U.S. Department of Defense
|Presenter: Colonel Christopher Garver, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman; Captain Jeff Davis, Director, Defense Press Office||June 29, 2016|
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning. Chris, can you hear us? And can we --
COLONEL CHRISTOPHER GARVER: Jeff, I can hear you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Perfect.
Well, we run the trains on time around here, folks. It is 10 o'clock and we have Colonel Chris Garver joining us live from Baghdad. He is, as you know, the Operation Inherent Resolve public affairs officer and the spokesman for that.
Colonel Garver, good morning. And we'll turn it over to you. And we do have your map up.
COL. GARVER: All right. Thank you, Jeff.
First, a correction. I'm not in Baghdad today, I'm at the Combined Joint Task Force Headquarters Main Command Post, another country in the Middle East. And so we're going to end up shipping back and forth between these, so we're doing it from -- from down here today.
But good morning to the Pentagon Press Corps. I'm glad to see everybody there today. As usual, I have an opening statement covering major ongoing operations and then I'll be glad to take your questions.
Jeff said we got the map up, so I'll reference that throughout.
We continue to pressure Daesh across the breadth and depth of our combined area of operations in both Iraq and Syria. Today, I'll focus on Fallujah, shaping operations in the vicinity of Mosul, and then move over the Syria.
Iraqi military leaders announced the full liberation of the city of Fallujah, star one, on June 26. As the world watched, the Iraqi security forces raised the Iraqi flag over Fallujah on June 17. Since that time, we have seen rapid clearing operations within the city as the ISF consolidates its gains and prepares for future operations, which will include handing over the security of Fallujah to the holding force.
Now, we see ongoing combat operations to the south of Fallujah, with the 8th Iraqi Army Division clearing pockets of Daesh fighters. The fighting at times has been fierce as the brigades of the 8th IAD pushed in the vicinity of the Falalahat neighborhood in the As-Salam intersection.
Yesterday, the coalition conducted two strikes in support of the 8th IAD during this fighting. Since the start of the assault phase of the ground campaign on May 21st, more than five weeks ago, the coalition has conducted 106 strikes in support of the ISF's operations.
And we know there is interest into the physical state of Fallujah after the battle and there have been numerous reports in this press. This analysis is ongoing by the Iraqi government, but we've been seeing reports from them that the city is in better shape than Ramadi was after that liberation last year.
If the initial reports end up accurate, we hope this will bode well for getting the residents of Fallujah back into their homes as quickly as possible.
We do not have an estimated timeline from the Iraqi government yet, but all parties involved in the care of the displaced citizens are working to develop that now.
Moving up to the Tigris River Valley and shaping operations in preparation for the eventual liberation of Mosul, Iraqi security forces continue to move towards Qayyarah, star two, along the eastern access where gains from the 15th Iraqi Army Division continue to conduct security operations near Nasir and Karabat-Jabar.
On the western access, counterterrorism service forces and 9th Iraqi Army Division brigades continue to push the attack north out of Baiji. These forces have recently conducted clearing operations in the towns of Makul, Mohammed Musa and Shaykh-Ali. Daesh fighters are using the same techniques we have seen before: defensive belts of earthworks, fighting positions, and IEDs to slow the ISF and vehicle-borne IEDs to attack them.
The fighting on the western access has been between light and moderate, but the ISF continues to make steady gains towards Qayyarah. In the last week, the coalition has conducted 34 strikes in the Qayyarah region in support of these operations.
Moving over to Syria, star three, operations against Daesh by the Syrian Democratic Forces continue. Please bring up the Manbij map. The SDF, led on this operation by the Syrian-Arab coalition, continues to tighten the cordon around Manbij. Our partner forces have isolated Manbij in a five-kilometer radius around the city and are now firmly in control of its outer edges.
SAC forces are fighting to establish footholds on the southern and western edges of the city. They have seized the entrances to an intricate tunnel complex on the southern edge, which will reduce Daesh's ability to relocate fighters inside the city. The SAC forces have also seized more than 10,000 documents from the outlying edges, including textbooks, propaganda posters, cell phones, laptops, maps and digital storage devices. Exploitation of this information is ongoing to better understand Daesh networks and techniques, including the systems to manage the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq.
To protect the citizens inside the city, SAC leaders have assumed a slower and more deliberate rate of advance to clear boobytraps and IEDs and to avoid civilian casualties. Daesh continues to establish fortified defenses in the city. Daesh fighters are providing a tough fight to the SAC. Daesh's tactics remain the same -- buildings turned into fighting positions inside the population; IEDs and boobytraps as minefields; suicide attacks with vehicles and vests.
We expect the fighting to continue, to be intense, and progress slow but deliberate due to the strategic importance Daesh places on this city for keeping the lines of communication between Manbij, Raqqah and outside Syria open.
Since the ground operations to liberate Manbij began, the coalition has conducted more than 270 strikes. These strikes have destroyed Daesh fortifications and vehicles, disrupted Daesh's ability to exercise command of its forces, and control over the population inside the city.
In the southeastern corner of Syria, our partnered opposition forces running the At-Tanf garrison launched an attack in the last 48 hours to seize the town of Abu Kamal, also known as Al-Bukamal, at star four, in the Euphrates River valley on the eastern border of Syria. The announced purpose of this attack by the New Syrian Army, also known as the Ketab Allah Akbar, or KAA, is to liberate Abu Kamal and cut Daesh military supply lines in the Euphrates Valley between Syria and Iraq.
Cutting these supply lines will impact the flow of foreign fighters and supplies between the upper and lower Euphrates Valley. As we've worked to interdict lines of communication between Iraq and Syria in the north near Sinjar Mountain on Highway 43, and in the south near Rutbah and At-Tanf on Highway 10, we are now working to interdict the last major line of communication between the two countries.
This better isolates Daesh operations in the two countries and limits high speed routes to reinforcements, resupply and foreign fighters flowing between the countries, thereby increasing the pressure across the so-called caliphate.
As with our other partner forces, we are providing advice and assistance to KAA and strikes in support of their operations. Last night, we conducted eight large strikes on Daesh targets near Abu Kamal, including two tactical Daesh units, an intelligence training center, a headquarters, a training camp, a known bed-down location for fighters and a Daesh vehicle.
Before I take questions, I would like to touch on coalition operations against illicit Daesh oil and natural activities -- natural gas activities, which as you know, we call Operation Tidal Wave II.
CJTF-OIR continues to target Daesh oil sites, equipment and vehicles for transporting oil and natural gas. Since September 2014, we have conducted approximately 300 strikes against oil-related facilities, infrastructure and equipment. And last week, the coalition has conducted eight strikes in support of Tidal Wave II near Raqqa, in Deir ez-Zor in Syria, and Mosul and Qayyarah in Iraq.
Coalition air strikes have attacked Daesh oil tankers, oil and gas separation plants, well heads and pumping infrastructure. We have also struck the Daesh self-proclaimed ministry of oil headquarters in Mosul, which impacts the management of these illicit oil operations.
These Tidal Wave strikes impact Daesh's ability to fund governance, activities and terror operations.
Finally, before I move to questions, I'd like offer, on behalf of the Coalition, condolences to those who were killed and injured in the attack on the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul.
This is an example, once again, of terrorism in our coalition home countries and across the globe, and it underlies the main reason we are here, why we have to defeat Daesh inside Iraq and Syria on the ground.
So, thank you. With that, I would be glad to take your questions. And Bob or Lita -- I think I saw Bob.
Q: Hello, thanks, Colonel. On your last point about the airport attack, have you able to pick up any sign inside Syria or Iraq that -- that ISIL directed that attack, as opposed to possibly inspired it? And are they capable of directing, conducting such attacks beyond their own -- beyond Syria and Iraq, at this point?
COL. GARVER: Well, Bob, it's very early, as you know. I mean, the attack just happened.
The Turks are certainly looking into that, and they're the lead for that investigation. We know that Daesh wants to project power and conduct attacks outside of Iraq and Syria. They want to use their funds to conduct global attacks, really start global chaos.
And so, whether they have in this attack or not, whether it was Daesh or not, the investigation by the Turkish government will -- will uncover that information. But we certainly know that they want to do that. We know that they think globally, and that they have looked to both conduct attacks, order attacks and inspire attacks across the globe.
Q: A quick follow-up. Is it your assessment that they are capable at this stage? You've described a lot of, you know, reducing the capability of ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
At this stage, are they still capable, are they now capable of carrying out external attacks of this sort?
COL. GARVER: Well, I'll -- I'll tell you, Bob, that's really -- you know, we look at that capability, but we're really looking at what Daesh can do here inside Iraq and Syria. And so, I think the director of the CIA just talked about this a few days ago and I know folks back in D.C. are kind of looking at the overall global impact on the -- on Daesh on its operations.
I will say that, you know, we continue to conduct the strikes that we discussed. For example, we've continued to conduct our Tidal Wave strikes against their finances and their oil and gas infrastructure. And we believe we have reduced by about 50 percent the revenue that they gain from their illicit oil operations.
But we also acknowledge that if our estimates of $300 million a month is what they were earning, that's still approximately $150 million a month that they're earning. [(sic) Eds: the correct figure is $300 million per year, meaning their annual revenue has decreased by approximately $150 per year, or approximately $15 million per month] That's a lot of money. You can fund a lot of things across the globe.
That's why we continue to strike those. We look at stopping their finances, stopping their command and control, attacking those leaders that we know have experience in international attacks and international attack planning.
So all of that is connected so that the fight here supports the global fights against ISIL, you know, but CJTF is focused on what's happening here in Iraq and Syria.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next we'll go to June Torbani with Reuters.
Q: Thanks, Colonel.
Can you describe a little bit more what the status of the fight for Abu Kamal is? Have the -- have the rebels faced a lot of resistance? What -- how close are they to capturing it? And since it's close -- so close to the Iraqi border, has there been any involvement from Iraqi tribal fighters?
COL. GARVER: Well, that fight is still going on today. It's going on right now.
And I don't want to get into too many specifics right now, but a good sized force of fighters from -- from the At Tanf garrison conducted an attack north. That attack has been coordinated by the -- the Combined Joint Task Force with other elements as well. And we are looking to inflict damage on Daesh in that location inside -- inside, you know, Syria.
And obviously, Al-Qaim is the town right across the border and so we conducted strikes last night -- two nights ago, excuse me -- we conducted strikes in Al-Qaim and we're trying to limit Daesh's ability to move up and down the Euphrates River Valley, which has been a focus for moving from Iraq to Syria. As we've cut down the lines of communication in the south and in the north, the lines that we've seen Daesh using is -- is more in the center.
So all of that is -- is certainly focused on trying to interdict those lines. But that operation is going on right now, the fight is going on right now and I don't want to get into too many specifics about who is where.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next to Andrew Tilghman with Military Times.
Q: Hi, Colonel.
On -- in the Qayyarah area, could you just give us a little better sense of the status of that fight, just in terms of how far away are the Iraqis forces from Qayyarah and the river? How tough has the fighting been?
And if you could talk a little bit about -- why is the focus on Qayyarah for this particular phase? What's the strategic value? There's an air field there, I guess. Why is the -- why is the focus on that, at this point?
COL. GARVER: Well, first, just to kind of try to paint a picture for you, the -- the Iraqis are attacking on two axes towards that area. As you remember, when they left Makhmur a couple months ago, they conducted attacks from east to west headed towards the Qayyarah area towards the river. That fight, they went into defensive positions while they consolidated and worked on their plan. And then that -- they have re-launched those attacks and have seen some of the small towns to the east of the river, but they're moving from east to west.
We've seen fierce fighting in that area, but once they've been able to seize those towns, they have been able to consolidate, once they've driven those -- that we've seen heavy machine guns, we've seen suicide vests, we've seen VBIEDs -- vehicle-borne IEDs used as guided weapons against their formations.
And they've got multiple brigades attacking from east to west in support of that operation. Simultaneously, coming from the south to the north, up -- basically up the main MSR, if you look at that as a corridor for which the Iraqi army can travel, from the Baiji area pushing north. And I mentioned the kind of the small towns that they've passed through all the way up to Shayk Ali and Muhammad Musa.
The fighting has been -- I would describe it as stutter step. They have fought and then they have cleared an area, and then they fought again, then they have cleared an area. So they're kind of working through belts along the way. I think we described it earlier as somewhere between light and moderate resistance along the way. It depends on kind of how they've organized, how Daesh is organized in that area.
We've seen belts of IEDs, we've seen earthenworks, where they have kind of tried to make berms along the way. The Iraqis have been having to push through that and clear through that.
But that fight -- did we lose the feed? Are you guys still there?
CAPT. DAVIS: We can hear you now. You're frozen on the screen, but we think we can hear you.
COL. GARVER: All right. Well, hopefully, I'm in a good position frozen on the screen, so I don't -- don't look too ridiculous. But as long as you can hear, that's the important thing.
So we -- so, we've seen them continue to push through the towns as they've seized those towns and then move more north. We think they've moved approximately 20, 25 kilometers out of Baiji, headed towards Qayyarah.
As to why Qayyarah is important, the Iraqis have determined that this is the next step on what I kind of describe as the leapfrog to Mosul. As the forces continue to move forward, and as we've discussed before, Mosul is a long way away, especially in Iraq. Mosul is a long way away from Baghdad.
So as the forces push forward, we're going to -- they took the time as they did in Makhmur, they're going to build up and prepare for the next jump forward. I can't tell you right now whether the next jump is to Baghdad or whether the next jump is to another lily-pad, if you will, another leapfrog location, another base before they conduct that physical assault on to Mosul.
All that while, we're providing support through strikes, we're providing support through intelligence information. Our advisers are providing the advice and assist that we normally do, and the assistance and advice. And so, we're -- we're supporting that push forward.
But all of this is focused on getting to Mosul. And it's a long -- you know, as I said, it's a long distance between Baghdad and Mosul. And so, this is the next stage in that leapfrog.
Q: Okay. If I could just follow up on one thing. The role of American advisers, are they still at the sort of division level headquarters back in Makhmur, or are they beginning to move out, in -- closer to Qayyarah with the Iraqi troops, maybe on the battalion and brigade level?
COL. GARVER: Yeah. We are -- we're certainly not down at that lower level as we have discussed before, where we have some specialty brigades, we may have advisers at the brigade level, but those are still back in the division headquarters area. So we have not pushed the advisers for the U.S. down farther than that.
But the advisers are moving forward as the units are moving forward, and they're trying to find the places where they can best support and still get a feel for what's going on in the battlefield.
As the -- we've seen a couple of times, where the Iraqis have pulled commanders in and they have re-looked at the plan and re-looked at the terrain, re-looked at the enemy picture, which they're seeing in front of them. And then they are being able to kind of, you know, shift the plan on the fly.
Our advisers will go to those meetings and provide that advice as they listen, provide the coordination, which is -- which leads to the support when we've got strikes coming in or intelligence support and the things that we're going to provide along the way.
So, no real change in the posture. But certainly, our advisers are out there on the ground. And as those forces move forward, we can see the advisers moving in that direction as well.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next to Carla Babb with Voice of America.
Q: Hi, Colonel. Thanks for doing this. I hate that we can't see you. I think I'm the only TV person here, but we really hate that we can't see you.
I wanted to ask you about the Manbij fight and the fight for Abu Kamal. Can you confirm that there are U.S.-trained Syrians in both of those fights? And can you tell us the numbers of the -- that have gone through the U.S. train and equip program that are in those two fights?
COL. GARVER: Okay. A couple different -- different questions, and I'll -- I'll take them a piece at a time.
The first part is, where are U.S.-trained Syrians or you know, opposition forces. We have U.S.-trained opposition forces near the Mara line. We have U.S.-trained opposition forces down in the At-Tanf garrison, and we have provided advice, assistance and training to the Syrian Democratic forces that are in -- that are conducting the Manbij operation.
So certainly, we've conducted training along the way with the forces that we are partnered with.
As for -- and I always do this, Carla. I -- I apologize. What was your next question, what was the next part of it?
Q: So -- so, are you also basically saying that the KAA have -- we've not -- the United States has not trained any KAA fighters with this Syrian train and equip?
COL. GARVER: No. There are -- there are fighters with the KAA who have gone through that training. There are. So, I -- I thought I'd said that -- I had meant to say that. If that didn't come out, I apologize.
But there are -- but there are trained, you know, through the -- through the T&E, the train and equipping program, there are fighters on the ground with the KAA that have been through that program. I'm not going to get into the specifics of how many. I think the number that we've said is about 100 have been through the training.
But it's important to remember the impact they have when they've been through that training. Much like in our army or our military, we have a technique called train the trainer. You send one person to school, and that person comes back from school and makes his or her unit better, because of the training that they've been through.
We send one person to Ranger School, he comes back and makes his whole platoon better because of the things he or she learned at Ranger School and they're able to apply those skills to help the whole unit. And that's the approach that we're taking with the train and equip program.
As you know, we had tried to build our own units, tried to force them to do something they weren't necessarily comfortable doing, something they -- they -- they didn't want to do, and it didn't work so well the first time around. So we've adapted the program. We've been able to find better success and we're going to keep doing those things that we find better success with.
Q: Can you give us approximations? We don't need specific numbers, but can you say about a dozen have been trained that are in the Manbij fight or something like that?
COL. GARVER: I don't have an exact breakout by that. I know there's fighters in each of the locations that have been through the training, who have been through, you know, U.S. training.
But primarily, the train and -- train and equip program, what -- you know, Syria train and equip program, primarily those fighters are in Mara and -- in the Mara area and in the -- and in the KAA, down in the At-Tanf area. Primarily, those are where those two -- those two organizations are.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Thomas Gibbons-Neff of the Washington Post.
Q: Hey, sir, TM here.
Just a question kind of about Fallujah, but more about the -- the kind of recent urban fights that we've seen in Manbij, Ramadi and now that we've wrapped up in Fallujah. Just wondering what the, I guess, reduction in combat power that you're seeing from the enemy? Meaning, you know, when you go into these areas and you clear them out, are -- are the ISIS fighters staying and fighting? Are they fleeing?
And you know, if so -- you know, if -- if they're being decisively defeated in these areas, you know, how many prisoners are we taking? And kind of, you know, not so much for body count, but more are they just moving to fight another day or are they being kind of decisively defeated in these areas, if that makes any sense?
COL. GARVER: No. Great question. And -- and the answer is we're kind of seeing a mixture. What we tend to see in -- in Fallujah was that Daesh was not monolithic -- its directives were not monolithic across the force. So some people fought harder than other people did. Some people tried to melt away.
And I don't -- I don't have the exact number of how many captured that the Iraqi security forces did. I think I heard a number of around 1,000, but I don't know that off the top of my head for sure. So I would -- I would say, you know, caution on using that because that's just what I remember right now.
But -- but so we've seen fighting in areas be tough, as they kind of stay and fight, and then we've seen other areas where -- where they've -- they've kind of melted away. I think the fighting overall in Fallujah was not as stiff -- the resistance wasn't as stiff in Fallujah as what we say in Ramadi.
As for why that is, I mean, that's -- we're going to have to try to figure that out through the intelligence process to be able to -- to determine why that is. But -- but we see different -- different neighborhoods, you get a different answer, and I think some of it has to do with the leaders in the area, some of it has to do with Daesh directives at -- at that time and then some of it has to do with individual fighters making decisions to vote with their feet or vote with their rifles I guess is a way to put it.
So -- so I don't think we're in a position to say Daesh is doing X, Y, Z, that Daesh is -- you know, they've completely shifted from one to another. We see different responses in different parts of the fight.
Q: Just to follow up, I mean, that was a ballpark, 1,000 prisoners out of Fallujah. Even -- you know, even this, you know, 200 to the left or right of that, is still a pretty big number.
By your assessment, does the coalition have enough assets to kind of collect intelligence from these kind of -- these masses that are coming out of these fights, and you know, what does that process look like? I know in the past, we've talked about how much exposure U.S. forces have to prisoner populations.
So, if you kind of explain what that looks like, that would be fantastic.
COL. GARVER: All right. That -- in Iraq -- that is an Iraqi process. And so, we are -- you know, we're connected, but we are not doing -- you know, we're not doing prisoner operations -- and I'm blanking on the word -- that we've done before.
We're not -- we're not connected in doing that, and we're certainly not running detention interrogation camps, any -- anything that we had done when we had forces here, you know, 10 years ago.
So, we're connected to them through the intelligence process. If there was a specific individual we wanted to get to, to get information, we could do that. But we do not have a lot of forces doing that here on the ground.
So, that is really an Iraqi-led operation, and -- and it will continue to be so in Iraq.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Jamie McIntyre, of the Washington Examiner.
Q: Colonel, thanks again for joining us from your mysterious, undisclosed location, which I can't imagine where that might be.
Just as a side note, by the way, the -- the frozen image of you has switched to a much more flattering one. The previous one looked like you were sticking your tongue out at us, but I don't think that personally looked like a technical glitch.
My question is, you described the progress earlier as slow and deliberate. And you know, to borrow a technique from your predecessor, Colonel Warren, who always used to talk in boxing metaphors, it seems like you've been able to land a lot of blows against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but not a knock-out punch.
What would it take -- what would it take to actually break the will of the Islamic State? Is it the fall of Mosul and Raqqa? How will you know when you get to the point where you're actually really on the verge of victory?
COL. GARVER: Okay. A couple of things. I'll address them.
First and foremost, I can neither confirm nor deny that I was sticking my tongue out at you guys. I'm just not going to do that.
The second thing is, is I promise not as many boxing metaphors. But I will say that what we have seen has been the shaping operations for the big rounds, for the big fights. And the two prizes that we feel are in this fight, as -- just as you said, are Mosul and Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital in Iraq of the caliphate and the self-proclaimed capital in Syria.
So, we think those are the decisive fights for this operation for here. There will still be Daesh left in Iraq that's going to need to be dealt with by the Iraqi Security Forces. But you know, Fallujah was the second biggest city that was controlled by Daesh; Mosul is the biggest city that is controlled by Daesh. And that is the one that they have run as their capital.
So, if we can take those -- and as we see the -- you know, the Iraqi Security Forces are moving that way now -- if we -- if and when we -- we take Mosul and we take Raqqa, I think at that point we would say, you know, we're -- we're very pleased with the progress.
To this point now, I think we're -- we're pleased with the progress. But as we have said, we've always been looking for ways to accelerate the progress and trying to accelerate the campaign and move as quickly as possible.
So, I think I was able to do that without a boxing metaphor, but -- but you were exactly right in your -- in your point, which was the two prizes are Mosul and Raqqah. And those are the capitals that we're driving towards. The operations are all shaping towards that. And if we can capture those and defeat Daesh in those cities, it will have a significant, significant impact on the campaign and Daesh's fight inside the two countries.
Q: A quick follow-up. I was reading this morning a blog post by retired Army vice chief, General Keane, Jack Keane. And he was writing -- he was positing that -- he was saying that the Iraqi government would like to launch the offensive against Mosul this year, but that the U.S. was counseling to wait until next year in order to train more forces. And he also said he believed that General MacFarland was requesting up to 1,000 more people to add additional capability, including air controllers.
Can you provide us any context or understanding of General Keane's analysis?
COL. GARVER: I didn't see the blog post, and I, you know, Jack Keane was a great Army general. I worked for him when he was the 101st Airborne Division commander way back when. And -- and I think he's a great warrior and a great fighter. I didn't see his post so I don't exactly what he said.
What I can tell you is we have been pushing the acceleration of the campaign every day. Gen. MacFarland and his generals and his staff officers talk about going faster every day. And if we could be to Mosul tomorrow, we would get to Mosul tomorrow. And General MacFarland looks at Daesh as being -- I'm not going to say on the ropes -- but Daesh as being in a defensive crouch, as being pushed back, as having progress against Daesh, pressure on the caliphate. We talk about pressure all the time.
You never want to let up on that pressure once you've got it, because if you let it up, you're going to have to go get it again. So we've got pressure. We've got momentum. The Iraqi security forces have momentum. We had momentum after Ramadi. We saw Hit, Haditha. We saw Rutbah. We've seen successful operations continue to move along. And now we're seeing that again on the way to Mosul.
So you -- you don't want to let up that pressure once you've got it. So we would go faster every day if we had the opportunity to do that. And often we're able to through logistics, through advice, and other ways we're able to help them accelerate and go as fast as we can.
The prime minister has said he wants to be at Mosul by the end of the year. We're going to do everything we can to help that happen, to make that happen. If we can get into the city and start to fight before the end of the year, we definitely want to do that as well.
In terms of his, Gen. MacFarland's request for forces, Gen. Chalmers addressed this with you all last week, and I can just tell you that Gen. MacFarland has been constantly discussing with the chain of command and discussing with the Iraqis, discussing with the officers inside CJTF, you know, with the -- with the team that he has: What do we need? Do we need more? Do we need less? Do we have the right forces to be able to apply against that?
And if he needs it, he'll ask. He has, you know, constant dialogue going on, but he's not going to discuss that publicly. He wants that dialogue to be, partially for operational security reasons, partially so that leaders can make decisions without it being debated in front of them.
And so he has that discussion in private with his chain of command. Sometimes, we look at capabilities that are non-U.S. We'll go ask through CENTCOM and we'll go ask another coalition nation, "Hey, we need more trainers for police."
So we've asked the Italians. We've had other nations say we'll kick in police trainers because we want to train the hold force that will hold the terrain as we're about to see them start to do in Fallujah, eventually what they'll do in Ninawa province when we make it up towards Mosul.
So we will see that in -- in play. When we need trainers or we need another capability from a non-U.S., we go through CENTCOM but we ask that nation. If we need a U.S. capability, we go to CENTCOM and they go back to Department of Defense.
So if -- if we need something -- General MacFarland said specifically, if I need it, I'll ask. But he's going to do it of his chain of command and I'm not aware of any asks that are due to be announced in the next day or two. I saw the -- you know, the story last week from The Washington Post -- (inaudible) -- General MacFarland said, hey, I -- I talk to my chain of command all the time.
But I don't think there's a big ask, you know, like right around the corner that we're going to announce. So hopefully, that addresses your question, Jamie.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Cory Dickstein with Stars and Stripes.
Q: Thank you, sir. Thank you for -- for doing this.
Quick follow on what you just said at the end there -- well, toward the end there. The holding force that will move into Fallujah, can you describe what that holding force is made up of? Are we talking the Sunni tribal fighters and the police?
COL. GARVER: Yes, that's it. You got it exactly. It's going to be Iraqi police, and of course they've got different levels of police, from local police all the way up to federal police.
But we -- again, the term is local. We want local police officers in there. And those police officers have to be trained to provide both security, so they've got to be able to fight if Daesh attacks, and they've got to be able to provide law enforcement. So they're going through both of the -- both of those aspects of police training, again, led by the excellent police training by the Carabinieri that are here.
And we look at, how can we accelerate their training? Do they need the law enforcement training right away? Is that something we could do later? Can we do it in a phase approach or do we need to do it together? We look for how do we adapt the training program to be able to fit that?
The other side of it, which you said is, is the Anbari tribal fighters. There are tribal fighters as members of the popular mobilization, as I'm -- I'm sure everybody is aware, that have been through training, have been through equipping, all done in conjunction with the government in Iraq and the government in Iraq says, yes, we will -- will provide a training and assistance to those tribal fighters.
And there are times where we have advisers with those tribal fighters. And there were tribal fighters -- Anbari tribal fighters fighting on the south side of Fallujah right next to the 8th Iraqi Army Division. So they are -- they're right there in the mix.
So what we anticipate in Anbar is police and we anticipate tribal fighters, part of the -- the popular mobilization program, but -- but -- and registered with the government and the government says, yes, we will support you as part of the hold force.
We anticipate seeing the same thing in Ninawa. There are police officers being moved up into that area. So as the Iraqi Security Force makes ground and as they capture terrain, you don't want to have your -- your trained army, especially that's been trained to conduct an assault, you don't want to have them standing on check points. If you can do that with police, if you can do that with tribal fighters that are working with the units, that's a great way for them to participate in the --- in the fight.
So we're -- we're working for that. We'll see that develop in Ninawa. But there are -- certainly, they're in the process of working through that down in Fallujah as well.
Q: Another topic. You mentioned the Tidal Wave II strikes and you mentioned the Ministry of Oil headquarters in Mosul. I think -- can you tell me -- when was that -- that strike? And what impact did it have specifically on the oil operations?
COL. GARVER: So it was in the last week. It was -- it was in Mosul. If you look on our daily strike releases, we said a -- and I don't remember specifically which day it was, but it was in the last seven days. And we specifically listed it as the Ministry of Oil headquarters.
What we think that does, is that strikes the management piece of them trying to run really a business. They're trying to run a business or a government of illicit oil and national gas operations.
So the strike just happened. We're going to watch for reflections to see kind of what the impact of that is. But just as we do, just when we hit an oil field -- -- an oil field, we hit a set of trucks, you know, we hit other targets. We'll take some time to try to figure out what the impact is.
Sometimes it's tough in this business, the oil business, in attacking their revenue stream, it's tough to know the exact -- the exact results. I mean, if I go and bomb a fighting position, if there's no more machine gun fire coming from the fighting position, I think I got the position. The oil business and how much revenue they're generating, that's -- that's a more difficult thing and there's folks at the national level that are looking at that to try to understand Daesh's finances, how they're moving money, where they're storing it.
And as you know, we've hit money storage sites when we know where they're storing money. So it is tougher to understand the exact impact. We can tell whether we hit the building or not, but what that does to the -- to the overall management of its oil operations, we're still going to take some time to develop that.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Richard Sisk from Military.com.
Q: Hi, Colonel.
Can you tell us, is there a plan or consideration being given to having the U.S. military become involved over there in the humanitarian efforts for all the thousands of displaced refugees from Fallujah? Or as you kind of indicated earlier, is the idea to focus on getting them back into the city itself?
COL. GARVER: Great question.
We're certainly watching the humanitarian situation around Fallujah. And so, you know, there were displaced civilians inside Iraq before the battle of Fallujah as well. So it's been a problem that the Iraqis have been tackling for a while now.
Right now, we are -- we're -- the only support to that that we're conducting outside of the kinetic effects of getting Daesh out of Fallujah is that we've got some advisers connected through the normal chains to discuss what we call civil military operations, so our CMOs. We've got a couple of folks who do that on a regular basis.
But really who's in the lead, it's the Iraqis and it's the U.N. and the NGOs, the non-governmental organizations, that are really in the lead on that operation. You know, there's -- the different coalition nations are providing support and money. The U.S. just promised $20 million for the citizens of Fallujah, the displaced persons from Fallujah and they're going to ask other folks to do support as well.
So we -- you know, we're -- we're -- we, the nation -- there's providing some support, clearly, that's outside the CJTF lane. Our military focus inside for the coalition is really, as I say, we've got a few officers that talk civil military operations with those folks that are doing that with the U.N., with the NGOs, and with the Government of Iraq. But we haven't been asked to provide that kind of support yet. If -- if we were to be asked, General MacFarland would consider that mission. He'd go back to CENTCOM and discuss the impacts of that.
You know, we don't have civil military battalions here like we did back in the 2000s. So, how we would do that, that's pure speculation at this point. We haven't been asked. If we get asked, we'd consider it certainly, but we haven't been asked for that yet.
For the overall, you know, U.S. government, U.S. military government response, I'd tell you to ask the guys in the rooms with you. It's outside my lane.
Q: Colonel, just -- so nothing right now in the way of the military providing tents, water, MREs?
COL. GARVER: No. Like I said, we, the military, the CJTF, are not providing that. We don't have stocks of that over here. Where that support is coming from is the United Nations. It's coming from the NGOs. The Norwegian organization that's leading the charge on that is doing great work in trying to manage a very difficult problem.
But -- but we are not providing that support right now, certainly not the CJTF. Again, if you ask the people in the building there, Captain Davis and his folks, if there's anything more than that going on, I'm not aware of it, but they may be able to help you with that.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next to Luis Martinez from ABC News.
Q: Hey, Chris; a couple of questions on Fallujah, and then on Manbij.
On Fallujah, do you have an accurate assessment of how many Iraqi Security Force casualties there were or have been in this offensive? And do you have similar information for the ISIS forces, what kind of casualties they took?
And over to Manbij, you're describing a significant intelligence haul in regards to the foreign fighter operation there. Did you know that going in that this was a significant place for foreign fighters? And does the information gleaned so far stretch beyond that general area? In other words, does it provide information about international foreign fighter flow?
COL. GARVER: Okay, so first and foremost, the question about Fallujah. I don't, but I'll tell you, I think the sense of it was they did -- the Iraqi security forces did not take a lot of casualties in this fight. I don't have specific numbers for you, but just the reflections that I know, some reporting that we received, the casualty figures were pretty low for the Iraqis, which, you know, that's a great thing. And so I think both killed and wounded was -- was relatively low, less than what we saw in Ramadi. But I don't have specific numbers to give you for that operation.
On the other side, the Daesh side, I've seen Iraqi figures that put casualties around 2,000. I've seen Iraqi figures that -- that have that number be less, but definitely over 1,000 Daesh casualties in that fight. And that analysis is still going on. I don't have a specific number to give you on that either right now.
Over in Manbij, we absolutely knew that that city was the hub, and of course that terrain has been one that's been open for the last year-plus where most of the foreign fighter flow in and out of -- in and out of Syria, which then also leads into Iraq, was coming through that. So we actually knew what the strategic importance of that city was, as did the SDF and the folks who are conducting the operation right now.
That information that they're pulling out of that, like you said, it's a significant haul of intelligence. That is being gone through right now. I don't have any specific examples to give you that yes, we've already been able to adapt some tactics based on the information that's being taken out there.
But you've got folks who are looking at that very closely because of the impact on not just Manbij itself, but this idea of foreign fighter flow facilitation and their connections outward, both out of Syria and then into Syria and into Iraq. So we've been trying to stop -- interdict the flow of foreign fighters all along through this campaign, but this is a significant step forward in that operation.
Q: Just one quick follow-up here.
So when you say 1,000 causalities, are you referring to combined killed and wounded or strictly just killed when you are referring to casualties for Daesh?
COL. GARVER: To be honest, I don't even remember when I saw those -- if they -- if the Iraqis differentiated them that way. We'd have to go back and take a look. I don't know.
Like I said, this is Iraqi reporting that they've been out in the public domain with. But we have seen different numbers that have been kind of thrown around. So I want to say I think it was killed, but we need to go back and check. I don't know off the top of my head.
CAPT. DAVIS: (off-mic)
Q: Luke Mogan from Military Times.
Colonel, I was just wondering if the coalition has noticed any changes in the flow of foreign fighters and what the coalition has been doing to stifle recruitment on the ground for Daesh?
COL. GARVER: Yes, we have noticed a reduction in the flow of foreign fighters. We think at its heyday last year, that it was upward of 2,000 a month that were coming into Syria then moving into Iraq. We think that the flow is now down somewhere around between 200 and 500. I've seen different estimates on that.
That was prior to Manbij, so I don't know that we have a kind of a new estimate based on what we're seeing in the fight in Manbij. If we can get that area completely under control, I would anticipate that to go down, but we'll have to kind of re-look at those numbers when that happens.
We're also looking at the flow into and around both Syria and Iraq. So it's not just where they're coming in but where are they staying? Where are they being supported? How do they get from point A to point B? You know, we certainly don't see the long convoys of white trucks moving across the desert where fighters are moving in and out, and moving from Mosul to Raqqah unimpeded, as we saw a year and half ago in this fight.
Now, the facilitation -- the flow of foreign fighters is done -- a few guys hide in the back of truck, people walking across the desert. You don't see the massive amounts of -- of movement. It's certainly been whittled down in its size.
Where that's important tactically is if somebody is in Raqqah and they're trying to get reinforcements to Mosul, they can do it either through a slow -- through a slow method -- they were having to send foreign fighters or just fighters -- not just foreign fighters, but fighters. If you were trying to send fighters from Raqqah to Mosul, you would end up sending them through the Abu Kamal and Al Qaim area.
That's why that fight is important because that's going to help slow down the flow of foreign fighters to that one high-speed avenue of approach from Iraq to Syria and back. And so we're interdicting those lines as well.
You know, you're never going to seal a border. Certainly the border wasn't sealed prior to all of this and it's going to be tough to do that. We're training, you know, the border security forces to assist with that, at the same time we're training the Iraqi police.
And General Chalmers brought that up last week, that we're just starting the process of training the Iraqi border security force. So, that will help in the flow of foreign fighters, which we -- we can get those trained and into place out on the border pulling security. Then that will help slow that -- that -- that -- that flow of foreign fighters, flow of fighters within Iraq and Syria down completely.
So, we've seen -- you know, like I said, we think we've interdicted it some; it has got to be interdicted more.
But the last point of your question -- your question was, what are we doing to stop recruitment? I think the number one thing is through B-52s and through A-10s and through F-16s, and Mirages and the other aircraft that are conducting strikes.
The more we can kill, the more we can destroy Daesh on the ground, we -- we -- I think we're doing a good job of convincing people that, you know, being a recruit, being a leader, there's not a lot of long-term career options in -- in Daesh.
So, we continue to do that. But at the same time, you know, there is a global coalition that's conducting campaigns of messaging to convince people not to get up and leave their countries and travel to Iraq and Syria to try to join the caliphate.
So, we want to -- we want to convince people that the caliphate is not a real thing. We're in the process of breaking it up. It's not worth leaving your home and coming to Iraq and Syria to join the caliphate.
And it's also -- if you do, it's going to be dangerous for you when you get here.
Q: Just a quick follow-up. Can you put a number on how many fighters are being recruited within Iraq right now?
COL. GARVER: Yeah. I -- I don't. I -- we have seen -- I tell you, the major reflection that we've seen is, as we have move toward a city -- we saw this in Manbij. We saw this in -- we've seen this in the areas around the areas around Qayyarah.
So, as those security forces -- Iraqi Security Forces, or the SDF and the SAC, as they're kind of moving into an area, we see reflections that Daesh is trying to impress -- force -- military-age males inside of the areas we're going to become fighters for them.
And so, as -- as -- as our forces approach, they're trying to generate combat power from inside where they are, inside of the caliphate. What that means is that they're not getting support from outside; they can't get large numbers of fighters into the areas where we're going to go.
And when commanders are asking for reinforcements -- as we saw Ramadi, the other fight in the Euphrates River Valley with Hit and Haditha inside Fallujah -- we have seen lower level Daesh commanders asking for reinforcements. They don't always get those reinforcements.
So, we see them trying to impress the local citizens into becoming members of Daesh, often threatening their families, if you don't fight for Daesh, we're going to kill your family. We're going to execute them out in a public square.
We have seen certainly that in -- in most of the places that we have been fighting Daesh, and don't anticipate that changing any time soon. That seems to be a technique that they employ.
So, I don't have specific numbers for you, but I do know the movement of fighters is not what it was, because they're trying to recruit more from inside the areas where they're about to be attacked.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Anyone else? Oh, I'm sorry. Lori, you -- go ahead.
Q: Thank you. I'm wondering if you can give a timeline for when you expect the ISF to move out of Fallujah, and these local police and tribal fighters to move in?
COL. GARVER: Okay. Yeah, that's going on right now. We've seen some units pick up and move out Fallujah already. I'm not going to discuss the specifics of it, because that, you know, we don't want to discuss types of units that are moving around and where they're going.
We've seen that hand-over start to take place. So we're going to watch that, we're going to watch and help where we can to get the -- to get the hold force in place. And they're working through that right now, the Iraqi command is, but that's already started.
Q: Do you know -- you might not be able to give an answer to this, but when it might be complete?
COL. GARVER: No. I don't -- I don't have a timeline for you. I mean, it's going to be complete when they get the hold force in place. I don't -- I don't -- I don't know how long that's going to take.
CAPT. DAVIS: Andrew.
Q: Hey, it's Andrew Tilghman of Military Times again. Just one specific question. Do you have a current estimate on the size of the ISIS fighting force in Iraq and Syria?
I mean, you've mentioned here today a couple of reasons why that would be diminished in terms of casualties and detentions and reduced flow of foreign fighters. Has the -- has the intelligence ratcheted down the estimate for the total strength of the force at all?
COL. GARVER: So, as you know, the official estimate was 19,000 to 25,000 between the two countries. And we thought it was about a 60 percent Syria, 40 -- no, 60 percent Iraq, 40 percent Syria. I think that's right. It was 60 percent for one and 40 percent for the other. But between 19 and 25,000.
I have not seen another estimate that addresses that after the success we've seen, the progress that the Iraq Security Forces made in Fallujah or what's going on in Manbij. So clearly, you know, we're -- we're trying to figure that, but I think we're still using, as the official estimate, between 19 and 25,000.
And some of that is weighed against the recruiting efforts in standing up fighters from inside the caliphate, doing what they can to try and impress folks inside to join. So we're definitely trying to figure that out, but it's not a CJTF estimate. That's a -- an official U.S. government estimate. I can't talk to it, because it's not coming from inside our headquarters.
So the number that we're looking at, still the official answer, I think, is 19 to 25. And I haven't seen that been updated.
CAPT. DAVIS: Anything else? Last call. All right. Thanks, everybody.
Thank you, Chris, and we wish you a happy Independence Day. And we'll see you next week, hopefully moving.
COL. GARVER: Yeah. I'll -- I'll see what I can do, so I can be moving next time.
But appreciate it. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate -- you know, you got any questions, send them our way. And we'll see you next week.
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