U.S. Department of Defense
|Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman; Captain Jeff Davis, Director, Defense Press Office||November 24, 2015|
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning, everybody.
At the top, our apologies for the late notice to some of you on this. That was due to our fault and we apologize for it. We do -- we do intend to get these notifications out earlier.
Steve, good morning. Good evening to you. And thank you for joining us today. We'll turn it over to you for opening comments, and as always, signal me if you've got a question and we'll put you on the list.
Steve, over to you.
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Thanks, Jeff.
And thank you, Pentagon press corps, for taking the time to join me here today, especially here before the holidays. I know folks have travel plans.
I'll start with today's news. The Turkish government announced that two of its F-16s on border patrol engaged two Russian SU-24s and one aircraft -- one Russian aircraft was shot down. The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced an investigation into the crash.
This is an incident between the Russian and the Turkish governments. It is not an issue that involves the Combined Joint Task Force or Operation Inherent Resolve. Our combat operations against ISIL continue as planned and we are striking both Iraq and Syria.
Indigenous ground forces continue to consolidate gains across the battlefield. We're seeing the impacts of our operations to defeat ISIL and that's what I want to talk about today a little bit.
So, Jeff, go ahead and bring up the map, please.
In Ramadi, which is star one on the map, in addition to movement on all axes, Iraqi engineer teams have made significant contributions to the fight. Iraqi explosive ordnance disposal teams continue to destroy IEDs, including a controlled detonation of an IED factory which destroyed 60 IEDs and a VBIED.
And speaking of VBIEDs, and this is a notable fact that we've uncovered in our recent analysis. As of now, we estimate that only five percent of ISIL's VBIEDs are even effective. We attribute this to the sharpened ability of ISF to identify and destroy them, as well as targeted strikes by coalition and Iraqi aircraft to destroy the VBIED factories and to impact their supply chain.
On the Mara line, which is star seven in the upper left-hand corner of your map, vetted Syrian opposition forces and new Syrian forces began offensive operations to seize Harjala and (inaudible) last Friday. After a tough fight, these forces successfully seized both towns.
This is important because it's the first successful offensive operation since June along the Mara line. It's also important because it included members of the new Syrian forces. Again, these are the forces that we trained. We exfiltrated them out of Syria after proper vetting. We trained them. We infiltrated them back into Syria. And this is a program that we no longer -- that's been discontinued.
ISIL lost these towns. And with them, ISIL lost the ability to use them for attacks against the Mara line.
I've got two pieces of video that I want to show you today. I'll set up the first one here a little bit. As we talked about just a few minutes ago, VBIEDs are an ISIL weapon of choice. On November 18th in Ramadi, we struck a bridge which had been the primary route used by ISIL to send VBIEDs to attack ISF forces along the southern axes. As you'll see here in a moment, ISIL can no longer use this road to attack the ISF.
DVIDS, just go ahead and roll that first video, please.
COL. WARREN: So that's an amazing depiction of the accuracy that we're capable of here. It's also a good example of terrain denial. Sometimes you'll see in our press releases where it says 'terrain denial.' This is an example of terrain denial. ISIL will no longer be able to use that bridge to send VBIEDs against ISF.
The second video that I've got for you is from an Operation Tidal Wave strike against ISIL's illicit oil system. Early Sunday morning, on November 22nd, we conducted a large strike near Al-Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor, which are in Syria, of course. And that strike destroyed 283 oil tanker trucks.
Now, as we did on the first tanker truck strike, we conducted another leaflet drop ahead of time to warn the civilian drivers to leave the area before that strike.
So, DVIDS, go ahead and please roll this second video. This one's about three minutes long, so -- (inaudible).
COL. WARREN: So again, another example of the type of accuracy that we're capable of here in the coalition.
So to close out my remarks here, late last week, Russia we noticed issued a statement and a video. They claim they attacked and destroyed 500 ISIL fuel tankers. We took a look at the reports. We saw the video they released. From what we saw, the battle damage assessment they issued seems to us to be exaggerated. More than likely, the Russian attack did not produce the results that they claim it produced.
Finally, before we go to questions, I want to remind everyone just who ISIL is and how ruthless they are, with a vignette we picked up. On November 18th, Iraqi forces in Ramadi observed 22 civilians trying to get away from the fighting. As the civilians neared the ISF, ISIL opened fire at the crowd. In the process, they shot and wounded a nine-year-old little boy, shot him in the stomach. Luckily, the ISF was able to safely evacuate all the civilians. They stabilized the boy and transported him to a hospital.
It appeared from the reports and our observations that ISIL was using those civilians as bait in order to get the ISF to come out so they could fire on them. This enemy has no regard for human decency, even for the people they claim to be protecting under their so-called caliphate.
This concludes my prepared remarks, and now I'll take your questions.
A.P. Bob or Lita, we'll start with you.
Q: Colonel Warren, Bob here.
A question for you about that shoot-down of the Russian plane. Did U.S. personnel hear or see any aspect of that sequence of events? And were there any additional incidents today involving a shoot-down of Russian aircraft?
COL. WARREN: Right. So, there were no U.S. personnel in the vicinity of this incident, so we -- we did not observe it in any way. We have seen reports here in the local media and on social media here of a second incident involving a Russian helicopter, but we can't confirm those yet. We're working to get confirmation on that.
Q: Hi, Steve. It's (inaudible) from PBS.
In light of what happened today, could you explain to us sort of in more detail about the U.S. F-15Cs that are in Turkey? I know they were requested by the Turkish government to be there to protect their airspace, but are they flying daily patrols? Are they only taking off when they're called upon? If they had been in a situation like the Turkish pilots found themselves in today, what are the rules of engagement for the U.S. pilots?
COL. WARREN: So, the F-15s -- there are F-15s, as you know, in Turkey, conducting two different types of operations. Some are conducting ground attack operations against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Others are assisting the Turks with some of their combat air patrol duties.
None of the F-15s were in the vicinity of this incident when it took place. And so therefore, frankly, had nothing to do with it.
I'm not going to detail the rules of engagement for our F-15s. This is information that others would like to know and so we want to keep it to ourselves so that we don't get tested.
So yeah, so we do conduct patrolling. Obviously, it's a very large border and F-15s can't be all -- everywhere all at once.
You know, incidents like this, you know, with the Russians happen relatively rapidly -- you know, incursion, contact, and then, you know, the actual incident itself. So there were no F-15s in the area, no American personnel in the area, no American equipment in the area.
This was purely an action that took place between the Russians and the Turks.
Q: Would the agreement -- the understanding with the Russians in the skies over Syria and the communications now that have been set up with the Russians -- would that apply to the border of Turkey if U.S. warplanes were flying there?
COL. WARREN: The agreement that's set up applies to CJTF operations, right? So if -- if the F-15s that are helping with the Turks, which belong to U.S. European Command and are not associated with CJTF. So, there are some lines there. So, I think that answers the question.
Q: Colonel Warren, on the planes still, did you not -- isn't it -- is it true that you would have seen it, even though you weren't there, you did track it on your radars? You were able to observe through radar the Russian flight? And given that, do you believe in fact it was in Turkish airspace?
COL. WARREN: Well, certainly we have radars and other acquisition capabilities in place. And we are able to -- to track all of the aircraft in those areas. We're still gathering all of the facts and looking at all of the details. As you know, in some of these -- some of the more remote regions and in a mountainous area, and at 30,000 feet or whatever the altitude is, it's often difficult to know exactly where a border is.
So I don't have a good answer for you yet. We're still kind of analyzing all of our data to determine exactly what we -- (inaudible). You know, often you look at a map and on our overlays, you know, there will be a line there to indicate, you know, here's where the border is, but, you know, the thickness of that line can -- can make a difference. And of course, does in this case.
So, the incident happened at the border. That much I can tell you. But beyond that, we're still trying to collect and sift through all the data.
Q: You said you have an ability to track all aircraft in the region. So in fact, correct that you tracked this Russian flight on your radars and would have also tracked the Turkish F-16s coming up? Is that correct?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, that's correct. We've got situational awareness in the skies, you know, completely.
Q: Steve, Jim Miklaszewski.
You said that the U.S. didn't see the incident. But what did the U.S. hear? The Turks are claiming that they issued 10 warnings to the Russian aircraft within a five-minute period. Does the U.S. confirm that? You said 'at the border.' It sounds like it could have been on either side of the border at any moment as it was flying through that narrow stretch of Turkey that descends down into Syria.
And has the U.S. been able to confirm that one of the Russian airmen was killed? And was the other one rescued by Russian helicopters? Does the U.S. know that?
COL. WARREN: We don't know the status of the two downed Russian pilots. Again, we've -- obviously, we've observed local media, social media, et cetera. But we -- we do not -- we're not in a position to confirm one way or another. We just don't know.
And again, back to, you know, relative locations of aircraft and things like that, we need a little time to work all of that out. So, you've just got to give us a little time to analyze these things. It's not -- you know, these things aren't as clean as they are in the movies where you've going to see where everything is. I mean, it's -- it's just data that has to be collected and sorted through so we know exact locations of things. So, we need some time for that. We just don't have it yet. It's just simply not information that we have.
On -- on radio, right, I mean, yeah, we were able to hear everything that was going on. Obviously, you know, these are on open channels. I'm sure there's others who heard it all as well.
Q: Can you confirm that there were 10 warnings issued by the Turkish pilots to the Russian pilots? And the Turks claim the Russians did not respond. Can you confirm that?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, I can confirm that. Yes.
Q: Hey, Steve.
Is the feeling of the U.S. military that the Russians were deliberately in Turkish airspace? Or that they're, you know, routinely buzzing this area to be -- to stir things up? And is this the third time that the Russian aircraft would have breached Turkish airspace? Or has there been additional ones that have not been yet reported?
COL. WARREN: Unfortunately, I'm just not tracking at that level of detail. I'm really not. Again, let me go back to my earlier statement. This is -- this is Turkey and Russia. This is their incident. Our focus is on ISIL.
Q: Right. But earlier in the year, Secretary Carter was pretty forward in terms of his feeling on -- on Russian jets buzzing Turkish airspace. It seems like they -- the Russians knew what was at stake if they continued to do this.
COL. WARREN: Are you asking me if I knew what the Russians knew?
Q: I'm asking you what the feeling is in terms of the U.S. military and Russia's actions in terms of routinely going into Turkish airspace.
COL. WARREN: Yeah, the U.S. military's feeling is our mission is to fight ISIL in Syria and Iraq. At least that's the feeling here in CJTF. That's what we're focusing on.
Q: Colonel, hi.
You said that the F-15s that a patrolling on the Turkish border are not included in the MOU with the Russians. And they are operating under the European Command, rather than this JCTF (sic). What would happen if it were the -- the U.S. aircraft intercepting Russian jets crossing the Turkish border? Would the reaction be the same? Or -- yeah.
COL. WARREN: You'd have to ask EUCOM. Those -- those aircraft when they're conducting that mission are not under our control here at the CJTF.
Q: Do you have concern that the Russian's aircraft will continue to cross the Turkish border, at the same time endangering the United States aircraft patrolling in that area?
COL. WARREN: So, we are concerned when the Russians are conducting any activities that aren't focused on ISIL. You know, the Russians have made claims of -- of destroying 500 trucks that we don't believe they actually destroyed. They have said very publicly that their goal is to fight ISIL. Their actions, however, haven't shown anything like that. Only a fraction of their attacks have been against ISIL targets. There are no ISIL targets in that area where all this happened anyway.
So, we are concerned when the Russians don't do what they say they're going to do. The Russians have said that they're here to fight terrorism, but the Russians have routinely now demonstrated that their goal is to, you know, prop up and prolong the Assad regime. That's what they're doing.
A majority of their strikes have been strikes that are a direct benefit to the Assad regime. And it's the Assad regime, really, in our view, that's the problem here. And it's the Assad regime that has brought suffering and -- and misery to the Syrian people, which in turn has -- has led to the growth of ISIL itself. It's the whole reason we're here.
Q: Steve, I have three questions for you about Russia. Two of them are actually the things I think you wanted to talk about. One of them might not be. And I'll give you all three questions. You can just barrel through them.
One is you've said twice now that Russia exaggerated the effects of this attack on the fuel trucks, claiming 500. Can you give us an idea of the order of magnitude of that exaggeration? How many fuel trucks do you think were actually destroyed by Russian aircraft?
Second question, you've talked again about the -- the imprecision of the Russian airstrikes and the capacity for civilian casualties. Some human rights groups have recently put out some numbers in the hundreds of civilian casualties. Do you have any sort of way to quantify the number of civilian casualties caused by Russian airstrikes?
And my last question, if you're writing these down, is you mentioned that at 30,000 feet, at this area, it's not always easy to know where you are. So are there any alternative procedures that could be used in an air incursion like this, such as, for instance, escorting a plane out of the airspace as opposed to taking the action of shooting it down?
COL. WARREN: On how exaggerated are the Russian claims regarding these trucks, you know, we didn't go through the effort to count -- to do a detailed battle damage assessment. What we did was we saw the -- the video that the Russians put out. And by looking at that video, you know, unless the Russians are counting, you know, flattened tires and chipped paint, it's simply impossible that they -- they were able to destroy 500 trucks -- particularly using the imprecise and, you know, dumb bombs, dumb munitions that they used.
They simply don't have -- you saw on our video, right, that light that was coming down, the I.R. target designator on one of those videos, which helps. The Russians aren't using any of that. They are just using old-fashioned, mid-20th century technology and accuracy to sling lead around the battlefield. And so there's no way that they were able to destroy 500 trucks.
My guess is it's probably on an order of magnitude of an exaggeration. So, you know, under 100 I would -- I would posit.
Civ cas, you know, what we've seen is -- is possibly upwards of 1,000 civilian casualties caused by the Russians. Now, this isn't our count. I want to caveat that. This is counts that we've observed from -- from third parties, from nongovernmental organizations. But -- but we think those counts are probably fairly accurate, including over 100 kids.
So again, this is -- this is sloppy military work. This is the reckless and irresponsible, imprecise and frankly uncaring approach to operations in Syria that the Russians have taken on.
Third, there's certainly -- there's all range of alternatives that are available to aircraft in the air. Escorting is one. I mean, there's a whole range of intercepting and things that can be done. But again, it's -- it's really -- I mean, this is, broadly speaking.
Obviously, this is a matter -- is a decision that got made. It's really a matter for the Turks to talk about.
Q: Colonel Warren, more on the planes.
Based on what you saw on the radar, did the fighter come up from Latakia? And as you were watching it, where in the region did this incident actually take place? Is it something where Syrian Kurds that the U.S. has worked with are known to be operating, or any of the members of the Syrian Arab coalition? And if so, does the U.S. have any obligation to protect those ground forces if Russia returns for some sort of retaliatory strike?
COL. WARREN: You know, we've seen the Russians already strike forces that are, you know, moderate Syrian opposition forces. You know, we've seen them do this and it goes, again, it flies directly in the face of what they said they would do, right? They have said that they are here to help fight ISIL. And in fact, they're here, you know, striking moderate Syrian opposition groups.
We've made our position clear on -- on our obligations to protect the -- the groups that we've, you know, touched directly, the ones that we've trained. And that hasn't changed.
But -- but, you know, there is no -- you know, there weren't any of our kind of partnered forces, the new Syrian forces, the 100 or so that we've trained and in-filled back are not in that -- are not where this all happened.
Q: Any additional specifics on where it happened and whether you watched the plane on radar come -- where it came from, basically?
COL. WARREN: Well, of course, yeah. We know exactly where it came from. And the Russians -- (inaudible) -- I think has already announced that, right? It came out of Latakia -- or Latakia, and it -- the incident happened in Hatay province.
Q: Colonel Warren, it's Lucas.
If a country's territorial airspace extends 12 miles from its border, shouldn't the Russian aircraft have avoided going in to that buffer zone?
(inaudible) that buffer zone?
COL. WARREN: Well, all aircraft should respect the sovereignty of -- of nations around them. Absolutely.
Q: It shouldn't be a matter of just a plane flying next to Turkey's border. It should have avoided 12 nautical miles, shouldn't it, as protocol has established?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, the international protocols and standards and norms are very well established, very well known by all players. And absolutely, everyone should -- should work -- you know, all nations should work within those international norms. That's why we call then international norms because they're norms established for all nations internationally.
So, absolutely. You know, there's no reason for aircraft to be flying where they shouldn't, frankly.
Q: Did the Russian aircraft issue a mayday call?
COL. WARREN: Unknown.
Q: Jennifer Ladd. Hi, Steve.
I was just wondering if you could tell us what kind of aircraft were performing the strikes in the video that you showed us, and if they were American aircraft, or if you're able to say? The bridge and the fuel trucks?
COL. WARREN: Right. The fuel trucks strikes were -- in this case, it was all American strikes. It was A-10s and Spectre gunships. It was interesting. You know, there was two different kind of vantage points. There was also a UAV flying there. So some of those shots that were kind of zoomed out where you could see the entire target area, all the trucks lined up, sort of in the shape of a 'D' I guess it was -- that was from a UAV that was observing, you know, the full-motion video observation platform. And then it would switch to actual gun camera footage.
In some cases, I think you'd see a -- a bomb would have been from an A-10, and then when you saw the guns, you know, the machine gun fire, that could either have been A-10 or C-130 Spectre gunships.
The -- on the bridge strike, I'd have to go back and look. I -- I didn't check to see what type of aircraft delivered ammunition.
Q: Steve, hi. It's Paul Shinkman with U.S. News.
Again on the fuel tanker strikes, it looked like from the video that they were targeting specific trucks instead of targeting them en masse. There were many in a line, for example, and only one was targeted. Can you sort of talk about what the plan is with that? Is that a design to kind of send a message? Or is it meant to block other trucks from being able to move? Why only one when it seems like you could target all of them if you wanted to?
COL. WARREN: Well, they did target all of them. You know, the way they -- that's just a factor of kind of how the video comes out, the way we, you know, cut it, because otherwise it would be hours long. So we were just looking for the good shots that you'd like.
But yeah, so -- but they go through and they have -- again, because it's about precision, right? Again, it's not a movie where you kind of fly along and just strafe and, you know, the trucks blow up. No, it's -- you know, they struck each truck or groups of two or three trucks. There is -- it is a machine gun, so there is a certain area aspect to it, right? It -- you know, the gunfire isn't laser-guided. You know, ballistics will cause the bullets -- you know, the rounds to move a little bit in the air.
So it's individual; strike the truck or two or three trucks; move to the next batch; strike them; move, strike, move, strike. And so the goal was to destroy every truck there. They ran out of ammunition before they were able to do that, but the desire was to destroy every single truck there.
Q: How many trucks were actually destroyed in the end? Or a rough percentage of them?
COL. WARREN: Two-hundred-eighty-three destroyed in this -- in this attack; 116 in the first one, for a grand total of 499 trucks destroyed.
Q: Change of subject, if I could, Steve.
There are claims and accusations that information and intelligence being provided by U.S. military in Iraq is being changed, altered by officials at CENTCOM to make it appear that the U.S. military progress in Iraq is maybe better than it actually is. Are -- are any U.S. military commanders in Iraq -- do any of them believe that the information and intel they're providing to CENTCOM has been altered or misrepresented in any way?
COL. WARREN: Thanks for that, Jim.
You know, again, this is an ongoing investigation so we always have to moderate our words on this. But what I'll tell you is that, you know, commanders here rely on intelligence. This is very much an intelligence-driven operation. And we here have great faith in the intelligence professionals who support us here on the ground. They -- they provide very thorough, very thoughtful and very detailed intelligence products to us.
And I -- but you know, intelligence is not an exact science. There's judgments that have to be made on every single bit of intelligence that we receive, and intelligence that often comes in through different sources, and often two different sources will say two different things. And that has to be resolved. So it's important to remember that this is not an exact science.
But we here in Iraq rely heavily on the intelligence professionals who are with us, supporting us. And they're from all -- a wide variety of intelligence service from the U.S. Army, military intelligence through all the different services, and other agencies as well.
So, I think the commanders here -- I think I'm safe saying that the commanders here are -- are very comfortable with the intelligence that -- that they receive, you know, to support their operational decisions.
Q: The accusations are that this information coming out of Iraq has been manipulated by officials there at CENTCOM. Now, that's -- that's a heck of a lot different than judgment or a close call.
COL. WARREN: Yeah, obviously that's echelons, you know, above us here in Iraq. You know, I know the intelligence professionals here in Iraq who are collecting this intelligence and processing it at our level are great professionals and are faithfully moving that information up the chain of command.
What happens after that is exactly what the inspector general is looking at. So we need to let that play out.
Q: Yeah, hi, Colonel. Richard Sisk, military.com.
Colonel, if you could go back, please, to the -- what you started talking about at the beginning, about the -- the engineering and the effects against the VBIEDs down south in Iraq, you know, around Ramadi and all of that.
The Kurds earlier talked about -- they made effective use of the AT-4s and Milans that they got from the Germans against the VBIEDs. Have you been working the AT-4s around Ramadi and other areas there to stop the VBIEDs? Is there any thought to giving the -- the ISF TOWs?
COL. WARREN: Great question, Richard. Thank you for that.
The -- in fact, we just pushed -- we just did another push of AT-4s out to the Iraqi security forces in Ramadi here, just within the last few days. It was 250 or 500. I can't remember. But it's a very recent push out there.
So, the Iraqi security forces are -- are putting these weapons systems to great use. Additionally, their ability -- you know, they've learned how to identify these -- these truck bombs, these Frankentrucks, we sometimes call them, that the enemy will take a vehicle. They'll bolt on extra pieces of metal around it. They'll stuff it full of -- of explosives and they'll try to drive it into the flank of -- of ISF formation to create confusion, and panic and mayhem.
And early on, it was working. That was exactly what was happening. But the Iraqi security have adapted, right. As a combination of training and experience they've -- they've learned to recognize these trucks. They've learned to know how the enemy is employing them. And they've -- most importantly they've learned to counter them, both through intelligence collection and -- and through direct action, you know, obviously with these AT-4s.
So right now the AT-4 is -- is -- is what's needed, it's what's effective. Nothing -- nothing larger like a TOW missile really needed. So let's get those AT-4s out there and get them put to use.
I think this a great example of -- is one example, this VBIED piece, I -- I hope I didn't skip over it. I mean, this is a critical point. VBIED effectiveness is 5 percent. So that means 95 percent of the VBIEDs that ISIL's attempting to send against ISF forces are ineffective -- 95 percent ineffective. And that's because of several things.
One, because the ISF have gotten better about dealing with them. Two, because we have gotten better about finding them from the air as they're moving, and often we -- we -- we're able to strike them from the air. Three, we -- we've been very deliberate in our -- in our efforts to find and destroy their VBIED factories, alright. You've heard me talk about the idea of attacking their industrial base. We are -- we are going after their oil, which is a little more of a strategic, longer-term impacts, right. Taking out their oil today won't necessarily make something change tomorrow, but it will make something change down stream.
But hitting these VBIED factories, we are seeing an impact. There's fewer VBIEDs on the battle field. When they do come out, they're not as well made. Often they'll self-detonate before they're able to reach their target. They're softer for us, you know, so they're easier for us to kill, or for the ISF to kill.
And in fact, recently on these raids we saw several of them actually get stuck in the mud, and then while ISIL was trying to get them out of the mud they would detonate.
So this -- I mean, this -- often I get asked, you know, what's the impact?
We list the strike numbers -- you notice I didn't list total number of strikes today, and I did that for a reason because naked numbers don't tell a whole story. Some of it is -- is the down stream results.
And so, what have we seen? We've seen these VBIEDs effectiveness drop by, you know, by 95 percent -- or -- you know, 95 percent ineffective. You know, we've seen ISIL sending civilians out as an effort to try to bate the ISF so that they can shoot them. We've also seen some other things, like a reduction of the number of personnel sitting at check points. So that gives an indicator that maybe things aren't as good as they could be in --in ISIL land, because they can't get as many people out on they're -- on they're check points.
So we're starting to see changes in the ISIL operates every day on the ground here. IT doesn't mean this is over -- we're a long way from over. But what it does mean is that -- is that the ISF and this -- and this air campaign are, in our view, beginning to gain some traction. It goes back to that full, you know, operationalizing the entire battlefield so that there's pressure on multiple places at multiple times.
So, that was a long answer to your question, but hopefully it got there.
Q: Colonel, just -- just quickly, do the -- does the ISF have Milans, as well? In addition to the -- in addition to the AT-4s. Germans gave a bunch of Milans to the -- to the Kurds and Kurds say they've been very effective.
COL. WARREN: The Kurds have been effective. I'm -- I'm more of a fan of the AT-4s, personally, but they -- they do have some of the Milans. Most of them are up north with the Kurds, but some are down here with the ISF, as well.
CAPT. DAVIS: (off-mic)
Q: One more on the plane, Colonel Warren.
Does today's incident at all increase the chances that Syria would request the U.S. to help provide a no-fly zone? Does this show the need for it, or any of the potential challenges of it?
COL. WARREN: I think it's too soon to tell. I think we need to let this, you know, let us examine this a little bit more and draw some conclusions.
Q: Hey, Colonel. Luis here with ABC.
Going back to the Russian fuel strikes, the video that they released. You said that it looked like maybe they had destroyed 100 of these vehicles, which shows that, you know, they're still gathering a lot of these vehicles in areas inside Syria. Were these the same locations that were struck? Or is this ISIS using its capability, moving around at different stops where they can collect this fuel?
And given that you're similar -- striking similar targets now, has there been any additional use of that line, that contact line to de-conflict airspace over Syria?
COL. WARREN: So, on the Russian truck strikes, they -- they're same region, different location. So same general region. The oil wells are in Deir al-Zour, and so where there are the -- where the wells are, that's where the trucks are. So, it's notable the Russians started, you know, striking the trucks after we were so -- met with such stunning success. The Russians, I guess, felt like they had to try and get in on that.
There haven't -- not there hasn't -- we haven't -- right now, our -- again, you know, we have this line established, this communications channel that we've established through an MOU that was used. The Russians called up before they were about to do their cruise missile strikes. They called us to let us know that was going to happen.
There were no calls -- the Russians haven't called us about any of these truck strikes, or frankly, any other strikes. So, no.
Q: Okay, if I can get a follow on. I think the estimate is that there are 1,000 of these trucks that are involved in the illicit smuggling operation. If you do the math of what the -- what the U.S. has destroyed and what the Russians have destroyed, we're almost to half of that. Is that correct?
COL. WARREN: No. Your estimate is off and I -- I still submit that the -- the Russians haven't destroyed 500 trucks.
Q: No, it's 400 -- it's 399 when you add it U.S. You said that there were another 100 potentially that the Russians may have destroyed in that strike, where they claimed significantly more. But is the universe of these fuel tanks (sic) involved in smuggling operations 1,000? And if you add those two totals right now, does it mean that half of them have been destroyed?
COL. WARREN: I get it. My point is the answer is no, it does not. And I'm not going to tell you the total number of trucks that are out there, if that's what you're asking. But we've still got a long way to go on trucks.
Q: Colonel, Jeff Sullivan with VOA.
Just wanted to clarify a couple of things. With the VBIEDs, you said that they're down to 5 percent effectiveness. Can you talk about how effective they have been at the beginning? Was it 100? Was it 90 percent?
And with the fuel trucks that were -- that we saw in the strikes, were those full or empty? It looked there were some really big explosions, but there also looked like some there weren't very big explosions at all, and just debris flying.
And then finally, have you detected any change since the incident with Turkey and the Russian plane going down in the Russian flights in that area? Have they increased flights? Have they decreased flights? Can you say?
COL. WARREN: No change to the Russian flight activity in that area. The trucks, we believe, were empty because they were queued up in an area where it would make sense that they would go take on fuel. That said, you know, who knows if there were some that were half-full or whatever. But we believe that there was -- this was a place where empty trucks lived.
And then what was your first question again?
Q: On the VBIEDs, you said that they're down to about 5 percent effectiveness right now. At the -- when they started -- were first rolled out by the Islamic state, were they 100 percent effective? I mean, what type of percentage change are we looking at, if you can say?
COL. WARREN: Near 100 percent. Rarely in life is anything 100 percent effective, but they were near 100 percent effective early on, because we didn't know how to deal with them. Or the -- particularly the ISF didn't know how to deal with them. We would get lucky and get one once in a while, but it took a while for us to realize that, A, how they were using these things as a weapon; and then to figure out how we could counter them.
So they were near 100 percent effective. And again, now they're down to 5 percent.
Q: Gordon Lubold.
Just to clarify something, sorry if I missed it at the top. But using the MOU between the U.S. and Russia, there was no indication of this flight that we're talking about -- these flights that we're talking about today that was -- resulted in the one being shot down. Is that correct?
COL. WARREN: That's correct, Gordon. And that's not really how this works, you know, the -- using that MOU. Our discussions are more about, you know, is something coming up that we think might cause, you know, a situation where two sets of aircraft are attacking the same thing at the same time, right? So, we're not flying up in that area, so it didn't come up.
So, no, it didn't come up on any of our -- of our MOU discussions that we have with the Russians.
Q: Just a quick followup, Colonel.
Has there ever been a time where the Russians and the United States bombed the same target?
COL. WARREN: Not to my knowledge, no.
CAPT. DAVIS: Thank you, everybody. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Steve. Thank you for your service.
And thank you, everybody.
COL. WARREN: Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving to you guys, too. Look forward to seeing you next week.
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