UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


U.S. Department of Defense
Press Operations
News Transcript

Presenter: Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman February 17, 2016

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

CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning, everybody. Apologies for the delay.

We did want to let you know that tomorrow we expect to have Lieutenant General Brown, our Air Force Central Command's commander, doing a brief here at 1100 via DVIDS as well.

Pleased to be joined today by Colonel Steve Warren.

Steve, this will be your last brief via video for a couple of weeks, but we're glad -- look forward to seeing you in person in very short order. But good morning and welcome to you, and hope everything is okay there.

COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Thanks, Jeff. Good morning.

We just completed an unannounced drill, so sorry for the delay.

So -- but I'll jump right in. I've got some prepared remarks here, so let me get started.

Good morning, Pentagon press corps. As we've witnessed over the last week, the situation in Syria remains volatile. But let's be clear, the human suffering on the ground is a result of the Assad regime's brutal dictatorship. The Russian intervention has only strengthened his position and worsened the situation there.

This week we all saw the reports of continued indiscriminate bombing by Russian and regime forces, and even the use of barrel bombs. We also saw the reports of two hospitals and a school in northern Syria being struck. This reckless disregard for civilian casualties only complicates the situation and prolongs human suffering.

Moving on to the operational update. In Ramadi, the removal of IEDs and other hazards continues. Police and security forces are going back through the city to begin making it safe for civilians to return.

Roads which were previously unsafe are now open and Iraqi engineers are repairing the Albueta Bridge. Opening this bridge along the Euphrates will facilitate additional military and eventual civilian traffic into the city.

Near Fallujah, the ISF continue operations along the Tharthar Canal. These operations have been supported by 11 CJTF strikes this week. Further north, Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga continue to hold their defensive positions, the ISF between Baiji and Tikrit and the Peshmerga near Sinjar.

The coalition has conducted 29 airstrikes in Mosul since last Wednesday, applying significant pressure against ISIL finances and other targets. And that's the end of my brief opening comments this morning, and with that, we'll go straight to questions. Bob or Lita, I guess we'll start with you.

Q: Good morning, Colonel Warren. Thanks. A couple of quick questions. You referred to Russian indiscriminate bombing and you then later refer to reckless actions and you mentioned the hospital, are you associating those two things by -- are you saying the Russians were responsible for that particular attack?

And also can I ask you separately, you made a brief allusion to striking Islamic State financial targets. Can you give us an update on the degree of financial distress that you think that that is causing, and is it having any effect on their fighting capability?

COL. WARREN: Sure. In Syria, we know the Russians conducted -- the Russians and the Syrian regime, frankly -- conducted strikes in the areas where those hospitals and schools were hit. Whether it was Russian strikes or Syrian regime strikes is unclear, but they both conducted strikes in that area. And, of course, those structures were damaged or destroyed. It's important to note that there were no coalition strikes in that area. In fact, there have been no coalition strikes in Aleppo this year, in 2016.

On the financial targets, yeah, in fact, we recently struck some more financial targets over the weekend. We hit several more what we'd like to call Daesh cash collection areas. This is areas where ISIL will collect its cash holdings for eventual distribution either to pay salaries or to, you know, finance other military or terrorist operations. So that brings us to a total of 10 cash strikes that we've conducted.

Additionally as you know, we've had a long-running campaign called Operation Tidal Wave II, which focuses on oil targets, oil infrastructure, oil capability, oil production, oil transportation. So all of these various targeting of their industrial base or their ability to generate revenue has had an impact. We've seen reports both in Open Source and through other sources of ISIL having to reduce its salaries to its -- to its fighters, in some cases by as much as half. So they're, you know, cutting peoples' salaries, cutting wages.

So, I mean, this to us is one fairly significant indicator that the -- these strikes against their ability to generate revenue is beginning to squeeze them a little bit. And we're going to continue to do that. You know, it's going to -- gets into our broader approach, which is to strike against their fielded forces to degrade their ability to fight today, to strike their leadership -- various leadership targets, which of course, degrades and hampers and reduces their ability to command and control their own forces.

It also, we believe, sows paranoia within the organization. After every leadership strike, we have a tendency to see an uptick in executions. For example, so it creates hate and discontent within side -- within the ranks.

And then, finally, the third leg is this industrial base, which we look at more as really body blows, right? Like a shot to the gut, which may not knock you out today, but over time begins to weaken your knees and cause you to not be able to function the way you'd like to.

So we believe we are having some noticeable effects. Bob.

Q: Michael or -- well, I have a question related to PYD. Yesterday, the Syrian (inaudible) told press in New York that quote, 'The Syrian Kurds, supported by the American administration are also supported by the Syrian government.'

And he had the victories achieved in the northern part of Syrian by Syrian army and Syrian Kurds are the victory of the Syrian government and all Syrians.

First of all, isn't weird a little bit that a U.S.-backed group is also supported by Assad regime, which you call a brutal dictatorship. And also, you say your focus is on ISIL.

That's okay, we understand that, but are you also concerned that a partner that you are supporting to fight Daesh is also up to some other political enemy (inaudible), which in fact doesn't have anything to do with the fight against ISIL?

COL. WARREN: Well, I didn't catch who made this comment in New York. I missed the name that you've said. But you know, I don't know if we've seen any evidence to indicate that the Afrin Kurds are working with the regime.

What we've seen is the Afrin Kurds are moving a little bit to the east. Really, we believe in an effort to block the regime from moving north.

Tom, if you could pull up the second map there, the Aleppo situation map, we can take a look at it. I think it's notable. So, what you've got here -- and you know, we've found this map as an FOI, found on the Internet. But we believe it is a good representation of the situation on the ground there.

I wouldn't normally get one of our maps declassified quickly enough, the situation is changing so rapidly. But this kind of gives you a picture of what the situation looks like that we generally agree with. You'll see there, kind of off to the right-hand side of your map, you'll see the purple area, which is ISIL controlled.

And towards the center, you see kind of the orange area. That's opposition force controlled territory. The orange part is really what we've been referring to as the Afrin gap. And off to the left in the yellow, and you have the -- what we're referring to as the Afrin Kurds. This is area controlled by the Afrin Kurds.

Down towards the bottom of your map, you see in green an area that's controlled by the regime. And so you had is two weeks ago, the regime kind of closed off that green portion down there. There was a little bit of green off to the left, there was a little bit of green off to the right.

Well, two weeks ago, the regime was able to close that gap. So it created a contiguous area of regime control just north of Aleppo. Aleppo is just off the map to the bottom there. So, when that happened, what we believe is that the -- then the Syrian, or the Afrin Kurds, off to the left there in the yellow, began moving from west to east in an effort to prevent the regime forces from being able to push any further north.

And so, about a week and a half ago, you can see that -- and there's no label on it, but there's a road that runs along kind of the left hand portion of the map there, a road running north-south. It's in white.

Two weeks ago, the Syrian Kurds, the Afrin Kurds were west of that road, they were to the left of that road. As you can see the progress that they've made, moving to the right of your map there from west to east, to the point now where even they've actually come into contact with ISIL, in the purple. You can see that one little spot where yellow meets purple.

So, that's kind of what has developed here over the last several days. Yes, we are concerned that forces that we're working with to focus on Daesh or focused on other things, but we certainly understand it. You know, this is a civil war.

There's a civil war going on in Syria, right now. Civil wars are messy, civil wars are complicated, civil wars have friction. Civil wars have confusion, and that's what we see playing out here.

Q: And -- and just a follow up, is there any other places on the map you can show where the PYD -- or the YPG forces are fighting ISIS, but for that line that you show in -- around, inside Afrin gap?

COL. WARREN: Well, and this is only a small piece. I guess, Tom, if you can flip to the opener map, which I don't have here for some reason. I'll just look at it on the screen.

So, that opener map there, you can see where green, throughout Syria, that is a combination of Syrian Kurds and -- the Syrian-Arab Coalition, the SAC, we call them.

So, that green area, kind in the upper left hand corner of your map there, bordered on the left -- or the west by the Euphrates River, and bordered on the right by the Iraq-Syria border. All of that stretch of green there is area controlled by a kind a combination of Kurds, who, for example, retook Kobani a year ago or more, and the SAC, the Syrian-Arab Coalition.

And so, all that green-shaded area there represents territory lost by ISIL since the beginning, since August of 2014. So, all along -- and then, of course in brown, you see areas controlled by ISIL.

So, everywhere, where green meets brown, along the northern stretch of that map, that's where -- you know, forces that we are working with are battling ISIL.

Q: Seeing that the YPG forces getting to -- (inaudible), and then move toward Azaz, where the two places that are a strong hold of the U.S.-backed opposition groups, how would you consider this?

You know, as -- groups supported by you is taking on another group that you also support?

COL. WARREN: Yeah, we want them to stop fighting each other and start fighting Daesh.

Q: Thanks, Colonel Warren. Glad to hear that you'll be getting a break soon.

I have a couple of questions. One, could you give us an update on the status of the Mosul Dam? We've seen reports recently that it might be in danger, and endanger millions of Iraqis.

And the second, any additional information you could provide on the three contractors who were freed over the last couple of days?

Thank you.

COL. WARREN: Sure. Well, we're grateful that those three contractors were freed. Of course, we're thankful for the help that we got from the Iraqi government to make that happen. This was really a -- this was a matter that was handled kind of in diplomatic circles. The CJTF didn't have anything to do with it.

Now, on the dam, kind of the same. The CJTF doesn't have anything to do with the Mosul dam. This is something that, you know, that the Iraqi government and that, you know, Iraqi engineers -- and I know that they're working with some civilian -- some foreign civilian companies to get a contract in place to -- to shore that dam up.

Q: So there are no, I guess, CJTF forces helping protect it or keep it from failing?

COL. WARREN: No, not at this point.

Q: One other follow-up on the cash strikes. Do you have an estimate as to how much money in general has been taken out of ISIS's hands through these cash strikes?

COL. WARREN: We don't have a hard number that we're prepared to release. We know it's in the -- we believe it's in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So it's -- it's a significant amount of cash that we believe was in those various collection points before we struck them.

Obviously, it's impossible to burn up every single bill. So presumably they were able to collect a little bit of it back. But we believe it was a significant series of strikes that have put a real dent in their wallet.

Q: And he didn't answer the three American question.

CAPT. DAVIS: Did you have anything more to say on the three American contractors?

COL. WARREN: Sure, on the three Americans, all I have is that, you know, we're very grateful for the help that we got -- that the Iraqi government gave in securing their release. But we, the CJTF, had absolutely nothing to do with it, frankly, other than just observational. This was something that was handled really by the Iraqi government and I'm sure there were some other American government, U.S. government agencies participating, but none of them were the CJTF.

Q: Colonel Warren, could you just go back over this sort of emerging development that the groups the U.S. is backing now some appear to be diverted to other agendas, fighting each other, fighting the regime? Could you just sort of summarize where that stands right now and what your concerns about it are?

COL. WARREN: Well, so, you know, if we -- let's pull up the Aleppo map again, please. Tom?

So, what we see is, you know, the -- the city of Mari obviously is threatened now by the regime. Right? So the city of Mari is almost dead center on your map there. And you see where the regime runs -- you know, the regime border there is -- is in green.

So what we're beginning to see is the moderate Syrian opposition, the MSOs as we call them, the rebel fighters, if you will, in orange there beginning to position themselves southward to counter the threat, the perceived threat, of regime forces pushing north. So in other words, we're seeing this re-positioning at this point, and so that is a little bit of a concern for us because it bleeds combat power off the Mara Line.

So the Mara Line is the area where orange meets purple, kind of, again, in the center of your map beginning at Mara and moving north to the Turkish border. That's the Mara Line. And so what -- you know, because of this new threat to the south, we see some re-positioning of forces, movement of combat power off the Mara Line south to face this threat to their southern flank.

So it's perfectly understandable, obviously, if they feel threatened, they're going to want to act, but so that's our concern that it is -- it's thinning the line there in Mara Line.

Q: If I could just follow up on a couple of points, what's the sort of strategic impact on that tactical piece of the battlefield? In other words, with this bleeding, with this moving south, what does that do to -- if you take power off the Mara Line, what's the impact of that?

And you now have, by all accounts from what you're saying, troops that you are supporting with weapons, supplies, assistance, training, now fighting the regime. So U.S. proxies are now fighting the Assad regime. Would that be correct?

COL. WARREN: Well, I don't know that there's been any contact yet, or no significant contact. Again, because you see that the Afrin Kurds are still in a position in between the regime and the moderate Syrian opposition. So there has yet to be released, at least in this spot, any real contact.

But certainly, you know, time will tell what happens in the future, and obviously, you know, the purpose of the train-and-equip mission is to fight ISIL. That's the purpose. But at the end of the day, we're not there on the ground to force people to do anything.

Strategic significance of the Mara Line, thus far, there's been no significant impact. There's enough combat power remaining on the Mara Line supported by coalition airpower that the enemy has not -- ISIL has not had an opportunity to take advantage of it. Again, we'll see what the future holds. Certainly, we want the Mara Line to be held. That, we believe, is important both to us and, frankly, to the Turks as well. So we want the Mara Line to hold -- yeah, we want the Mara Line to hold.

CAPT. DAVIS: (off-mic.)

Q: Thanks a lot for this, Colonel, for this update. On the Mara Line, there are some press reports suggesting that the Kurds are negotiating with -- now with U.S.-backed forces in Mara Line to take over the city. Are you confirming the reports?

COL. WARREN: No, I can't confirm those reports. You know, obviously, tactically, you know, again, we don't have people there on the ground, so local -- at the local tactical level, what's happening is -- you know, has to kind of develop before we see it.

But again, you know, what we want to see is these two sets of forces, the Afrin Kurds in the west and the moderate Syrian opposition forces in the center, what we want to see is them come together and -- and fight ISIL. That's what we want to see, that's certainly what we're encouraging through whatever communications channels we're able to establish.

Q: That -- (inaudible) -- the advance of the Kurds are -- is productive to counter ISIL efforts in the area to unite with the U.S. backed forces in the area and does advance to cut the regime to -- (inaudible) -- north? Is it -- is productive in terms of the counter-ISIL efforts?

COL. WARREN: You'll have to ask me that again. I'm sorry, I missed almost all of it.

Q: As you know, the Turkish military is shelling –- artillery shelling -- against the Kurdish targets in the area because of this Kurdish advance, but as far as I understand from your comment, this advance -- the Kurdish advance from -- often toward the east, which is cutting the route of the regime toward north, is helping the ISIL -- anti-ISIL efforts in the area. Am I correct?

COL. WARREN: Well, it really is de-linked from the counter-ISIL efforts, right? What they've done is -- is cut the regime's ability or they've blocked the regime from being able to -- to progress north. Doesn't really have a whole lot to do with the counter-ISIL fight, it has everything to do with the -- the threat that -- that these forces collectively see from -- from the regime forces.

Q: Just one last follow-up. There are also press reports suggesting that this -- some U.S.-backed group in the area, like 101st Brigade or 16th Division, are united under the umbrella of -- (inaudible) -- leader. Is that correct to fight again especially the Kurdish forces in the area? And the second thing, are you ready to support Kurdish forces who reach to ISIL from just below the Mara Line from there?

COL. WARREN: On the first part of your question, that's the first I've heard of that, so I can't confirm it. On the second part of your question, as forces are -- are battling ISIL, we will certainly consider whether or not we can provide airpower to support them. Right now, our airpower is focused on vetted Syrian opposition and some with moderate Syrian opposition. We've not yet taken strikes in support of the -- of these -- this group of Afrin Kurds, but it's certainly something to consider.

Q: Warren, this is Joe Tabet. If -- (inaudible) -- just to follow up on what -- what you are saying right now, if we -- if we take a broad look at the map, how likely -- do you know how -- how likely do you believe that the Syrian -- the regime forces are capable of to take control of the whole Aleppo area?

COL. WARREN: Well, I mean, that remains to be seen. It's difficult to know at this point. They've obviously had some considerable success because of the support they receive from the -- from Russian airpower. I mean, that's indisputable. So their focus right now is more than likely more on Aleppo City. I think that's probably a strategic objective for this enemy, or really for the regime, I guess, probably a strategic objective for the regime forces. Whether or not they intend to move further north, you know, that's something really that remains to be seen.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next to (inaudible).

Q: Hi, colonel. It's (inaudible).

I wanted -- could we go back to Iraq for a moment? That we got a report late last week that as many as 700 Iraqi soldiers had arrived at this northern base called Makhmour, began training for retaking Mosul.

Can you give us any details on that? Are there American trainers at this base? How many? And will more Americans be flowing into that region as more Iraqi brigades arrive?

COL. WARREN: Sure. There's a lot going on in Makhmour, that's where one of our operations centers is located. So there are American advise and assist capabilities there.

Additionally, there, -- that's where the 15th Iraqi division has set up -- established their headquarters there Makhmour where they will kind of begin the process of generating the combat power that's necessary to you know, progress this campaign with an eventual goal of Mosul.

Yes, Mosul's far down the road, but you know, that's going to become an area that really kind of directs I think, the battle going forward and through then on.

Q: Can you tell us how many Americans are in the area and if more will be coming?

COL. WARREN: Cammie, I don't have a number and I probably wouldn't give it to you any ways. So, we do have forces there, both force protection, capabilities as well as advise and assist capabilities. And I'll leave it there.

Q: Do you know if not more will be headed there as more brigades arrive?

COL. WARREN: Well, again, I don't want to telegraph our punches, so, you know, we've got a certain number of American and coalition trainers, advisers and assisters here in Iraq now. You know, we'll see what happens in the future.

Q: One more follow up. This training, is this -- will this be done sort of rotationally? Will Iraqi forces arrive and then head out again, or will they stay up there until it's time to retake Mosul?

COL. WARREN: They will cycle through. They won't, they won't stay there, I don't think, for very long. The primary training sites, by the way, are really Taji and Besmaya.

So up in Makhmour is really more combat power generation process. We'll do some final training and rehearsals and things like that. But the real training focus is in Baiji and Tikrit, or Baiji and Taji, sorry.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next is Andrew Tilghman.

Q: Hi, Colonel. It's Andrew Tilghman.

First I wanted to --

COL. WARREN: Sorry, did you say something?

Q: As you get on -- (inaudible), Tigris Valley corridor --

CAPT. DAVIS: Steve, we can't hear you.

COL. WARREN: Just a second ago, I said -- sorry. The delay is fighting us.

A minute ago, what I said was the training sites are in Besmaya is what I meant to say. Training is Besmaya and Taji. I think I accidently said training is in Baiji. It's not. It's in Besmaya.

Sorry, go ahead, Andrew.

Q: Yes, as you move your focus over towards the Tigris River and thinking about Mosul, that's an area we've associated more with the -- the militia organizations.

I'm wondering, has anything really changed since, for example, Tikrit last year in terms of your plans for working with those groups or not with those groups? Is there any discussion of maybe some of those militia groups taking part in the training? Is there any -- is there any change in the policy of not wanting to work with them at all and sort of differentiating between the two types of militias that you will and you won't work with?

COL. WARREN: Well, so, I mean, our focus is on the Iraqi security forces, right? I mean, that's who we work with. We work with the Iraqi security forces. Now, there are pieces of the PMF, for example, you know, the Sunni tribal fighters who enroll in the popular mobilization force program who, of course, we're going to work with.

So, but really, all of it's channeled and funneled and focused through the ministry of defense, right? I mean, the end question is whoever is working directly under the control of the ministry of defense, that's who we'll support. So I think that's kind of been our policy all along. That will continue to be our policy.

Q: Could I ask you about Syria also? You mentioned that you want these groups that are -- that the U.S. is supporting that are either potentially fighting each other or fighting the regime forces, and you want them to -- to turn their attention to ISIS. But is there any -- what can you do given the situation now that you don't have anybody on the ground? Is there anything that you can do in terms of offering military support or withdrawing military support? Or making phone calls to pressure them?

What -- what can you offer Baghdad do -- to try to make that happen?

COL. WARREN: Yeah, so, from here and Baghdad, really the focus is, you know, through our interlocutors in -- the SDF, right -- the Syrian Democratic Forces. You know, we're talking to them and laying out what's best in our view for them as well. And -- and really continue to just, you know, convince them that focusing on Daesh really is in their best interests.

And, you know, we've seen success there. Just today, we're seeing efforts to seize Shaddadi, which is a city, a small town, I guess, just south of Alhal (inaudible), kind of near the Iraqi-Syrian border. So this is a fairly significant operation that the Syrian-Arab coalition has launched to push into Shaddadi, which is going to really provide significant added pressure on to Raqqah. And this operation is planned and staged and prepared for and now executed with advice from this coalition and with the support of air power from this coalition.

So that's -- that's really the mechanism that we use.

CAPT. DAVIS: John, right? Okay.

Q: Colonel Warren, John Hines, One America News.

Thank you for your information.

I just wanted to ask you about these cash collection stations. How do you identify those? And how do you know that its cash -- cash is being exchanged? What does that look like? I'm trying to get an idea of what this looks like and how you figure out that's what's going on. I don't know how you do that.

COL. WARREN: Yeah. I can't get into much detail on how we figure it out. It's using various intelligence techniques.

We know about the success, though, afterwards. In fact, we showed a video several weeks ago of a strike against one of these sites, and you could -- you could see the actual bills kind of fluttering out of the sky after the -- after the building was struck. So, you know, we use all of the sources of intelligence that we have available to us to determine where these targets should be, as we do with any target.

I mean, target tiering is intelligence driven, right? You receive intelligence, you develop the target, you refine the target, you strike the target. And so this is simply another target and -- so we use the same process as with any target. And then, of course, afterwards, we're able to use overhead, various, you know, UAVs, drones et cetera to observe the target area and see what happened.

Q: And I had a follow-up. Just -- so these are -- these are strikes from the air, airstrikes. Is that correct?

COL. WARREN: These are all airstrikes. That's correct.

Q: That must be some pretty good intelligence, though, if you -- if you have an idea of what's going on, I mean, in that detail, that granular detail.


Q: Hey Steve, it's Lus. Three quick questions, please. You referred to the cash Daesh, you've upped your estimate now. You used to say tens of millions, now you're saying hundreds of millions. Can you give us a little ballpark figure? Is it in the low hundreds of millions or in the high hundreds of millions?

COL. WARREN: It is in the hundreds of millions, Luis. I'm not -- I'm not going to go much past there. I -- yeah. I'm just going to stay there. Hundreds of millions. That's a good -- that's a good number.

Q: I anticipated that answer. So the next question, General MacFarland, he's -- how is his assessment going of potential force increases for more training or trainers for advise-and-assist? Has that begun? Where is that -- where is that in the process right now?

COL. WARREN: Right. So we're continuing that. You know, General MacFarland will -- and the staff here will create what we believe are the additional capabilities that we need, you know, for the fight, for the future fight. And we're going to -- we're going to give those to CENTCOM, U.S. Central Command, and we'll let them have a look at them and they'll process them, run those recommendations through their staffing process and then it'll move along the chain of command from there.

So we're fairly far along on it. I believe that no matter what happens, all of these things have to get worked concurrently, if you will, through the government of Iraq, right? We've been very clear that we're not going to bring additional forces here without the government of Iraq's approval, so we're going to have to work these things on two parallel tracks. But we're moving right along.

Q: And last one has to do back with Syria. Last August, there were American airstrikes in support of those vetted democratic -- you know, the moderate rebels, the new Syrian forces. Have there been any airstrikes in support of them since then, and defensively?

COL. WARREN: Well sure. I mean, we strike along the Mara Line almost daily. You know, I mean, there's -- yeah, there's been, you know, fairly steady fighting along the Mara Line -- and I'm pointing at my map here, sorry -- along that area of orange and purple on the Aleppo map. You know, as those forces come in contact with the -- with ISIL, you know, we're there to provide them the airpower that they need.

Q: That -- I guess that's more tactical, but I'm talking about in -- back in August, they were in danger of being overrun, that's why you launched those kinds of airstrikes. Have there been any similar episodes since then where facing, you know, that kind of a situation?

COL. WARREN: No, not really. I mean, there's -- you know, along that Mara Line, you know, there's been -- there's been a real steady back-and-forth, right? The MSOs will seize a town or a village and then, you know, ISIL will counter attack and take it back. And then a week later, it'll go back. So there are several -- along that line there, there's been villages and towns changing hands, you know, fairly frequently.

It's -- you know, it's a fairly static line, so movements along that line are really minuscule, you know, a matter of a town, a few hundred meters, a kilometer at the most, and that's just been ongoing like that, you know, really for months, if not a -- if not a full year. And, you know, we're going to continue to support those guys as they continue to keep this pressure on the enemy.

But as far as, you know, they are -- what you're talking about in August, that was -- I mean, that was really a -- that was kind of a one-off right? That was a -- that was a force that we had trained, right, we -- under the old Syria train-and-equip program. We had trained some fighters, infiltrated them back into Syria; I'm trying to recall the details. And then -- and then there was a fight that dusted up with al-Nusra and then we provided airpower to support our newly trained, vetted Syrian opposition who at that point had been integrated with a larger unit, and this whole unit was under attack from al-Nusra and it was a tough fight and a, you know, at the time very significant fight. And we did provide airpower there in support of those.

I'm not aware of any other cases of that happening since then. I can't think of any other situations where that's happened.

Q: Thanks.

CAPT. DAVIS: Anybody else? Quick follow-ups from Barbara.

Q: Can we go back to Russia? So Russia, of course, has publicly denied that it had anything to do with either -- with the hospital strike types, I believe also the school, but at least they've publicly denied the hospital strikes. You have pointed out that the U.S. had no planes, no aircraft near that area at all.

As we're now perhaps just over 48 hours from the cease-fire supposed to be going into effect, one, do you see any evidence of the Russians even getting ready to support the cease-fire? What is the pace of their bombing activity? And what is the pace of their public candor about their activities?

COL. WARREN: Well, their bombing has continued apace. We've not seen a lessening of the intensity. If anything it's increased. In fact, we saw some shorter range ballistic missiles fired off in the last couple of days, three of them, again, landing in this area. So there has been no lessening of the intensity of the Russian and the regime air campaign.

We saw continued use of, you know, these barrel bombs that cause tremendous damage, and most of that damage indiscriminate. We've seen, you know, continued use of just regular tactical aircraft. So there has been no noticeable decrease.

But again, this is only aircraft, right, so all you have to do is not fly that day and you can stop. So I don't know that there's really -- we won't see any notable preparation for the temporary cessation of hostilities, which is what this is. Cease-fire and temporary cessation of hostilities, I've learned, are terms of art and have different meanings. So -- so there. No -- no -- no diminishing of their -- of their -- their campaign.

As far as their public candor, you know, all I can tell you is -- is what actually happened. What actually happened is that Russian regime aircraft conducted strikes in those areas and those hospitals were hit. Unclear to us whether -- if it was a Russian aircraft, Syrian aircraft or a Russian missile or a Syrian missile. That -- that part is, at this point, a little bit unclear to us.

But what we do know is that there were strikes in the area and we know that hospitals were hit. So that's what we know.

CAPT. DAVIS: (off-mic.)

Q: Steve -- (inaudible). I just wanted a clarification. You mentioned when you were talking about the -- the Russian airstrikes, cessation of hostilities, you mentioned barrel bombs. You're not saying that the Russians are dropping barrel bombs, are you? Or are you?

COL. WARREN: No, I'm not. The barrel bombs came out of the back of Syrian helicopters.

Q: Just to clarify, since --

COL. WARREN: It happened on some of our overhead. There's no question.

Q: And just to clarify, since you've now determined the difference between cease-fire and cessation of hostilities, is there any evidence that there has so far been a cessation of hostilities?

COL. WARREN: At this point, there has been no cessation of hostilities from -- from our perspective, no.

CAPT. DAVIS: (inaudible) -- quick.

Q: Yes, just -- just this one. Colonel, do you have any indication or evidence that the Assad regime is targeting the Kurdish -- Afrin Kurds as the regime is moving northward?

COL. WARREN: Evidence that the Assad regime is targeting Afrin Kurds. Well, I mean, their -- their lines have -- (inaudible). I don't know that we've seen -- I think we have seen some kind of low-level, I think one of those barrel bomb strikes executed -- conducted by the Syrian regime, you know, a Syrian helicopter, was against Afrin Kurds. But it's been limited.

CAPT. DAVIS: Quickly, please.

Q: Colonel, is there any indication that the Afrin Kurds are cooperating with the Russians?

COL. WARREN: Well, you know, it's difficult to tell from here. Like I said, we -- we did see, you know, a strike against the -- the Afrin Kurds in recent days, so certainly, that's not cooperative. So it's really difficult to tell.

CAPT. DAVIS: Thank you, everybody. Steve, thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you in person in the coming days.

COL. WARREN: Thanks, guys. I'll see you next week. Take care.


Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list