U.S. Department of Defense
|Presenter: Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman of the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve||June 01, 2017|
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: So, for everybody here, I wanted to introduce you to the voice, anyway, of Colonel Ryan Dillon. Hopefully, you had a chance to meet him when he was back here a couple months ago and walking through.
Colonel Dillon has replaced Colonel Dorrian out in OIR as our spokesperson there. He will -- he's joining us by phone today, but will be going into the briefing room and doing the on-camera by video teleconference starting next week.
Ryan, welcome. Thank you for your service out there. And we look forward to hearing from you. We'll open it up to you for your opening comments and then take questions from here.
COLONEL RYAN DILLON: Awesome. All right. Great. Thanks, Jeff.
And just to let everyone know, this is my first Pentagon press corps briefing. I'd first like to acknowledge that I am honored to be batting fourth in the lineup of OIR spokesmen. All three officers who have preceded me in this position have all been mentors of mine. Steve Warren and Chris Garver have provided me sage guidance for several years now, and John Dorrian more recently in the last couple of months.
While I only got to meet a few of you face to face before I departed the Pentagon, I have corresponded with many of you since I have taken the seat. So I look forward to working with you all in the next year or so. And with that, we'll go ahead and get started in Iraq, and then we'll move on to Syria.
The Iraqi security forces continue to make steady progress as they close in on the remaining three ISIS-held neighborhoods of west Mosul. The remaining ISIS fighters hold less than 10 square kilometers of the city. Liberating these final neighborhoods will be among the most difficult fighting the ISF has faced in their campaign to defeat ISIS.
The coalition has continued to support the Iraqi security force's advance with 21 strikes in the past week, hitting mortars, machine guns, multiple vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and VBIED factories. With the car bomb threat in mind, the government of Iraq directed civilians not to use cars or motorcycles to avoid being mistaken for militants. And this is necessary to mitigate the vehicle-borne IED threat, which has been the enemy's weapon of choice in Mosul.
The coalition has supported the ISF in neutralizing this threat by striking more than 120 vehicles in the past week alone leading into the remaining ISIS-held territory.
The government of Iraq has instructed civilians remaining in old Mosul to evacuate. Many civilians, though, cannot break away from ISIS safely. We've heard multiple first-person accounts, daily accounts of ISIS's attempts to prevent citizens from leaving. Citizens have been herded and forced into buildings being trapped to use for ISIS' sinister tactics. They have been shot by ISIS snipers while trying to evacuate. And we have seen them victims of ISIS-emplaced bombs and bobby-traps as they attempt to flee.
Iraqi security forces have established safe passages along the forward lines of troops to get civilians to muster points and screening sites outside of the city. Capacity is available at nearby IDP camps, but getting away from ISIS is the critical factor.
Moving on to Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces continue to close in on ISIS around Raqqah. The SDF has gained about 350 square kilometers from ISIS in the last week. The SDF is poised around Raqqah. They're within three kilometers of Raqqah City from the north and the east, and are about 10 kilometers from the city to the west.
The coalition continues to service ISIS targets with precision air and artillery strikes as the enemy attempts to strengthen their defenses in and around Raqqah. The coalition conducted 59 strikes in support of the isolation of Raqqah this past week, hitting fighting positions, construction equipment, artillery systems and command and control nodes.
And despite our focused efforts in Raqqah, the coalition continues to engage ISIS targets wherever we find them. Throughout the combined joint operations area, the coalition struck multiple ISIS revenue-producing targets this week, 14 fuel trucks, 12 fuel tanks, 12 oil stills, and 3 wellheads. ISIS uses revenue from these oil sales to fund their operations.
And lastly in southern Syria, we have had many questions regarding our operations at At Tanf. The coalition has observed pro-regime forces patrolling in the vicinity of the established de-confliction zone around the At Tanf training site. Coalition forces have operated there for many months training and advising our vetted partner forces in the fight against ISIS. Pro-regime patrols and the continued armed and hostile presence of forces inside the de-confliction zone is unacceptable and threatening to our coalition forces. We are prepared to defend ourselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the de-confliction zone.
We have communicated our position through the de-confliction line with the Russians, and we have dropped leaflets to the force inside of the de-confliction zone. The coalition is dedicated and focused on the defeat of ISIS. Our partner forces are dedicated and focused on the defeat of ISIS. And we think all parties in southern Syria should remain focused on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to the region and worldwide peace and security.
And with that, I'll go ahead and am ready to take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: Sir, we'll start with Kasim Ileri from Anadolu News Agency.
Q: Colonel, hi. I actually sent you an e-mail last night and yesterday as well. Could you just tell us about --
COL. DILLON: Kasim, can you move closer? You're kind of faint. I can't hear you very well.
Q: OK. I'll come closer.
COL. DILLON: Thank you.
Q: So, actually I asked the question yesterday to you by e-mail as well. I was asking about the number and amount of the arms and ammunitions that you provided to the Kurdish elements in Syria, and then the number of the vehicles that you've provided to the -- to the -- those elements.
COL. DILLON: Yes. Kasim, and as I responded yesterday, we're not going to provide those types of details. We're not going to get into the serial number items and the amount of the small arms and ammunition and the types of guns and vehicles that we're providing.
We are obviously maintaining account of all of those things ourselves, and we're going to be transparent with those details with Turkey. But it is not something that we're going to provide publicly just because one of them is operational reasons. We don't want ISIS to know what it is that the -- our Syrian Democratic Forces have. But we're just not going to go into that kind of detail.
Q: Also, there was --
COL. DILLON: If you have a follow-up, I'm ready for you. If not, we can go on to the next question.
Q: I have a follow-up, Colonel. Also there are -- we hear that you are providing them with the anti-armor vehicle kind of weapons as well. Could you just -- just tell us what kind of weapons are these? Are they RPGs Are they TOWs? Whatever they are?
COL. DILLON: Yes. First off, at least as of this morning, we had not provided any of those types of weapons to them yet. Obviously, they will face a threat that we believe is going to be very similar to what we've seen in Mosul. And these vehicle-borne IEDs, the up-armor types are going to be a threat. And we want to make sure our Syrian Democratic Forces, our partners, are prepared and ready for that.
We -- we don't know, or I don't know specifically what kind those are going to be. And, similar to my previous question, we probably will not get into the detail of those types -- or, not the types, but the specific kind of weapon that we will provide them. Just to know the -- the capability of that weapon system will be provided so they can face the threat that they're going to see in Raqqah.
CAPT. DAVIS: Laurie Mylroie from Kurdistan Today --
Q: Kurdistan 24.
CAPT. DAVIS: -- 24, I'm sorry.
COL. DILLON: Yep.
Q: Thank -- thank you, Colonel, very -- very much for this.
My question concerns the Hashd Al-Shaabi. And General Townsend was in Erbil yesterday, met President Barzani, and they -- the -- the KRG issued a statement staying they discussed the Hashd Al-Shaabi and violations of an agreement between the U.S., Israel and Iraq. The U.S. -- Iraq and the Kurdistan region -- violations of that tripartite agreement.
Could you give us some more detail on what those violations are?
COL. DILLON: I can't, actually. I don't -- not privy to what was discussed there. I know that the Hashd Al-Shaabi, or, as we call them, the Popular Mobilization Forces -- they have, under the direction of the government of Iraq, been largely successful in their -- in their initial isolation phases of Mosul, to prevent fighters -- ISIS fighters getting into or coming out of Mosul -- between Mosul and Tal Afar.
They have since been able to conduct offensive operations around Tal Afar. In the last week alone, they have been able to take more than 600 square kilometers of area back from ISIS, largely around Tal Afar, all the way out to the Syrian border.
But I can't speak to, you know, what was discussed yesterday, because I don't know what those discussions were. But the PMF and Hashd Al-Shaabi -- they are under the direction of the government of Iraq, and they've been largely successful in those types of -- the responsibilities that have been given to them.
Q: Well, I will follow up on question, then -- on -- on Tuesday, Fred Kagan, whom you probably know, of the American Enterprise Institute, formerly professor of military history at West Point -- he said on Tuesday -- he was very critical of the U.S. position on the PMUs.
He said that some number of them were under the direct control of Iran, and that they did not respond -- they were not responsive to the Iraqi prime minister, and this was going to cause problems later on. What would be your reaction to that kind of criticism?
COL. DILLON: Now, I mean, he certainly can say, you know, what he wants, as the -- but what we have seen is that the PMF have actually been responsive to the government of Iraq, in particular. We saw a response yesterday from the PMF spokesman, specifically when asked about going into Syria, that -- that they would take their direction from the -- Prime Minister Abadi and the government of Iraq, you know, if they were told to do so.
And that's the -- that's the stance that we believe. Our formula in Iraq has been to work by, with and through the government of Iraq, and we think all parties should do exactly the same.
CAPT. DAVIS: Courtney Kube from NBC News.
Q: Hi, Ryan. Welcome to the hot seat.
COL. DILLON: All right. Thank you.
Q: Two quick questions. One, on Western Mosul can you give us a rough estimate of how many ISIS fighters you believe are in these last three neighborhoods?
COL. DILLON: Yes. What -- the estimates that we currently have right now are less than 1,000. So, that's as good as I'm going to be able to -- to get for you right now. But, I've heard and seen open reporting, we're going to just go ahead and stick with less than 1,000.
Q: OK. And then, in Syria, earlier this week, Russia fired a couple of cruise missiles in -- and they said that they were targeting ISIS. Can you give us a sense -- what's your understanding of what they were targeting and then do you have assessment of why they decided to -- to use cruise missiles again? They hadn't used them for a while, firing from the Med, what the motivation might have been?
COL. DILLON: I don't know what the Russian's motivation would have been. They have said that they were striking ISIS targets and believe that that was the case here. I mean, clearly we monitored and knew that -- know that they conducted those strikes, but as far as guessing as to what their motivations were, I can't -- I can't speculate. I can't speak for them.
Q: I guess motivation was probably a bad word, more of why they would use cruise missiles to target these locations as opposed to using the, you know, aircraft that they have there. Do you have any -- do you have any insight into -- into that?
COL. DILLON: I do not. No, Courtney, I don't.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Lita Baldor from Associated Press.
COL. DILLON: You're welcome.
Q: Hey, Ryan, similar question. In Tanf, do you have any sense of how many of those pro-regime forces are there and any better idea whether they are Hezbollah, Iranian -- who they may be?
COL. DILLON: I got a beep right at the tail end of that, but as far as the element that is inside of the de-confliction line -- the de-confliction zone rather -- excuse me -- I will have to get back to you one that. It is a small element, but still one that has remained there and -- and they have not moved out of the de-confliction zone and we have made it very clear that we want them out of there.
And, it's not just because of them being inside of the de-confliction zone, but also the build up of pro-regime forces that are outside and are moving in and around the At Tanf training area. Those other forces are well outside of the -- or outside of the de-confliction zone, but they continue to bring forces in.
So, we see that as a threat as they continue to build up their presence. And, like I said, you beeped at the tail end and I didn't catch the last part of your question.
Q: The last part was, do you have any better sense of whether they are Hezbollah, Iranian or who exactly they are and how -- about how far are they from U.S. forces there?
COL. DILLON: So, as far as we see them as pro-regime forces. I can't really say their disposition specifically to ones that are inside the de-confliction zone. I would say the distance from At Tanf, they are just about -- a little bit of the half of the distance that we have -- that we have established for the de-confliction zone.
So, it's not like they're -- like they've dipped their toe into the de-confliction zone. They're well with inside it.
Q: And then, just one quick follow-up. They've been there for quite a while now. And I didn't see a date or deadline on the leaflets. Is there a deadline being, either communicated to the Russians, or someone as to when they have to leave or -- or else?
COL. DILLON: No, we have not established a -- a deadline for them. We have made it very clear however, that their presence inside a de-confliction zone is considered a threat. We have provided through the de-confliction line with the Russians our message. And obviously with the leaflets, we have also been able to give them the message and our intent. Not our intent, but rather our position on wanting them to leave. So, I'll just go ahead and leave it at that.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: T.M. Gibbons --
COL. DILLON: You're welcome.
CAPT. DAVIS: -- Neff from the Washington Post.
Q: Thanks, Colonel. A couple questions.
First, on the weapons provided to the SDF, your predecessor said in a tweet that the coalition will keep account of every single weapon supplied to the SDF and ensure that they're not pointed at anyone except the Islamic State.
How exactly do you plan on executing that? There's – I can't think of a time where we've supplied weapons to proxies and not have them turn up in the wrong hands.
And second --
COL. DILLON: Yeah, well, I'm glad that you asked this question because as being someone who has worn a uniform before, you fully understand and know that whenever we sign up for something, you know, we go through every serial number. And that is the -- the same kind of process at the commander level that we are going to go through to make sure that we have accountability of the weapons and the equipment that we are providing the SDF.
So, first off, all of the elements of the SDF who are receiving equipment must pass our vetting process. They will also make an obligation and sign to fight only ISIS and to uphold the laws of armed conflict.
And so, going back to your main question is that these commanders, you know, will sign for, by serial number, all the equipment that we are giving and we'll maintain that in our database. And we will share that information with allies to the north who are concerned about, you know, the -- the weapons that we are providing.
I hope that answers all your questions. If not, go ahead and --
Q: Yeah --
COL. DILLON: -- and hit me up again.
Q: Two follow-ups. So, there -- you're not doing anything besides have them signing for serial numbers. I mean, U.S. military tracks their rifles for RFID signature tags that usually go on the rifles. I can't even imagine you guys doing anti-tanks weapons.
And yeah, second, I -- I have one about the Iraq E.R.D. But you can answer the first one if you -- if you want.
COL. DILLON: OK. Well, we will have advisors as -- as well that are going to be with our SDF elements. And as much as they can, they will be with them as they are advising them in the seizure of Raqqah. And any misuse that does not go towards fighting ISIS or is found used elsewhere, could potentially curtail any further support on what we may give to them in the future.
Q: And -- thanks. And, sorry, last question. Regarding the Iraq E.R.D. and their human rights violations that have been documented in the last -- last week or so, I understand that they violate the Leahy Law, so they can't be supplied and equipped with U.S. equipment. However, they've repeatedly shown up all over the battlefield with U.S. AT-4s.
Are you guys going to make sure that they don't get any weapons or are you going to continue to supply them for however you're doing it so far?
COL. DILLON: And that's -- so we do not equip them, but as you've seen, we do equip other elements of the Iraqi security forces. Any time that we see these -- any weapons in the hands of those units or elements that should not have it, we address it with the Iraqi security forces and make steps to keep that from happening in the future. They should not be in the hands of those that did not pass our vetting process.
CAPT. DAVIS: Dan.
CAPT. DAVIS: Zach, I'm sorry, Zach.
Q: Thanks. So I want to follow up on Courtney's question regarding the Russian cruise missile strikes.
So those strikes near Palmyra have coincided with what appear to be some pro-regime troops moving east to Palmyra towards the Iraqi border, fighting against ISIS. Do those strikes and any of those movements suggest a greater interest in fighting ISIS as opposed to fighting opposition by the Syrian regime and Russians or do you view this as more the general time to time strike that we see against those types of targets?
COL. DILLON: Yes, we know that what we have been told by the Russians is that this is -- that they are supporting the fight against ISIS. And again, I don't want to speak on behalf of the Russians or the pro-regime forces, so -- and I won't. So I don't know if -- (inaudible) -- and ask again if you have a specific question for the coalition.
Q: Well, how about do you see a particular uptick in terms of the de-confliction conversations, et cetera, in targets that are ISIS related from the Russians?
COL. DILLON: If -- so the de-confliction line is more there to de-conflict operations that the coalition forces are doing and what the pro-regime and Russian-backed forces are doing. So in that particular area, right now we're in Palmyra -- we do not have forces that are operating in that area. So the de-confliction line typically comes in play when we know we have forces in the area. Perfect example is the At Tanf use of the de-confliction line.
Q: And just to follow up on a separate question in terms of the transfer to Syrian Kurds of arms. I know you can't go into details to what specifically has been transferred or the quantity, but can you give us a sense as to thus far 5 percent of the stockpile? Ten percent of the stockpiles? Has is it just started or has there been major movement of transferring these arms?
COL. DILLON: You know, I'm -- I'm not going to get into percentages either. You know, we've said in the beginning that this -- divestiture of equipment to the SDF is going to be limited and metered and for specific objectives and that's -- and that's exactly how we're doing it.
CAPT. DAVIS: Barbara Starr from CNN. You may need to move closer.
Q: I can probably get it to the back of the room.
Colonel, I wanted to go back on several points if I might. First in At Tanf can you say how many of these so-called pro-regime forces you're seeing move into these position you're describing?
COL. DILLON: You're -- I think you asked -- you may have asked the same question that Lita did and --
Q: No -- well --
COL. DILLON: -- how many are within the deconfliction zone?
Q: Yes, how many and then I want to follow up on that.
COL. DILLON: So -- yes, I owe you guys an answer on what that -- that small element is and what the makeup of that element is.
Q: So I'm confused still. You're describing them as pro-regime forces, but officials here have continued to acknowledge that they are Shia militias, believed to be backed by Iran. So what is your assessment of Iran's backing or involvement with those forces that you're now calling pro-regime?
COL. DILLON: Yes, and Barb, I have seen and heard several different accounts for what these forces are and who they're backed by, whether they're -- we've heard and see that there's -- or heard that there are Iraqi forces that are there, there are Iranian forces that are there, there are LH forces that are there, they are pro-regime forces and that's how we will qualify them and classify them.
Q: Well, do you not believe Iran's involved? Just a couple of days ago. I -- I really don't understand. Pentagon officials said that they continue to believe that these were backed by Iran and I'm just wondering if the language is in fact changing, so you do not appear to be confronting Iran on this issue.
COL. DILLON: Yeah, I mean we've seen also the -- like I said, that some of these forces are, you know, pro -- or, you know, backed by Iran, but we see them as pro- regime.
Q: My other question is then Mosul. And I want to stipulate in advance, I understand you take all precautions against civilian causalities, but you're describing a potentially dire situation for the civilians still trapped in these areas in Mosul. And with your policy of isolating ISIS inside these areas and you've described civilians as not being allowed out.
(inaudible) -- you've run into problems with this before, even with -- in taking all the precautions you always state you do, what are you doing to ensure in this final assault on Mosul you do not have civilian causalities from U.S. airstrikes or U.S. strikes?
COL. DILLON: That's -- that's a good a question. And first off, the Iraqi security forces, they -- as I said in my opening statement -- they have asked all civilians to evacuate old Mosul. I know that as I stated in my opener that many of them find that very difficult and we have seen a -- the number of IDPs and -- and those civilians that are trying to depart, they're not in the -- the massive numbers that were characterized or expected by some NGO organizations. We've seen a steady flow about 4,000 come out a day, but even in the last 24, 48 hours, it's even gone below that.
That said, we will still take every effort to avoid innocent civilian causalities. We know the tactics that ISIS is using and we have factored that into how we conduct our strikes, but we are going to continue to support the Iraqi security forces as they continue to push through these last three neighborhoods. And -- and our ISR or -- and our advisors and our strikes, you know, we will continue to provide that support to Iraqi security forces.
The faster to stop the human suffering in Mosul is going to be the swift defeat of ISIS.
Q: Do you have an assessment, right now, of how many -- you said that that it had gone down -- do you have an assessment of how many civilians you still believe are within those three neighborhoods that's you're also saying probably can't get out? How many do think are there?
COL. DILLON: Yeah and there are different numbers. We've seen reports of 80 to about 150,000 remaining in those last three neighborhoods.
Q: And do you have any U.S. -- (inaudible) --
CAPT. DAVIS: We're on part six now.
Q: OK, fine.
CAPT. DAVIS: Joe Tabet --
COL. DILLON: And I'm struggling to here you too Barb, but I've got my ear about an inch away from the speaker.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Joe Tabet.
Q: All right, thank you Ryan. I want to go back to the Tanf issue. Let me start with this, have you seen any evidence that the PMF are willing to cross the border into Syria? Their commander, Amiri, has said a few days ago that they're willing to take over Qaim and Deir Ezzour -- have you seen an evidence of moving forces?
COL. DILLON: I've not seen them and clearly with the PMF and their movements and how quickly they've been able to retake land from ISIS in Iraq, the only, you know, thing that we have seen to support that allegation is some of the open reporting that we have seen.
But the PMF fighting in Iraq they have -- they are fight -- they should be and are fighting under the government of Iraq and under the direction of Prime Minister Abadi and -- and we think that that's exactly how it should be.
Q: Another thought, do -- do you know if the PMF and the pro-regime forces in the de-confliction zone are coordinating together, are working together to push -- to secure the border, the Syrian-Iraqi border?
COL. DILLON: I -- I do not know that. I don't know if they're working together on that. Our main focus is fighting ISIS and, as we've said, you know, the At Tanf training area -- that we've been there for many, many months is a training site for our vetted Syrian opposition forces and that is why we're there and want to continue to -- to use that for those purposes.
Q: Last -- last question, when you asked the pro-regime forces to vacate the area, is that a warning? Are you sending a warning to the pro-regime forces?
COL. DILLON: What -- we do not want those pro-regime forces that are inside the de-confliction zone to be there. And we don't talk to them directly but we have used the de-confliction line with the Russians and we are assured that message has been delivered to them and we also know that they have received the leaflets that we dropped over the weekend and they received that.
So we've made it very clear our position and what it is that we want from them and why.
CAPT. DAVIS: Kristina Wong from Breitbart.
Q: Thank you Colonel Dillon, thanks for doing this. You mentioned the buildup of pro-regime forces outside the de-confliction area, what are you seeing in terms of that? What kind of a buildup?
COL. DILLON: Well, we continue to see the pro-regime forces, they are -- what they arrived with in early May. They've continued to reinforce their positions there and bring in more assets so more combat, you know, type assets. Won't go into numbers but they consist of tanks, artillery systems, and things of the sort.
Q: There's a concern that they might enter the de-confliction area and reinforce the ones inside.
COL. DILLON: We haven't seen indications of that. We've seen, like you said, the build-up and they're patrolling in -- not in, but around the de-confliction zone. Not just to the northwest where they have been, but also to the north and further towards the east.
So they are not static, they're moving around that area. And again, all these things put together present a threat to coalition forces and like I said, we've provided our position on why we see that as a threat and -- and why we want those folks -- that pro-regime element within that de-confliction zone to vacate the area.
Q: And on a different topic, what are you seeing in terms of ISIS propaganda as coalition forces move in on Mosul and Raqqah? And are you seeing any kind of different ISIS tactics due to Ramadan or any kind of targeting of children?
COL. DILLON: We have seen -- and this is relatively common to see an uptick of attacks by ISIS during Ramadan. And to say that we've seen a focus on children, I wouldn't necessarily go towards that but obviously in Baghdad there was an area, specifically an ice cream shop that was attacked recently but so we've seen those attacks but we also know that ISIS does not discriminate against who it is that they attack, whether it be Sunni, Shia, Christian, white, western, you name it.
As long as you do not believe in the same ideology, you are a target and that's why they must be defeated.
Q: OK, thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Dion Nissenbaum from Wall Street Journal.
Q: Thanks, Colonel. Just to follow up on -- on Southern Syria, you're saying the forces outside the de-confliction zone are also a threat. Are you using the deconfliction line to ask if those forces move back from the de-confliction zone border?
COL. DILLON: We have not. They are outside of the 55 kilometer de-confliction line and -- and that is what we have established as the de-confliction zone, excuse me. We have used the de-confliction line but that has specifically been for those elements that remain inside of the de-confliction zone.
Q: But you view them as a threat, those that are outside the zone?
COL. DILLON: It's the summation of all of the things, so those that are outside of the buildup of combat power but also those that remain inside. So that is why we want those within the deconfliction zone to move out.
Q: I guess last question on this point is, can you give us any more details about how many people are outside the deconfliction zone? Is it dozens, hundreds?
COL. DILLON: I don't -- I don't have that for you right now.
CAPT. DAVIS: Carla Babb, Voice of America.
Q: Hi, Colonel. One question on Turki al-Binali and Baraa Kadek, those are two ISIS senior leaders. Kadek was supposed to be the founder of Amaq and then al-Binali was the senior cleric.
There are reports that these guys are dead, they were killed in the air strikes of Syria. Can you confirm and elaborate?
COL. DILLON: We have seen the same reports and we don't have any further information at this time.
CAPT. DAVIS: Ryan Browne, CNN.
Q: Good morning, Colonel. Thank you for doing this, just a very quick one. I think earlier when we were talking about arming the Kurdish factions in the SDF; you mentioned that you were communicating with Turkey specifically in terms of what kind of arms. Are you giving the Turkish military a full list of what's being given to this -- the Kurds?
COL. DILLON: We are maintaining full accountability of the weapons that we were providing the SDF and we are being transparent with Turkey on -- on the details of what we are providing.
Q: Thank you and -- and apologies that I missed this one, the forces in the deconfliction zone, now that we're talking about the pro-regime forces, what are they doing specifically? Are they fighting ISIS in any way?
COL. DILLON: No, they are not. They have been relatively static since they moved into the area in mid-May, just before May 18th. But you know, we have made it very clear to them, specifically, if they move south or east towards At Tanf that we will consider that a threat.
But also, because they are inside of the deconfliction zone and they have remained inside of the deconfliction zone, that is also -- we see that as a threat with the added increase of forces outside of the deconfliction zone. So we're now telling them to vacate the originally agreed upon deconfliction zone.
Q: Thank you, sir.
CAPT. DAVIS: Is Phil Stewart still here?
Q: So just to -- just to clarify, how many Americans are now at that -- or roughly, I know you can't give an exact number, but are we talking about dozens there and have you reinforced in any way, given the threat that you see both inside and outside the de-confliction zone? Have you taken any measures to ensure a force security?
COL. DILLON: There are about a couple hundred of both coalition forces and our partner forces. We have increased our combat power in that area, so -- and I'll just -- I'll leave it at that. So yes, we have increased our presence and our footprint and -- and prepared for a -- any threat that is presented by the pro-regime forces.
Q: OK. And then -- and then just to get back to what Barbara was asking earlier, you know, Secretary Mattis was on the record, at a briefing, telling us that it was Iranian directed forces were the ones who entered this zone. And -- and I'm -- what I'm -- what I'm wondering is, is your hesitation to be that clear due to declassification issues or -- or what is it?
COL. DILLON: It's -- I -- yes, I wanted to come back to and it was hard -- I apologize Barbara -- it was hard for me to -- to hear some of the questions. There have been a lot of different, I guess, ways that people have described who these forces are.
And I went through the list, you know, some say they're Iraqi forces -- or not forces -- but Iraqi forces that are backed by Iran, there are LH forces, Hezbollah forces. And what I was -- what I wanted to -- to make clear is that there have been a lot of people saying that these are something other than pro-regime forces. You know, it is consistent with what Secretary Mattis said, that they're Iranian-backed, but --
COL. DILLON: -- we still see them as pro-regime forces.
Q: He said Iranian-directed. Was that incorrect?
COL. DILLON: I -- I'm not going to -- yeah, if -- I would say, you know, it is Iranian-backed, yes.
CAPT. DAVIS: Let's see. Bill Hennigan, L.A. Times.
Q: What is the current assessment of the number of civilians inside Raqqah? And have (unintelligible) instructed them to shelter in place, like Mosul? Or have they been directed to flee?
COL. DILLON: The -- in Raqqah, they have been instructed -- the Syrian Democratic Forces have given instructions for citizens of Raqqah to vacate. Currently, right now -- let's see here. I had -- so we have -- Raqqah IDPs right now are about one -- almost 200,000, with 92,000 of them in camps. Other ones are in settlements that are -- are just built-up settlements.
Q: But that 200K is inside Raqqah proper? And how do you -- have there been, like, safe zones, or, you know -- I know that's a buzzword, but, you know, has there been ways for the civilians to get out of there?
COL. DILLON: And -- Bill -- you know -- sorry about that. I just wanted to, you know, clear that up. Yeah, that is not 200,000 that are inside Raqqah. That is already internally displaced persons from Raqqah, and that is 197,000.
So as far as those that remain in Raqqah, that is -- I'd need to track that down for you. I don't have that readily available.
Q: OK, but -- but in terms of, like, getting -- getting them out, how -- how do you plan on being able to protect them to be able to get -- get out of the city?
COL. DILLON: It -- yes, the -- the international community has established camps in and around Raqqah, and I know, specifically, there are elements that are -- there's movement of IDPs going towards Raqqah. So you have some movements that are going west, and you also have some that are going east towards Karama, and also to the north, to the (unintelligible), which (unintelligible) is Ayn Issa, and then, also, further northeast, in Mabrouka.
Q: Are -- is ISIS trying to blunt their ability to flee?
COL. DILLON: As with the sites in and around Mosul, the SDF have also -- the SDF and also the Raqqah civilian council has established screening sites for those purposes, to make sure that ISIS fighters cannot leave and move with the IDP flow out of Raqqah.
Q: And just lastly, is -- is telling these folks to leave -- is that based off of learned lessons in Mosul, where we've seen high civcas? And -- and are -- should we expect a civcas report today?
COL. DILLON: Bill, you cut off at the end.
As far as asking them to leave, that is a decision, just as the decision for the initial stages of Mosul, for -- for civilians to stay, was by the government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces. The same applies here in Raqqah. The Syrian Democratic Forces and the Raqqah Civilian Council have -- have made the decision to ask civilians to depart as opposed to staying in Raqqah.
Q: In the monthly civcas report is that coming -- forthcoming today?
COL. DILLON: I think that comes out tomorrow, Bill.
CAPT. DAVIS: Follow ups? Laurie -- Laurie.
Q: Thank you, sir. I wanted to get the timeline regarding At Tanf correct. It seems that what you're saying is that in early May, pro-regime forces started gathering outside the de-confliction zone. And then on May 18th, some element of them went into the -- into the de-confliction zone. They haven't moved? Is that correct?
COL. DILLON: That is -- that is correct. So, if you recall on May 18th, as pro-regime forces started to move in and around At Tanf and then specifically began moving towards At Tanf and were well within inside of the de-confliction zone.
After several attempts to -- to heed them to stop through de-confliction line with the Russians and also by a show of force by coalition aircraft and warning shots, they still did not turn around and they were struck on May 18th.
And the forces that remain inside of the de-confliction zone, they didn't -- they were not a part of the element that moved that was struck. However, they have not vacated the 55K de-confliction zone and they remain there.
Q: And can you think of any benign explanation for what they're doing there other than harassing and threatening your forces?
COL. DILLON: I mean, they have said that they are in that area -- and this is through the de-confliction line with the Russians -- that they're in that area to defeat ISIS. But we -- we do not want them -- they pose a threat to us in that particular location in At Tanf and -- as we have used that area as a place to train our partner forces in the defeat against ISIS.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Phil Stewart?
Q: Just to clarify, when you said that you had increased combat power, I'm assuming that means in recent days. Correct? And also could you clarify are we talking airpower as well as stuff on ground combat power?
COL. DILLON: To say within recent days, I'll -- I'll, you know, say that, yes, within recent days. And you know, even from the time that the strike had happened has been a -- a -- we have continued to ensure that our forces there are prepared and ready to defend themselves. And what was your second question?
Q: Does that increasing combat power involve any air capabilities as well?
COL. DILLON: We continue to fly our combat air patrols in wherever our forces are. But it is safe to say that we have constant coverage over our forces there in At Tanf.
CAPT. DAVIS: Is Barbara still here? Did she -- (inaudible)?
Q: Yes, I'm still here.
CAPT. DAVIS: OK, I didn't know if you had another follow up.
Q: Well, no. Colonel Dillon, I think we just -- me, I want to thank you for doing this. And I wanted to ask you, do you see yourself in the very near future, doing these briefings into the briefing room on camera as your predecessors did?
COL. DILLON: I certainly do. So, next week, we are expected to do exactly that.
Q: Excellent. Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Anybody else? No? Another follow-up from David Martin.
Q: You said these -- these forces in the de-confliction zone are static. They must be doing something. Are they -- are they building fortifications? Are they doing anything that could be construed as preparations for an incursion by this larger force outside?
COL. DILLON: They -- there are -- there has been prior to the 18th a -- some defensive positions or defensive build-up at that location. But one of the -- you know, we've -- we have told them that that is not to continue, and -- and it has not.
Q: So, what -- other that the fact that they're in a place that you don't -- you don't want them to be, what are they -- what are they doing in relation to this larger force that -- that poses a threat?
COL. DILLON: They are -- you know, currently, they are -- are there. And as I had mentioned before, it's not just -- it's their presence, but it's their presence in -- and also with the build-up of the other forces outside of the de-confliction zone and the increased patrols by these pro-regime forces in and around the area.
Q: Is it -- does this appear to be the advance element for a larger incursion?
COL. DILLON: I -- I won't, you know, classify that. We are just doing everything that -- that is necessary to make sure that our forces are protected and we are prepared to defend ourselves, you know, should that -- should what you said come to fruition.
But we don't -- we have not seen that. We've just -- like I said, outside of -- except for that element that is in the de-confliction zone, the rest of them have stayed outside.
CAPT. DAVIS: Jamie and then T.M.
Q: So, just a quick follow -- follow up. It's Jamie McIntyre with the Washington Examiner.
Last time you sent them a -- a kinetic message. They didn't seem to entirely get the message. Why don't you send another one either in the form of two sort of warning munitions or some sort of other action that would reinforce this message that they're not welcome where they're staying?
COL. DILLON: Well, the -- the May 18th strike was, you know, for -- because we felt threatened as they were moving in the direction and did not stop. So, we did take those kinetic measures.
We are -- are not doing that right now. We are offering them a way to vacate the area by doing so through our de-confliction line with the Russians and also by providing leaflets so we make sure that they know and are clear on our position.
Q: Would you rule that out in the future?
COL. DILLON: I won't -- I won't speculate on, you know, what we may do in the future. We have made it clear, our position, that we want them to vacate the de-confliction zone.
CAPT. DAVIS: T.M., go ahead.
Q: Last follow up on Hennigan's question about Raqqah and the civilians still inside.
Q: You said the SDF and civilian council have called for civilians to leave. Aid groups in Mosul have said, in kind of a similar situation, that they were worried that the U.S. and Iraqis wouldn't be able to protect civilians leaving.
What is the U.S. and the SDF doing to protect civilians leaving Raqqah?
COL. DILLON: Can you -- can you ask -- can you give a little more on that? What -- what do you mean? There are, like -- there are the screening sites. There are the IDP camps that have been established in and around Raqqah. What -- what specifically are you asking? Yes?
Q: (inaudible) -- established corridors for civilians so they can leave without getting hit in fighting or shelling or what have you?
COL. DILLON: Yes. We -- we have not seen the type of civilian casualties, meaning the type of things that we are seeing in Mosul now, where they are engaging -- "they" being ISIS -- are using snipers and shooting civilians. So, the Syrian Democratic Forces -- we haven't seen that type of hold on the civilians who are left in Raqqah right now, and we don't want it to get to that point.
Q: Have you started any civilian casualty investigations? I think there were some reports of shelling in some densely populated neighborhoods in Raqqah that might have killed ISIS family members.
COL. DILLON: The -- we have seen -- there are a couple of allegations, one I believe that's south of Raqqah. That was a vehicle. And there may be another one that you're referring to. But if -- if we have determined that we have conducted strikes during the time in the location of where these allegations come, we have sent those to our civilian casualty team for further assessment.
And we will continue to look into those. As you all know, if there is -- if we are responsible, we will put that out in our civilian casualty report that's put out monthly.
CAPT. DAVIS: Last question from Laurent Barthelemy, Agence France-Press.
Q: Thank you, Colonel.
Just a quick clarification. You mentioned that there were about 200 troops in At Tanf. Are there only coalition troops? Or is it coalition troops plus partner forces?
COL. DILLON: It is a couple-hundred of both. So a total of both coalition forces and our partner forces.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. And with that, thank you, Ryan. Appreciate you coming to talk to us today. We look forward to seeing you -- your face on the screen next week.
Thank you, everybody.
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