U.S. Department of Defense
|Presenter: Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown Jr., commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command; Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook||February 18, 2016|
PETER COOK: Good morning, everybody.
I hope you're having a good day.
Thanks for being here for our latest senior leader counter-ISIL briefing. Today, we're pleased to have Lieutenant General Charles Brown. He's the commander of U.S. Air Force's Central Command and the Combined Forces Air Component commander for Operation Inherent Resolve.
He's joining us today from the coalition air operations center in Qatar. And he'll be able to provide us an update on the air campaign in Iraq and Syria. He's going to have an opening statement, then we'll open it up for some Q&A back here in the room.
And just as a reminder, he won't be able to see you all, so if you could identify yourselves and your news organization, that would be helpful -- help with getting questioners here.
And he also plans to play some video, which you'll be able to see here as well. And those videos will be accessible to you all after this briefing.
So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Lieutenant General Brown.
And sir, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES Q. BROWN JR.: Hey, no problem. Thank you, Peter, and good morning to everyone.
Let me go ahead and start with my opening statement, then I'll be prepared to take your questions.
First of all, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today, and on behalf of the men and women of the more than 60 nations who are dedicated and united as a coalition supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. As Peter said, I'm Lieutenant General C. Q. Brown, Jr. I'm the commander for U.S. Air Force's Central Command and the Combined Forces Air Component commander for CENTCOM.
As the CFACC, I'm responsible for developing contingency plans and conducting air operations for not only Operation Inherent Resolve, but for Central Command's 20-nation area of responsibility of covering Central and Southwest Asia. I'm extremely honored to lead and be a part of a 19-nation air coalition that is committed to defeating Daesh, while helping set the conditions for improved security and stability in the region.
Now, each coalition nation brings its own unique capability to the air campaign against Daesh, but it is the interoperability between our nations which is built upon years of combined training and multilateral exercises that's been key to our continued success in the air campaign.
There is no doubt coalition air power has and continues to dramatically degrade Daesh's ability to fight and conduct operations. The coalition's persistent air coverage continually exploits Daesh's weaknesses and we are more effective today than ever before. We're conducting the most precise air campaign in history and we're able to attrit Daesh and its capabilities anytime and anywhere.
As the coalition has garnered greater understanding of the enemy, our air power effects have evolved. It is clear that air power is a vital element in this fight. In fact, coalition airstrikes have been increasingly effective at targeting Daesh's critical capabilities. Now, over the past six months, we've seen the numbers of weapons released continue to exceed the campaign monthly average. And when matched with an increased understanding of Daesh, the coalition is able to strike more lucrative targets to great effect.
Logistics, command and control, and weapons manufacturing are areas where we've got increased success in targeting Daesh. In fact, we've had notable success in targeting Daesh's financial resources. Successful strikes on oil facilities and on monetary centers have resulted in Daesh cutting pay to their fighters and increased the amount of money available to conduct and fund their operations.
On February 13th, we targeted and destroyed five financial targets in the heart of Mosul. Let me show you a video that includes three of the five strikes.
Could you go ahead and please play the video?
GEN. BROWN: Okay. So this is a strike -- U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft that took out these financial targets in less than five minutes, using precision-guided munitions to minimize collateral damage and the risk to civilians.
These strikes on financial storage and distribution centers were conducted in order to disrupt Daesh's illicit financial operations. To date, the coalition has expended 519 weapons and conducted 119 strikes on these bulk cash sites, gas and oil separation plans, and crude oil collection points.
Okay. And another set of strikes that were just executed involved eight coalition nations. During this particular operation, the objective of the coalition airstrike was to restrict Daesh's movements throughout the Euphrates River Valley.
The coalition employs 77 precision-guided munitions, striking Daesh's command and control, logistics and sanctuary areas in Al-Qa'im, Iraq, and Albokamal, Syria, destroying all the intended targets. I'd now like to share a video from that operation that shows a coalition strike on a weapons storage facility. DVIDS, can you play this video, please?
Now, our U.K. and Saudi partners performed this particular strike. Here in a moment, when this video comes up, you'll see the weapon's impact just above the crosshairs. For this particular strike, there were four precision-guided munitions successfully destroying the weapons storage facility and limiting Daesh's ability to re-supply their fighters.
GEN. BROWN: Okay, thank you. Additionally, as you heard yesterday during the press briefing by Colonel Warren, we continue to support ground operations. The recent successes of the Iraqi security forces in clearing Ramadi comes after months of supporting ground forces with close air support.
Ramadi's not the only success, though. Airstrikes have been vital in partner force operations to take back Sinjar in northern Iraq and Hasakah and Tishrin Dam in Syria. Now we will continue our pressure on Daesh and we'll continue to go after these key targets. And as our intelligence on Daesh improves, each strike will have increasingly detrimental impacts on Daesh.
Persistent air power has halted Daesh, forcing them to change their tactics and enable partner forces to regain the initiative. We are making progress in the defeat of Daesh, Daesh leaders and fighters are disappearing in large numbers, and they fear air power. This is due to our operational reach and flexibility, our precision and lethality, and our constant presence and responsiveness.
We will continue delivering air power to destroy and eventually defeat Daesh. And with that, Peter, I'm ready to take questions.
MR. COOK: Thank you, sir. As a former broadcaster myself, I'm going to ask one favor, sir. If you could just slide your chair, if possible, a little bit to your left just so we could get a cleaner shot of you with the camera, that'd be great, and that'd be -- that's great, sir. Perfect. Much better. Broadcasters, everyone happy with that?
Let me begin here, beginning with Tony Capaccio here.
Q: This is Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News. Broad question. There's been a lot of campaign rhetoric around the country from a -- from Ted Cruz, the presidential candidate, on carpet-bombing ISIL. From your perspective, is that the accurate or is that the most correct way to view the use of air power against ISIL? If not, why not? I have a follow-up.
GEN. BROWN: Sure, Tony. Carpet-bombing is not effective for the operation we're actually executing because we're using precision-guided munitions on a regular basis. And, you know, Daesh doesn't actually mass itself where you could actually even use that kind of tactic, and that's a tactic that is really not effective for the fight we're actually executing today.
And so using the GPS-guided munitions, carpet-bombing does not -- is not effective enough, and on top of that, as you look at the, you know, law of armed conflict and us trying to minimize civilian casualties, carpet-bombing is just, in my opinion, not the way to go.
Q: Can I ask a follow-up? Has ISIL -- have ISIL personnel in recent months, have they actually presented targets that you could have carpet-bombed if you wanted to? I mean, is that a tactic –they've even been able to employ, those mass formations at night in the open?
GEN. BROWN: Not necessarily, because if you look at some of most -- a lot of our campaigns, they've been putting themselves in areas where there is population centers and you know, there are places in the open desert where they are out and about, but they don't mask.
So carpet bombing is not effective, and really, with the decision we do have, we can drop one or two munitions in an area and actually do the job well without having to do carpet bombing.
MR. COOK: Our next question, David Martin.
Q: David Martin with CBS. What communications have you had with the Russians about staying away from areas where U.S.-backed opposition forces are fighting on the ground in Syria?
GEN. BROWN: We have not had very specific conversations with the Russians, because -- you know, we do have an MOU with the Russians. The coalition does and it's really focused on air safety. And so we do know and they now understand where we fly and we understand where they fly, but we haven't had specific conversations about – at least at my level or with the folks I have here in the CAOC -- with the Russians on that topic.
Q: But you have not told them yet at your level that they should not attack targets located in such and such an area?
GEN. BROWN: Well, there are some areas we have talked to them about and that's really where we have some of our coalition forces, particularly as you look around at the northern Syria. So we have talked to them about that.
But when it comes to the other forces, we don't necessarily dive into those types of details, but they understand where we go in to operate and they have asked us. But we don't get into details with them about that.
MR. COOK: Courtney?
Q: Hi general. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Can you give us sort of a look ahead what you see is going to happen tomorrow when the cessation of hostilities is supposed to go into effect. How do you see that affecting your job in the air campaign?
GEN. BROWN: Well, if you go back to the discussion on the cessation of hostilities. It does not stop operations against Daesh or ISIL. So we will continue to go after Daesh and ISIL. And we will also tell you though, the areas where -- if you look at where most of the humanitarian aid's going, those areas, we're not operating in, when you talk about Aleppo and the like.
And that's -- we're not striking in that area yet. We have not struck in that area and we have no intention really to fly in that area, because that's not where Daesh is. So, from our perspective, it doesn't impact us.
Q: Could I ask one other on northern Syria. There have been -- I think it's four or five days in a row now that the -- Turkey has shelled some Kurds in northern Syria and then there was the attack in Ankara which the Turks are blaming on the Syrian Kurds.
But have you -- has the U.S. or the coalition been asked to support the Syrian Kurds in any way from the air? Has there been any efforts to back them up or to provide any air power for them recently?
GEN. BROWN: Well, I mean, when you look at the Syrian Kurds and you look at the Syrian Democratic Forces, there are Syrian Kurds, but there are also Syrian Arabs and Syrian Christians as part of the Syrian Democratic Force that we support.
In this particular case, the folks we are supporting are the folks that are fighting against ISIL. And so there is air support for Syrian Kurds but under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Force.
MR. COOK: Tom.
Q: General, Tom Bowman with NPR. I wonder if you can talk a bit about Mosul. I know there have been a number of air strikes up there over the past weeks and months.
Talk about what your ISR is picking up up there, as far as defensive measures on the part of ISIS, possible number of fighters. The challenges it would – it'd take, to take back that city, from what you're seeing through ISR.
And also, there's more talk about creating a no-fly zone up in Northern Syria. Angela Merkel has been talking about it.
Just talk in broad terms about the challenges of setting up a no-fly zone.
GEN. BROWN: Okay. Let me take your first question.
For Mosul, and you know, what we end up seeing around not only Mosul, but other locations throughout Iraq and Syria, is that Daesh tends to put up either T-walls or does burming to (inaudible) defensive positions.
In places like Mosul, though, what they do is they wrap themselves inside the populations there by -- you know, where they operate. And I will tell you that, you know, some of our strikes there, most recently in the bank strikes -- we had bank strikes, you know, just this past weekend and two in January, really in downtown Mosul to be, and -- I think we surprised Daesh, because we're able to do very precise weaponeering in order to strike and then also minimize civilian casualty.
So, I think that has been effective.
To go to your second question on the no-fly zone. You know, when I look at a no-fly zone, you've got to be willing to do a couple of things. You have got to be willing to shoot somebody down to execute a no-fly zone. And you know, that would dramatically escalate the situation we already have, because it's already complex as it is.
The other piece that I look at is if we do a no-fly zone, we take much of our air power to enforce a no-fly zone, and that air power is no longer focused on defeating Daesh. And so, it comes at a cost. And so, that's why in my personal opinion, a no-fly zone will be difficult to do, and it takes away from our, you know, my priority mission I've been given to do.
Q: But I mean, you clearly have more aircraft in the Air Force and the Marines as well. Couldn't it -- couldn't it possibly be done?
I mean, if your commander-in-chiefs came today and said, 'I want you to start a no-fly zone,' what would you say?
GEN. BROWN: Well, I will tell you, we plan for all types of contingencies, and we have looked at this. And if -- you know, I can provide the options in my opinion, and provide my best military advice.
So, I will tell you, you know, I was here before as the deputy at AFCENT. So, I know this long history of talking about no-fly zones in Syria.
So, I've done -- we've done a number of planning efforts. And so, I understand what it takes in order to do that. And if we got told to do it, that's exactly what we'd end up doing, we'll execute.
MR. COOK: Before we go on to the next question again, keeping my eye out to the broadcasters, if you could push back about three inches, we would just get a cleaner -- cleaner shot of you. So, if you would just push back, away from the -- perfect, yes.
That's great. All right. You're welcome. Broadcasters out there -- Tom.
Q: Hi, sir. Thomas Gibbons for the Washington Post.
Two questions. The first one is about your combat search and rescue capabilities, and kind of what that looks like in Syria and Iraq. From what I understand, I mean, obviously, you have aircraft over large pieces of ground that don't have any U.S. ground presence.
You have the ability to receive pilots in a timely manner if they were shot down over Syria. I understand that your pair of rescue men are sometimes staging on the ground in Syria with their helicopters.
Can you confirm that?
GEN. BROWN: Well, with our CSAR -- our CSAR capability, we have CSAR both based in Turkey,and we also have CSAR that's operating out of Iraq.
And we're able to cover -- well, actually, out of Kuwait as well, and supporting the personnel recovery assets. And so, we are able to go out and we posture ourselves from a notification timeline to be prepared to go, and we do missions that when we think we have a higher risk, we posture a bit more. We don't necessarily -- there are risks about where we put our PR assets.
And I won't get into details about where we put them, but we do move them around based on what's going on.
Q: When you say 'move them around,' and you say 'posturing,' that means putting air crews, you know, forward, you now, on the ground and not looking for exact locations, but just kind of a visual of what that looks like.
GEN. BROWN: Well, we can do a number of things. We can either, you know, move them from the base that they're at to another forward location. We can decrease their response time from going from several hours to, you know, a matter of, you know, a shorter time, you know. Or we can have them airborne at the time; get them closer to where things go on. So there's a number of things we do to actually increase our posture to be more responsive.
Q: General, Barbara Starr from CNN. Thank you for bearing with us on the camera shots. We're having some difficulty in seeing you clearly, so we appreciate it.
I wanted to ask you about the humanitarian relief operations that are now starting with the NGOs, the U.N. and other aid organizations. The U.N.'s indicated the World Food Program will begin air drops over (inaudible) in the coming days, if not sooner. Are you thinking, contemplating putting some aerial reconnaissance in that region or any region so you -- where this aid relief is coming -- so you can keep an eye out for the safety of the humanitarian relief effort?
GEN. BROWN: Well, Barbara, we've not been asked to do that. But, you know, we have the capability to do it if asked to do so. But right now, I've not been tasked to do anything like that.
Q: –I understand that point, sure, you haven't been asked, but because this is such a crisis humanitarian situation, are you offering any options to do it? Do you -- and you have certain flexibility as the commander within the theater, so do you think it's a good idea? Do you -- are you offering the option to suggest to anybody that you do it?
GEN. BROWN: Well, you know, we offered a number of options. But in this particular case, you know, we have not had direct discussions about it. We know it's coming, or the humanitarian aid is. We've heard about the air drops and we've heard about some of the things that are going on.
So, you know, I and my staff think about it, but right now, we haven't been asked to offer any support.
Q: To follow up on a related -- on a different question, you mentioned the airstrikes in central Mosul. And we haven't really heard anything in several weeks about striking any high-value targets.
What's your assessment of the impact of airstrikes on the so-called high-value targets? Are they -- what are you -- are they hiding in plain sight? Why haven't you in several weeks, frankly –been able to get to any of these people?
GEN. BROWN: Well, you know, every one of these high-value targets, they take time to build out, and, you know, having done this business for a while, it's not one of those where you can flip the switch and -- and go after high-value targets. So it really depends on the high-value target itself and how they present themselves.
And so it does take time and it's -- you know, sometimes it's based on the environment and how they react to things. There are peaks and valleys as we go after high-value targets, and that's just the way our business is.
MR. COOK: Tara?
Q: Hi, general. Tara Copp with Stars and Stripes. Noticed recently that the bombers weren't in the mix in the airstrikes against the OIR targets., Could you talk about -- are the B-1s still out there deployed or did they rotate out? And then I have a couple of other questions.
GEN. BROWN: No, the B-1s are rotated out, so they're not here right now, they've gone back to do some upgrades. And we fully expected that; we knew that was coming. And we actually have, you know, plenty of capacity with other platforms. You know, the B-1 is just one of many platforms that we use in order to execute the air campaign.
Q: So with them not being in the mix, have you lost any of the air power you're able to carry on to a target?
GEN. BROWN: Well, we lose maybe a little flexibility. I mean, the B-1 is a workhorse. I -- you know, I actually had a chance to fly here back in January over Ramadi, and the fact that it can carry as many weapons as it can and stay airborne as long as it can, it does provide a great capability.
But we're able to cover that with other, you know, U.S. and coalition capabilities, and that's kind of part of our plan, again, because we knew this was coming, and so we've, you know, postured ourselves appropriately to be prepared for gaps from different platforms to fill those in either with coalition or U.S. capabilities.
Q: (off-mic.) a date where they return to the mix? Or is this a long-term absence?
GEN. BROWN: No, they will return to the mix in -- like I said, they're going to back for an upgrade, they're upgrading their cockpit. I heard all about it when I had a chance to fly with them, to get it a little more modern. So, you know, they will be back, I fully expect it.
Q: Thank you.
MR. COOK: Move over here? Yes, Joe.
Q: General Brown, this is Joe Tabet with al-Hurra. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has released a statement this morning, saying that 38 Syrians were killed by -- in U.S.-led strikes in Hasakah in the last two days, 38 people. Are you aware of that? Could you -- could you confirm that?
GEN. BROWN: I have been made aware of the potential civilian casualties that have happened at Hasakah. And like we do for every potential civilian casualty, we go through an assessment in -- to assess the credibility. At the same time as we're doing that, we look for ways that we -- you know, we're always trying to mitigate any civilian casualties, but now that we know about it or get the -- an allegation of civilian casualties, we'll go through an assessment process and eventually an investigation if required.
MR. COOK: Lucas?
Q: General Brown, Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News. Once again, the Russian Foreign Ministry says that the Russians did not bomb the hospital in Syria. Are they right?
GEN. BROWN: Well, I'll tell you, if the Russians didn't -- you know, there's only two people that were flying in that area, the Russians and the Syrians, because we don't fly there. And if I was putting money on it, because the Russians are flying much more than the Syrians, it's probably the Russians. But I don't have a -- you know, direct intel to tell me it was the Russians, but I can guarantee it wasn't the coalition.
MR. COOK: Yeah.
Q: Sir, Otto Kreisher with Seapower Magazine.
You mentioned the number of nations in our coalition. There's been some questions back here members of Congress have asked is what contribution our allies are actually making in the air campaign. Could you give us a kind of a breakdown on what share of the airstrikes or other sorties that our coalition members are making. And from a Navy perspective, what is the contribution of the Navy now we have a carrier packet in the area?
GEN. BROWN: Right. So, from a coalition perspective when you look at, you know, the bulk of the air products being provided -- is provided by the U.S. But we look at, from a strike perspective, about 80 percent of the strikes are done by the U.S. and it ebbs and flows for the Navy based on when the carriers' here. And so the carriers here right now so they are also part of the mix.
And like I said, the strike that happened near Mosul over the weekend was -- F-18s off the carriers that were part of that strike package. Now, we also get capabilities from the rest of our coalition partners in different forms and fashion.
And whether it be ISR or tanker support or other ways that we use the coalition partners. So, when I look at it and I've done some analysis here recently. You know, over time what we've seen is our increased -- as some other members of the coalition have come in, what we've started to see is an increase in their strike capability, their ISR capability and their tanking capability.
So, the percentage numbers that the U.S. is doing versus what the coalition is doing. Smaller U.S. and a little bit more coalition. And every one of the coalition members actually brings great capability. And not only, you know, in the air, but as we talk about intel and sharing information, I find that personally, of great value.
MR. COOK: Kristina?
Q: Hi, General Brown. This is Kristina Wong from The Hill.
What would the coalition's role be in monitoring the cessation of hostilities. And practically, how would you be able to tell whether Russia's targeting -- Russia or the Syrian regime is targeting ISIS and al Nusra versus moderate opposition rebels in Syria?
GEN. BROWN: Well, we don't have a specific role or guidance to track the cessation of hostilities. But, you know, we actually kind of pay attention to what the Russians are doing on a regular basis through intel means.
So, through intel means, we'll be able to tell, you know, where they're flying, where they might be employing ordnance and have a pretty, you know, at least an idea. We won't be able to verify one way or another, but we will be able to tell, through intel, kind of where they're flying and where they maybe employing ordnance or not employed ordnance.
MR. COOK: Yes. Kevin.
Q: Sir, hi. Kevin Baron from Defense One.
To go back to the coalition air strike, can you tell me, before this Brussels meeting and the counter-ISIL -- of the counter-ISIL countries, what did -- what types of capabilities did you want to receive from the new countries coming with new pledges? What did you get or what are you hoping to get. Specifically, the Arab countries, Saudi, Gulf, in that world?
GEN. BROWN: All right. So, you know, from an air power standpoint, the things that I -- I've got plenty of strike capability and capacity and personnel recovery is one of the other areas that you know, I'd be interested in. But also additional, you know, ISR.
And with that ISR, you know, the processing and exploitation and dissemination. So it's not just the ISR, it's the intel backbone with that to actually do the analysis. So those are the key areas that for me personally I've asked for.
What I have seen is different partner formations in some cases have increased their capabilities as far as where they strike. And in some nations, like the Dutch for example, just recently voted to start striking in Syria, so that adds a little more flexibility.
I've been traveling here in the region and talked to some of our Gulf partners and they indicated that they're going to continue to increase their contributions in shared time based on the operation, during Yemen.
Matter of fact, the strike, the video I had showed you, and talked about (inaudible), the second video, now that strike happened here just a couple of days ago, and both Jordan and Saudi Arabia were part of that strike package.
MR. COOK: There are a couple more here.
Q: Thank you, sir. General, it's Andrew Tilghman with Military Times.
Back to your -- the communication -- that you and others have had with the Russians. Did I understand you correctly that you have basically notified the Russians of where the U.S. special operations troops are operating in Northeastern Syria, and have asked them to keep that area off limits to their strikes?
And also, have you extended any kind of requests like that to include allies, you know, non-American local ground forces that we're supporting? Like, third piece of that is, what would you have offered them in exchanged if you had asked them to not be striking in this particular area where our guys are operating?
Is there anywhere that they have asked you to return the favor, in a sense?
GEN. BROWN: So, the areas we've actually identified are areas we do have coalition SOF and (inaudible). So, it's not specific areas, but certainly broad areas to maintain a level of safety for our forces that are on the ground.
Even before we did that, the Russians have actually outlined some areas -- some of the airfields that they're worried about, that they don't want us flying close to, and really, typically, we don't fly there anyway. So, that hasn't been an issue.
They have actually come to us and -- they've asked a lot of things of us, not specifically in, you know, areas not to fly or drop. But you know, really looking for information more so than anything else to understand our operations. And that's not something I'm willing to share, because of our own OPSEC reasons, and I want to make sure that we minimize the risk to our crews.
Q: Represent kind of an extension of the original MOU that you signed with them back in October, that sort of not just creating these radio frequencies for deconflicting the actual aircraft, but extending that to areas like no-go zones on the ground?
GEN. BROWN: Well, I will tell you, we end up becoming a conduit for this. And so, we're not the -- all of this is outside of the MOU. And so, that's the challenge that we have with some of this, because we're probably -- one of the few areas we're able to pass information back and forth. And some of that stuff, you know, either Russian request or coalition request actually go up through diplomatic channels, versus coming through us.
But we may be the first -- you know, first indication there's a request coming. And that's the way that has played out, you know, back and forth with the Russians over the course that we have been making -- having these phone calls with them, since -- you know, since the MOU was signed.
Q: Yes, sir. Brian Everstine, with Air Force magazine.
Thanks for taking the time; we look forward to seeing you speak next week.
I had a question about how the air war has evolved. Earlier on, when operations started in Syria, General Carlisle said he wouldn't want to send his air strike package into Syria without an F-22 quarterbacking that group.
Is that how things are still operating? Are F-22s still deployed in support of the coalition?
GEN. BROWN: Yeah. So, we're still using F-22s to operate the -- really, across both Iraq and Syria to conduct strikes.
You know, we have a -- you know, I think our access in Turkey has actually given us some additional capability to be able to strike up into Syria, as well as getting our personnel recovery forces posture in to Turkey has actually given -- for me, personally, it actually decreases some of our risk, because we have our P.R. forces a little bit closer together.
But we are using the F-22, but the -- we're also using a lot of other platforms and capabilities from across the coalition to execute in Syria and in Iraq.
Q: Thank you.
Sir, this is Nancy Youssef from the Daily Beast.
I wanted to ask two questions. One, if you could clarify your comments on what happened in Hasakah with the allegations of civilian casualties. Can you tell us if there were coalition strikes in that area at the time that this accusation was made? And if so, what was the target?
And then I have one other question.
GEN. BROWN: Okay. I don't know the exact time of the allegation. I do know that we've been striking in that area over the past several days. And so, one of the things we do as part of our credibility assessment is to, you know, get the information, figure out the time of when -- invocation, and then we try to now go back and take a look at what we were doing at the same time, and validate that we were actually executing in that timeframe. And then that will lead us down a path to see if it's a credible allegation and –follow up with an investigation.
And so I, you know, I -- at this point, because we're just now becoming aware of it, we'll start that whole process for the credibility assessment. We do that for every single one of these if there's an allegation of some sort of a civilian casualty.
Q: I wanted to follow up on your comments on Aleppo. If I heard you correctly, you said one of the reasons you're not focusing on Aleppo is because ISIS is not there. And you also spoke about the communications that's happening between the coalition and Russia.
And I was wondering if you could help us understand what responsibility does the U.S. military and the coalition writ large feel to those local forces on the ground who have received funding and weapons and support from the coalition, who are now coming under attack from Russia? Is there any talk of doing something defensively on their behalf?
I'm having a hard time understanding what -- what those forces who have worked with the United States and the coalition should expect in the face of this relentless attack by the Russians over the past week in Aleppo.
GEN. BROWN: Well, the forces that we are supporting are really north of Aleppo, you know, up around the Mari Line in the Manbij Pocket. So, and that's the folks that we're supporting and we're doing strikes in their support against -- their fight against Daesh. And, you know, I will say it's very complicated in northwest Syria, and it's gotten more complicated as time has gone on.
But really, our focus is to support them in their fight against Daesh. And we don't see them as really those forces actually fighting towards the regime or towards the Russians. And so really our focus and support of them is in their fight against Daesh.
Q: General Brown, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News again. I just want to make sure I understand your answer to Andrew Tilghman's question about the conversations with the Russians.
So just to be clear, you're saying that the United States has notified the Russians of where U.S. special forces are in Syria in broad regions? And when did that happen? Did you notify them prior to the –SOF guys going in or after?
And then, do you have any kind of -- of specific assurances from them that they're not going to -- I mean, you won't tell the American people where the special operators are in Syria for security reasons, but you're telling the Russians, the people who we've spent weeks listening to how the Russians are supporting Assad and how they're -- they're destroying the situation on the ground there for the coalition, essentially. But you've told them where there are U.S. special forces operating right now.
So do you have any assurances that they're not going to provide that information to ISIS or to leak that information or --
GEN. BROWN: Well, I mean, you know, I don't have any assurances, really, from the Russians.
But we've told them these are areas that we have coalition forces in, you know, in general areas where we have coalition forces, that we don't want them to strike there. Because all it's going to do is escalate things. And I don't think the Russians want to escalate against the coalition. And that was pretty evident to me when the MOU was signed, because they were very concerned about safety of flight, just like I was, that we don't run aircraft together.
And so, it's really just to maintain the safety for our forces that are both in the air, and in this case, on the ground.
Q: By chance, did you inform the Russians prior to the SOF guys going in, or did they -- did you inform them after they arrived?
GEN. BROWN: You know, I don't remember the exact date or time frame associated, but it was all kind of real close together.
Q: Was it actually the –CAOC? Who was it that informed the Russians that they were there, and -- on -- I mean, I guess on what authority? Because there was a while here where we were asking the question over and over, whether the Russians would be informed of where the U.S. troops were in Syria.
And we were never -- we never got a satisfactory answer that they would be. So, it seems to be the first time someone is confirming that for us. So, on whose authority was that notification made to the Russians?
GEN. BROWN: That was done during a higher level challenge, not through us.
I mean, we knew about it. And you know -- so, it wasn't necessarily through the CAOC. It was done, you know, through diplomatic channels, the way I understand it.
Q: Thank you very much.
MR. COOK: General Brown, thank you very much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. And we look forward to having you back here in the briefing room. And again, thanks very much.
GEN. BROWN: Well, and thank you, everybody. I appreciate it. Sorry I kept moving around. It's kind of -- with the delays, it's kind of tough to figure out where I'm supposed to sit and the audio issues we had as we got started.
But again, appreciate your questions, and I look forward to do this in the future.
MR. COOK: Can I clarify that? Actually, I would like to amplify that.
The Memorandum of Understanding covers flight safety. They're -- as you can imagine with regard to special operators, when the decision was made to put special operators into Syria, there was a formal request made. Geographic areas, specifically, not pinpoint locations, to protect the safety of our people.
This was a decision made, a request made out of an abundance of safety for our operators on the ground. And this was done, again -- geographical areas writ large, not specific locations and not times.
Q: The provinces as opposed to cities?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into the details, but this was --
Q: You seem to be avoiding (inaudible) -- we have been told all along that they -- the U.S. guys were going to be in the north, in Northern Syria. And the Russians are not avoiding Northern Syria --
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get -- I'm not going to get into details, other than to say, that there was an effort made to protect the safety of our people from the risk of Russian airstrikes. And that those steps were taken, and those, so far, have been honored.
And so, again, I'm not going to discuss locations, but in broad geographic terms, that step was taken.
Q: Well, why weren't we told about it earlier?
MR. COOK: We are protecting the safety of U.S. troops in harm's way, and taking every step we can, maintaining operational security and --
Q: So, why was it -- we weren't informed that the Russians were told about the broad geographic areas to stay away from?
MR. COOK: This is something that we're -- was done, again, out of an abundance of caution -- yeah.
Q: Yeah, I agree with that. Why weren't we told, because we've been asking about it, I guess, right?
Q: Was it just in the past couple of days --
MR. COOK: I'm not going to give you the exact timeline, but I'm not aware of a question that has come to me on this -- on this topic specifically, since this decision was made.
Q: Is that part of any kind of larger discussion in terms of other things that -- things that we would do to provide safety for their forces, or was that just a unilateral request made --
MR. COOK: This was a unilateral request.
Q: So, it's outside the MOU, that's what he just said.
MR. COOK: Correct.
Q: So when you talk about, it was the MOU, then that would --
MR. COOK: The MOU deals with flight safety specifically, but there's also, as you know, in these conversations over the MOU, there is a line of communication that is maintained with the Russians to maintain flight safety and so, I just want to convey to you that this was done out of an abundance of safety for our special operations.
Q: So there was a catalyst? Was there a close call or something and that's why?
MR. COOK: No, this was done --
Q: So why not do this in the beginning if the MOU was signed several months ago?
MR. COOK: The MOU deals specifically with flight safety issues and that's the limits of the MOU. And this was done outside the MOU, close -- again, to maintain the safety of our special operators and I would think that people would encourage us to take every step we can to maintain the safety.
Q: When was it done? Which -- was it during the time of the MOU or?
MR. COOK: This is -- since the decision was made to put special operators into Syria, that the decision was made to --
Q: Before they went in or after they went in?
MR. COOK: It was done. I'm not going to give you the time line, but it was done in a way --
Q: But if you can't look at the time line how could you --
MR. COOK: I'm going to tell you, it was done in a way to maintain the safety and the operational security of their operations. So I'm not going to tell you when and where they went in and that's not what we provided to the Russians as well.
Q: Well, who did it? Was it Kerry? Was it -- who did it?
MR. COOK: It was done between the Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Q: So what other off the book stuff have we done with the Russians outside of the MOU?
MR. COOK: I'm explaining. This is -- I'm explaining specifically this one instance. Other than that, our military-to-military communications with the Russians have been regarding flight safety.
Q: Was it done by Secretary Carter?
MR. COOK: Secretary Carter was aware of this and so --
Q: Can we say who did it?
MR. COOK: I can just assure you that we've had negotiation here at the highest levels of the Department of Defense to maintain the safety --
MR. COOK: -- the secretary was aware of this and again, it was done to maintain the safety of our special operators on the ground.
Q: Is it in writing? Is this -- like the MOU was a proper document? Is this, like the arrangement that you're talking about in writing?
MR. COOK: I'm just going to share with you the details that I am right now, that this request was made of the Russians and up to this point, they have honored this request.
GEN. BROWN: And we have maintained that --
Q: Are you going to say whether this is in writing or not?
GEN. BROWN: I'm not going to get into the details of it.
Q: Peter, how is this not cooperating with the Russians, because when we asked him how --
MR. COOK: This is a request on our part to the Russians.
Q: And then, how is this not cooperating with the Russians? I mean, that was the answer we were giving before, that we weren't cooperating with the Russians and that's why we weren't asking them to not target certain areas.
MR. COOK: These are our special operators on the ground. We have made every -- made clear to you all that we're going to do everything we can to maintain the safety of these troops as I think the American people would expect.
This was a step we took to try and maintain their safety in a dangerous situation. And again, this was a request that we made of the Russians outside of the scope of the MOU and they have honored it up to this point.
Q: Just to be clear, does this include an area of operation for the special operators as well as their support base?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into the details Tom, but this is a --
Q: You told the Russians, you can't tell us?
MR. COOK (?): I'm going to tell you that -- what I just told you. Was we provided a geographical area that we asked them to stay out of because of the risk to U.S. forces.
Q: So the general just said that the Russians had asked for a variety of things from us, correct? Have we projected all of those or are you just not talking about it?
MR. COOK: We have a memorandum of understanding in place with the Russians and that is -- constitutes our cooperation with the Russians on a military-to-military basis.
Q: He seemed to indicate to us – I'll look back at the tape. But he seemed to indicate in this discussion that the Russians have asked about, well we have air fields here. We'd like you to stay away from there and other things. Is that --
Q: Doesn't sound like it would be part of the MOU. That would also be something that was --
MR. COOK: Correct. That's correct. We have a line of communications, as you know. We've had secure video conferences with the Russians in which we talked about the terms of the MOU specifically. And there have been requests made by the Russians that we have not been willing to agree to. And again, we've made this one particular request, so.
Q: (inaudible) -- the U.S. honoring any requests the --
MR. COOK: We are honoring the terms -- we are honoring the terms of the memorandum of understanding.
Q: And is the U.S. honoring any other requests that the Russians have made outside the MOU?
MR. COOK: David, I'll go back to what I've said from the start. The terms of our agreement, military-to-military agreement with Russia is within the boundaries of the MOU. And that's where it stands at this point.
Q: So the request that was made of the Russians to stay away from these geographic areas, did that also include U.S.-backed groups?
MR. COOK: This is a specific request for geographical area with regard to U.S. troops specifically.
So, I've got time for -- I'll take two more, and then I've got to run.
Q: So, the Russians have explicitly agreed to stay away from these areas, even though the U.S. did not then honor their, I guess, counter-request?
MR. COOK: We have made -- we have made a request in this instance. And they have honored that request. And I'll leave it at that.
Q: A couple of weeks ago, you issued a statement talking about how there was a new video conference that had occurred as part of this MOU. Were some of these topics that we're just talking about now raised during that video conference? And going back to Andy's question, the -- the Russian airfields that we've been told to, you know, not -- to be aware of, does that include Hasakah, this new facility that the Russians in the northeast have been said to be working on as well?
MR. COOK: First of all, again, the secure video conferences, there have been several at this point. And I'm not going to get into the details of each and every one of those conferences. Again, we've conveyed this particular request and it's been honored up to this point.
And in terms of the airfield, again, I'll refer back to what General Brown said, but we are -- I'm not sure exactly which specifically what airfields he's referring to, but we're not flying in those areas where the Russians are operating most significantly. So I don't think it's been an issue.
Q: One clarification, Peter.
MR. COOK: Yes?
Q: So, we have the MOU which deals with flight safety.
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: And we have this one request about the SOF guys on the ground. There is nothing else outside of the MOU and the SOF guys that has been requested or honored or honored or requested back and forth? That's what you're saying?
MR. COOK: There have been, again, the MOU frames our agreement with the Russians. That's correct.
Q: On flight safety.
MR. COOK: On flight safety.
Q: Then we have the SOF guys, which is this thing outside of the MOU, and you're saying those are the only two things in play here. There's been no other request that you're not talking to or talking about or anything else outside of those two things?
MR. COOK: I'm detailing to you the MOU and the specific instance with regard to safety of our special operators. And there's nothing else, again, that goes beyond those two things. And that's the limit of our -- the MOU is the limit of our cooperation with the Russians on a military-to-military basis.
And I'll mention again this one instance in which we've asked for the safety of our special operators, the geographical area we asked them, again as part of the air campaign, to not engage in that particular geographical area. And that's for the safety of our special operators and we think it's a reasonable request to maintain, again, make sure that these folks in harm's way are as protected as they possibly can be.
And we think it was a reasonable request to make.
Thanks, everybody. I've got to run.
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