U.S. Department of Defense
|Presenter: Colonel Christopher Garver, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman||June 08, 2016|
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Okay. Good afternoon.
Chris, I want to make sure you can hear us and we can hear you.
COLONEL CHRISTOPHER GARVER: Jeff, I can hear you just fine.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Great. You look great and we're -- you have an eager crowd here that's anxious to -- to hear your first brief. Welcome to the -- to the job and we look forward to -- to you keeping us informed.
COL. GARVER: Well, thank you, Jeff. And greetings from Baghdad, Pentagon Press Corps. Glad to see everyone today.
I'm Colonel Chris Garver for those of you who don't know me. I am the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve public affairs officer and now spokesperson as well.
For those of you I've worked with before, it's good to see you again and I'm glad to be able to work with you again. For those of you I haven't worked with yet, I know we'll be able to do that over the coming months.
My battle buddy Steve Warren is safely home back in the U.S. and I would like to publicly thank him for his service while here with the Combined Joint Task Force. During that time, the last nine months when Steve was here, we tried to be as informative and transparent for you as we could be and tried to provide you as much context and understanding as we can about the most complex operation of which I've been a participant in the last 27 years.
I want to assure you that we will continue to do that.
As -- so as always, I've got an opening statement regarding the major ongoing operations and then I'll be glad to take your questions.
Now to show where we continue to pressure Daesh across the breadth and depth of the combined area of operations in both Iraq and Syria, I'll focus first in Iraq on Fallujah then near Manbij in Syria. I'll come back to Iraq and talk about shaping operations around Mosul.
And if we could bring up the map, it's the standard map that we use. I'll reference that throughout.
So in Fallujah, star one, operations continue to clear the town on multiple axes entering the city. Brigades from three Iraqi Army divisions, the counterterrorism service units, federal police and tribal fighters from the Anbar province are pushing in towards the center of Fallujah proper.
For the northwest of Fallujah City, brigades from the 14th Iraqi division have been clearing the Saqlawiyah district. For the southeast of the city, brigades from the 1st Iraqi Army Division have been clearing towards the city near the Euphrates River.
Farther to the south along the Euphrates, elements of the 17th and 8 Iraqi Army divisions and Anbar tribal fighters have been back-clearing bypassed areas to clear out pockets of Daesh.
The 8th Iraqi Army division also has been clearing to the west of the city in the vicinity of the Fallahat district.
The counterterrorism service is on the southern edge of the city proper and has been clearing before entering into the city itself. The federal police and popular mobilization forces are continuing the isolation of the Fallujah area and have cleared some suburban neighborhoods around the city.
The fighting and the approaches to the city has been significant, especially in the south. As a city that first fell to Daesh, they have had two years to prepare defenses and the ISF have run into Daesh fighters in complex defensive positions with extensive tunnels, berms, obstacles and IEDs used as mine fields as we have seen before.
Additionally, Daesh has been offering stiff resistance, fighting with heavy machine guns and indirect fire from mortars and artillery.
We are still trying to asses the overall intent of Daesh in the city, whether they intend to try to hold to the last man or if they will abandon their defenses as the ISF fighters -- as the ISF fights deeper into the city. As you know, we've seen both of these in the past.
The coalition conducted airstrikes in the last three weeks in Fallujah in support of the operation, including 31 in the last week and seven in the last 48 hours. We continue to also support the operation through the sharing of intelligence and providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for ISR through the Iraqi security forces.
We have conducted hundreds of hours of surveillance over Fallujah and continue to help the Iraqis develop the intelligence picture inside the city.
Now there is great concern about the state of the civilians inside Fallujah. The Iraqi government has the lead for its citizens as they flee from the fighting throughout the area and they are being supported by international humanitarian organizations of which the U.S. is a significant contributor.
The government of Iraq is working to increase the amount of shelters available for civilians as they anticipate their escape from the city as the ISF clears farther in.
This is still going to be a tough problem and people here are watching it carefully. But the CGTF position remains the best way to help the people of Fallujah is to quickly and decisively defeat Daesh and remove its influence from the city.
Moving over to Syria, operations continue against Daesh near the town of Manbij in northern Syria, which is star two on the map.
Over the past several days, the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Syrian-Arab Coalition and comprised of approximately 85 percent local Arabs fighting to liberate their homeland, has continued to make significant progress in seizing territory from and further isolating Daesh around Manbij.
Manbij is strategically important to Daesh because they rely on its proximity to a border to smuggle in foreign fighters, supplies and export terrorism to the West. It is an important line of communication between Raqqah, the capital of their so-called caliphate, and outside Syria.
The SDF launched the attack a week ago, attacking from multiple points to the east of Manbij, the southern-most position being near the Tishreen Dam. The force of more than 3,000 troops advanced along multiple axes from east to west towards Manbij. The SDF has made significant progress so far, including successfully executing a river crossing operation across the Euphrates River north of Tishreen.
The SDF performed an improved bridge river crossing, a significant military operation in its own right, and then they secured, repaired and reopened the Qarah Quzah Bridge known as Q2, across the Euphrates. The control and restoration of this bridge has enabled the SAC-led forces to deliver much-needed humanitarian supplies to their neighbors, as well as push the attack.
The SDF has met heavy resistance from Daesh at the onset of the operation and at points along the way. We assess that Daesh will fight hard to retain Manbij as it is the key terrain on the line of communication out of Raqqah. Daesh has employed the tactics we have seen before as they defend and then cede territory, including the extensive use of IEDs to slow advancing forces and significantly damage the infrastructure they have lost.
The SDF continues to press the attack toward Manbij, though the cost has been high. They have suffered approximately a dozen killed and more than 100 wounded during the fighting. Their losses include the death of Abu Layla, the leader of a Shams Al-Shamal, a multi-ethnic unified local liberation force and sub-organization of the Syrian-Arab Coalition.
Layla was wounded on the front lines with his troops and succumbed to his injuries two days later. Our condolences go out to his family and the forces under his command.
Coalition forces continue to provide advisory assistance and supporting airstrikes. Since the start of the operation, we have conducted 102 airstrikes in Manbij; 84 of those strikes occurred since the start of the ground operation last week. We are also continuing to provide intelligence and ISR support.
Back in Iraq near Mosul, two significant operations have taken place as the coalition continues shaping operations for the eventual liberation of Mosul. On May 29, Peshmerga forces conducted a swift attack to the east of Mosul to extend their forward line of troops, or FLOT, and to control the Khazir River, a north-south running river approximately 12 kilometers to the east of Qaraqosh, which is approximately 40 kilometers to the east and south of Mosul in Nineveh province and is located at star three on the map.
The Peshmerga attacked from north to south, cleared eight villages, moved the FLOT from the east side of the Khazir River to the west side, and extended it approximately 15 kilometers. The Peshmerga units encountered moderate resistance from Daesh fighters in the area, but by the end of the day secured their tactical objectives and consolidated their new FLOT.
The coalition supported the attack with advisers and by conducting 22 engagements with multiple aircraft, which destroyed fighting positions, tunnels, machine guns, mortars, rocket rails, and a vehicle-borne improved explosive device, or VBIED. This attack denied Daesh the use of the river as a line of communication and pushed their area of influence back to Mosul. But most importantly, it liberated eight villages of Iraqis no longer under Daesh control.
Also near Mosul, on star four, two nights ago, the coalition struck another Operation Tidal Wave II target to degrade Daesh's revenue from elicit oil and natural gas activities. This Tidal Wave II target was an area known as the Abaatim oil black market, located approximately nine kilometers to the west of Mosul.
As we have seen in the past, Daesh will bring together a large number of trucks to transfer stolen oil for distribution on the black market. The coalition struck the group of more than 100 trucks using the same techniques that we have used before to mitigate civilian casualties; a show of force with aircraft and warning leaflets dropped before the attack.
The attack destroyed the bulk of the tanker trucks and we had no reported civilian casualties in the strike. We continue to keep the pressure on Daesh on all fronts while we continue to support the combat operations ongoing throughout Iraq and Syria.
In regards to this pressure against the breadth and depth of it's so-called caliphate, one last word about Daesh. We see that Daesh continues to not be able to mount large-scale attacks and only able to mount small-scale localized attacks designed to terrorize and disrupt as opposed to retaking territory that they have lost, and they are shifting tactics to conduct more suicide attacks than military attacks.
But this does not mean the enemy is defeated yet. Daesh still remains dangerous and still retains the ability to attack both military forces and civilian targets, as we have seen in northern Baghdad recently.
As Iraq enters the holy month of Ramadan, we expect Daesh to attempt more high-profile, headline-grabbing attacks to sow terror and to distract from the fact that they keep losing militarily on the battlefield.
So with that, I'll be glad to take your questions. And I saw Bob was in the audience, so --
CAPT. DAVIS: Go ahead, Bob.
Q: Colonel Garver, a couple of questions for you on Fallujah. Could you elaborate on your description of the civilian situation there, the humanitarian problems there? And how many civilians do you estimate are in the city? And also, do you have an estimate of the number of Islamic State fighters in the city?
COL. GARVER: So as I mentioned in the opening statement, we're watching carefully the humanitarian situation inside Fallujah. We've seen estimates from 20,000, 30,000, upwards of 90,000, 100,000 civilians inside the city. And the answer is we don't rightly know yet, and that's part of what we try to build in the intelligence picture as we go forward.
But the fight around the civilians is being conducted very carefully. Our strikes, as you know, go through a complex process to clear those strikes and make sure that what we shoot at is what we want to hit and what the Iraqis want us to hit and what they approve us to hit. The prime minister has also issued a directive to the Iraqi forces involved in the fight, saying be cautious around the civilians, be careful about fighting around them.
We've had a couple thousands civilians come out of Fallujah so far -- I don't have the exact numbers as to how many have come out -- and have been moved into displaced persons camps being run by the Iraqis and supported by the international coalition. The international organizations that are working on humanitarian aid.
As I said, the United States supports that, but the CJTF is not directly supporting that, other than through information-sharing with the -- those -- those humanitarian assistance partners.
Your second question was -- I don't remember your second question. I'll go onto the -- the Daesh fighters inside the city. Again, we've seen upwards of a couple thousand down to maybe several hundred inside the city. As we are kind of on the edge of the actual city itself and CTS and the other forces are getting in position to launch into the city proper, we'll know more once those forces are inside the city.
And as you know, it's very difficult to kind of figure out inside a city who is a fighter, who is a civilian, especially when they're hiding inside buildings and operating out of urban area -- especially one as old and dense as Fallujah.
So we've seen on the low side several hundred, on the high side, a couple thousand and we're trying to, of course, nail that down as the forces approach.
What was your second question, Bob?
Q: I was asking you whether you could -- you know, explain a little more completely what the nature of the crisis is for the human -- is it starvation for the civilians? Aside from, obviously, the possibility of, you know, getting caught up in the fighting. But is there a food problem and other issues?
COL. GARVER: Well the Iraqis are working to make sure that as the citizens come out, they've got food, they've got water, they've got shelter.
The Iraqis are increasing the number of -- shelters outside of the city. They're working to try to do that right now, anticipating more civilians coming out of Fallujah as the fighting continues.
Our role, of course, in all of that is providing advice and assistance and any coordination we can do between the organizations, but that's really an issue between the Iraqis and the humanitarian aid organizations providing them support.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Courtney Kube.
Q: Hi, Chris. One thing on -- following on Bob's question. What about the reports that some of the Iraqi security force aligned PMF or other troops are actually the ones who are engaging in some of these humanitarian issues. Like there's been some reports of beatings and even executions of civilians trying to flee Fallujah by some of these PMF.
COL. GARVER: Hey, Courtney. And yes, we've seen those reports. We're very concerned about them. The Iraqis are very concerned about them. From the CJTF perspective, we expect our partners to operate within side the international norms, the laws of armed conflict.
From the training that the young soldiers get in the BPCs to what our senior leaders are engaging with Iraqi senior leaders about and Syrian senior leaders about behaving inside the LOAC, the Law of Armed Conflict, is a great concern to us.
We know that the prime minister has ordered an investigation and we think that's the right course inside the Iraqi chain of command to look into these incidents. But we're very concerned about those reports.
Q: And I just had two things -- two clarifications from your opening statement. When you said that the SDF is 85 percent local Arabs, are you referring to specifically the SDF that are engaged in the operation in and around Manbij? You're not talking about the entire SDF, right?
COL. GARVER: No, it's just the 3,000 fighters that are involved in this operation.
Q: (inaudible) -- question. And then on the -- the Pesh you've extended the forward line of troops closer to Mosul, are there any U.S. advisers with those Pesh as they've been pushing forward towards Mosul?
COL. GARVER: There are U.S. advisers. There are coalition advisers that are with the Peshmerga units. There are -- and of course, they're not out on the front lines, you know, but they're at the headquarters. But they are coalition advisers with those units, yes.
Q: So just to be clear, they're actually with them as they're pushing the forward line -- they may not be at the, quote/unquote "front lines," but they are actually with those units as they're pushing towards Mosul?
COL. GARVER: Yeah -- that is correct. When the -- when the -- the units are out in the field, the advisers are at the headquarters, same as we've done in the past, same as we've been doing.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Cami McCormick.
Q: Hi, Colonel Garver. It's Cami.
I wanted to follow up on the civilians in Fallujah first. You said that the best way to protect the civilians there was to quickly take the city, but we've been hearing over the last few days from Iraqi authorities over and over again that they've slowed operations for the same reason, to protect civilians.
The U.S. military -- you said in the past that it's been frustrated with the pace of Iraqi operations in these various offensives. Is that an issue here? Does the U.S. feel like the Iraqis should be moving faster into Fallujah than they are? And is there a difference of opinion over how best to protect civilians? And I have a follow-up.
COL. GARVER: Okay. There's no difference of opinion about protecting the civilians. We're trying to protect civilians with every strike, and of course, we want the -- the Iraqi government to protect civilians with its ground movements as well. So we are, you know, right aligned with that concern.
For the pace of the operations, you know, we've said before this is going to happen at the Iraqi pace. We've had different timelines that have been put out there as to how fast they want this operation to go. The closer you get into Fallujah, the tighter the city becomes, the harder the fighting becomes. It -- it's hot here in June, as you know, and that all makes it harder to fight inside the city.
But we're prepared to support them at the pace that they go and at the -- the -- the pace that they conduct the operation. Significantly different than what we saw last year with Ramadi is the units keep moving forward. They keep taking terrain. They keeping engaging gash -- Daesh. They're -- they are continuing to fight all throughout the area.
So different type of operation, different pace of operation, but we also see the Iraqi units out, continuing to engage and continuing to fight the enemy.
Q: And a follow-up on the -- the various groups that are in Fallujah, the federal police, the tribal fighters, the counterterrorism, the Iraqi army. There have been reports that there's a lack of coordination between these groups and some are taking orders from -- from some and some are taking orders form others.
I know you say that the Iraqi government is in the lead here, but how much of an issue are you finding that that is?
COL. GARVER: Well, the Baghdad operation center is the overall command and control headquarters for the operations inside Fallujah, and the Baghdad operation center commander is the commander of the operations ongoing. And they -- all forces involved in the operation are taking orders from the prime minister, as they should be.
There's been reports that we've seen of slowness based on discussions about the plan. That's certainly something that you're going to have in any fight. The closer you get to an objective, the more the commanders learn about what's going on. They are either confirming or denying their enemy template so that they -- the enemy is or is not what we thought it was when we came in, the ground is or is not what we thought it was when we came in.
And so you've got to converse about that and commanders have to talk; that's what commanders do. But we see them continuing to operate together, continuing to move forward and we have not seen any instances where units participating in the operation are not taking orders from the -- the Baghdad (inaudible) center and from the prime minister.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Kasim Ileri.
Q: This is Kasim with Anadolu News Agency. My question will be related to Manbij. We have seen that some elements of YPG are also with the Arab forces fighting in Manbij. And also, we saw -- also, we have seen that Turkey has been putting -- expressing concerns about the YPG presence in that area.
Have you assured Turkey that the -- there will not be YPG elements in Manbij after the city is freed from Daesh?
COL. GARVER: There are YPG elements participating in the operation to secure Manbij and they are in more of a support role in this operation. The plan developed by the SDF is that the Syrian Arabs will seize the city and then will control the area afterwards.
Turkey is aware of that plan. I don't want to speak for our NATO partners, but we know that they are aware of the plan, and we know that the plan is that the Syrian Arabs will control that area after it is taken from Daesh.
Q: So, to what extent do the U.S. and Turkey and SDF coordinated this operation?
COL. GARVER: Well, we have advisers with the SDF on the ground. They are providing advice and planning and assistance all along. So we clearly as a coalition were involved in the development of the plan. But this is an SDF plan and we are supporting their plan with strikes, with planning support, certain elements with logistical support.
We know that we've shared information with Turkey, but it is the coalition and the SDF have been intimately involved in the development of the plan.
Q: And just last question, colonel. How many Daesh fighters are in Manbij? Do you have any estimation?
COL. GARVER: Again, we're trying to figure that out as we get closer. We're looking for potential reinforcements trying to come in the city. We think that there's anywhere upwards of a couple thousand, but I don't have an exact figure to give you. I wish I had an exact figure. I might not give it to you, but at least I wish I had an exact figure of how many fighters are inside the city right now. But we're looking at that very carefully, and that's what all the ISR that we have is trying to determine exactly how many fighters are inside the city.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Carlo, and then Carla.
Q: Hey, colonel. It's Carlo Munoz with the Washington Times. Just a quick follow-up on your statement about the possibility of high-profile attacks during Ramadan this year. I mean, we've heard this warning being said year-in, year-out during this time, when -- during the beginning of Ramadan.
Is there anything in particular that you're picking up in Baghdad that is going to indicate that this will be a tougher Ramadan season for U.S. coalition forces there? And I do have a follow-up.
COL. GARVER: I don't think there's a specific intel thread that we've pulled that would give us specific information. If we had actionable intelligence, we would go out and action on it, or pass it to the Iraqis to action on. But we have -- we saw an attack in Baghdad today, where they attacked a market. And we've seen continued attacks inside the northern parts of Baghdad where they can come in.
And again, we feel they're trying to do this to detract from the overall reality, which is they're losing on the battlefield and they are -- they're not making any gains in all this year. It's been loss after loss after loss. And now they're surrounded in Fallujah and the fight in Fallujah is not going their way either.
So, I don't think it's a specific intel thread that we've pulled that makes us think that, but it is a general warning and understanding about the tactics they use. They've been attacking Baghdad repeatedly over the last few weeks, and so we don't anticipate a let-up of that during the Ramadan period.
Q: A quick follow-up, colonel. You mentioned the pressure that Iraqi forces and U.S. advisers are putting on I.S. in Fallujah. Are you starting to see effects in terms of improved security in Baghdad because of the increased pressure? Because Prime Minister Abadi announced the offensive right as things were really getting bad in Baghdad, so there seems to be a connection there.
COL. GARVER: Well, I think some in the Iraqi government, some inside Baghdad itself felt many of the attacks -- (inaudible). Sorry, I had a feedback issue there.
The -- some inside of the Iraqi government, some inside of Baghdad itself felt the attacks were coming out of Fallujah. The attack on Fallujah has not, to this point, changed the rhythm of which they continue to try to launch these terror attacks inside Baghdad, and attack police check points, police -- and markets, the softer targets that they're trying to attack.
But the operation is just getting really into the though fighting phase inside Fallujah. We would expect that any real result is going to come out of that in the coming weeks.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next to Carla Babb.
Q: Hi, colonel. Carla Babb, with Voice of America.
Two questions, and then a -- just a couple of checks. The first one, there has been a reporter for VOA that said that some of the people coming out of Fallujah say that the men are checked on a list -- on like a blacklist. And if they're on that list, they get taken away.
Have you heard anything about this list and how the Iraqis and making this list? Has the coalition been in touch with the Iraqis about this?
COL. GARVER: Well, Carla, I can tell you, I don't know of a list.
What I do know is, as the civilians have come out of Fallujah, they have been screened for security purposes off of information that the Iraqi government keeps -- intelligence that the Iraqi government keeps.
And you would completely expect any military-aged male, who may be a Daesh fighter trying to exfiltrate with the civilians and end up inside a displaced civilians camp, you would expect the Iraqi government to take those procedures to screen them, and make sure that they -- what -- they're putting people safely with their families. And if there are fighters in there, they're weeding them out and sending them to detention.
So, that has been going on as the civilians have been coming out of -- out of Fallujah itself. Completely understandable, and as one would expect.
Most of the screened civilians are back with their families. It's an Iraqi-led operation, and they've been the ones doing that. But we know that the operation has been going on.
Q: And what's going on out of the -- with the Mediterranean? How many attacks are coming from the U.S. ship in the Mediterranean right now against the Islamic State?
COL. GARVER: Well, the Harry S. Truman was supporting OIR when it was down in the Gulf as it's now moving into the Mediterranean. It continues to support and it also provides presence to the other theater commanders. They continue to provide support; I don't have the specific number of strikes that they have conducted off that.
But they do continue to provide those strikes. It's just a continuation of what they did while they were closer in the region in the Gulf.
Q: And then two quick checks. The first one is, do we have an updated number of Islamic State fighters? Because I -- I mean, we have been told that the numbers of foreign fighters trickling in had been cut down to the -- couple hundred a month with an estimate a few weeks ago.
Have we -- we got X, a number for the total number of fighters across Iraq and Syria now?
COL. GARVER: Well, we are still using the estimate of 19,000 to 25,000. As -- and that's a difficult number, as you can imagine, to try to figure out. We have taken operations to try to reduce the number of foreign fighters as they flow in. The operation in Manbij will help to reduce the number of foreign fighters flowing in and out of Syria.
They also, though -- we know that Daesh is conscripting fighters. They are impressing young men, even children, into their ranks to become fighters. So they're trying to regenerate their forces from inside the so-called caliphate. So pinning down an exact number is tough. We have a whole bunch of intel people who are working on that, trying to figure that out, but we're still officially suing the estimate of 19,000 to 25,000 for what's inside Iraq and Syria.
Q: Last check you had said 67 strikes into Fallujah from the coalition. Colonel Ryder gave us the number 65 strikes into Fallujah on Friday and I know you had said there were about seven over the last few hours or so. Can we just get a double-check on that to get the -- the final number of strikes into Fallujah, just to -- just to make sure everything's -- you guys are counting strikes the same is probably something like that?
COL. GARVER: So the 67 was right, and I did it based on a specific period of time, the last three weeks. We can give you the -- you know, the overall numbers that we've done inside the last month. But I -- I did it based on the last three weeks, the last week and the last 48 hours. So those are the numbers that I had provided to you.
But obviously, every day it's going to change and increase. So what he talked about on Friday was just a different -- different calendar time of what those strikes were. But I can -- we can get that to you, Karla.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Kevin Baron.
Q: Hi, colonel. How are you?
Back to Manbij, I wonder if you could talk about what plan there is or -- or advice you guys are getting toward the -- what happens next? Meaning, you just said the SDF is expected to take and hold the city, but from all reports, the -- ISIS is being attacked also by Assad's forces, by -- and there's Turkish plans as well and Assad is attacking the opposition right next in Aleppo.
So what are the assurances and what kind of plan do you have with -- with these two other groups of the SDF taking the city and holding it? And is there any expectation of U.S. forces having to be either on the ground or doing any other kind of supply or support beyond ISF and logistics?
COL. GARVER: All right, there are a couple different parts to that question, there. I'll try to hit them -- try to hit them both. The first is we don't see a danger of collision right now between Syrian forces, Assad's forces, and our partners on the ground fighting Daesh.
Part of that is because our partners are fighting Daesh, and we've seen the Syrian forces fight Daesh, we've seen them fight the opposition inside Syria. Inside Aleppo, that's not really where Daesh is. Where our guys are fighting is where -- is where Daesh is, where our -- our forces that we're partnered with.
So we don't see an imminent danger of collision between these two forces. We're keeping track of the forces. If we did see something that concerned us in that way, we would certainly let our partner on the ground know. And the Syrians have an extensive local intelligence network. This is their home territory that they're fighting in, clearly. As we said, most of them are local Arabs to this area.
In terms of division of labor after the fight, the Syrian Democratic Forces are the ones providing that plan. They're the ones who are going to figure out what to do with their consolidated gains, just as they've done all the way back to al-Hawl and all the area that they're liberated from Daesh in the northern regions of Syria.
Our plan remains the same. As you know, 300 U.S. forces, and there's other coalition forces providing support inside Syria and I won't go into specifics about, you know, who or how many or what they're doing.
But they're providing advice and assist, and there are no plans, as far as I'm aware, there are no plans to put U.S. forces on the ground later in a -- in a support role, once the operation is completed.
Q: Thanks, sir.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to David Martin.
Q: Chris, you haven't mentioned Raqqa yet. Does the Syrian army continue to move from west to east toward Raqqa? And are the Russians continuing to support that movement?
COL. GARVER: Well, and David as you know, it's a great question. We try not to be the spokesperson for the Syrians or the Russians, but we have seen their movement toward Raqqa.
They are to the south and west of Raqqa and are heading in that direction. I won't get into their specific intent behind what they're going to do, but it does look like they're heading toward Raqqa at that point.
And what's important for us is, first of all, anything that -- that puts pressure on Daesh, we support. But there is no coordination between us and those forces at this time. The forces we support are focused on Manbij right now, and that's where we're supporting them.
Q: The -- I think the last we heard was that the -- the Syrian army was about 20 miles west of the Tabqa Airbase. Where would you put their position today?
COL. GARVER: The last update I got was that that was about right. But I have not checked in the last few hours to see how many -- you know, how far they had moved today.
So, that's -- the last known position that I can give you, I think we can take a look at that in future updates to keep you informed as well. Like I said, don't want to really become a spokesperson for the Russians, don't want to have Twitter fights with them, either.
But that's -- that's about where we had seen them earlier today.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Joe Tabet.
Q: Colonel Garver, back to Manbij. How confident you are that the SDF will enter the city? Is it something that you expect soon?
Is it a matter of hours, days?
COL. GARVER: Not a matter of hours. I think they're a matter of days out.
Again, at the pace they're moving now and at the speed that they've been able to fight the enemy, we think they're matter of days before they conduct the attack on the city.
That being said, the enemy gets a vote. And if Daesh puts up a stiffer resistance, that could slow down, you know, just in any type of normal fighting.
But we think they're not hours out, we think they're days out. And we anticipate that assault to come in the coming days.
Q: Could you confirm, or can we say that the city of Raqqa will be next after Manbij?
COL. GARVER: Well, we've been clear that, as the capitol of the caliphate, Raqqa is a target that we eventually want to get to.
We continue to conduct shaping operations and strikes inside Raqqa against Daesh in order to continue pressure on them as part of the putting pressure on them across the battle space.
I'm not going to be able to say whether that's the next the target, or there's another place the SDF is going to go. I'm not going to get into the future, you know, operations. But we've been clear all along, our plan is to destroy Daesh, reduce their effectiveness as a military force.
They're inside Raqqa, and so eventually, we're going to get there.
Q: Last question, sir. Will you recommend to the SDF to drop the plan of entering Raqqa if the Syrian army enters the city?
COL. GARVER: That's a pretty hypothetical question.
We would have to see what the situation on the ground is, and I really don't want to get into the hypotheticals of it. It's all dependent on a lot of figures -- a lot of, you know, planning coordination, planning factors that we don't have that in this discussion. So I'm just going to have to say I couldn't tell you at this time.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Christina Warren.
Q: Hi, colonel. Thanks for doing this.
I just wanted to follow up on Courtney's question about the U.S. advisers with the Pesh in northern Iraq. When you say "headquarters," are you talking about division-level headquarters? Or lower levels, brigade, battalion, at the team level? How far away from the, you know, front line are those advisers?
COL. GARVER: Well, they are off the front line, with the irregular Iraqi army divisions. Our U.S. advisers are at the division level. Some of our coalition partners will partner farther down the chain, down into the brigade level as well. We've talked about potentially moving U.S. advisers at a lower level, but we have not yet done that in this operation.
Q: Secondly, on Fallujah, exactly how is the U.S. military mitigating the risk or civilian casualties, you know, other than dropping the flyers saying put white sheets on your rooftops? Is it really up to the Iraqi forces to be able to transfer information about civilian casualties from airstrikes?
And I wanted to ask about the 100 hours of ISR. What timeframe is that over?
COL. GARVER: OK, a couple of different questions there. I'll try to make sure I get them both.
The first is the Iraqis dropped the leaflets over Fallujah telling its citizens to put white sheets on the roofs. That was not a coalition operation. That was an Iraqi operation to do that. And the Iraqis do their own leaflet drops repeatedly and regularly across the countryside.
In terms of clearing fires, when you're clearing fires into the city, you have to first identify the targets. And that's either done through ISR or it's done through forces on the ground that are in contact. The closer you get in, the more it relies on the forces on the ground because you've got to know where your friendly forces are at the same time you're worried about the enemy.
So we get a call from the Iraqis saying "we want fire in this location." The targeteers will figure out what is the right target to attack; what is -- you know, what is the right target to attack, what is the description of the target, what is the weapons system that we choose, and what is the delivery platform. It could be anything from an AC-130 to an F-22 to an MQ-1, you know, surveillance plane, remotely piloted vehicle.
Then that has to be cleared through the Iraqis to say, "this is where we think the target it; do you have friendly forces in the area?" And the Iraqis have to tell us, "We don't have any friendly forces in the area" and "we don't see any civilians in the area." At the same time, we're looking with our own ISR to make sure we don't see civilians in the area.
Then we engage the target. That can all be done very quickly. We've been doing that for more than a year here in Iraq, almost two years, coming on two years. And the -- the process to do that can be done very quickly in the middle of the battle to support those forces on the ground.
And I lost the last part of your question. What was the last part of your question?
Q: The 100 hours of ISR -- over what time period is that?
COL. GARVER: Right. Yeah. It was "hundreds" with an "s" -- hundreds of hours of ISR. And that's been developing the picture in Fallujah for weeks. It's as the -- as the situation's been developing, as we've been approaching this, we've put hundreds of hours of ISR over Fallujah to help build the intelligence picture.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Luis Martinez.
Q: Hey, Chris. Question about -- what you're talking about the pressure points across the battle space. It seems like this might be the most pressure that ISIS has been throughout the campaign, throughout the spectrum there.
How are they dealing with it? When they were in Kabani they sent reinforcements there repeatedly. Are you seeing that across the battle space -- battle space? Are they -- do they seem to be integrated as a command structure across that battle space or is it more of just regional command?
COL. GARVER: That's a great question, Luis, and what you get is kind of a different answer depending on where you look. The farther you get out from the two hubs, being Raqqah and Mosul, the more is becomes regional and we think that they practice diversified command, pushdown command where the local commanders are making decisions in the fight, looking for reinforcements, that sort of thing.
It's been harder for them to move. It's harder for them to reinforce. Everywhere we've got pressure, that's a place that you can't send fighters from. We still have operations going on in the Euphrates River Valley in Iraq and hit Haditha and they're clearing in Ramadi, in fact.
Those fighters are not displacing up towards Mosul. More fighters aren't coming from Mosul to be able to reinforce that. Any fighters that can get in, these are very small numbers of fighters. They don't -- we don't see the convoys of big trucks where they're moving around. So it's getting harder for them to reinforce, it's getting harder for them to resupply.
We saw reports that commanders in Ramadi, who had surrendered their positions and left were later executed by Mosul for doing so. So I think they send kind of mixed messages to their subordinate commanders about how -- what they expect of them and how they expect them to perform on the battlefield.
But we -- we definitely see increased pressure in Iraq, in Syria and as we've said all along, the goal is to increase that pressure, the make the enemy fight in multiple directions at once. If you're only fighting them in one place, he's got the whole expanse of his territory to move and reinforce and resupply.
If we're trying to fight him in as many places as we can at once, all of that is preventing him from doing that and we get -- we've rather fight 50 fighters here than all the fighters in that location and then have to turn around and fight all the fighters again in another location.
So making enemy fight in multiple locations, in multiple directions is always preferred to just a single point of attack. So we feel the pressure is being put on Daesh. We're working to put that pressure on Daesh -- (inaudible) -- leaders, our strikes against the oil and natural gas revenue. -- (inaudible) -- strikes against all of those positions as well. So we're trying to keep that pressure on, definitely.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next we go for a follow up to Courtney.
Q: Hey, Chris. One more thing from your opening statement. You mentioned this new operation Tidal Wave II target. Do you know how many -- do you have any kind of estimate on how much money that may have cost ISIS or any kind of like numbers on that.
And then is this the fifth Tidal Wave II strike or do you happen to know what number that is?
COL. GARVER: It is over 100. I think we're over 125 right now. And remember, every time we hit a oil platform in Syria out in the desert near Deir ez-Zor, those are all Tidal Wave strikes. So all of those strikes are strikes against the illicit oil operations.
In terms of truck strikes, as we've done before, I don't have the exact number off the top of my head. And they're still doing assessments of how effective the strike was. After we -- we hit the targets, there was so much smoke in the air, it was difficult to kind of do a final assessment of the -- of the -- you know, of the target, what kind of damage we did and then what kind of economic impact that has.
We've seen estimates that they've lost up to like 30 percent of their oil revenue across the caliphate, but -- but based on what we've hit, we think that we've had about -- that we've hit kind of the best 50 percent of that 30 percent and we've reduced their revenue by about 50 percent.
But those are estimates right now. It's very hard to kind of figure that out. They were making a lot of money before. They're still making money, but not as much and we're trying to, you know, destroy those assets so that they can't -- they can't use them for -- for selling black market oil.
Q: And if I could also -- just one more on Fallujah. You said that the U.S. and the Iraqis are very concerned about these reports of civilians being beaten or tortured or whatever on their way out or even killed, but does the U.S. military have any evidence that that's actually occurring? At this point, do you have any -- do you have reason to believe that that actually is happening or not?
COL. GARVER: We have not confirmed those reports ourselves. The -- like I said, the prime minister has come out and said he is aware of it and has launched an investigation, but we have not independently confirmed those reports ourselves, no.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Then Kevin Baron had a follow-up as well.
Q: Colonel, just thinking off of Luis' question about ISIS command and control, could you talk a little bit about the technology they're using to communicate and move around compared to -- the comparative advantage to U.S. and coalition forces? But what are you seeing and how has that changed or been degraded throughout -- you know, before these ops and throughout?
COL. GARVER: Kevin, great question. I don't want to go -- you know, I don't want to get into too technical specifics. I'm not a signals officer or an intel officer, so I don't even know if I could go into too technical of detail.
But we have seen changes in their communication structure, and they use multiple methods of communicating. They use cellphones, they use push-to-talk radios, they use the internet, send e-mails. As we know, they've communicated using different apps on the battlefield. They're on the internet -- excuse me -- while they're on the battlefield.
So they use multiple methods of -- of communicating and trying to conduct command and control. As we tap into those resources, as we tap into networks, it forces them to try to change and use something else. So we have gone after communications, cellphone towers. We've gone after communications assets.
We're trying to target their ability to command and control. We hit the headquarters building, but we also know that the headquarters building is where, you know, all the radios were that they were using to command and control their -- their fighters.
So they still have the ability to command and control. We assess that it's degraded because of the strikes that we've done. We continue to strike those -- those headquarters targets. And I don't have a specific percentage of degradation or how much, you know, more difficult it is. And sometimes, we identify a system we can listen to or look at and we may not hit that right away because we want to keep using that to gather intelligence. Just blowing it up right away maybe takes that intelligence away from us.
So some things they're using, we may be listening, we may be watching, but we're not going to hit it right away because we want to gather intelligence off of it.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Last call.
Chris, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate you coming to us later than normal and I hope we didn't interfere with your -- with your chow for the evening. We look forward to seeing you back next week.
COL. GARVER: Yeah, no. I got it put in the fridge. I'm good. And appreciate the -- appreciate the opportunity to talk to everybody. Looking forward to the next few months of being able to do this with y'all. It's good to work with those who I've worked with again and glad to meet the ones that I haven't yet.
So thanks, Jeff. Appreciate it.
CAPT. DAVIS: Thanks. Thanks, everybody.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|