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Presenter: Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve April 26, 2016

Remarks by General MacFarland in a Media Availability in Baghdad, Iraq


Presenter: Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve

April 18, 2016

Remarks by General MacFarland in a Media Availability in Baghdad, Iraq

Q: General, can you just give us a better sense about the advisers, where they're going to go and how they're going to be used?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL SEAN MACFARLAND: So the advisers are going to be doing largely what we've been doing all along, which is providing the kind of military advice and access to enablers that help our partners on the ground against the enemy.

So access to coalition fires and logistic support, things of that nature are typically what the advisers provide.

Q: But they'll be closer to the fight, at this point how close and what are your concerns about safety?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Yes. Not necessarily closer to the fight, closer to the commanders who are making the critical decisions on the ground. The operation around Mosul is going to be of a slightly different character than the operations around Ramadi.

And Ramadi was what we call a non-contiguous battlefield. And we were operating out of bases, forward operating bases like Taqaddum and Al Asad. And the Iraqi security forces headquarters are all located in that -- those facilities which were largely surrounded by enemy-held territory and received occasional indirect fire as a result.

Well, now it's more of a linear type of an operation, more contiguous and therefore those headquarters are pushed out of those bases and in order to continue to provide the kind of assistance that we have been providing, we have to be able to go to them.

Does that help?

Q: Mm-hmm.

Q: How close to the fight do you need to be to use the HIMARS?

GEN. MCFARLAND: So the HIMARS has a pretty good range on it. It will out-range anything that the enemy has. And will -- we won't need to get within enemy indirect fire range to employ it. And I'd kind of like to keep it at that.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Secretary Carter mentioned that troops will be used in new ways, not only extra troops, but what are some of the ways they will be used?

GEN. MCFARLAND: That's kind of what I was just talking about in that the character of the operation is evolving into much more of a maneuver fight. And for us to enable that maneuver fight will require us to be able to have a little bit more flexibility.

And one of those ways will be logistically, the Iraqi security forces are going to be operating at extended distances from their bases, their depots, and so forth. So we're going to have to provide them with a different kind of logistics support to keep their vehicles rolling and operational as they close with the enemy.

Q: And then if I could ask you about the attack helicopters. What exactly is going to be provided and I guess how will they be used?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Well, there's a range of ways that we employ attack helicopters in the U.S. military. And we can employ them in singles, pairs, groups of four, eight, and on and on.

And how we employ those depends very much on what the mission is and what the enemy situation is.

So we look at mission. We look at enemy. We look at troops available. We look at terrain. We look at time, civilians on the battlefield. We factored all that together. And then we crank a tactical solution for that.

The great thing about the Apache is that it has standoff capability. And our Apaches actually have the ability to operate in conjunction with unmanned aerial system, so that provides them with even greater flexibility in standoff.

Q: How many Apache helicopters will be available for (off-mic.) use to support the Iraqis?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Well, I don't want to get too specific on that, OK? So let me just say all of them that are here, OK?

Q: So that would be like about eight?

GEN. MCFARLAND: I'll just leave it at that. I don't want to get specific on numbers.

Q: And on the Apaches, around December Secretary Carter had said that, you know, the U.S. is willing to provide not only the Apaches but also the advisers now to the lower levels.

The Iraqis didn't take the U.S. up on that offer. It was kind of assumed to be political issues here in Iraq --

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. MCFARLAND: No, it wasn't really a political issue so much as the sense that they weren't going to be necessarily required, the risk versus reward calculation wasn't the same as it is for Mosul.

One thing we have to understand about Mosul is Mosul is about four to five times the size of Ramadi. It's a lot farther away from the Iraqi bases, like in Taji where they draw their logistic support from.

So it's an order of magnitude more challenging than Ramadi was. And so obviously we were able to take Ramadi back without the additional enablers. Mosul is going to be more difficult.

And so hence the additional support.

Q: So let me rephrase this just a little bit. The U.S. is expanding its footprint in Iraq. That raises a lot of domestic and political pressure for Prime Minster Abadi. How do you address his concern or do you think they will be an issue going forward?

GEN. MCFARLAND: The additional capabilities that we're bringing in really don't equate to large numbers of troops. They really just will provide the Iraqi security forces with the additional capabilities that they need to succeed.

Operating in and around Mosul, so I think that largely people understand that Mosul is going to be a tough fight. And as long we're supporting our partners on the ground, most people will accept that.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: How can 200 military people change the balance of forces on the ground?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Well, what we're focusing -- we're focusing our support on those units that are going to be operating in and around Mosul. And we're going to be judicious in how we do that, and ensure that we get most return on that investment.

I think that it's really not so much about the 200 people, it's about capabilities and the support that they can bring to bear.

So when you look at a coalition service member, an American service man or woman, you just have to remember that behind that soldier, sailor, airman, or marine stands the entire power of the United States military, and our coalition.

So having those people in key location enables us to bring that power to bear at the right time and place.

Q: (inaudible)

GEN. MCFARLAND: Speak up.

Q: Does this mean that soldiers will be closer to the fight or they won't? Because at first you said they would, the way you described the situation.

GEN. MCFARLAND: No. The soldiers will be advising -- we have down to the brigade and potentially battalion level, which, as they begin to maneuver, are going to be operating at greater distance from locations like we had Taqaddum or Al Asad airbases.

It's not any closer to the enemy than it has ever been. It's just that the Iraqi security forces are disaggregated and not operating out of fixed bases anymore as they maneuver up towards Mosul.

Q: General, if you go from a division to a brigade level, how could the advisers be still the same distance from the fight? It just doesn't seem to make sense.

GEN. MCFARLAND: OK. Because you're thinking linearly. You have to think that prior to this, the brigades, the divisions, everybody were consolidated pretty much their headquarters on places like Taqaddum Airbase.

And they were only moved -- the fight for Ramadi was only 10, 15 kilometers away. So they were -- their leaders were commuting back and forth from their headquarters to the fight.

Well, Taqaddum Airbase, Taji, all those places are now many, many, many kilometers away from that fight. So you have to be able to move off of those bases, but you're not getting any closer to the enemy necessarily.

Q: If I could, can I ask you about the other half of the equation, Syria. What additional steps might be necessary to defeat the Islamic State in Syria?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Well, that's a great question. So one of the things that we are trying to do here is develop the indigenous partner forces on the ground amongst the Syrian Arabs who have been oppressed by Daesh, and are now starting to take up arms in their own defense in greater numbers in partnership with our Special Forces.

So that process has a lot of room to run. We're in early days on that. And that in conjunction with the airstrikes and everything else that we're doing out there are really beginning to take their toll on the enemy in Syria as well.

We don't look at this fight as just Iraq and Syria. It's all one big fight. And what we're doing now in Syria is completely connected to what we're doing in Iraq and vice versa.

And if you want to think of it in terms of a close battle and a deep battle, that is kind of what we're doing right now.

Q: General, based on your discussions with the Iraqis, do the changes that you've done and announced today, do you think that's enough to take you through the fight for Mosul, or is this going to be an evolving thing where you might identify more requirements as you go forward?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Right now what were focused on is getting the Iraqis and the Peshmerga and all the forces that are available in and around Mosul to complete its isolation, to cut it off from the rest of what the secretary refers to as the "parent tumor."

The next step of that obviously is to actually clear the city. And when we get to that step, that will be another conversation that we'll have. But right now the intent is to cut that city off and set the conditions for its liberation.

Q: What does the money for the Peshmerga go to? What are they going to use that for?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Well, that is a conversation that we're going to have with the Kurdish regional government. And we think that there are a number of ways that we can do that.

But I'll tell you one way to immediately comes to mind is that right now the Peshmerga are not getting enough calories to keep them in the field. So we're very interested in making sure that they have enough food just to carry on the fight.

And then we'll -- through discussions with the KRG, we will determine other ways that we'll assist them as well.

Q: So these additional means are to envelop Mosul. But it won't be enough to take Mosul, actually take it?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Well, that remains to be seen. This is action-reaction-counteraction. No plan survives contact with the enemy, as we say.

So we're going to employ these additional authorities and capabilities and see how far it takes us. And then if it doesn't take us all the way, we'll come back and have another discussion and ask for more if we need to.

But right now we're going to take what we've got and see how far we can go with it.

Q: Will this give you enough trainers, do you think?

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Is this fair to call it an incremental approach?

GEN. MCFARLAND: I would prefer to call it a step-by-step approach. We're on the first step right now. We're moving up to Mosul. We're setting the conditions around it, towards liberation.

And then, like I said, it's action-reaction-counteraction. So we'll see how the enemy reacts to that. And if those conditions are sufficiently favorable for us to go in and liberate the city with the forces that we have at hand, great.

If they prove to be insufficient, that will be another assessment that we'll make, and then we'll have another discussion about any additional --

STAFF: Hey, sir, we need to wrap it up here.

Q: Will this give you enough trainers to get enough Iraqi forces for at least encirclement?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Yes, well, so here's the other thing we all have to keep in mind is that we're talking about relatively small numbers of Americans here, but there are over 2,600 coalition troops on the ground, most of them are doing the training missions -- or many of them.

And that that training mission is ongoing, and it's expanding, and it's providing the Iraqi security forces that we need both military and police. And so that shouldn't be forgotten. We tend to focus a little bit too much, I think, on the American presence and forget about all of our international partners and all that they're doing.

Q: Before you go, could you give a sense of with your talks with the Iraqis, they express eagerness to have these additional forces? Are they eager to see what the Apaches can do to help them take Mosul?

GEN. MCFARLAND: Absolutely.

STAFF: All right. One-word answer to end it.

(Laughter.)

-END-

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