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NEWS | July 6, 2016

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Col. Garver via Teleconference From Baghdad, Iraq

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

MAJOR ADRIAN RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Before we get started, I'd like to do a -- do a quick sound check.

Colonel Garver, sir, can you hear us?  I think you can hear us, but we can't hear you.

COLONEL CHRISTOPHER GARVER:  I can hear you guys.  You got me?

MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Yes, sir.  We hear you loud and clear.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Joining us today is Colonel Chris Garver, who is the spokesman and public affairs officer for Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve.

Sir, we'll open it up to you for an opening statement and proceed to questions.  Over to you, sir.

COL. GARVER:  All right.  Thank you.  Good afternoon Pentagon press corps.  Good to see everybody again.  I've got a quick opening statement covering major ongoing operations then I'll be glad to take your questions.

First, on behalf of the coalition, I would like to offer our condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in the bombing of Karrada district in Baghdad on Monday.

This attack against families celebrating an Eid feast after their daily Ramadan fasting is yet another example of just how horrible Daesh is and why we must defeat these monsters here and now.

We stand with the peoples of Iraq and Syria and are resolved to defeat Daesh and deliberate both countries from this gang of thugs and murderers that have killed and injured so many.

So if we can bring up the map, I'll reference that throughout, as we usually do.  In Fallujah, Iraqi Security Forces are still transitioning the control of the liberated city from the Army, federal police and the counterterrorism service inside the city to the hold force, which will be a combination of police and Anbari Tribal Fighters enrolled in the popular mobilization program.

The Iraqi chain of command has also reported that the pocket of Daesh fighters to the Southwest, that the eighth Iraqi Army division were fighting, has been cleared.

Elements of five Iraqi Army divisions are continuing security operations in the suburbs around Fallujah.  The transition to the hold force is ongoing and it is on an Iraqi timeline, but a few units have already moved from Fallujah to other locations.

The last coalition striking the Fallujah in support of the forces clearing the city was on June 29th.  In northern Iraq, shaping operations in preparation for the eventual liberation of Mosul continue.

Iraqi Security Forces continue to -- maneuvering towards Qayyarah, which is star two on the map.  As we've discussed before, the attack towards Qayyarah along two axes continues.  Along the eastern axis, the brigades of the 15th Iraqi Army Division continue to clear Daesh pockets from the small villages to the southeast of Qayyarah.

The 72nd brigade continues to hold and clear.  Minimal police battalions are assuming the hold force mission in the cleared towns of Kabruk, Mahana and Karbidan.

In the last 24 hours, the CJTF has conducted two strikes in support of these forces, destroying of vehicle, a rocket system and a mortar system.  On the Western axis, the 9th Iraqi Army Division, supported by Counterterrorism Service Forces, continued to attack North towards Qayyarah.

We have seen tactical repositioning from the forward elements due to enemy activity along the forward edge of their formation.  But once again, we've seen everyone reoccupy their most forward positions south of the town of Ramadaniyat.

The forces on this axis recently completed the clearing of the town of Makul.  Resistance along the Western axis has remained light to moderate, with Daesh using the tactics that we have seen before.  Earthworks, obstacle belts, indirect fire and suicide attacks.

In the last week, the coalition has conducted 11 strikes in the Qayyarah region in support of these operations.  I'd like to reiterate the importance of Qayyarah and the major towns in this area, such as Shorkot.

Not only do we want to clear Qayyarah because Daesh controls it, but Qayyarah is also important because it is approximately 50 kilometers from Mosul.  This intermediate step on the way to Mosul, just as we saw at Makhmur, will allow the Iraqi Security Forces to posture for the eventual big fight to liberate Mosul.

Continuing on to Syria, start three, in Manbij, the operation by the Syrian Democratic Forces, led on this attack by the Syrian Arab Coalition, continues the isolation of Manbij and the fight to seize a firm foothold in the city.

The fighting remains tough and the resistance stiff against our partnered forces.  Daesh has attempted to counterattack both the inner cordon around the city and the outer cordon of the isolation force on the north and south sides of that force.

The SDF has repeatedly defeated Daesh's attempts to punch a hole through the cordon.

Daesh continues to use indirect fire and vehicle-borne IEDs, VBIEDs, in attempts to disrupt the attack.  In the last 48 hours, the coalition has destroyed three VBIEDs attempting to attack the SDF.  Since operations began on May 21, the Syrian Arab coalition has gained more than 1,000 kilometers and has been supported by more than 325 coalition strikes.

Farther west on the Mara line, star four, the vetted Syrian opposition, or VSO, and the affiliated moderate Syrian opposition, or MSO, have seized multiple villages from Daesh on the northern edge of that line.  We have seen towns traded back and forth between the VSO, MSO and Daesh multiple times over the last nine month, but we've seen rapid advances against Daesh-held villages of Talbatal Shamil, Mazraat Shaheen, Kisa Jik and Tal Amar.

We've seen Daesh fighters leaving these previously defended towns to attempt to reinforce Manbij.  As the pressure increases against Daesh in Manbij, they are demonstrating more desperation to keep Daesh strategic crossroads open for access outside Syria.

And as our partner forces continue to apply pressure to Daesh across Iraq and Syria, we also continue to pressure Daesh functionally as well.  Operation Tidal Wave II continues to reduce Daesh's access to revenues from illicit oil and natural gas operations.

I want to clarify a point from last week.  I mentioned that our estimate -- in our estimate, Daesh is earning $300 million a month from illicit oil activities.  That should have been approximately $30 million a month and we estimate that the reduction from Tidal Wave II operations cuts their revenues by a half to approximately $15 million a month.

Since September 2014, CJTF has conducted 303 strikes against oil and gas related facilities.  Since the start of Operation Tidal Wave II, we've conducted 193 of those strikes.  The last was on the Fourth of July against six oil wellheads.

This completes my prepared comments.  I'll be glad to take your questions.


Q:  Hey, Chris.  It's Lita.  Can you give us an update around Raqqah?  What Russian activities are you seeing in Raqqah, if any?  Whether there's much evidence of some of this cease-fire that we're hearing about?  And how close are some of the Syrian forces to Raqqah at this point?

COL. GARVER:  Adrian, I don't know if you can hear me, but --

MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Having some audio difficulties.

COL. GARVER:  Hey, Lita.  Hey, Lita.  I -- I --


MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Sir, can you hear me?

COL. GARVER:  (inaudible) -- you.  (inaudible)?

MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  (inaudible) -- sir.

So why don't we -- why don't we start over?  We'll try and get Lita's question once again.

Q:  (inaudible)


COL. GARVER:  I didn't hear any of Lita's question.  So if we can start again, that would be great.

Q:  Can you hear me now, Chris?

COL. GARVER:  Yeah, I can hear you.  I can't see you, but I can hear you.

Q:  So, I'm wondering if you can give us an update of the fighting around Raqqah.  What, if any, continued Russian activity have you seen there, if any?  Or are you seeing any evidence of this cease-fire we've been hearing about?  And can you tell us how close any of the Syrian opposition forces are getting to Raqqah, and whether there are any U.S. either advisers or enablers with them?

COL. GARVER:  Okay.  First, I'll tell you, and you guys have heard me say it before, but I'm not going to make myself a spokesperson for the Russian forces.  I know that the Syrian government announced that 72-hour cease-fire.  And as we've mentioned before, CJTF does not have a role in that, neither in enforcement nor in monitoring.

We are here to fight Daesh and we are continuing to do that.  That being said, we want to see the conflict stopped so a political solution can take place.  But -- but in terms of the Syrian cease-fire, I don't have anything additional to offer you at this time.

The -- in terms of where our forces are that we are partnered with on the ground, we are focused in -- near Manbij.  That's where the Syrian Democratic Forces are focused is around Manbij.  We've got the forces over on the Mara line that we are partnered with.  And then we've got the forces down at An Tanf, the garrison forces there that we are partnered with as well.

So, those are where our forces are on the battlefield.  Our forces aren't close to impacting anywhere near where the Syrian regime or the Russian forces are operating.

Q:  And are they -- but are the Syrian forces getting any -- making any progress toward Raqqah at this point?

COL. GARVER:  I haven't seen anything that shows that they had made any additional progress.  I mean, we saw like a Russian and Syrian column that kind of moved up toward the airbase -- there's an airbase to the south.  The name is escaping me right now.  That force had withdrawn back into its forward lines after it had been attacked by Daesh.  That was about two weeks ago.

We have not seen Russian or Syrian forces moving towards Raqqah in that direction since then.

Q:  Thank you.


Q:  Hi, Chris.  This is -- (inaudible).

I have a question.  There are people are saying that ISIS is the grandchild of the U.S. policy in the Middle East.  And then today there's a British report on the Iraq war. It is newly published. And said basically it's not necessary to start the war and the war is not legitimate.

Do you think you are cleaning up a mess of a mistake right now in, you know, dealing with ISIS?

COL. GARVER:  I think we are conducting operations against a pretty horrible group of people that have declared themselves independent of the world system, stolen terrain from two different countries, declared themselves a caliphate, which of course also has, you know, the Islamic religious implications as well.  And then they started murdering people and executing people and they put it all up on YouTube.

So I'm personally not -- I don't really care where they came from.  I know that they're here now.  We saw the results of what they do on Monday in Baghdad.  We see the result every time.  You think you can't see anything else from ISIS.  They show you something new and horrible on YouTube.

So I don't want to get into a debate of where they came from.  We know, you know, that there are roots back to Al Qaida.  We know that there are roots back farther than that in the history of the -- the Operation Iraqi Freedom is well known, and I don't need to get into that debate.

What I do know is that they are the force in front of us now.  They are the force that's conducting attacks like we saw in Paris, like we saw in Brussels.  They're inspiring attacks like we saw in San Bernardino and we saw in Orlando.  And this is a force that needs to be dealt with.  These are -- these are people that they need to not only be defeated on the battlefield, but they're ideology needs to be broken and defeated as well.

So that's kind of how I look at this in terms of, you know, I'm not really worried about where they came from.  I understand there's lots of debate about that.  And I understand people's interest in it.  But what we're focused on is where we are right now and where we are right now is we're heading toward Mosul.  We're operating around Manbij.  And we're continuing to keep pressure on Daesh all across the breadth and depth of their formation.


Q:  Hi, Chris.  I have one housekeeping question.

Have U.S. troops begun partnering at the brigade or battalion -- at the battalion level, as Secretary Carter announced in April they would begin doing in Iraq?

COL. GARVER:  Yeah, right.  We know that that was -- that was authorized and discussed.  You've heard the secretary of defense talk about that, and you've heard the president talk about that.  We have not started doing that at this time.  That will be done in conjunction with and in discussion with the Iraqi forces, of course.  They'll prove that -- that move if we do that.

We haven't done that yet at this time, but it is an option available to us, and if General MacFarland feels that it would in fact accelerate a part of the campaign, then we would discuss that with the Iraqis and look to implement that.

Q:  I just want to make sure that -- that we weren't missing that.

Next on Qayyarah, you -- you equated it to Makhmur.  I'm wondering if -- is there any sort of forward U.S. presence in Qayyarah right now like we saw in Makhmur with the Iraqis?  Any kind of like a forward base?

COL. GARVER:  No.  They're not to -- they're not to Qayyarah yet.  So we expect there to be an attack to seize the city.  We expect them to clear all of that, then they'll start to build out that base like we saw with Makhmur when it was in a position where you would put a headquarters.  That's where we would assume that coalition forces may go into that point.

So Qayyarah is still in enemy control right now.  The forces are moving on their way.  The advise and assist that we are providing to those forces is as we have been doing it in the past, which is back from the front lines at the headquarters.

Q:  And then I had one -- sort of one bigger -- bigger picture question.  There's been more talk recently about the pressure on ISIS in Iraq and Syria is causing them to branch out more into other places in the world.  In the past two weeks or so, we've seen terrible terrorist attacks that were either ISIS directed or, more often, ISIS-inspired in the West.

And I'm wondering what the -- the military analysis of that is from your vantage point, from the military leaders who you deal with every day?  Do they agree with that?  Do they believe that the pressure in Iraq and Syria is causing them to either send fighters out or encourage more attacks around the world?  Do you -- is there a correlation?

COL. GARVER:  No, that's a great question.  And I know there's a lot of interest in that, and clearly, we -- we look at that as well.

What I can say is, while there may be some correlation, what Daesh has demonstrated is the willingness to conduct attacks on us no matter what's happening to them inside Iraq and Syria.  The attacks that are -- take place are -- are not something that just happened quickly.  There's clearly -- there's planning and time that go into that.

Clearly, they have stated, as they did going into Ramadan, they are encouraging everyone who follows them around the world to rise up and conduct attacks.  And they wanted Ramadan to be a bloody month from beginning to end, and unfortunately, we saw at the end, they were able to -- to conduct some horrific attacks.

So is there a correlation in the pressure to what we see around?  I think there's some because when you see that pressure, what we've seen Daesh say is, we have seen them say, "Don't come to Syria.  Don't come to Iraq.  Go elsewhere and try to joining Daesh elsewhere and cause havoc if you can."

So that -- that pressure clearly is having an effect on what they're doing here, but how much of it impacts directly on the forces that they're sending out or they're inspiring attacks or trying to finance attacks on the outside, I can't tell you specifically.  But they want to do that anyway.  I mean, I -- whether we were attacking them or not, they would look to incite attacks across the globe.

And so I think that you still have to beat them here.  Clearly, that's why we're here, is we still have to beat them.  We still have to break the caliphate.  We still have to show that they are not worth following from the worst of humanity around the globe, but they would want to do that in our capitals anyway.  They would want to do that in Western countries.

Q:  Thank you.

MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Next to Richard Sisk.

Q:  Yeah, hi, colonel.  Can you comment or confirm in any way reports from the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees in Baghdad, of some 900 refugees from Fallujah being picked up by the PMF in an area west of Fallujah and being isolated.  And some reports of up to 50 summary executions. Have you heard anything about that, Colonel?

COL. GARVER:  We've seen some -- open source reporting on that.  We have not seen continued open source reporting on several of the stories, but clearly it's something we're -- we're -- you know, we've been talking about this for several weeks.  It's something that -- that we're concerned about.

The Iraqi government continues its investigations into the initial allegations as well. I don't -- I know that the Iraqi forces separated military-age-males that potentially were Daesh members when they cleared Fallujah and some of that screening is still going on.

Whether those 900 are -- are -- are part of the 900 you are discussing or whether there is -- there is a correlation between that, I don't know.  And we're not, you know, involved in detention operations here. That is -- the Iraqi government is conducting those operations, the detention operations.

So we're concerned about it.  It continues to be a topic that we train the lowest soldiers with when it comes to the law of armed conflict.  It continues to be a topic at -- the -- the key leader engagement at the senior level.

My -- my generals talk to ministerial level and Iraqi leaders about that, but I do not have anything specific on those 900 that -- that we've seen in the press or, you know, other reports that we've seen along the way.

Q:  Colonel, can I follow up, please.  In Baghdad itself, and you reference the -- the horrific attack in Karrada a couple of days ago.  Do you expect or are there discussions underway between the U.S. and the -- and the Iraqis of ways to bolster security in Baghdad, and might this have an effect -- are you concerned that this might have an effect on, perhaps the Iraqis slowing down what they're doing up north and going towards Mosul to -- to try to secure their capital?

COL. GARVER:  All right.  Two parts.  I'll try to deal with them in order.  The first question regarding are we talking to the Iraqis about securing their capital, absolutely.  And we are providing assistance and we're also providing intelligence sharing and when it comes to the -- the bombers who are trying to attack Baghdad, there is some technological support that I won't get into the specifics of.  But we are providing them intelligence to bolster their -- to bolster their efforts, to bolster their ability to control the capital.

But the control of the Iraqi capital is definitely -- it is an Iraqi chain of command issue.  It's an Iraqi government, Iraqi military, Iraqi Security Forces issue.  So we're -- we're providing advice.  Certainly we're talking about it.  But they're in the lead and -- and then we're providing them some intelligence, looking specifically for the bombers attacking Baghdad; looking to how we can influence those bombers and stop them before they conduct an attack.

And there's, like I said, some other support that's going on that I can't discuss the specifics of.

Second question is, are they -- are they looking at, you know, reorganizing their forces and coming back to Baghdad.  We're concerned about that and certainly the prime minister is, you know, looking at the security situation in Baghdad very carefully.

But we still see the Iraqi security forces up in the Tigris River valley conducting that attack, and they're still moving forward.  And as a matter of fact, they're still out clearing cities on the eastern access.  They're still finalizing the back-clearing of Hajj-Ali today.

So those forces continue to move up and continue to be focused.  And we think -- the coalition believes that Mosul is the prize.  And continuing to break the caliphate and continuing to break the will of Daesh inside is the right course of action.  We think Daesh wants the Iraqis to turn around and stop the attack and go back to Baghdad.

And so clearly, you don't want to do what the enemy wants you to do.  You want to keep moving and you want to keep attacking and you want to keep the pressure up.  As we've gotten to all of this momentum and pressure on the side of the Iraqi security forces, we don't want to see that turned away.

And there are, you know, like I said, the prime minister clearly he's concerned about this.  But we haven't seen any changes yet.  We've seen the Iraqi army still pushing forward toward Mosul.

MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Next to Carlo, then Barbara.

Q:  Hey, colonel, I just want to follow up on Rich’s comment about the security situation in Baghdad.  With the Karrada bombings taking place probably like a week after Iraqi officials said Fallujah had been cleared, do you think now that the level -- the intensity of that bombing, the casualty numbers that are going up, do you think that attack sort of takes away from the Iraqi argument that Fallujah needed to be sort of bumped up in the order of cities that were sort of retaken from ISIS, because of the security threat?

I mean, now that it's been recaptured, you had the Karrada bombings a couple days later.  So I kind of wanted to get your thoughts on that.

COL. GARVER:  Okay.  I understand the question.  I'm not sure that I -- I'm not sure that I see the correlation that after Fallujah was taken, the bombing happened, therefore Fallujah was a bad idea.  We defeated Daesh in Fallujah and Fallujah was the main town on the Euphrates River valley coming into Baghdad.

Defeating them there and clearing them out, I don't think that's a bad thing.  Clearly, some of the Iraqi officials had stated that they hoped clearing Fallujah would stop the attacks.  There are still bombers out there.  And we're still trying to get them.  We're still trying to stop them.

But the easy access up and down the Euphrates River valley has been taken away.  And an entire city, which you can dive in and hide after you've conducted an attack, if it's not a suicide attack, then that's been taken away.

And so, you know, the prime minister I think said a couple of days ago that he felt Daesh conducted that attack to try to take away from the Iraqi security forces victory in -- in Fallujah.  But you would have had to clear Fallujah anyway.  You have an enemy city 30 miles from your -- from your capital.  There's no good that comes of that.  And we saw the Iraqi security forces had the capability to conduct operations both in the Euphrates River valley and in the Tigris River valley at the same time.

So I don't see anything that would cause me to say, well, this happened because of that.  I think the timing is what it is.  I also think that the timing of Ramadan is the significant timing here, is that Daesh wanted to try to conduct spectacular attacks inside Ramadan to prove it is still relevant and to show that it is still a force to be feared because they know they're losing on the battlefield.  And we've even seen in their propaganda materials a change in attitude that is -- they're no longer the 10-foot-tall invincible force.

So I think they're trying to regain momentum themselves by conducting asymmetrical attacks since they (an't beat in a symmetrical fight, in a conventional fight, they can't beat the Iraqi security forces on the battlefield right now.  That's, I think, why the timing is the way it is.  I don't have a ton of evidence to lay out for you to explain that, but you know, we saw Daesh talk about Ramadan as the time to conduct the attack.  We don't think that it was tied to Fallujah, we think it was tied to Ramadan.

Q:  Colonel, just a quick follow-up question regarding the Iraqi security forces that are being -- that are heading elsewhere, out of Fallujah, during this transition period.  Where are they heading?  Are the majority of those heading into Mosul?  Are some being redeployed back into Baghdad to maintain security for the capital?  Are any of them being sent to cities like Hit or Rutbah?

There have been reports that ISIS has sort of launched little -- have been engaged in some skirmishes with the holding forces in those cities in the -- in Anbar.

COL. GARVER:  That's a good question, and -- and we've seen a couple units head back to Baghdad and I don't want to talk about the specifics of where others are gone.  And -- and that process is just starting, sending all those Iraqi army units out to their next mission, that -- that's just -- just starting.

As for the skirmishes in the Anbar Province, we still see Daesh around the town of Zangara.  We still see Daesh sort of to the north of the Euphrates somewhere in the vicinity of Ramadi, some up near Hit.  And the Iraqi security forces are continuing those -- those clearing operations.  But those aren't skirmishes, those are defensive fights for Daesh because the Iraqi security forces are still in there trying to clear those forces out.

So they are conducting attacks and Daesh is responding to those attacks.  They're not big attacks because the -- the bulk of forces clearly was in Fallujah, clearly there's a bulk of forces heading up to the -- towards Qayyarah.  But those forces are not just the hold force inside the rest of the Anbar Province and inside the rest of the Euphrates -- excuse me -- Euphrates River Valley.  Those forces are fighting and clearing and attacking to clear Daesh out of those pockets.


Q:  Colonel Garver, Barbara.  Just a couple of very quick questions, if I may.

First on Karrada.  What -- two things.  What evidence do you see of the possibility ISIS used some type of incendiary explosives in Karrada, despite the fact it was crowded, despite the fact there was incendiary materials in these buildings?  Quite an extraordinary amount of damage.  ISIS claims it has incendiary explosive material.  Do you have evidence of that?

And on Karrada, are you also saying that you are hunting the bombers and their network?

COL. GARVER:  First, I am not sure if there's any -- any corroboration, collaboration between the -- the coalition and the Iraqi security force on the investigation at Karrada.  I believe that's an Iraqi security force issue and they're conducting that investigation.

I mean, we'll clearly take a look at the -- you know, the evidence that we see as well, but I -- but I don't think we're in the forensic lead.  And if you remember, you know, back in the -- in the last time we were here in Iraq, we developed forensic capability for them, trained them and built facilities to teach them forensic capability to be able to specifically learn about bomb makers.

And so that -- that capability exists within the Iraqi Security Force apparatus.  So I do not think we're connected to that, but I will go back and check and if we are, I'll get back to you and let you know on that.

In terms of -- I'm sorry, what was your second question?

Q:  I have a bunch of questions.  Just quickly, do you have any evidence that ISIS has incendiary explosives?  Have you ever learned that they do in any of your raids, any material, any intelligence gathered, do they have incendiary explosives?

COL. GARVER:  I'm not in a position to tell you they do or they don't right now.  I don't know.  Like I said, I'll go back and -- and ask about that.  But that wasn't the second question.  What was the other one?

Q:  -- the bomber network, you seem to indicate that you were, the one for Karrada.

COL. GARVER:  We are supporting the Iraqis who are going after the bomber network.  That is correct. We're supporting them with intelligence and some technological capability, but -- but I don't want -- I can't talk the specifics of it, but we are indeed supporting their fight against that bomber network.

Q:  -- the one for Karrada?

COL. GARVER:  If that was a question, I missed the first half, if you could say it again.

Q:  Are you -- referencing that you are specifically supporting the Iraqis' effort to find specifically the bomber network that did the Karrada bombing?  Is that what you are saying?

COL. GARVER:  No.  I am saying we are providing them support towards identifying the bomber networks in general.  If that network is part of this, then -- and the Iraqis are hunting that network, which I -- which I assume they are right now, we're providing support to that.

Q:  What is the latest --


COL. GARVER:  -- that attack.  We are providing this support to their -- we are providing that support to the -- to the Iraqi government before that attack.

Q:  What is the latest on Al-Bukamal?  Were there ever -- your Coalition spokesman -- were there Coalition forces involved before, during or after Al-Bukamal?  Once the -- forces you supported left, did you bomb the site so ISIS couldn't get its hands on the equipment?  Did you bring in troops?  Did you have advisers there?  Were there any coalition forces at Al-Bukamal?

COL. GARVER:  The answer is no.  That was not an -- that was not an -- an accompanied mission.  Clearly we were involved in the planning.  We were involved in the preparation, but there were no coalition advisers on the site.

We conducted airstrikes in preparation of the attack.  I think I talked about that last week.  And then -- I don't want to talk specifics of -- of -- kin of what happened to the force when it left.  And as I said earlier, parts of that operation are still ongoing, but we did not have coalition forces on the ground in Al-Bukamal.

I wouldn't talk about coalition SOF operations anyway, but there were no coalition operating -- no coalition SOF on the ground, no advisers on the ground in Al-Bukamal.

Q:  (inaudible) -- airstrikes afterwards to destroy the equipment they had to leave behind?

COL. GARVER:  Well, I think we saw some social media -- indication that some of that equipment fell into Daesh's hands.  And so -- if there were -- if there were airstrikes afterwards, we clearly didn't get everything because we saw Daesh displaying equipment that had been left behind by the New Syrian army as it pulled out of the area.

Q:  Hey, Chris.  Just a quick follow on Qayyarah on the southern approaches to Mosul.

To what extent is ISIS defending that area?  Since as you pointed out, it's -- it's strategically important.  And also what is the level of activity currently ongoing?  In other words, is that operation, the Iraqi operation to take that town already started?  Or is it still in a sort of shaping operation today?

COL. GARVER:  In terms of enemy activity around the area, we haven't gotten to Qayyarah yet.  We're still pushing on the two axes to get to Qayyarah.  And so as they approach, you see sort of belts of defense.  And around little towns is where you'll run into a belt of defense.  And you'll see earthworks built; trenches and berms.  You'll see IEDs, as we've seen all through this fight, used as mines.  You'll see, tied in with indirect fire and with -- with machine guns, you know, what we'd consider kind of like a heavy defense or a moderate to heavy resistance.

But that's not the whole way.  They'll clear a town, and then they move forward.  And so it's been clearing forward as they move, especially the force from Baiji, which is moving from south to north up MSR -- you know, up the main avenue of approach into Qayyarah.  As they do that, they're clearing those towns out and moving forward.

As any force knows, when you're moving, there are times where you stop, consolidate.  You reorganize.  You prep for your next attack.  It's not just a step on the gas pedal and drive until you bump into something.  So we see that going on as well.

But the forces are still attacking.  The force is still moving forward.  They've gained I believe about 75 -- 60, 75 kilometers is the estimate, somewhere in there, now, from where they started, around Baiji.  And they're continuing that -- the attack is still moving north.  It's still pushing forward.

Q:  Hey, Chris.  It's Lita.  Just a quick follow -- just a clarification on the question that Courtney had.

The forces -- the U.S. forces that were at what we called Firebase Bell, are they still there around Makhmur?  Because you likened Qayyarah sort of to Makhmur, and I wanted to just make sure I understood this correctly.

Are the forces there still at sort of Firebase Bell-Makhmur?  Or have they moved along at all with the Iraqi forces?  You sort of suggested that they may be doing as they get towards Qayyarah.

COL. GARVER:  Yeah, we -- we changed the name of that to Karasor, Karasor Complex is the -- what we call that, in that area around Bell and around Makhmur.  Those forces are still there.  We have artillery forces there providing support and shooting missions in support of the Iraqi movement.

As I know I've kind of mentioned before, anytime you can have the stationary force artillery shooting for the moving force, that's a good thing.  Your shots are more accurate because you're stationary, you've had the proper time to, what we call, lay in the guns, which is position them accurately, so you know exactly where you are.  You've got a better chance of -- of being accurate in your initial shots and you are using your ammo and you're allowing the moving force, the attacking force, to preserve their ammo.

So at any time you can continue to do that, that is -- that is a good thing. So we are providing that support for them still.  If the Iraqis were to reach a place where they wanted to establish something like Makhmur, I mean clearly that's a hypothetical question.

We see them moving toward Qayyarah, and as I've said before, I'm not quite sure what the next leap frog is, but is there a possibility?  Is that a potential that we can move those guns forward?  We could do that, absolutely.  I wouldn't talk about it specifically, but that is certainly a possibility that we could.


Q:  Hey, Chris.  Luis with ABC.

Question about Al-Bukamal.  What exactly happened there?  Last week you were talking about how this is an operation to cut off the line of communication here in the south and -- and the New Syrian Army was pressing forward, and very quickly it sounded like they had to retreat back.

How would you characterize what happened there?  Was is a tactical retreat?  Was is it an overwhelming defeat?  I mean, what --  what actually happened there?  Because there is conflicting information about it.

COL. GARVER:  Well I'll tell you, it's not an overwhelming defeat because the New Syrian Army is still in the fight.  They're still partnered with us.  We're still providing them support and whenever they go, conduct another operation, you know, we'll -- we'll be sure to let you know.

Al-Bukamal is an important area, as is Al-Qaim, as I talked about last week.  That's a place where Daesh had never been attacked on the ground before.  And now they have been attacked on the ground.  And that operation, frankly, was very confusing for them and we see movement right now.

I don't want to talk specifics because we don't necessarily want to let the enemy know what we know about him, but we see the enemy reacting still today to that attack and -- the -- you know, yes, the forces at Al-Bukamal, they took some -- some casualties.  And that is unfortunate.  But that force performed under fire and it is still in the fight today.

Q:  And if I could just follow up, the name for this group is the New Syrian Army.  Was these -- was this the same group that was trained during the first half of the train and equip mission?

COL. GARVER:  yeah.  Some of them were.  Some of those -- some of those troops that were trained are in that group.  Not everybody, but some of them were.

MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Do we have any more questions?

Sir, I think we're out of questions.  Do you have any closing remarks you'd like to make?

COL. GARVER:  No, just say thanks, everybody.  If you're trying to get a hold of me, I'm traveling tomorrow.  I'll be back up in Baghdad after that.

So next week should be from Baghdad.  I think I may bump into some of you along the way.  It would be good to see everybody again, but thanks and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to send them our way.

MAJOR RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Thank you very much.