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Presenter: Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman; Captain Jeff Davis, Director, Defense Press Office May 13, 2016

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


CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning, everybody. Happy Friday the 13th.

Steve, you're looking great. We're pleased to have you here with us today.

Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Warren, our OIR spokesman from Baghdad.

Over to you, sir.

COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Thanks, Jeff.

And good morning, Pentagon press corps. It's always good to be with you on a Friday.

Today, I'm going to provide you a short operational update across the battlefield, as well as some bigger-picture items.

So, first of all, we welcomed the Belgian announcement today that they will extend strikes into Syria. The additional combat power will help us more rapidly defeat our enemy.

ISIL's so-called caliphate relies on their ability to act like a state. The fact of the matter is they can't do it. One of the reasons they can't do it is that we have put a dent in their pocketbook. We have two operations targeting ISIL finances. One is called Operation Point Blank, which aims to destroy the Daesh cash piles that we find. The other is Tidal Wave II, which focuses on their oil revenue.

These operations have had an impact. We know that ISIL's total income has been reduced substantially, and we know that their income from oil specifically has we believe been reduced by about 50 percent. Their primary source of income is what they refer to now as taxation. In reality, we know that it's extortion. But even their ability to extort money from their own people continues to be reduced as our partner forces liberate more and more territory.

In addition to choking off their funding, we are now seeing a reduction in the flow of foreign fighters onto the battlefield. Over the last year, we assess that the number of foreign fighters entering the combat zone each month has decreased, possibly by as much as 75 percent.

ISIL has been unable to deliver on its promise to create a functioning state. That has diminished the appeal of the so-called caliphate as a destination spot for foreign fighters. As a result, we assess that ISIL is no longer able to replenish its ranks at the rate its fighters are dying on the ground. We attribute the reduction in foreign fighter flow to a range of factors, including our military gains on the ground, as well as active steps by governments to strengthen and enforce border security and also counter recruitment efforts.

Now let's talk about what our partners are doing on the ground. In Anbar, as part of Operation Desert Lynx, Iraqi security forces have advanced to the outskirts of the town of Juba, which is a town 25 miles north of Hit along the Euphrates River. In that action, the 7th Division, along with Sunni tribal fighters from the Ubaiti, Mahal and Jigethi tribes are conducting offensive operations to liberate that town.

Near Makhmur and the Tigris River Valley, Operation Valley Wolf saw some success this week as well. The 72nd Brigade seized the village of Kabruk. Coalition-trained Sunni tribal fighters from the Jabori, Lihibi and Sabawi tribes established a blocking position to the south, while the 72nd Brigade attacked from the north.

The coalition conducted multiple strikes and killed 52 enemy fighters during that operation.

Since then, operations there are focused on secondary clearance in and around Kabruk, and they continue to improve defensive positions.

In Syria, operations around Shaddadi have been static, and the Mara line remains contested, with opposition forces ceding two villages this week.

Near At Tanf, which is in the tri-border area, kind of in the south, by where Syria and Iraq and Jordan come together, opposition forces continue to improve their defenses, and they're preparing for future operations there.

We've conducted this week 40 strikes in that area against ISIL headquarters, staging facilities and fighting positions, and we're going to continue to apply pressure against ISIL's critical capabilities and functions. By keeping the pressure on in that southern region, it causes ISIL to have yet another problem that they've got to solve.

Well, this concludes my prepared comments. And without any further ado, we'll take your questions.

CAPT. DAVIS: Barbara Starr.

Q: Colonel Warren, a couple of things. Starting in Baghdad, what's -- you know, given now, we've -- you've had several days of attacks in Baghdad and around Baghdad. What's your assessment there of what ISIS is trying to accomplish, and the destabilization it could pose to the Iraqi government?

COL. WARREN: Well, certainly, our hearts are broken for the almost 100 Iraqi citizens who were killed or wounded -- severely wounded in these recent attacks. This is -- these are attacks that ISIL has claimed responsibility for.

We know that Baghdad is a huge city. It's a city of over six million people, and it is not a city that can simply be zipped up and completely sealed off.

So, tragically, the enemy is going to be able to get some truck bombs into the city from time-to-time.

You know, these were probably opportunity targets, I think. You know, certainly there has been some unrest, you know, some political churn, I think, here in Baghdad over the past several weeks.

And you know, ISIL, while we believe they're on the defensive and they are back on their heels, they still remain a legitimate threat. They're a dangerous enemy, and they're also smart.

And so, they've seen an opportunity here to create discord, to create disharmony. You know, these strikes went straight into, in many cases, heavily populated Shia areas. And really focused on civilian women, children -- complete civilians, not in any way, shape or form someone that could be considered a combatant or even a threat to ISIL in any way.

This was -- obviously, the purpose of this was to create discord. It was also an opportunity for this enemy, I think, to -- to gain some international attention.

You know, they -- they have lost ground almost continuously now for half a year. They've been really taking a beating, particularly in Iraq, where we've seen them lose city after city. We've seen them lose region after region. We've seen them lose their money. We've seen them lose their leaders. We've seen them lose their towns and villages and territory.

So I think they want to try and make a statement. And they know that these very high-visibility attacks gain -- get attention. And so I think that's also what they were -- what they were looking to do.

Q: If I may, two things. Can you bring us up to date on the status of additional U.S. forces that have been announced for deployment -- to -- for authorization to go into Iraq? And, you know, the status of the Apaches, the status of the additional trainers going in?

And your map talks about pressuring and isolating Raqqah. What do you see going on in Raqqah? You know, there's talk that ISIS has declared an emergency there. They're covering up things. They're moving people. What do you see happening in Raqqah? And bring us up to date on the status of U.S. forces.

COL. WARREN: All right. So, the secretary did announce an additional 217 personnel to come to Iraq and serve in various parts of different accelerants. Those personnel are still flowing. I don't have the exact number of how many have come in yet. None of them have -- none of those accelerants have begun to take place yet, though. So we're still conducting advise and assist at the division and operational center level.

And we have not yet employed the Apaches in an offensive role. So that's still -- that's still working. You know, it does take time to get personnel trained and equipped and packed and moved. So that's ongoing.

In Raqqah, we -- we have seen this declaration of emergency in Raqqah, whatever that means. We know this enemy feels threatened, as they should. We've -- we've, you know, I've detailed all the strikes that we've done there over time. They see the Syrian Democratic Forces along with the Syrian Arab Coalition maneuver both to their east and to their west -- you know, and to the west, at the Tishrin Dam, to the east, Shaddadi. Both of these areas becoming increasingly secure. And the Syrian Democratic Forces increasingly able to generate their own combat power in those areas.

So, certainly we are seeing some reactions to this. We've had reports of ISIL repositioning both their combat capabilities, I guess what they think may be coming next. And we've seen reports of them repositioning personnel to various other -- either within the city or even out of the city.

So, rightfully, ISIL understands that their days are increasingly numbered. We are going to continue to keep this pressure on them and -- and we expect to see them collapse eventually.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Did you have a quick follow up, Kevin?

Q: Yeah. I -- Colonel, Kevin Baron. How are you doing?

Just two follow ups.

One, if you -- is this a case of you being so focused on the north and the offensives to come that you guys didn't keep your eye on the back door with these massive attacks on Baghdad? I mean, because ISIS declared openly these are retaliatory actions that were for what they're feeling.

And what are you going to do about Baghdad? You describe the problem, but what's next? I mean, the American people remember U.S.-led forces patrolling every street in that town. I know you say you can't zipper it up, but surely there's more that could be done.

COL. WARREN: Well, you know, our -- our focus right now is really on, you know, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces and providing air power, you know, in the field. The Iraqi security forces, you know, have a plan to continue to secure Baghdad and they're going to execute that plan. You know, there were very good efforts around the green zone last week when they believed that there was going to be an increase in -- in protests.

Those efforts, you know -- what caused the demonstrations to not happen, you know, I don't know, but -- but they certainly snapped into action and created good security here. I think they're going to continue to do that. You know, the Iraqi security forces understand that they have to protect their people, and that's -- that's what they're trying to do.

You know, specifically what's the U.S. -- you know, the CJTF is not involved in the defense of Baghdad.

CAPT. DAVIS: Tara Copp

Q: Colonel Warren, has the political instability and the increase violence in Baghdad impacted U.S. plans to send in these additional operators and the Apaches? Are there any concerns that by increasing the U.S. footprint, it might actually insert -- incite further instability to kind of a long-standing unwillingness by some parties in Iraq to not have U.S. presence there?

COL. WARREN: No. Not at all, Tara. We -- we -- our plans to flow in the additional accelerants remain on track. We do not believe that any of this recent -- whether it be ISIL-initiated bombings or -- or the -- the political -- (inaudible) -- in the (inaudible) and place or the demonstrations that we've seen are going to impact our -- our ability to flow these additional forces and -- and get them into position to assist the Iraqi security forces in their efforts to prepare for and eventually liberate Mosul. So no impact.

Q: While it may not impact U.S. ability to flow in forces, have you seen any impact on the political will to have U.S. boots on the ground there?

COL. WARREN: Tara, say that again. Have we seen any impact on what, now?

Q: Iraq's political will to have additional U.S. forces there?

COL. WARREN: No, we have seen the current churn impact this government's desire to have U.S. and coalition support in their fight against ISIL. We haven't seen that at all. The prime minister welcomed the announcement that the secretary of defense made several weeks ago, and that remains.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Jim Miklaszewski?

Q: Steve, to follow up on that, what indication -- are there any indications or at least concerns on the part of the U.S. military in Baghdad that the Iraqi government, if these kinds of attacks, the suicide bombing attacks, continue in Baghdad, that the Iraqi government, the Iraqi military may lose its resolve and withdraws many of their troops from the fight against ISIS and bring them back into Baghdad for protection?

COL. WARREN: Well, right now, more than 50 percent of the Iraqi security forces are committed to the defense of Baghdad, and we have advised the Iraqis that that's enough.

So certainly, it's something we've got to watch out for. But right now, we've continued to advise them that their focus needs to remain on defeating this enemy once and for all, thereby eliminating the threat completely.

Q: And you said CJTF is not involved in the protection of Baghdad. But when these kinds of suicide attacks occurred, when the U.S. military was present, General Petraeus lined many of the streets in neighborhoods with those giant Texas T-walls and pretty much isolated the threat and reduced the threat significantly.

Is the U.S. at least working with the Iraqi government and military in an effort to provide or at least give them guidance on the kinds of defenses that may be needed there in Baghdad?

COL. WARREN: Well certainly we have advisers in the Baghdad Operations Center. And so these are the types of things that get discussed. But the Iraqis really do have, you know, their plan for how to -- how to secure their capital city. We are certainly available to provide them advice. We do interact with them in the Baghdad Operations Center every day.

I am not going to share with you what their plan is, obviously. But, you know, they do have a plan to continue the -- the security of Baghdad. And we'll continue to work with them and provide them whatever assistance that we can provide.

And it's notable that even when there were 150,000 American forces here and T-walls lined every street, we were never able to completely drive the threat to zero. Like I said, this is a big city, over 6 million population. And it's not even feasible to think that you could completely stop individuals who are determined to cause harm.

Q: Any indication of any growing pressure from the Shia elements, even Iran perhaps, that there has to be more focus now on protecting Baghdad against these attacks primarily against Shia neighborhoods?

COL. WARREN: I've seen no indication of that, Jim. Obviously, you know, the Iraqi government has its own discussions, but we have not yet seen any indication of that.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next is Phil Stewart.

Q: Hi, Steve.

A quick follow up on what Jim was asking, and then I have a question about the Manbij pocket in the north.

First on the defense of Baghdad, I mean, if the Iraqis keep about half of their forces in Baghdad because of this threat, because of the pressure to defend against this threat, will that slow your plans to go after Mosul?

And secondly, on the Manbij pocket, if you could give us an update on where that stands. ISIL had made some gains across a series of towns I think it was last week or the week before. Where does that stand now? What's the state of play? Thanks.

COL. WARREN: The -- the plan to move towards Mosul takes into account the fact that 50 percent of the Iraqi security forces are in Baghdad. So assuming this situation remains the same, there will be no impact. The Iraqi government, of course, can move units and forces around the battlefield as it sees fit. Should they decide to reposition forces into Baghdad, then you know, that's something we would have to, you know, that would cause a change. But as of now, the plan accounts for the Baghdad security effort.

Like I said in my opening remarks, the opposition forces did lose two small villages this week up in the -- along the Mara line, to an ISIL attack. And so that remains as I've described it previously, really a shoving match. What you see is a number of really small villages along, you know, that line, you know, that begins in Mara and moves up to the Turkish border there. And these villages are exchanging hands, you know, almost daily in some cases.

Some of these villages have exchanged hands a half a dozen times in the last few months. So, it really is a shoving match where one force will occupy a town, sometimes unopposed, sometimes with some opposition, sometimes in a larger fight. But it has truly become a continuous back and forth of these small villages, with neither side appearing to gain the upper hand or appearing to lose the upper hand.

So, we'll have to see how this develops.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, next to Andrew -- oh, there you are. Andrew Tilghman.

Q: Colonel Warren, I'd like to ask a little bit about the troop levels, and you talked about troops flowing in.

But a couple of weeks ago, the secretary raised the cap from about 3,800 to more than 4,000. But it's my understanding that the actual official number of troops on the ground has been about 3,500 for most of that time.

Is that -- can you help us understand why it's continuing to come in so much under that cap, and does that reflect the fact that the Iraqis just don't really need those forces right now?

COL. WARREN: Well, you know, the cap is the maximum level. The commander will ensure that he's got the forces that he needs on the ground at the time. And that's what we have right now.

So, as we require additional forces, additional forces will flow in. If we don't require a capability, then we don't require the capability.

So, there's no -- there's no real trick to it. These are all -- you know, and you're talking about a number -- you're talking about, frankly, minuscule numbers, you know, plus or minus a 100 or two. Very small numbers.

But there's always -- this is why we hesitate to, you know, get into these numbers games with you guys, because the numbers change daily. They change every single day; somebody leaves, somebody comes. Somebody else comes, and tomorrow, two people leave.

This is a daily thing. So, you know, the commander has the forces that he requires for the operation that he's conducting. As we need more forces, more forces will come in.

The FML, the Force Management level, is simply the upper end. It's not a requirement. We're not required to keep 40 -- 4,082 or whatever the number is. We're not required to have that many. That's our upper limit of how many we're authorized to have.

So, it's our management level. So, if we don't need that many today, then we don't have that many today. Somebody's got to -- you know, if a unit has got to leave, we're rotating out, whatever the case, then those numbers are going to move a little bit.

But there's not a -- there's no trick to it, other than having what you need when you need it. And right now, that's the case.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Tolga Tanis.

Q: Hi, Colonel. I want to go back to Manbij question, to Phil's question.

What's the problem to defend Mara in terms of this -- the airstrikes that you intensify over the last month? Even though – why the opposition groups on the ground are losing ground against ISIL?

COL. WARREN: It's a tough fight in Mara. I think -- you broke up a little -- I mean, I think you asked me what's the problem in Mara, so that's the question I'm going to answer.

It's a tough fight there. You have a determined enemy that wants to continue to gain ground. And it doesn't want to give up any ground. And you have opposition forces arrayed along a fairly large front that also want to gain some ground.

And so, that's what you're seeing. You're seeing ground gained one day, and in some cases, lost the next day.

So, this is a continuing process. You know, this is a little bit of change from where it was six months ago.

Six months ago, what you had was a very static line with almost no movement at all. What you see now, probably in January, February timeframe, the opposition forces made a push and gained quite a bit of ground along the Mara line. We were talking about that a lot when it was happening.

But -- (inaudible) -- really was -- was (inaudible) -- hold forces. So they -- they have had -- they've struggled to hold the territory that -- that they were able to take back in the January, February timeframe. And so now what you've seen, now that that kind of static, sort of World War I, you know, line of the Mara line kind of became much more fluid after that initial push back in January, February timeframe. What you're seeing now is that line kind of continuing to -- to fluctuate as -- as the various forces there jockey for position.

Q: I have a more specific question, then. Do you have any difficulty to find the groups that you can cooperate with on the ground? Because there are two separate groups, as far as we know, on -- in Mara. One, the groups who are working with CIA under Article 50 and the other groups who are working with DOD on their Article 10. Are you able to contact with the groups who are working with CIA on their Article 50?

COL. WARREN: Well, it is difficult to -- to find groups on the Mara line because we don't have anyone there. But this is something that we're continuing to work and we will continue to work it.

Q: (Inaudible).

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. I'll get back to you. How about Nancy Yousef?

Q: Hi, Steve.

I wanted to ask you about Fallujah. We've seen reports recently of starvation of civilians there, and now with these attacks on Baghdad and a perception among some that some of these attackers are coming from Fallujah. Is there any increased talks amongst the Iraqi government and in their communications with the U.S. military about going into Fallujah before Mosul? Is that a realistic prospect? Can you give us a sense in terms of where operations against Fallujah fit into the broader picture?

COL. WARREN: All right, Fallujah. We've seen a lot of these reports too. I think some of the press reporting may be a -- indicate a situation that's worse than it is. The U.N. reporting that I've certainly indicates that there are growing problems, that -- that food is becoming scarce and that, you know, people want to leave can't. But you also see some -- some reporting here in the local press and other areas that indicate that it's -- it's a legitimate humanitarian crisis with starvation.

So it's difficult to know exactly where on that spectrum Fallujah falls, but regardless, certainly there is suffering there. And let's keep in mind that that suffering that's -- that's there because of ISIL, right? Let's not ever forget that point.

But on Fallujah specifically, we have seen the Iraqi security forces begin to chip away at Fallujah. In fact, Fallujah is now generally surrounded by Iraqi security forces. Elements of three different divisions, the first, the sixth and the seventh, are positioned to the north, you know, around -- all around Fallujah.

So -- and we have seen maneuver, but it's been in very small bites. Yesterday, I think it was 340 meters that Iraqi security forces were able to gain. That's a very small number, obviously. But this is -- this is a tough city. This is the very first city that ISIL gained control of, so they've -- ISIL's been there for more than two years, so they are dug in and dug in deep. So this is a tough nut for us to crack here. This is a tough nut for the Iraqis to crack.

I -- I think the Iraqis are aware. I am confident that the Iraqis are aware that they need to liberate Fallujah. Where it falls into the sequence -- Fallujah before Mosul; Fallujah after Mosul -- is unclear. But the Iraqis are working at Fallujah right now. Like I said, they've got it surrounded. They are pressuring it. But they haven't been able to make, you know, a real move in there to start clearing it yet.

So, this is going to continue to be something that we watch. We know that the Iraqis have attempted on several occasions to open up humanitarian corridors to allow some of those civilians to -- to come out. Those have met with generally not much success. ISIL has done things like set up snipers to cover down on those corridors, to, you know, kill people as they're trying to get out. So that has really discouraged their use.

So, it's a difficult problem. But I guess to come full circle, Nancy, and really answer your question, our sense is that the -- the Iraqis certainly understand that Fallujah does need to be liberated. You do see some reporting that the Iraqis are ignoring or whatever the case. I don't think that's the case. I think that they know that Fallujah has got to go, you know, has got to be liberated.

Q: Can you say why they wouldn't do Fallujah first, before Mosul? What's sort of the plus and minus of Fallujah first versus Mosul first? If they're already surrounding the city and it's closer to Baghdad and it's smaller, wouldn't it be natural or logical to do the Fallujah operation first?

COL. WARREN: Well, you know, from a military perspective, Fallujah doesn't have much impact on Mosul. So, you know, you don't need to liberate Fallujah in order to get to Mosul, unlike, say, Baiji. You have to get Baiji before you get to Mosul. It has to happen. Sinjar -- you've got to get Sinjar before you get to Mosul because that's the main line of communication.

So -- but Fallujah doesn't really have any tactical influence on Mosul. So then it becomes a political decision, right? This becomes a decision that, you know, is made at the political level. There is no military reason to liberate Fallujah now, to answer your question.

Now, that said, Fallujah clearly has some military influence on Baghdad, right? It is, you know, its close proximity to Baghdad. We don't know where these truck bombs came from. We don't know if they came out of Fallujah or not, but certainly that's something that has to be brought into the calculus as well.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next to Richard Sisk.

Q: Yeah. Hi, Colonel.

Can you tell us what the situation is north and west of Ramadi, where there are reports that a major counterattack by ISIS killed a significant number of Iraqi troops. And how could this happen, given the progress reports we've gotten from you and others on the progress in Anbar province? How could this happen?

COL. WARREN: Yeah, hey, Jeff, can you signal to Tom and ask him maybe to turn the gain down a little bit? Because everybody's coming in really blown out, so I could -- I wasn't able to hear any of that question.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. We're -- (inaudible) -- the signal down. Tom, if you can do that -- (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

CAPT. DAVIS: Richard, try again.

Q: Okay. How do you catch me now, Steve?

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Now we can't hear him.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. No, we can't hear you either.

Q: Are you coming through?

COL. WARREN: It's clear now. I can hear you perfectly.

CAPT. DAVIS: Richard.

Q: Replay. What can you tell us about the situation north and west of Ramadi, reports of a major attack, killed a significant number of Iraqi troops?

And how can this happen, given all the reporting coming out from over there about ISIS being on the defensive, and especially the progress in Anbar province? How could this happen?

COL. WARREN: Right. There was an attack on Ramadi. It was a couple of truck bombs that came in. And it wasn't really in Ramadi city center; it was down off to the north. Well, there was one to the north and one to the south.

Anywhere it was around the city center. It was kind of out of the suburbs or even exurbs of Ramadi. You know, the Lake Tharthar region still -- there's still pockets, that's still kind of a little bit of a support zone for the enemy, and so, they are able to infiltrate, you know, (inaudible).

And this was a -- you call it an attack, I would call it a terrorist you know, event, terrorist attack. It was less a military attack and more of a terrorist attack.

It's almost similar to what we saw in Baghdad, right, it was -- it was truck bombs. In this case, it was truck bombs plus -- there were some -- it was truck bombs supported by some technicals. Some truck bombs supported by infantry.

Notable, you know, certainly, the attack caused casualties to the Iraqi military there, which is tragic. But all of the attackers are dead now. You know, it was an unsuccessful attack. And the Iraqi military didn't give up on an inch of ground.

So, this is still a war, and there are still -- there is still a legitimate enemy out there. Again, like I said, in this case, there's -- we know Lake Tharthar remains a support zone, from where they're able to generate small bits of combat power, and project it in this case into -- into the -- kind of Ramadi suburbs.

But it certainly is not really an indicator of anything, other than what I just said, that there is still an enemy out there.

So.

Q: Colonel, can you -- can you speak to the overall -- the overall impact to things like this?

However you want to characterize what happened in Ramadi, we had the attack last week in Tal Asqaf, the attacks going on in Baghdad. You had the unusual circumstance earlier this week of the White House almost rooting for the Russians and the Syrian regime to turn back ISIS from moving towards Palmyra again.

How does this -- how does this -- are they showing more resilience than you've expected?

COL. WARREN: No. They're not showing more resilience than we've expected. They are showing resilience, but resilience is to be expected.

We've never underestimated this enemy, not for one moment. And we know that they remain capable of these raids and limited attacks, mixed in with terrorist attacks.

But again, you know, from a military perspective, they have not been able to seize or gain a square inch of ground, and particularly in Iraq. You know, they have not gained an inch in Iraq.

They have conducted these raids. In almost every case, the raiders are wiped out -- or nearly wiped out.

So, yeah, you're going to see -- I mean, it's a war. So, they're going to fight. But this doesn't mean that they're gaining strength. It doesn't mean that something's gone wrong. What this means is there's an enemy in Iraq that's got to be defeated. And this is what the Iraqis are working on right now.

Q: Colonel, just one -- one, if I could, please. We went round and round with General Volesky the other day about the Apaches. But he said they've not yet -- not yet employed the Apaches in an offensive role. Is there such a thing as a defensive role? Basically, are the Apaches flying? Are they flying missions now?

COL. WARREN: Apache helicopters have been here since almost day one. They've been here for nearly two years. And they have flown missions, you know, escorting VIPs who come in, et cetera. So, I mean, that's not changed.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Phil Stewart.

Q: Steve, sorry -- I just want to ask a separate question. It's not exactly directly tied to the counter-ISIL fight, but the top Hezbollah commander in Syria was killed in an explosion. And I'm sort of trying to find out what your assessment is of that on Hezbollah, which is one of the many actors in Syria that you have to kind of factor in when you're going through your planning.

And then also, do you know anything about this strike?

COL. WARREN: Yeah, so, I am aware of it, Phil. It's really too soon for us to assess right now what impact this is going to have. You are correct that Hezbollah is an actor on this -- on this stage and has been for some time. We know that they've suffered very heavy casualties over the last two or three years fighting in Syria as part of their efforts to back Bashar al-Assad.

But in regards to this specific strike, who took it, what the impact, you know, what the downstream impact is going to be of losing this leader, it's simply too soon to tell.

Q: The United States did not carry out this strike, obviously.

COL. WARREN: That is correct.

CAPT. DAVIS: Barbara?

Q: Just cleaning up one detail. You've mentioned a couple of times the Iraqis have 50 percent of their forces dedicated to the defense of Baghdad. If you say 50 percent, can you tell us what the number is, how many troops?

COL. WARREN: Roughly half, maybe I should have said. And I don't have the troop numbers to hand. Probably inappropriate for me to give out Iraqi troop strengths anyway. So even if I did have it, I wouldn't give it to you.

Q: The Hezbollah guy -- target -- if he wasn't on your strike list, do you know whose strike list he was on?

COL. WARREN: I do not know whose strike list he was on. We are not striking Hezbollah.

Q: Okay.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Anybody else?

All right, Steve. Thank you very much for your time. We wish you a pleasant weekend.

COL. WARREN: Thank you very much. It's good to see everyone. We'll see you next week.

http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/759199/



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