) -- them against this?


COL. WARREN:  I didn't see that hearing, so I don't know what he said.


Q:  Yeah, but so -- okay.  Do you have any indications that YPG have political motivations to connect the canton in Afrin and that one in Anbar as they are trying to get the Manbij pocket?


COL. WARREN:  I don't know what -- what their political motivations are.  Our focus is to provide advice and assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces and to help them get better as they continue to pressure Raqqah, right?  That's, you know, recall the secretary of defense several months ago, you know, told us look at the map and see Raqqah and Mosul as the two centers of gravity, the two keys to unlocking all of this.


A large arrow is pointing to each one of those cities, and we're continuing to keep our focus there.


In fact, if you recall in my opener, I mentioned that the SDF has just now graduated an additional class, another class of 200 Arab fighters who are going to join the Syrian-Arab coalition.  We call it the SAC.


So, the SAC is continuing to gain strength, it's continuing to grow, and we'll continue to build up in posture for an eventual move against Raqqa.  That's -- that's what our focus is.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Andrew Tilghman.


Q:  Colonel Warren, could you just give us an update on Russian activity over in Syria?


What kind of facility do they have at Palmyra?  What kind of assets have they put there?  And generally, when you look back at that time a few months ago, when they announced that they were going to do some kind of withdrawal, has that turned out to be a totally false claim?


Or would you say that the Russian assets in Syria right now and their activity is the same as it was some months ago, before they announced this quote/unquote withdrawal?


COL. WARREN:  Yeah, their capabilities are largely the same, or almost identical, frankly.


They continue to have air power there, they continue to have ground forces, they continue to have artillery.  They still have Spetsnaz providing advice and assistance to the Syrian regime.


In Palmyra, they have appeared to have established some sort of forward operating base, give them a foothold for a more enduring presence, you know, in that area.  Too early to tell whether or not they intend it to be a long term or short term venture, can't tell yet.


But yeah, they've established, you know, an operating base outside of Palmyra, there.  And they're still building it up.


But over all, their capability remains largely unchanged.


Q:  They -- how many troops they have in this Palmyra facility?


And also, just one more follow up.  You've talked before about the percentage of their airstrikes that are hitting ISIS, and I think that had kind of ticked upward at one point.


What is your take now on -- to the extent to which they're targeting ISIS in their operations, versus just other opponents of the regime?


COL. WARREN:  I don't have a good number for you on the size of their operation in Palmyra.


That's something we could try to check through the intel guys.  But I have not seen such a number, yet.


On their strikes, you're correct.  Initially, they primarily -- only a small fraction of their strikes were against ISIL targets.  In the last several weeks, a majority of their strikes have been more ISIL focused.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Kevin -- (inaudible).


Q:  Hey, Steve.  I'm sorry I missed your opener at the top, but I saw you said there are 120 high value targets killed so far.


It has been several months since we were told that -- I think (inaudible) of a special operations raid were also going to result in some captures.


Why are we not hearing about any captures or detentions of leaders across ISIS that would, you assume, help the cause, as it -- are they just not part of the right title that we're not hearing about them?  Are they going to the Iraqis?


What's the deal there?


COL. WARREN:  Well, fair question.


So we've -- we have announced every single capture that we have done and will continue to do so as they happen.  So, you know, these things do take some time.  We have to generate the right information, we have to ensure the correct conditions are set.  So, you know, the captures that we have announced are the only ones that we've -- that we've conducted thus far.


CAPT. DAVIS:  (off-mic.)


Q:  Hey, Steve.  A quick question on Palmyra and then another one on troops to Baghdad.


Palmyra -- there's a group that says that the Russians have established an outpost right on top of or near those ruins in Palmyra.  Is that accurate?


COL. WARREN:  I'd have to check.  We -- we know exactly where it is, we've seen it.  But frankly, I haven't looked that closely.  But that's certainly something I can -- I can run down for you and -- and get to you.  It's -- but it's in the region.  I mean, a -- I mean, the ruins are part of Palmyra, Tadmor.  So certainly, it's close.  What you really want to know is how close and I don't have that answer.


Q:  And going back to your earlier comments about the Iraqis making a decision to bring back troops to Baghdad and then deciding against that, was that the result of U.S. intervention by senior leaders saying no, that's not a good idea -- (inaudible) -- you referenced earlier?


COL. WARREN:  We recommended to them that -- that they -- the forces that they had earmarked for, you know, fighting ISIL in the field remain in the field, so that was a recommendation we made to them; they took it.


Q:  (inaudible) -- after they had already decided to send back troops.  Is that correct?


COL. WARREN:  Louis, you got -- you got cut off at the beginning.  Can you...


Q:  So that recommendation was made after they -- the government had already decided to bring back troops to Baghdad?


COL. WARREN:  Well, you're formalizing it a little too much and -- and you know we don't like talking about our -- about this very much, Louis.  You know, there was discussion, you know, just in a meeting where the Iraqis wanted to reposition some forces.  We were in the meeting also.  We said hey, we -- we think you should keep the forces out in the field and that's what they ended up doing.


Q:  Thanks.


CAPT. DAVIS:  (off-mic.)


Q:  Just a real quick one on the number of ISIS fighters around Baghdad.  Going back to that, have you been able to see their movement in the region, you know, just a couple of miles of kilometers outside Baghdad to maybe be able to predict some of these attacks?  And if not, is the U.S. considering any plans to add some additional ISR assets to be able to have better visibility of ISIS movement there around Baghdad?


COL. WARREN:  Very difficult to predict these kind of lone wolf attacks or -- or, you know, insurgency attacks.  Remember, think back even at the height of the American occupation of -- of Iraq, you know, in 2008, or whatever.  We had 150,000 U.S. troops and -- and another 50,000 coalition troops.  We were never able to drive violence in Baghdad to zero.  It's impossible -- it's an impossibility.  It can't be done.


So I think that's the most important thing to keep in mind.  Predicting something like this really is not something that's very easy.  If we can. we certainly will, but that -- it's -- it's a lot easier said than done.


So, you know, obviously, we -- you know, we conduct our intelligence operations appropriately.  Won't go into any real, additional detail on that.  But you know, I think you have to keep in mind, this is a world city; there's a population of six million in Baghdad, there's hundreds of small roads and neighborhoods and et cetera.


And stopping all violence in a city of this size is not really something that anyone should expect.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Next to -- Lita, you've got a follow-up?


Q:  Steve, just a quick follow-up?  Can you give us a quick update on the U.S. force movement?  Have the 217 all arrived into Iraq, and has there been any effort to start moving them down into the brigade level for advise and assist?


And same question on Syria, have the troops -- have the additional troops gone into Syria yet?


COL. WARREN:  No to both.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Carlo, back to you.


Q:  Steve, just one quick follow up on Abu Dawud, the chemical amir.  Was he captured or killed?


COL. WARREN:  He was captured.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Lucas.


Q:  Just to follow up on Carlo's question, because the U.S. military does not have a long-term detention policy when it comes to ISIS and its leaders, is that preventing more of these capture missions from taking place?


COL. WARREN:  No.  One doesn't have anything to do with the other.  You know, as -- as we find an opportunity to capture somebody, believe me, we're going to capture them.


But these operations, you know, you can't put a timeline on them, right?  It's all about intelligence generation, and finding them and positioning, and all of the other factors that go into any one of our CT operations, like we do around the world.


So, yeah, there's -- there's no -- there's nothing hindering those operations.  They're ongoing.  But a lot of them require intense collection first.  You know, we don't want to put our guys at unnecessary risk.  We don't want to risk civilians.  You know, it's all about ensuring the mission is ready when its ready.


So, there's nothing holding these operations back at all.  As they get developed, they will be executed.


Q:  Is Dawud still providing information, and does the U.S. military have the ability to keep talking to him?


COL. WARREN:  Lucas, I'm sorry, I didn't hear who the him is on that one.


Q:  Mr. Dawud, the chemical amir that you captured -- are you still able to communicate with him, and is he still providing information that is helpful in the coalition's efforts?


COL. WARREN:  Sure.  We absolutely can communicate -- you know, we absolutely can follow up, interrogate him.


You know, when captured, we conducted an initial interrogation, turned him over to Iraqi forces for detention and disposition.  And if we need -- if we have a question that we think he's got the answer to, we absolutely can -- pursue that, whether it's in-person or you know, through our partners depending on the situation.


Sometimes, it's as simple as asking the Iraqis, hey, go ask him this.  Other times, we will want to do it in-person.  There isn't any -- there is no hindrance there at all.  We have access to that intelligence as we need it.


CAPT. DAVIS:  (inaudible) -- go ahead.




Q:  He's saying something, I believe.


COL. WARREN:  (inaudible) -- Dawud.


We -- you know, the intelligence that we got from him -- the intelligence that we got from him led to a number of strikes both against chem weapons specific -- you know, specific chemical weapon targets and other targets.  You know, he -- he was their chemical weapons emir, but obviously he had an understanding of their logistics system, you know, the way they do business.


So, you know, we were able to collect intelligence in areas other than chem-specific as well.  So it was a -- it was a good-- it was a good get.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Go ahead -- (inaudible).


Q:  Yeah, I'm going to follow up on Lucas's question.


When -- when, for example, you need information and you go to this militant, and when you ask him questions, is he cooperative?  Or what do you do when he doesn't answer questions you like?  Or, you know, -- (inaudible)?


COL. WARREN:  Well, I'm not there and that's not something we would ever get into anyway.  I mean, you know, we conduct debriefings and interrogations in accordance with all the law of land warfare, in accordance with our own standards, and in accordance with our own manuals.  And that's how we do it.


Q:  Just a quick one, Steve.  I know you don't speak for the Iraqis, but since we were talking a little about Baghdad security, can you just give us a sense of how many Iraqi security forces are in or around Baghdad?  Or even if you can't give numbers, can you give us a percentage or anything just to the scope of how many are securing Baghdad right now?


COL. WARREN:  Courtney, I don't have the exact numbers.  It's, ballpark, half the -- half the, you know, Iraqi security force apparatus is protecting their largest and most important city.  I don't have the numbers, though.


It's important to note that the -- the Iraqi security forces that we in the coalition have trained remain in the field.  So to my knowledge, none of the forces that we have trained are participating in the defense of Baghdad mission.  All the forces that the U.S. and the coalition has trained are deployed and are conducting operations specifically against ISIL in the field.


I don't know that any of the ones we've trained have positioned into or assumed the defense of Baghdad mission.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Carlo?


Q:  Steve, sorry if I missed this earlier, but just to be clear, the operation in (inaudible) that got Abu Hamza and Abu Sufiyah, that operation was not planned to go after those guys; these guys were just sort of targets or opportunity, I guess?  Was that -- is that kind of how things went out there?


COL. WARREN:  That was a deliberate strike.  That was, you know, we collected intelligence.  You know, we were on to them.  The opportunity presented itself as far as positioning and timing, and we struck using air power.


I'd have to go back and check what platform.  I don't know if it was a manned or an unmanned aircraft.  But it was a bomb that killed both of these guys -- a single strike.  You know, they were together.  There was a third -- third guy with them, also an ISIL fighter.  Yeah, they were in a house or a building of some sort.


Q:  Okay.  Thanks.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Yeah, go ahead.


Q:  Brendan Russo.


You talked a lot about Iraqi -- the build-up of Iraqi ground forces.  I was wondering if you could talk about the state of their air power.  They have some F-16s.  Are they flying often?  And do you expect that to be ready for a push on Mosul, or will that be a continued reliance on coalition air power?


COL. WARREN:  They have a very active air force.  They will continue to rely on coalition air power to round out what they've got.


But they have -- they conduct active operations, both with their F-16s, their Cessnas.  They have some drones, armed and unarmed, that they use.


So, they are conducting active offensive operations.  I don't have numbers.  I mean, we know they have six F-16s that we have provided them.  As far as the rest of their air force, I don't have those numbers.


But I can assure you that they're active.  And we can watch them right here from our CJOC, Combined Joint Ops Center, combined so it's a U.S. coalition and Iraqi all together in the same building.


And so, at any time, we can walk in and observe the screens and see the strikes that the Iraqis are taking.  We can watch the Iraqi feeds from their UAVs, we can watch Iraqi strikes from their armed UAVs, we can watch the Iraqi strikes from their, you know, from their manned platforms.


CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay?  Last call.


Thank you very much, Steve, for your time.  And for everyone, just for awareness, we do expect this afternoon that there will be a swearing-in ceremony for Eric Fanning as secretary of the Army.


Watch for that; that will likely be opened as a photo-op only.  We'll have more information on that very shortly.


And we thank you for coming today.


COL. WARREN:  Thanks, guys.  See you next week.