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Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook October 17, 2016

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room


PETER COOK: Good afternoon, everybody.

Gonna start with an update on counter-ISIL operations. I want to first highlight significant progress in northern Syria, where Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces, supported by the coalition, liberated six towns and villages from ISIL, including the town of Dabiq.

Freeing Dabiq over the weekend holds military and symbolic significance. Dabiq was so important to ISIL's propaganda machine that the terror group's magazine was named after this town. ISIL carried out barbaric atrocities in Dabiq and even claimed that its final victory will take place there. Instead, its forces have been defeated in Dabiq just as they have been from territory across Syria and in Iraq.

We applaud the Turkish and Syrian opposition forces which took part in the battle to liberate the people of Dabiq from ISIL oppression. As you saw in the secretary's statement yesterday, we particularly appreciate the close coordination we've had with Turkey in this effort.

Now, this morning in Iraq, as announced by Prime Minister Abadi, Iraqi security forces with the support of the counter-ISIL coalition began operations to liberate Mosul. They started moving at 6 a.m. Baghdad time. This is a decisive moment in the counter-ISIL campaign. It is in Mosul that ISIL's leader chose to announce its so-called caliphate. Mosul is also historically a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian city, precisely the opposite of ISIL's hate-filled ideology. So Mosul carries a great deal of symbolic importance in this fight as well.

But more than a symbol, Mosul is also a city of more than a million people. Over two years, ISIL has brutalized this city's population, committing horrific atrocities. This is a fight to free hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis from ISIL's rule. This fight is taking place with Iraqi's firmly in the lead, including thousands of Iraqi army personnel, counterterrorism forces and federal police. Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni tribal forces are also playing a critical role in this fight.

They have the support of an international counter-ISIL coalition of 60 nations led by the United States, providing advice and assistance, logistical support, intelligence and precision air power. The coalition has conducted more than 54,000 training cycles for Iraqi security forces. It has conducted more than 10,000 precision strikes in Iraq, including more than 70 in the Mosul area just this month. And Iraqi forces will have the continued support of the coalition as they move forward.

The role of U.S. and coalition forces will continue to be one of supporting the ISF.

We are in the first day of what we assume will be a difficult campaign that could take some time. Early indications are that Iraqi forces have met their objectives so far and that they are ahead of schedule for this first day. This is going according to the Iraqi plan, but again, it's early and the enemy gets a vote here. We will see whether ISIL stands and fights. We are confident no matter what, however, that the Iraqi's have the capabilities to get this job done and we stand ready to support them along with the rest of the coalition. It is in our interest that they succeed, and we will do what we can to help them.

With that, I'm happy to take your questions.

Lita

Q: Peter, just first off the top, I just was wondering just to make sort of an official, on behalf of some of the members of the media, we'd like an operational -- military operational update on the fight, considering there are thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq. And if possible, if we could get some sort of military operational update, you know, as soon as possible, you know, earlier. Obviously sooner rather than later. If we could do that, that would be great.

MR. COOK: We've got your request. We obviously have Colonel Dorrian and people downrange who can provide updates for you, as they have through the course of today. You've heard already the statement from our commanding general, Lieutenant General Townsend and we'll provide you additional information.

Lita, I will point out to you, as I did in my opening here, this is the Iraqis in the lead. And the Iraqis right now, for example, even today, are providing operational guidance as to how this fight will be waged. And to some extent, you're going to see us deferring to the Iraqis because this is their fight.

It is understandable that they would be the ones to take the lead in terms of operational updates and we'll do what we can to provide information to you and to provide as much information as we can, particularly on the U.S. role.

And -- but I just want to make clear that this is the Iraqi's fight.

Q: Right. I understand.

Since you do -- did -- you mentioned General Townsend's comments. He -- he did say in his statement today that they were JTACs, that that was part of the U.S. capability being provided to the Iraqis. I'm wondering if you could help us understand at what level the JTACs are -- are operating?

And then more broadly, can you tell us some as up-to-date figures as you have on how many U.S. troops are in Iraq today? How many -- is it still about 500 or so in Qayyarah? How close are they to the fight at this point? Are at they battalion level? I mean, these are things we've sort of discussed all along, but at this point, do you know -- are they operating as advisers at the battalion level, the brigade level? And do you know if they are using Apaches in this so far?

MR. COOK: Okay. So several questions, there. I'll --

Q: Yes, I can repeat them.

MR. COOK: I'll try and get to as many of those as -- as we can.

First of all, just to put it in context again, we have, as we've talked about, about 5,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, all part of this effort, part of the coalition to defeat ISIL. Many of those people are in enabler roles. They may be trainers. We've talked about the 12 Iraqi brigades that have been trained for this fight. Again, many of the U.S. forces have been part of that effort.

We have a number of people providing logistical support to this effort. We've talked a lot about the effort to -- to put Q-West into a position to be sort of a forward staging area for this fight. That's a good example of some of the logistical support that's being provided. At each of these locations, of course, there might also be need for force protection. Those are some of the U.S. forces.

And we have some people in train, advise and assist mission as well with Iraqi forces. They've been primarily up to this point, as we've indicated at the headquarters level, the commander there, General Townsend, has had the authority to use advisers at a lower level. He has up to this point used that very sparingly, and as the course of this fight plays out, he'll determine what the appropriate use of our forces are in that context. but I'm not going to get into specific numbers today, particularly on the first day of this -- of this effort. But he will use that judiciously.

And again, we -- we've also separately of course been providing advise and assist roles with both the counterterrorism service separate from the conventional Iraqi army, as well as the Peshmerga. And we'll continue to do that with Americans in a support role providing advice and assistance to those forces as they conduct their operations.

U.S. specifically, as well, about the Apaches -- my understanding on the Apaches is they have not been used so far in this effort, but the Apaches are a capability, a very potent capability that we are prepared to use, should it be -- should it be deemed by the commanders and the Iraqis that this is something that -- a capability that would make a difference in this fight.

I want to emphasize that each and every one of these decisions are decisions that we are reaching with the Iraqis. We are not doing anything in this fight without the consent and approval of the -- the government of Iraq.

Q: The JTACs.

MR. COOK: JTACs.

Q: (inaudible) -- specifically mentioned them in his statement, so if you could help us understand how close they are to the fight. And -- and let me just take another stab at -- you said that he has used this sparingly, troops at the battalion level.

Do you know if there are, in terms of this fight already today, U.S. forces embedded or training and advising at the battalion or lower levels as well as the JTAC?

MR. COOK: There's -- my understanding, there's no difference in what they're doing today than what they were doing previously.

I will point out that the CTS and the Pesh do not operate in the same ways that conventional Iraqi forces. We've had U.S. forces at a lower level with both the Pesh and the CTS. They don't have a headquarters division construct, and so I think it's fair to say that we are doing the same thing with them in -- in this instance. Some Americans are, as they have previously.

And so I think that's -- again, it's consistent with what we've been doing in the past. There's nothing we're doing differently today than we've been doing previously. What's different is the Iraqis and where they are geographically, what they are doing in this fight. And we're there to support them.

But again, Americans, even with the CTS and with the Pesh, remain in that support role, that advisory role. They are not in the lead in that fight. And that remains the case. So --

Q: Can you address the JTACs?

MR. COOK: Yeah. There -- there are instances -- I'll give you an example. I'm not sure the -- the numbers. I don't have particular numbers.

But I think, as it's been explained to me, that there could be instances in this fight, for example, where Iraqi forces in the lead may identify a target that they think might be appropriate. They would convey that information to an American that would be behind the forward line of troops, behind the line of action. And that information would then be relayed to command and control center.

Obviously, we have aircraft in the air. And so for a lack of a better term, a middle man who could relay that information about a possible target.

Again, in this instance, I want to convey very importantly that any target who would -- that would be selected in this way would be screened by not only the American commanders, but also Iraqis as well as to whether or not that's an appropriate target. So, I think that's a good example of what General Townsend was describing.

So have I gotten through most of the list there?

Barbara.

Q: But until now, U.S. military commanders had always said they didn't really see a need for this type of forward air control capability. So, my first question is can you tell us what changed that led them to now believe they need this capability?

MR. COOK: I'd actually -- Barbara, would prefer that that question be put to -- to General Townsend. This is something that he identified in his statement today. This is not a -- a capability we, to my knowledge, have used very much. And I believe he's looking -- and I don't want to put words into his mouth -- looking -- forward looking as to what might be required in the course of this campaign.

This is a big city. This is a large area. This is an area where there will be -- this will be a significant fight. And I think that what General Townsend has talked about, the unique capabilities that America can bring to bear, that the coalition can bring to bear in support of the Iraqis, he's got a -- a suite of -- of capabilities that he could employ. And this is one of them.

But I don't want to get out ahead of him in terms of the actual use of this capability.

Q: Sure.

And can you tell us, does he have the authority to prevent U.S. troops to actually enter Mosul as Iraqi units and Pesh units move further forward, enter the city, and move into the city? Is it still an open question whether U.S. troops will go with them? Will U.S. troops enter Mosul or is that completely off the table?

MR. COOK: Barbara, I think we're on day one of what we expect will be a -- a lengthy fight here. I'm not going to look ahead to the future. At, this point we are focused on the here and now and how this is playing out. And --

Q: Well , you're not ruling it out.

MR. COOK: I'm -- I'm not ruling it in, I'm not ruling it out. We are on day one, Barbara. We are -- barely got this thing started. Let's see how this plays out. We'll be working closely with the Iraqis. Nothing happens -- nothing will happen with regard to U.S. forces that is not agreed to with the Iraqis. That's the most important thing here.

Q: Well, yeah. But --

MR. COOK: Any -- any action by U.S. forces, by the coalition, would have to be approved by Prime Minister Abadi.

Q: But the question I have, Peter, is it a given that U.S. -- pardon me. It is a given that Iraqi forces will enter Mosul.

MR. COOK: Yes.

Q: This is not happening without them entering the city. So the question I have is not about what they want, but it is about what the U.S., what the military -- what Ash Carter wants. Is --

MR. COOK: We want the defeat of ISIL.

Q: -- (inaudible) -- to accept the notion of U.S. troops entering Mosul. He must know what he thinks at this point.

MR. COOK: Barbara, what the secretary knows is that he wants ISIL defeated in Mosul and we're doing to do everything we can to support the Iraqis to achieve that goal. And you are getting way ahead of things here when you're talking about that situation. As you know, we haven't had a need for U.S. forces in Ramadi, we haven't had a need for them to enter other locations.

And so we'll see how this plays out. We'll work carefully, coordinate with the Iraqis, work closely with our coalition partners as well. But we're on day one, here. Let's wait to see how this plays out.

Q: Very briefly, I'd like to underscore what Lita said. I think it could not be more essential for us to have some type of operational press briefing, not just where we're provided information, but there is an opportunity to ask questions of U.S. military commanders involved in this, since you have somewhat 5,000 troops involved --

MR. COOK: Absolutely. And we have been providing, just for the record, providing you senior leaders from this campaign. Through -- on a regular basis, we've been briefing you. And that will include even this week. We will have -- we have plans already fro a senior leader to brief you as soon as Wednesday, if not sooner.

So keep -- keep tuned to your schedule, but we -- we will make every effort to provide information to you, including in particular from people downrange who are in the thick of this, but we have to acknowledge these are people who are very busy right now and trying to do their day jobs and they're being as helpful as they can. We sincerely appreciate that and I know you'll I hope appreciate the information they'll be able to convey to you soon. I'll do my best in the meantime.

Yes, Tara.

Q: Thanks, Peter. In earlier briefings with I believe Colonel Dorrian, we had learned about how some of the 100 and 200 advisers would embed with these brigades and move forward with the brigades as they moved on Mosul. Have those advisers moved forward with the brigades?

And will they -- to follow-on on Barbara's question, how close to Mosul will they actually get? Is there some sort of decision already made as to where those advisers would stay or would they go forward into the city?

MR. COOK: again, I'll go back to where I was with Barbara. These are brigades -- I can't speak to the movement of every single Iraqi brigade or the movement of every single American at this point. But yes, there was a plan for Americans to be providing that -- that advisory role to -- to Iraqi leaders, to the Iraqi commanders as they have through the course of this. Again, many of these folks help with the training of these Iraqi brigades.

So we're going to leave it to the Iraqis to determine the movement of their forces and we'll be there in a support role. It is too soon to say at this point where these movements will go, what the Americans will do in that advisory capacity. But what is important is that it will be Iraqis in the lead, it will not be Americans. We will be playing the support role, as we have throughout the course of this campaign.

Lucas?

Q: Peter, right now, are there any Americans in Mosul or on the outskirts of the city?

MR. COOK: I think it's fair to say that there are Americans at a -- on the outskirts of the city, but I'm not going to get into the disposition of every single America.

I -- what I will tell you again, Lucas, is that it's the Iraqis in the lead. The Iraqis are at the front and Americans are providing in their advisory role, but they are behind the forward line of troops. And they are providing that same sort of advice and assistance that they have in Iraq previously and will continue to do so as this fight progresses.

Q: What's the plan for after ISIS is defeated and pushed out of Mosul? Is there a political plan in place? What does that look like here?

MR. COOK: This is, as you know, Lucas, something of considerable discussion the day after ISIL is defeated. And we are confident that ISIL will be defeated. This is an effort that will be led by the government of Iraq, by Prime Minister Abadi. He's worked closely with the United Nations.

We do have concerns about the humanitarian situation that would follow the military operations. We've been working closely -- the United States government has with the United Nations, with the government of Iraq to try and address the concerns about the civilian population, those people who might be displaced.

There are steps that have been taken to try and address this. The United States alone has contributed more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance. We've been able to get pledges -- helps to get pledges from others in the international community of more than $2 billion. So this is something we have given some serious thought to.

It will be led by the Iraqis. We'll be trying to support it as best we can. Our focus here at the Department of Defense is the military operation, but I can assure you there are plenty of people in the United States government who are tracking this and working very closely with the international community to -- to address the very serious concerns here.

Q: And lastly, I noticed you did not mention the Shia militias. Will the United States military be supporting -- even if it's part of the Iraqis' plan and they're in the lead -- any of the movements of the Shia militias near Mosul?

MR. COOK: We'll be supporting the Iraqi security forces that are under the command of Prime Minister Abadi. That's what we've been doing from the state.

Yes, Missy

Q: Hi, Peter.

I just want to follow up on the JTAC question as well. Just to clarify, so is this activity that you described or what the U.S. troops may be doing, is that happening in a way that has not occurred up until now in the campaign? And if so, is this an -- is this a new authority that's been granted to General Townsend to authorize?

And I'd also like to ask you about the -- if you can provide us an update on what the situation is with the Turkish troops and what the United States is doing to try to mitigate and deal with that situation.

And finally, I just want to add my voice as well to the request that Lita and Barbara made.

MR. COOK: Okay. Again, I don't -- what I just explained about the forward controllers, I would prefer that General Townsend describe to you in more detail his plans with regard to this. But there's nothing different than what they've been doing previously. And I'm just talking about a capability that he has the ability to use, but whether or not it's required, that's something we'll have to wait and see.

Q: But the capability is the same capability that has been employed previously or it's something new? That's my question.

MR. COOK: I -- my understanding is that it's the same authority he's had from -- for some time.

Q: And has been employed previously.

MR. COOK: I -- I -- I'll leave it to General Townsend to -- to -- I don't have documented detail here about each and every instance in which it's been used.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Sorry, and on the Turkish troops?

MR. COOK: The Turkish troops. I -- I don't have a particular update for you. I'd leave it to the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq to describe what's -- what's happening in terms of operationally there. We have encouraged both governments to -- to address any issues that may be present there. But this is something we -- best left to the Iraqis and to the Turks to speak to.

Idris

Q: Sir, the 5,000-plus troops -- (inaudible) -- many of them are sort of working one way or another for this Mosul operation. Do you have a percentage or a number of generally how many American troops in one way or another are focusing on this Mosul operation?

MR. COOK: Idris, I do not have a direct percentage, but we have to remember, this is, by an order of magnitude, the most significant military operation yet in this campaign in Iraq. This is the biggest military operation, certainly by the Iraqis yet, and so I -- I do not want to -- if we had someone who trained Iraqi forces at al-Assad or Taqaddum previously and those forces are now part of this fight, I would argue that they -- they are part of the Mosul -- they contributed to the Mosul effort.

So, I -- I think there are a significant number of Americans who are -- have helped get us to this point. There may be a reduced number, actually, physically, geographically involved in it at this time, but plenty of Americans have contributed to getting the Iraqi forces into the position where they are able to carry out this fight.

Particularly with the training, there has been a substantial commitment to train, not only Iraqi conventional forces, but federal police, the counter-terrorism forces. These are the people who, particularly, the CTS, who made such as a substantial contribution to this effort, the Iraq Security Forces overall have, many of those, if not substantial, a majority have had training by Americans and they are a more capable force as a result of that and we were happy to -- to play that role.

Likewise, there are a significant number of our coalition partners who have been critical to that training effort as well and we're thankful for their contribution to this in addition.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Sorry, if I may just -- I have another question. What happened to the USS Mason on Saturday of the coast of Yemen? Do you have any more clarity on that?

MR. COOK: Yea, as we indicated over the weekend, the Mason was operating in international waters off the -- in the Red Sea, off the Yemen Coast, were once again, it detected a missile threat and the crew responded accordingly, deployed counter-measures as appropriate, and the good news is that the ship was not harmed and the crew is -- the crew is fine, also unharmed.

Q: So, at this point you think there were missiles fired or?

MR. COOK: We are still assessing the situation. There are still some aspects of this that we are trying to clarify for ourselves, given the threat to our -- potential threat to our people. And so this is still a situation we're assessing closely.

Q: Peter.

MR. COOK: Joe

Q: Do you still believe that there are up to 5,000 ISIS fighters inside Mosul, or this number has changed in the last few days?

MR. COOK: The estimate I have seen, Joe, that I checked was between 3,000 to 5,000. We've seen other numbers that are -- that are higher, but we know that there is a substantial ISIL presence. We know that they've had two years to dig in to build defensive systems, to plant IEDs, to do what they can to make life more difficult for the Iraqi Security Forces, certainly to make life much more difficult for the people of Mosul.

And so we think that this is a substantial -- an enemy with the, you know, a substantial capability to make life very, very difficult and we do not underestimate this fight in any way.

Q: Have you seen any evidence that the head of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, is inside Mosul?

MR. COOK: I do not have any information at this time.

Q: Last question. (inaudible) -- go back to the Turkish-Iraqi tensions. Does -- does the Pentagon believe that Turkey has the right to take part of the operation to liberate Mosul?

MR. COOK: The United States believes, as we have said from -- from the start, that the government of Iraq has the authority to -- to determine who was within Iraq as part of this effort and we would encourage the Iraqis and the Turks to discuss this issue between themselves to -- to resolve whatever concerns there may be. And that's the appropriate place for this to be decided.

Q: I understand that, but this is an Iraqi city. Do you see --

MR. COOK: This is the sovereign government of -- of Iraq. This is a decision in question for the Iraqis.

Yes?

Q: ISIL has known that this operation would take place in October for weeks. How difficult do you think it's making operations on the ground, the fact that they've known this would come and they've had time to prepare?

MR. COOK: Well, certainly they -- they have had two years to prepare for this. We've had time to prepare as well for what's to come. The Iraqi's have had time to prepare. Again, we think they are equipped with the capabilities, the people, and the support they need to accomplish this mission. This is not going to be easy, this is going to be a challenging environment. There are Iraqis who are going to face a serious fight. And we will do what we can to support them in this effort. ISIL is -- is defeatable and we'll see that in Mosul.

Bill
Q: Have you seen any reports of casualties on ISF or Peshmerga? And also you said that they're ahead of schedule in terms of what's going on. So, what does that mean?

MR. COOK: Again, I'll leave it to the -- the Iraqis. But my understanding, is that they had set a target for movement today for the end of the day and by midday they'd achieved roughly what they had intended to do, so. It's day one, it's early. But this kicked off as I understand that the way that Iraqis had hoped. And certainly we -- we welcome that -- that news from the Iraqis.

Q: Right. But what -- what is that area? And who many -- what is the --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. COOK: I'll leave that to Iraqis to describe, Bill. I'm not going to give you specifics on that. I'll leave it to the Iraqis if they care to characterize it. But I'm giving you a big picture that day one so far has gone according to plan.

Q: What about casualties?

MR. COOK: I'm not aware of any. I'll -- I'd refer you to the Iraqis and the Kurds to describe that.

Yes, Paul.

Q: I think one of the things Americans are kind of interested in now as they see all the news about this offensive kicking off is how -- how close, at this exact moment, is any American soldier to this fight?

MR. COOK: I --

Q: The front lines, but --

MR. COOK: Again, the Iraqis will be on the front line. There're Americans that'll be in a advisory capacities, some will be closer to the front than others because of the unique role that they're carrying out, but it's Iraqis in the lead. To be short, Paul, there're Americans are in harm's way as part of this fight. There're Americans in harm's way in other parts of Iraq as well.

We absolutely understand that, the secretary absolutely understands that. And there are specific steps that have been taken, and -- and protocols in place for us to try and reduce the risk to Americans because this is Iraqi's in the lead. They're playing a support role. But we will -- crystal clear that Americans are in harm's way in Iraq.

But they are performing -- they are -- are not in the lead in the way Iraqis are. They are in a -- in a support role and they'll continue to play that support role.

Q: Just one quick follow-up on Lucas' question. How involved do you expect the Shia militias to be in this fight for Mosul?

MR. COOK: That's a question for the government of Iraq to -- to answer. Again, Prime Minister Abadi has laid out this plan. He has identified the responsibilities for the various Iraqi forces. We will continue to support Prime Minister Abadi and those forces that are under his command carrying out this important mission.

Nancy.

Q: I'd like to follow up on Paul and Martha's question, please.

Is there any way we could more clarity, what level of risk are U.S. forces going to assume in what you call the serious fight, the dangerous battle. Is that a decision that hasn't been made? Or is there -- that a decision was made not to tell the American public for some sort of strategic reason?

MR. COOK: We've been clear from the start that Americans are again playing an advisory role -- an enabler role for these Iraqi forces. It will be Iraqis in the lead with Americans in a support role. Most of the American forces in Iraq are not anywhere close to the front line. That is the way this has been structured. Many of them are in logistical support roles. Many of them are carrying out training missions, for example, that are well away from Mosul.

They've been doing so previously and they will continue to be in that advisory role, consistent with the role that forces from other countries are providing as well.

Q: Well, I just want to be clear -- (inaudible) -- for the American public to know what kind of risk its forces could face. You say that they're not near the front lines now. Is that the intention or the plan throughout the plan or could there be a point where they are in fact in Mosul proper or closer to the front line?

MR. COOK: I'm -- the role of the U.S. forces today is no different than up till this point. As you know, we have had fights for Fallujah, for Ramani, for Hiit, for Rutbah. Americans have been an -- an enabler -- important enabler position where they have been supporting Iraqi security forces, with in particular, the CTS in the lead, the Iraqi Security Forces, the Peshmerga in the lead.

U.S. forces remain in a position to be able to provide advice to them. A small number will be in a position to provide that advice on the ground and we'll continue to carry out that role, but there -- again Americans will be -- this is Iraqis in the lead and I -- but that doesn't mean that there is a risk to Americans.

We have seen that demonstrated already in Iraq. We're very aware of that and there -- we're taking steps, we -- as many steps as we can to reduce the risk to American forces and we'll continue to do that.

Yes?

Q: What is your assessment of the humanitarian condition both inside the city and on the outskirt of this city since the -- the operations started last night?

MR. COOK: Well, first of all I can tell you, our assessment of the situation in the city for the last two years has been pretty abysmal thanks to ISIL, and removing ISIL will undoubtedly improve the condition of the Iraqis who live there and want to return to Mosul. So, that being said, the goal first of all is to - is to remove ISIL. In terms of the humanitarian situation right now, I know that -- that the Iraqi government, as I've said before, is taking the lead, is carefully watching this. There's been careful coordination with the United Nations. There have been some facilities set up outside of Mosul to deal with the possibility of -- of civilians leaving the -- the fighting.

And again, I will leave it to the United Nations, to the Iraqi government to speak to all those preparations, but this is obviously a dangerous situation for civilians on the ground and I know one thing that the Iraqis have been doing is trying to reach to the residents of Mosul, both by radio broadcast, there was a drop of leaflets, thousands of leaflets in Mosul and my understanding is that there may be as many as 7 million leaflets dropped in the next 48 hours or so to try and educate the population of Mosul as to the safest way to conduct themselves as this fighting plays out.

Q: So, from the 5,000 U.S. troops that are already in Iraq, are they also ready to help with any kind of humanitarian situation that might come up within the next few days?

MR. COOK: Of course. U.S. forces are -- will do what we can do to -- to assist this situation. Our -- our focus right now at the Department of Defense, of course, is the military operation that's being carried out, but as I pointed out before there's been -- United States has already provided more than a billion dollars for the humanitarian effort. There's been more money raised by the international community and we would encourage the international community to focus as much attention as possible on this very significant challenge.

Certainly, our colleagues at the state department really are taking the lead on that so if you had more particular questions I might refer you to the State Department.

Yes, (inaudible).

Q: Peter, I go to double back.

There are some reports claiming that the fight in Dabiq was not really so tough while the fight in outskirts were quite tough. Could you -- what's your assessment of the fight fought inside Dabiq itself, the city?

MR. COOK: Our understanding is that the ISIL resistance in Dabiq was not as substantial as some had first feared given the fighting that's taken place around there. My understanding is there's still resistance around Dabiq even today. We think it's welcome news that ISIL chose to run. That suggests the state of play for ISIL in Syria and the kind of degraded position they're in in Syria. At the same time, they face a much more degraded position in Iraq as well. We think ISIL is on the run both in Syria and Iraq and that's a good thing.

Q: The foreign minister, I believe yesterday, announced that now the next target is al-Bab. Will the U.S. Special Forces also accompany Turkish forces and Turkish back to position forces to move into al-Bab?

MR. COOK: I'm -- Kasim, you know me better, than to tell you where U.S. Special Forces are going anywhere in the world so I'm not going to respond to that question.

Carlo.

Q: Just following up on questions about Turkish forces, President Erdogan said today not allowing Turkish forces into Mosul would be out of the question as the campaign progresses. So, we know what the Turkish government has said. We know the Iraqi government has said that if Turkish forces continue their presence in this country, it could trigger a larger regional conflict. So, we know what the Iraqis have said.

What I wanted to know is what is the Pentagon's stance? Will it continue to defer to Baghdad on actions regarding this sort of rising tensions when it comes to a head and if the Iraqis decide to take action against a NATO ally as this campaign progresses or further on?

MR. COOK: Carlo, this is a situation that the Iraqis and the Turks are in the best position to respond to and address. This is an appropriate question for Prime Minister Abadi and for the leadership there to work out. The United States will continue to encourage both countries to try and resolve this issue. Our central focus remains ISIL, we have a common enemy in ISIL. As you said, this is -- these are partners in that fight and we welcome them resolving whatever issues there may be on this issue.

Yes, Paul.

Q: Just to follow up once more on the questions about the PMUs, the Shia militia. As far as you understand, do you know of any restrictions on their use in this campaign to retake Mosul?

MR. COOK: This is a question that, again, for the Iraqi government to speak to in terms of the forces being brought to bear. We will continue to support Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi security forces under his control. This is an issue that the Iraqis have been working with handling themselves in Baghdad and in discussions leading up to this and in careful planning that's playing out for Mosul so this is a question to best put to Prime Minister Abadi and his leadership.

Q: So, a series of PMU commanders met with Prime Minister Abadi a couple days ago and shortly afterwards some of them met with Kassem al-Ramani reportedly. This building has talked about its criticism of the Iranian influence in Iraq throughout this campaign and you've highlighted some instances of PMUs conducting humanitarian atrocities in the wake of their liberating predominantly Sunni towns before.

So are you saying that -- that there are no concerns that you have about these groups being involved in the campaign?

MR. COOK: What -- what I'm saying is that Prime Minister Abadi, as he has in the past, has talked about a multi-sectarian Iraq. He's talked about zero tolerance for humanitarian atrocities. He's spoken very eloquently on this topic and we have confidence in Prime Minister Abadi and his leadership to address any concerns that may come up here and we'll continue to offer our support to Prime Minister Abadi. We -- we agree with him that there should be zero tolerance for that sort of thing.

Q: And just lastly, can you qualify what the fighting has been like so far? You talked about how it's ahead of schedule. Is that because they've met a little resistance or they've been particularly affected? Can you talk about what forces they've seen so far?

MR. COOK: My understanding is, and I think you all have probably see some of the images on TV, there has been -- certainly there has been resistance from -- from ISIL. I -- I would hate to characterize it. This is a big fight with multiple locations, so there may be more intense fighting in one place versus another.

But I think it is again fair to say that the impression we've gotten from the Iraqis is that this first day has gone as planned. They have faced resistance. They have -- certainly expect more resistance to come, but day one has gone -- has gone well.

Yes?

Q: (inaudible) -- could you say if -- more about the seven million leaflets. What are they telling the civilians to do? Predominantly to get out or just stay safe in palace or both?

MR. COOK: Yeah. I have not read them myself, but what has been conveyed to me is that these leaflets, for one, make clear to the people of Mosul that help is on the way and that Iraqi forces are on the move towards the city and to the ultimate liberation of Mosul.

My understanding is there may be some specific guidance as to the safest place to be in your home, for example, if there are air strikes or artillery or -- or if the fight comes to your neighborhood.

And my understanding, as well, is that there may be some encouragement for those in Mosul to actually remain in their homes, particularly in certain parts of the city, because they may be safer in that context than trying to -- to flee the city at a time when it is very hard to distinguish ISIL fighters from average -- innocent civilians. So that is the gist of the leaflet, but I have to -- (inaudible) -- I do not have one in front of me.

(Inaudible)

Q: Peter, you mentioned earlier, I think a couple of times now, that only a small number of American forces might be exposed to risk on the --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. COOK: I believe what I said, Louie, is that Americans in Iraq are in harm's way right now. And we want to -- we do not lose sight of that.

Q: I specifically -- (inaudible) -- this operation on -- (inaudible) -- can you quantify that? I mean, what actually are you talking to -- about and are you referring to special operations forces that are -- (inaudible) -- CTS forces?

MR. COOK: I do not have a specific number for you, but it is --the small number of Americans who might be in the advisory role, again, providing advice in particular to CTS and Peshmerga forces as well as some -- as well as the Iraqi conventional forces.

Those American advisers remain behind the forward line of -- of troops, but they are in a position where they are providing advice in a -- in obviously a combat environment and so they are taking normal -- the precautions you would expect for them to take. There are rules about their activities and -- so, again, it is Iraqis who will be in the lead) on this fight, those Americans who are out there providing an advisory capacity, particularly to the commanders in -- sort of a headquarters setting.

But as you know, in this fight, the headquarters, particularly with the terrorism forces -- the counter terrorism forces and the Pesh are -- are in the battle space itself. So, they -- they're not back in -- in a building some miles away, if you will. So --

Q: (inaudible) -- follow-up on the Mason as well. You kind of indicated there that this assessment that's going on is to see what actually happened there. What -- do you have any confidence that the two earlier episodes last week that triggered the retaliatory strikes that there was no -- no doubt that those missile attacks actually did occur?

MR. COOK: (inaudible) -- we have high confidence that those are very real threats.

Q: So, they did occur, but you are having some less confidence that there were attacks this weekend?

MR. COOK: We are, again, absolutely confident that the -- that the Mason itself detected an inbound missile threat on Saturday. There were multiple threats. And we're working through our assessment right now to see from a technical standpoint everything that those sensors detected, and the risk posed to the U.S. service members on that ship.

And it's something we're working through right now. But this was a very real threat, and it has been over the last week or so for our forces. You saw what happened earlier to an Emirati ship. And we are taking this very, very seriously, as you can understand, because of that.

And we will continue to take every step we need to, to protect our forces in that part of the world as they conduct their routine operations, and as they do their part to ensure commercial traffic through that very important waterway.

Q: Can I ask --

MR. COOK: Liz

Q: -- just to clarify a point on that?

MR. COOK: Hold on. Let me move over to people who have -- (inaudible) -- question. I'll come back. Gary

Q: Yes, Peter, obviously there are a million-plus civilians in Mosul. What's -- what's the U.S. assessment about how many of those are likely to die as a result of this operation? What advice are you giving to the Iraqis to minimize civilian casualties?

MR. COOK: Gary, I just spoke a short time ago about these leaflets that have been provided and the advice that the Iraqis had been providing, and that in some instances the encouragement would be for people in Mosul to remain in their homes because it might be a safer place as opposed to trying to exit the -- the city. And -- and again, this is something that we're watching very, very closely.

I think the Iraqis really have taken the lead in terms of trying to reach out to the citizens of Mosul. There have been, as I mentioned before, radio broadcasts. We had television broadcast from the Prime Minister earlier this morning.

So, there is an effort to try and reach out to the people of Mosul to try and -- and make them as aware as possible of what's to come, and the dangers they face. And they're -- they're not insignificant, of course.

Q: (inaudible) -- either, won't they?

MR. COOK: We -- I'm not in a position to make a -- an estimate here. What I will tell you is that everything we're doing in support of the Iraqis, including our combat air campaign, will continue to be done with the utmost precision, and that every single thing that can be done to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, including with regard to the air campaign, will continue to be -- to be carried out with the rigor you would expect.

Yes, sir in the back?

Q: (Inaudible). To go back to Turkey, can you confirm whether the U.S. Chief of general staffs, when he met his Turkish counterpart yesterday, did they discuss how Turkey and America will cooperate, not just in Northern Iraq, but also in Syria?

MR. COOK: I -- I wasn't there for the meeting, so I can't read it out. But I -- I am quite confident that Chairman Dunford would have had a -- a -- an engaging conversation with his Turkish counterpart about a range of issues, including of course the fight against ISIL.

Kasim and then Nancy.

Q: (inaudible) -- about the tension between Iraq and Turkey. That's fine) you leave it to the Turkish and Iraqi governments to resolve it, but what does the Pentagon recommend to the Iraqi government to do with respect to the Turkish request?

MR. COOK: Our -- Kasim, I've said this multiple times, our advise to the Iraqis and to the Turks is to sit down and -- and discuss these issues and resolve these issues.

Prime Minister Abadi has made clear that forces operating in Turkey, international forces, need to be there at the -- at the consent of the Iraqi government. We agree with that position. And we encourage the Iraqi government and the Turkish government, both have ample interest in seeing ISIL defeated, in resolving these issues and we certainly are hopeful that that can be done.

Q: (inaudible) -- that the Pentagon does not have any kind of recommend) to the Iraqi government with respect to somehow fix Turkey into (inaudible) or --

MR. COOK: You think there are -- we think there are -- there's an opportunity here for both governments to sit down and work these issues out. That is what we are doing, encouraging both governments to try and resolve these issues.

Nancy.

Q: I just want to follow-up on -- (inaudible) -- question. So it seems -- on the Mason -- it seems that a determination you made that some kind of missile was launched. Is it -- is one of the things you're looking at is whether that missile was aimed at the USS Mason? Is that a -- fair assessment in terms of where you are in the investigation?

MR. COOK: I -- just the -- the systems on board the Mason detected multiple inbound missiles, as I did earlier in the week, and we are working through right now exactly the nature of that threat. There are a variety of things that we're able to do with the ship and its systems to try and analyze some of that data.

There are substantial distances here that factor into it and it is a highly technical review that's taking place. So our assessment is ongoing with regard to the Mason specifically on Saturday.

Q: But is it possible that those -- that there were missiles that were launched and maybe not aimed at the Mason? Is there any indication they were aimed at potentially -- or are you looking at whether they were aimed at other ships from other nations or a commercial ship? Anything along those lines?

MR. COOK: The way the systems work is that the Mason detects what it determines to be a threat to the ship itself. In some instances, it may be that the -- not able to determine the exact intent of that weapon or whoever fire -- pulled the trigger on it.

But the bottom line for the ship and its crew is that if it senses that there is incoming danger, that it needs to respond accordingly and that is what they have done.

Q: But it's possible that the systems would indicate a threat even if it's not aimed at it, that is -- maybe --

MR. COOK: That's -- I -- that's possible, but the system is designed to protect against the possibility that this incoming threat will harm the Mason itself and its crew.

Okay, I got time for two more. Paul?

Q: I just wanted to follow-up on this question about the PMUs. Is it possible -- are -- is some of the American advisory assistance going to these units that are involved in the Mosul fight?

MR. COOK: No.

Q: So while this was the position that -- while it is up to Prime Minister Abadi to choose who is involved in this fight, the U.S. is not cooperating with these groups.

MR. COOK: The U.S. is not providing support to those groups, that is correct.

Q: But those -- (inaudible) -- are interacting with and coordinating with people -- groups that the U.S. is providing support to?

MR. COOK: I'll leave that to the Iraqis to spell out what role they're playing. We're not providing support to those groups and we haven't from the start of this campaign.

Last one over here.

Q: Is the U.S. comfortable, give that there is disagreement between the Turks and the Iraqis, there are disagreements apparently with some of the Shia militia, saying that they're going to act in certain ways despite the assurances from Abadi, moving forward with the Mosul operation when so many of the players are still at odds with each other? Does that not cause some sort of danger as they come closer and the fighting intensifies that things could fall apart?

MR. COOK: I look at it from the opposite prism, if you will. What we see happening in Mosul and the movement of the Iraqi forces today, in some respects, signifies the cooperation those various groups within Iraq are actually engaged in right now.

You have Iraqi Security Forces working with the Peshmerga. That is a testament to both the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi and the leadership of the Kurdistan regional government that they're able to work out this kind of arrangement.

There are other instances in which these multiple groups with areas of difference have been able to set those differences aside for the greater good of Iraq, and the greater good for Iraq right now is removing ISIL from Mosul and from all Iraqi territory. And that is the common enemy.

It's been a uniting thing for Iraq. We think that's a good thing. We share in that effort and we're doing what we can to support it. So, again, our hats off to the Iraqi Security Forces and to Prime Minister Abadi as this effort kicks off. We wish them well and we'll continue to support them as best we can.

Thanks, everybody.

http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/976635/



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