IRAQ–(ENEWSPF)–December 10, 2015.
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: All right, good afternoon, everybody. We are pleased today to be joined via DVIDS from Baghdad by Colonel Steve Warren from Operation Inherent Resolve.
Steve, we’ll turn it over to you.
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Good afternoon, Pentagon Press Corps. I’ll start with some prepared remarks.
We’ve killed some more ISIL leaders and I wanna talk about them.
In Iraq, we recently conducted strikes against three leaders in ISIL’s financial and leadership network. Their removal will degrade ISIL’s ability to command and control troops, and it disrupts their ability to finance their efforts.
In late November, we killed Abu Saleh, the ISIL financial minister. He was one of the most senior and experienced members of ISIL’s financial network. And he was a legacy Al Qaida member.
Saleh was the third member of the finance network that we have killed in as many months. Killing him and his predecessors exhausts the knowledge and talent needed to coordinate funding within the organization.
Also in late November, we killed Abu Maryam, an ISIL enforcer and senior leader of their extortion network. Maryam is the third senior extortionist we’ve killed recently. This is impairing ISIL’s ability to extort money from a civilian population.
In another strike in the same timeframe, we killed Abu Rahman al-Tunisi. Rahman functioned as a sort of ISIL executive officer, coordinating the transfer of information, people and weapons.
These strikes are an example of how we’re able to decimate networks. Next, I’ll update you on the tactical actions and the tactical situation in Iraq and Syria. So, please, I’ll direct you all to the Ramadi-Taqaddum map. I’ve got three maps to show you. We’ll work through them rapidly. And Captain Davis if you could pull the map up so I could see it on the screen here — there it is.
So this is a map that shows — you know, the — the operational area between Ramadi, which is in the upper left-hand corner of your map, and Taqaddum, which is in the very lower right-hand corner of the map — in fact, you can only see the first few words in the lower right-hand corner.
So I wanted you to see the full operating area. You can see Ramadi in the left there — it is outlined there on the map. You see, kind of in the –in the center of the map, a blue line running from the upper right to the lower left. That blue line marks the forward line of troops of the eastern axis.
So, as you know, we’ve been attacking Ramadi from all — all directions of the compass — north, south, east and west. Eastern axis sits right there along that — that blue line. And that is primarily — along the eastern axis is — it’s primarily federal police operating on that axis.
So the next map I’d like to show you — go ahead and pull up the next map — is zoomed-in picture of Ramadi. I’ll wait for that map to come up. There it is.
Okay, so this is Ramadi proper. What’s notable there — obviously, up is north, down is south, east —
CAPT. DAVIS: Steve, can you hear me?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, I’ve got you loud and clear. Can you hear me?
CAPT. DAVIS: I’m sorry, Steve. We’re going to — we had a technical problem here with the monitor that I caused, so if we could ask you to just actually start from the beginning with the maps, as soon as we get it back up?
Yeah, your — same problem I had. I’m sorry. I was trying to turn the monitor so Tara could see it, and I unplugged it, and so —
— yeah. No, it was all my fault. We’re trying to turn it — figure out how to get it back on. So if you wouldn’t mind, just hold for a second.
STAFF: No clue where the switch is.
CAPT. DAVIS: Right? Yeah, (inaudible).
CAPT. DAVIS: (inaudible) just came up on the other screen.
STAFF: (off-mic) go over there?
CAPT. DAVIS: Yeah, let’s — let’s try that. We’re — we got you on a different screen now, Steve. If you can hear us, we’ve got the satellite map of — well, satellite map of Ramadi.
COL. WARREN: Okay. Well, we’ll start with that map that I’m currently looking at, which is kind of a big picture. You can see the whole river there.
And what that is is an — that is kind of the operational area around Ramadi. So to the left, which is the west, you see Ramadi proper. To the right — in the lower right-hand corner is Taqaddum, which — you can’t even see the whole of Taqaddum. You can see the first couple letters there on the screen. It’s in the lower right-hand corner of your map — Taqaddum.
And — and just off the screen to the right is where Fallujah is. And of course you got the lake to the bottom there, and — and the rest of Anbar province up towards the top of the map.
And the only notable mark I made on this map is — is that blue line that runs from upper right to lower left, about dead center of your screen and a third of the way from the right-hand edge of the map.
That blue line marks the forward line of troops of the eastern axis. The eastern axis is primarily made up of — of federal police, by the way. As you know, as we’ve briefed, we are encircling — or we’re attacking Ramadi from all four sides, right? From the north, the south, the east and the west. And it’s the police that — that are moving along that eastern axis, and that is where the police are.
Now, for a closer look at — at Ramadi, let’s go to the next map. So here we have a — a close-up view of Ramadi proper. Up is north, down is south, east is to the right-hand side of your map, and — and west is to the left.
Of note, obviously, the major obstacle here is the Euphrates River, which, as you can see, forks right there, kind of in the center of your screen.
So what’s notable about this? So I’ll — I’ll just point out a few landmarks. Kind of dead center of your map, you see the glass and ceramics factory. Where the river forks, just to the north of that fork, you see the Anbar operations center.
To give you a sense of scale, the ops center and the ceramic and glass factory are about 600 meters apart — so six football fields. Handful of city blocks.
So I just wanted to give you that view of the map, and now I’m going to flip to the last map, which is going to show you what’s under whose control. So go ahead and go to the last map.
Okay. So this shows you what has been accomplished over the last several days. Other notable landmarks that are not on this map, for size: the Euphrates River, right where it exits the top of the screen there — just a little bit past where it exits the screen is the Palestine Bridge. That, of course, was our notable accomplishment last week.
So last week, the Iraqi security forces pressed south from the Palestine Bridge, following the river, until they, two days ago, managed to seize and liberate the Anbar operations center.
To the south, what’s most notable — you can kind of see the main highway that — that cuts across the southern portion of the map here — it looks like Highway 11.
To the right, or the east, of Highway 11, you have the Tamim neighborhood. That’s the largest neighborhood in Ramadi, and Iraqi security forces have — have seized it. They have secured it.
We estimate that there are no longer any enemy operating inside of that neighborhood; however, they are continuing to reduce — you know, mines, obstacles, IEDs that were left behind. And of course you can see — in red there is what the enemy still controls. All right?
I — I think — I’m going to show you a video here shortly, and it’ll be of tanks operating in the al-Tamim neighborhood. So that’s that little neighborhood to the south there.
Anyway, so that’s — that’s kind of a roll-up of what Ramadi looks like. I expect we’ll get some questions and I’ll want to talk more about it, but I don’t want to spend too much time on the opener, here.
But I do want to say one thing. I was — I sat down and I had breakfast with General McFarland this morning, as a matter of fact, and he told me — he reminded me of something that I think is notable, and I hope you will all take note of.
So these recent successes in Ramadi come nine years, almost to the day, after a man — after several soldiers, one an army captain named Travis Patriquin, a major, Megan McClung, and a specialist, Vincent Pomante, were killed by a roadside bomb.
Travis Patriquin is important because he was really the heart and soul and the driving force behind the Anbar Awakening in many ways. And in fact — and the reason I bring it up — that Anbar operations center, which the Iraqis fought so hard and so long to liberate, was named in — in Travis’ honor by Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha, who, as you know, was a significant player in the Anbar Awakening as well.
Then Colonel Sean McFarland said this about Travis — and this is a quote. “He grew to mythical stature among the tribes. After he was killed and I talked to sheiks, their eyes would all brim with tears whenever you mentioned his name.”
So I wanted to remind people of that. We’ve been here in Iraq for a long time, and we’ve worked hard, and Colonel MacFarland reminded me this morning that there was a — a photo of — of Travis hung in that Anbar operations center. Don’t know if it’s still there,Hopefully we’ll find that soon.
So before I move on to Syria and close out the Ramadi discussion, I do want to share a video with you, and I’m going to set it up, so before it rolls, let me just set it up briefly.
And the reason I’m sharing this video is because it shows a significant — I think, we think — a — a significant milestone in what we’re doing here.
This is of some overhead imagery of Iraqi tanks operating in the al-Tamim neighborhood. And what’s important about it is two things — and it’s going to be a little hard to see. What you’re going to see, kind of in the center of the screen — after a few seconds, you’ll see a flash.
That’s a — that’s a tank firing its main gun round, and then a few minutes later — a few seconds later, you’ll see another flash from a separate tank, also firing its main gun round.
Those tanks are shooting those gun rounds. They’re also — you can’t see it on the video, but there’s also machine gun fire. They’re — they are operating there to protect.
So armored bulldozers provided by the coalition to the Iraqi security forces — those armored bulldozers — and you can see it just kind of to the north — just up above of where that tank is firing — you can see the armored bulldozer is building a berm. It’s pushing earth up and sealing off a piece of road with a — with a high berm.
The reason that that armored bulldozer is doing that is because it — it prevents enemy VBIEDs — truck bombs — from attacking into the flanks of the Iraqi security forces.
Now, this is significant, because this is really true combined arms operations. You know, the — the army that we trained back in the 2000s was really a counterinsurgency army.
Counterinsurgency armies have specific tasks that they do. It’s about checkpoints, it’s about providing security for convoys, it’s about reducing the ability of an insurgency to impact friendly forces.
What we’re fighting now is a more conventional army, or is an enemy that’s operating as a conventional army. And they’re using much more conventional tactics.
So we’ve spent the last several months training and equipping the Iraqi army to fight this conventional threat — this conventional enemy, and so we’re — we are — we’re heartened to see Iraqi security forces conducting these combined armed — combined arms operations.
So DVIDS if you’ll play that video, please.
COL. WARREN: Moving over to Syria now, in northern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces continued liberating territory held by ISIL. On Monday, the SDF liberated the villages of al Khan and (inaudible), which are south of Al-Hawl and give the SDF a stronger foothold as they move towards Shaddadi.
During this five-week campaign of the SDF, they have liberated nearly 1000 square kilometers, and have coordinated with coalition forces for 142 strikes, which have killed, we estimate, approximately 500 enemy and destroyed 143 ISIL fighting positions, 43 vehicles and one checkpoint.
Crossing Iraq and Syria, we believe that we’re continuing to achieve some — some good effects. General Austin, the CENTCOM commander, makes frequent visits to Iraq, and he was here this week. And I want to share with you some comments that he made — and these are direct quotes, and you can use them as — as such.
This is a quote directly from General Austin. He says, quote, “it’s worth noting that everywhere we are supporting and enabling operations across Iraq and Syria, the indigenous forces are on the offensive or holding ground that’s been retaken from the enemy.
“We are gaining momentum against ISIL, and I remain confident in our approach and confident that, while it will take time, we will defeat them,” end quote. So that’s a quote from General Austin.
I also think it’s worth pointing out how this progress in Iraq and Syria relates to ISIL’s expansion in other areas, such as North Africa, Libya and the Sinai.
We know that ISIL will follow the path of least resistance, and as we continue to degrade their capability here in their stronghold of Iraq and Syria — you know, we have to expect and plan for them to try — to attempt to gain footholds elsewhere.
So with that I have no more prepared comments, and I look forward to taking your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: We’ll go to Bob first.
Q: Colonel Warren, in connection with Ramadi, given the proximity to Fallujah, just wondering if you’d give us a — a snapshot of what’s happening in Fallujah.
COL. WARREN: So, isolation operations for Fallujah are ongoing. There are several thousand Iraqi security forces maneuvering to encircle Fallujah and begin the process of isolating it, and then eventually clearing it. So we’re still kind of in the earlier stages of that.
Initially, as you know, the mission in and around Fallujah was to block, right? To prevent Fallujah from being able to reinforce ISIL fighters in Ramadi. That has been successful. That’s what those federal police are doing. And — you know, you saw that blue line on the map there, which indicated the forward line of — of advance for those federal police.
By the way, that blue line — to give you some scale on that map, that blue line was about — roughly four kilometers away from the center of Ramadi.
So, Fallujah operations are in their earlier spaces. The isolation is beginning to come together.
Q: Do those Iraqi forces that are operating in the Fallujah area, are they mostly or partially American-trained and equipped forces?
COL. WARREN: Most, they are not. There are some American-trained forces in that Fallujah piece, but a majority of the forces that we’ve trained and equipped are operating in and around Ramadi.
Q: Colonel Warren, this is (inaudible). I want to go back to opening statement in regards to those three ISIL leaders who were killed. Could you give us more details how they were killed, what kind of operation targeted them? Also, have you tried — has the U.S. military tried to capture them, for example?
COL. WARREN: In this case, all three were killed by airstrikes. And so because it was an air operation, there was no possibility of capturing them. These all took place in Iraq in late November, vicinity of Tal Afar.
Q: Also, and also on Iraq, Colonel Warren, you have mentioned something important. You said that ISIL is acting like a conventional army. Could you give us more details? Do you know why? What are the reasons that ISIL is acting like a conventional army? Do you believe that there are some former Iraqi officers who are fighting with them? Just I would like to get more detail on that, if you — if you can.
COL. WARREN: Well, we know there are former Iraqi officers who are fighting with them, to answer that part of your question. The reason they’re operating more like a conventional army is because they have more conventional goals, right? I mean, their stated goal is to create a state, to create a caliphate, if you will. That’s the word they use, which is a very conventional goal, right? They have to take and hold ground, and then they have to govern the people inside of that ground.
That can’t be done with an insurgency. I mean, an insurgency has different goals. It’s normally to eject someone out of territory. But in this case, their goal is to seize and to hold ground. To do that, requires conventional tactics.
Q: (inaudible) — Bashar Assad told British Sunday Times that his army is arming the PYD or the YPG forces. Does the U.S. endorse a partner being armed by Assad regime?
COL. WARREN: I’m not aware of that statement and so I can’t — I can’t speak to it. You know, our goal here is to focus on ISIL. Our — our mission here is to work with willing members of this coalition to defeat ISIL and that’s what we’re going to do. And, you know, anything Assad says, of course, has to be suspect.
This is a brutal dictator who is responsible for the deaths of a quarter-million of his own people. This is a man who dropped barrel bombs on his own population. This is a dictator who has unleashed chemical weapons strikes on his own people. So, this is not someone who — who can be believed in any circumstance.
Q: And one more on Sinjar. There are reports that the Peshmerga forces and the PKK forces, and even some local Yazidi forces are fighting over some government buildings in Sinjar — over raising flags on the top of some building — government buildings in Sinjar.
Do you confirm these reports? And do you have anything to share with us, what’s going on in Sinjar right now?
COL. WARREN: I — I cannot confirm those reports. In Sinjar, the Peshmerga forces who liberated that city from — from ISIL several weeks ago have continued to work on clearing the remaining booby-traps, IEDs and obstacles that ISIL left behind.
So that process is ongoing, and we hope that soon, more the population — more of the original population of Sinjar will be able to — will be able to come home.
And that, of course, is the members of Sinjar who weren’t murdered and thrown into mass graves, some of which were actually booby-trapped by these barbarians called ISIL.
CAPT. DAVIS: Tara.
Q: Hi, Colonel Warren. Go back to the — the blue line being about four kilometers from the city, where the federal police are. What’s the reason that they’re farther away from the city centers?
Was it buried IEDs, or — what, I guess, is the delay in getting those forces closer into the city center? And then I have a couple more.
COL. WARREN: Yeah. You know, that’s the federal police, so not as — as much — not as well equipped as a conventional army force — as the Iraqi security forces. So they’ve simply moved slower.
Q: Do they also receive overhead support from U.S. airstrikes?
COL. WARREN: Yes.
Q: The red zone of Ramadi as a whole — is it still DOD’s estimate that there’s between 600 and 1,000 ISIS fighters inside that area that need to be taken out?
COL. WARREN: Well, we killed about 350 of them over the course of the last week, with — you know, using — today our count is four airstrikes, but in reality, each one of those airstrikes has several target engagements in it. So a high number — a high volume of — of coalition air power, of — applying death and destruction to enemy fighters in Ramadi.
So we haven’t — you know, I don’t have a revised number now. I mean, we’re still sort of operating off that 600 to 1,000. But I’ll tell you, we’ve — we’ve killed quite a few of them.
And — and that — that brings me to another good point. What’s notable, I think, compared to the 350 that we alone have killed from the air, the Iraqi security forces, over the course of the last week, have — have sustained only one — one friendly killed in action. A single one.
So — and I think that’s a testament to the — the training that they’ve received. It’s a testament to the air power — the close air support that we’ve been able to provide. It is a testament to the quality of the equipment that we’ve provided. So I think that’s notable, the — the comparative losses in this.
Q: (inaudible) — question — with that amount of ISIS fighters removed from Ramadi, I guess there’s — maybe half of them are still holding the city. How is that few of a number able to hold a city as large as Ramadi?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, fair question. So urban combat is difficult, right? It’s tricky work. It’s — it’s — it’s because of the way an urban — an environment is laid out. You’ve got narrow roads, you’ve got buildings.
ISIL has had a long time to prepare these buildings. They’ll knock holes in walls between two adjacent buildings so they can move from building to building undetected. We’ve see them do things like put sheets up over roads or alleyways so that they can move up and down a road or alleyway without being detected.
And of course they’ve — they’ve booby-trapped and mined the city center significantly. So those — all of those things combined allow a relatively small force to be able to hold off a substantially larger force — you know, indefinitely, frankly.
So ISIL is — you know. They’ve done this, and they’ve done it fairly well. They’ve stockpiled — we’ve seen that they’ve stockpiled VBIEDs. These — these truck bombs are kind of their version of a precision munition, and what they’ll do is, they’ll use these truck bombs to attack into a flank.
So they’ll — you know, as a force is moving forward — and of course, only the tip of the spear can move forward, because of the — you know, the lanes created by these buildings and roads. So a small — only a small force can — can lead. That force will, then, sometimes encounter an IED or an IED mine field, and they’ll need to — to reduce that mine field.
And while they’re doing that, the enemy will — will send a truck bomb into their flanks to try and sow confusion and — and cause casualties. So all of that — and so the Iraqi security forces have had to prevent that.
And you see that in our video, where they led with a tank, the tank would provide close-in security while the armored bulldozer would rapidly erect berms, and that — that allows a larger — more of the force to move in.
So it’s a slow process, it’s a deliberate process. And urban fighting is tough: it’s hot, it’s scary, and it can be deadly. So this is why a small force was able to — to hold off a lot large force for — for some time.
CAPT. DAVIS: (off-mic)
Q: Colonel Warren, hey, it’s Andrew Tilghman.
Can you tell us if the American troops in Anbar have been providing any kind of on-the-ground outside-the-wire accompanying support for the Ramadi operations like we saw in Sinjar a couple of weeks ago? Are they doing any kind of medevac support, or — you know, tactical advising from somewhat forward positions?
COL. WARREN: No, they’re not. The American forces are at — at Taqaddum Air Base.
Q: (off-mic) say why that is? I mean, is that a distinction to be drawn between the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi forces? Is there a reason why our — our support is a little bit more forward-leaning for the Kurdish forces up north?
COL. WARREN: It has nothing to do with the — with the forces. It has everything to do with the terrain.
So up north, we have — is a very clear front line between the Peshmerga and ISIL. It’s a very clean-cut front line of troops, and if you’re on one side of that line, you’re in good guy country. You’re on the other side of that line, you’re in bad guy territory.
And if you’re on the good-guy side of that line — you know, it’s safe. There’s not a threat of IEDs. There’s not a threat of ambush. There’s no snipers. It’s safe on the good-guy side of the line.
Not the case here, just because of the way ISIL kind of occupied it, it’s kind of like — you have to think of it as a series of ink splats on that map.
And so — you know, the roads aren’t really safe. The Iraqi security forces take a lot of risk every time they move, because the enemy, although largely fighting as a conventional army, let me be perfectly clear, they continue to employ insurgent tactics when it suits them.
So, frankly, for force protection reasons, we have — we’ve decided to keep U.S. forces here in Anbar and other areas around here, and inside the bases.
Q: (inaudible) — I’m — I have one question on Shadadi first. You said that there’s pressure on Shadadi as well. It seems that they are using now the route passing Shadadi after they lost Highway 47. How is it significant in terms of their logistical support? And also, the oil traffic using this road — what does — (inaudible) — Shadadi?
COL. WARREN: Well, Shadadi is really one of ISIL’s logistics — (inaudible). So they use that as an area to stage weapons, equipment, personnel and distribute those items throughout the rest of the battlefield. So it’s an important hub for that reason.
Also, its position along a major highway that moves into Raqqa, controlling Shadadi will control yet another primary line of communication into Raqqa, which, as we know, is — is really ISIL’s center of gravity inside of Syria. So, taking Shadadi will the next step in this process to isolate Raqqa.
Q: Are the oil trucks using Shadadi to cross from Syria to Iraq?
COL. WARREN: I don’t think so. I don’t know. I don’t know. It — you know, that border still needs to have some work done on it. You know, the Iraq-Syria border. You know, we continue to work with the Iraqis. This will help. Seizing Shadadi will certainly help stitch up the border there between Iraq and Syria. It won’t be the final — won’t the final brick in the wall, but it will help.
Q: After the November 24 incident — the Russian jet incident, the Turkish officials confirmed that Turkey is not involved anymore with the strikes in Syria. They are — the Turkish jets are not flying over Syria. What — what was — but still — (inaudible) — reporting that — (inaudible) — airstrikes in — (inaudible) — where Turks were focusing on before the incident. What was the impact of this incident to the — (inaudible)?
COL. WARREN: Well, you know, we’re continuing to fly. We’re continuing to conduct our operations. Our operations are — are ongoing in the vicinity of the Mara line. That’s primarily supporting troops in combat. That’s close-air support operations there on the Mara line. We’re conducting operations in Raqqa generally to strike their leadership.
We continue to conduct operations in Dawr az Azar to reduce their capacity to earn money from oil. And we’re continuing direct support — troop and contact support, close-air support to the Syrian democratic forces operating between al-Hawl and Shadadi. So we’re continuing to conduct our operations.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren. It’s Gordon Lubold.
Just kind of two quick questions. One is, general — excuse me — Secretary Carter talked about the southern front and that these are the leftover, teeny guys who were working I think in southern Syria, as I understand. I was just wonder if you could kind of give us a sense of what their doing? There’s not that much clear about what their operations are and if they amount to anything.
Also, I don’t know that you could do this, but is there any way that you guys can assess the impact on ISIS’s revenue from all this work you guys have been doing with the trucks and the wellheads and all that? I mean, I assume it’s too soon, but how would we see an impact there?
COL. WARREN: Well, in southern Syria, along the Syria-Jordan border, you know, I read out several weeks ago a raid conducted by these new Syrian forces, the forces that we had trained. It was right there on the tri-border area. I can’t recall the name of the town, but it was on the tri-border area right where Iraq, Syria and Jordan come together and there’s a little town there that had — it was an ISIL outpost.
And the forces that we had trained, the free Syrian army or new Syrian army forces, conducted a raid there several weeks ago. And they did two things. One, they moved to set up an attack using indirect fire mortars in this case, that facility. And they were able to direct air power against that facility as well. So a very successful raid.
That’s the only one thus far of note, but we continue to have those forces plan for future operations. So that’s that.
On the — on the oil piece, it is a little bit too soon to determine exactly the impact of our strikes on these oil — –I look at it — on these oil facilities — I look at this oil, you know, it’s — it’s attacking their — their industrial base.
So I look at it as in boxing as body shots, right? You work the body in early rounds, and maybe you won’t get a knockout from — from those early round body shots, but several rounds later you’ll see your enemy’s — you know, you’ll see your opponent’s knees began to get weak. He’ll lose some of the snap off of his jab, and now he’s beginning to get set up for the knockout.
So that’s what this is. These are body shots that while we might not see an immediate impact today based on these strikes against oil, because there’s money pipelines, there’s oil already moved, and things taking — it takes a — there’s a ripple-effect there. It takes a while for it to catch up. But when it does catch up, we will see this enemy’s knees weaken notably.
Q: (inaudible) — follow up. Without getting into specifics, do you see the new Syrian force, that group, it being reasonably small, being folded in somewhere else? Or operating roughly where they are now for the time being? Or what?
COL. WARREN: They’ll continue to operate along the southern border there. What they bring, as do all of these forces that we’ve trained, what they bring to the battlefield is arguably the most powerful and lethal weapon on the battlefield, and that’s communications.
These — these personnel have been trained and, more importantly, equipped with communications that can — that can talk to us; that can talk to the coalition that can bring in the devastating effects of our — of our air power. So, they’ll continue to operate there along that border. They may — could potentially be folded into other units that are operating along that border. But what they bring is that tremendous force multiplication factor of communications.
Q: Colonel Warren, the secretary yesterday mentioned an offer of use of Apache helicopters and perhaps U.S. advisers operating a little closer with Iraqi units in and around Ramadi. Can you talk a little bit about what are the conditions that would exist for that to happen? And how the Iraqi government, whether or not they would seek such support?
COL. WARREN: Well, so the secretary did announce these initiatives, but — and what’s important is that it’s — it’s got to be at the request of the Iraqi government, right? And I know the secretary of defense spoke a little about this just a few hours ago.
So thus far, the — the Iraqi government — Prime Minister Abadi has not requested Apache support, he’s not requested additional advise and assist capabilities.
So it would be a case-by-case basis, right? If there is — if there is a specific mission or operation that would directly benefit from the presence of attack aviation — rotary-wing attack aviation, then this is something that — you know, the Iraqis and we will discuss.
So there — you know, it’s hard to kind of come up with a hypothetical scenario. It’s going to be case-by-case basis, and as — as opportunities arise — you know, we’re in daily discussion with our Iraqi partners.
And if it appears that a situation is such that attack aviation — rotary-wing attack aviation — helicopters, Apaches — would have a significant impact, then that’s a discussion we’ll have.
Q: Just on — on an — slightly other subject, in — in Ramadi, is there a good estimate of — or some kind of estimate for the civilians that remain behind? And are there indications that ISIS is doing what it can to prevent their departure from the city center?
COL. WARREN: All right. We don’t have a good estimate of the status of the civilian population in Ramadi. It’s a difficult number to come by. We’ve — we’ve worked on it and tried, but it is a hard — it’s a hard number to come up against, or to — to get resolution on.
We have seen indications that ISIL is either actively preventing civilians from departing or, worse, waiting for the civilians to begin departing and then firing on them.
Just two weeks ago, a little 9-year-old boy was shot in the stomach as he and his family were trying to flee. Fortunately, the Iraqi security forces were able to save his life.
But, yeah, the — the Iraqis have — or, excuse me, the — ISIL has made it clear to us through their actions that they intend to continue to hide behind the civilian population in an effort to — to try and — you know, reduce the effectiveness of our air power.
Q: Hi, Colonel Warren. Phil Stewart here.
Could you bring us up to date — after — after the Turks shot down the Russian fighter jet, Russian President Putin said that he — he kind of questioned the — the utility in sharing information with the coalition.
And I know there have been — you know, all these calls — de-confliction calls with the coalition. Can you bring us up to — to date about — you know, where — what is the kind of information that the Russians are sharing? How often are they sharing it with the coalition?
And — and has that become a two-way street at this point? I mean, is there any information about coalition operations that is exchanged with them to perhaps de-conflict, to say, “don’t — wait — if you’re — be — be advised that we’re operating in the same space,” or — or is there any kind of information about coalition operations that’s being provided?
COL. WARREN: We talk to the Russians every day, and what we do is we discuss ways to de-conflict aircraft coming together. So it’s altitude, it’s speed, it’s location and direction.
So the Russians don’t tell us what they’re going to strike, we don’t tell them what we’re going to strike. All we do is talk to them about how we can ensure that — that our two sets of aircraft don’t bump into each other in the air.
It’s important to note that — you know, no amount of coalition phone calls would have had any impact on — on that event, which was — which was — you know, a Turkish sovereign event, right? That was not a part of the coalition operation.
Q: (off-mic) follow up then. So are you telling them that — you know, you’re operating around — you know, Raqqa at this altitude? Are you telling them — you know, without giving them what the targets are, are you giving them geographic locations and altitudes of where you’re operating?
COL. WARREN: I’m not going to get into that level of detail. Part of the memorandum of agreement prevents us from going into that level of detail. But what I’ll tell you is that we exchange enough information to ensure that our planes don’t bump into each other.
CAPT. DAVIS: I’m sorry. Your name escapes me.
Q: Colonel, this is Carl Osgood with Executive Intelligence Review. You said at the end of your opening statement that we — as you put more pressure on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we should expect to see them try to establish themselves in other locations, which, of course, they are doing, as I think most people know.
Does this mean we should expect more terrorist attacks outside of the region? Is there anything that you’re doing in your campaign that will reduce that threat?
COL. WARREN: Yeah. We’re killing terrorists. We’re killing them every single day, by the hundreds. So that’s reducing the threat.
You know, I’m going to — I’m going to talk about what we’re doing here, and it’s taking down leadership networks, it’s — it’s taking away the ability to fund terror operations and it’s killing terrorists.
So that’s the business that we’re in here. Business has been very good, and we’re going to continue to — we are going to continue to — to execute this mission.
Q: Colonel Warren, it’s Paul Shinkman.
Just to follow up on — on Jim’s question, do you have any more granularity on what kind of role ground troops could play in retaking Ramadi? Is it calling in airstrikes? Is it actually serving in any sort of combat role, or — and then also whether there are any preparations in place now, in the case that the Iraqi government actually asks for U.S. support?
COL. WARREN: If the Iraqi government asks for Apache helicopters, and — and the mission is right, if we agree, then we’ll use Apache helicopters. So that’s all — I mean, Apache helicopters are ready, so all we have to do is find an operation or a mission that — that they will be able to impact, and then agree with the Iraqis that it’s — that it’s the right time to use them.
But that agreement hasn’t come yet, right? So we have not yet agreed to use Apache helicopters in Iraq. What we have done is told the Iraqi government that, if they would like us to, we’re willing to, so.
Q: (off-mic) yesterday that he would be open to Apache helicopters and ground troops. I think he said ground advisers, and I’m trying to get some more detail on that second point there, what — what that force could look like.
COL. WARREN: Well — I’m not going to — it’s purely speculative, right? I mean, we haven’t agreed to anything yet, so it could look like anything. But right now, it doesn’t look like anything, because it doesn’t exist yet.
Q: And then, just to follow up on the video, can you say what the Iraqi tanks were actually firing at? Were there vehicles that were approaching, or fighting positions, or any more detail on that?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, there was — we — we couldn’t see from — from that — from that piece of video, but — you know, based on our discussions and reporting, there was some — there was enemy activity in both — down both of those roads.
Don’t know exactly what the battle damage assessment was from those — from those tank shots. But, you know, the important thing is that they were providing protection to the armored bulldozers that were erecting berms that would then protect the tanks.
So this is a great example of this combined arms operation — tanks providing security for bulldozers, while bulldozers erect berms which in turn provide security for the tanks. So that’s combined arms operations.
Q: (inaudible) — follow up to (inaudible) question, colonel.
You say that there is no records by Prime Minister Abadi about the Apaches and other — (inaudible) — elements to help the Ramadi operation. But secretary just yesterday and also today said that the Ramadi operation is disappointingly slow.
So while it is, you know, disappointingly slow, why is it the case that the Iraqi government does not ask or request for U.S. help out over there?
COL. WARREN: The secretary said it was frustratingly slow, not disappointing, frustrating. And you’ve just asked me why the Iraqi government hasn’t asked for Apaches. And, you know, obviously not a question I’m equipped to answer. I’m not — I don’t represent the Iraqi government.
Q: Colonel, there’s been some back-and-forth about that airstrike near Dawr az Azar that Syrians claim had led to Syrian casualties caused by U.S. Air Force — by U.S. aircraft. The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said yesterday that though there were no American aircraft in that vicinity, that there were apparently two sets of coalition aircraft. I guess the inference there being that maybe they had something to do with that.
Do you have any comments on that?
COL. WARREN: There were no coalition aircraft in that area when the — when those soldiers were killed. How do we know this? Several ways. Number one, you know, from when the initial reporting came out that Syrian soldiers were killed, there were no coalition aircraft anywhere near there. About an hour later — an hour after the initial reports came out, coalition aircraft conducted a strike about 60 miles away — 59, maybe it was.
So, you know, those are the facts plain and simple. So, this coalition had nothing to do with those Syrian personnel being killed, period.
Q: (inaudible) — so there were no other — any kind of coalition aircraft even in that vicinity at all, even before or after this strike. Correct?
COL. WARREN: There were no coalition aircraft in that vicinity before, during or after the initial reports came out that — that those Syrian soldiers were killed. An hour after those reports came out; coalition aircraft conducted a strike approximately 60 miles south and east of where those soldiers died — those Syrian soldiers died.
CAPT. DAVIS: Anything else? Thank you, everybody.