U.S. Department of Defense
|Presenter: Colonel Ryan Dillon, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman; Captain Jeff Davis, Director, Defense Press Office||June 08, 2017|
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: All right. Good morning. This is more of a crowd that I expected.
I am pleased to introduce to many of you at his first-ever appearance on the big screen here, Colonel Ryan Dillon, coming to us live from Baghdad. He's the new OIR spokesperson. Most of you already do know him or at least have heard him on the phone.
Ryan, you look great. And we -- we look forward -- and you're competing with some other big news, obviously, in this town. But that said, the crowd's pretty good and we're looking forward to hearing from you.
We'll turn it over to you.
COLONEL RYAN DILLON: All right. Thanks, Jeff.
And first off, as I stated last week in my first Pentagon press corps briefing, I know it was over telephonic, that I had not met, or had worked with many of you prior to last week. I think that's changed over the course of this last week as I've either talked to or e-mailed with several of you. So, we'll go ahead and get started. We'll start in Iraq and then we'll move to Syria.
This week in Mosul, Iraqi security forces continue to push forward on the west and northwest portions of the forward line of troops keeping pressure on ISIS. As expected, the tight confines of the remaining neighborhoods, the well-defended urban canyons, have proven to be very difficult to liberate.
The ISF are methodically clearing ISIS, street by street, house by house, and room by room. The ISF have remained focused on the safety of civilians as they clear ISIS-held areas, moving them out of danger as much as possible. Meanwhile ISIS reverts to brutalizing and murdering plain civilians, as your journalist colleagues have sadly, but importantly, documented.
On Tuesday, the United Nations reported that 163 bodies of murdered Iraqi men, women, and children, lay on the streets of Al-Sheer neighborhood of Western Mosul after being shot and killed by ISIS snipers while attempting to desperately flee to safety. Moving west, the popular mobilization forces under the Iraqi security forces successfully recaptured Baaj and retook almost 1,000 square kilometers this week, liberating terrain and villages all the way to the Iraq/Syria boarder.
Moving to Syria, on June 6th our partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces began their offensive to defeat ISIS in Raqqah. ISIS' de facto capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate has served as an important hub for recruiting, inspiring, financing and planning external attacks. This weeks attacks in London, Paris, Melbourne, and Tehran, are further evidence of the danger this evil terrorist group poses, not only to their region, but to all nations.
The liberation of Raqqah, as with a string of other ISIS strongholds, Dabiq, Manbij, Tabqa, to name a few will further degrade ISIS's ability to export terrorists, plot external attacks, recruit members and subjugate populations. The STF has moved to isolate the city of Raqqah with forces to the west, north, and east. To the South is the Euphrates River and with bridges that cannot be used to cross, ISIS is limited to using water craft to move in to or out of Raqqah. Understanding this the coalition conducted several strikes this week, destroying 20 boats, attempting to shuttle ISIS fighters across the river.
The liberation of Raqqah will deal the enemy a punishing blow and further degree their ability to move throughout the region and further spread terror and kill innocent civilians.
In Southern Syria, this morning, the United States conducted strikes against two technical vehicles, pickup trucks with weapons, that were assessed to be posing a threat to coalition in partner forces based at at-Tanf Garrison. Later this morning, after that first incident, the United States also shot down a suspected pro-regime drone that fired on coalition forces conducting patrols outside of the deconfliction zone to the East. There are no coalition casualties and today was the third set of kinetic strikes the United States has conducted in response to threats posed to the coalition forces and partners operating out of at-Tanf.
The first was one 18 May. The second was on the 6th of June. And today, in one air-to-ground, in one air-to-air engagement. We're watching the situation very closely. The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime or pro-regime forces, however we remain ready to defend ourselves against any threat.
The coalition has been very clear through the deconfliction line, through leaflets, messages and actions, to warn pro regime forces not to advance toward, or otherwise threaten coalition forces at at-Tanf. The coalition calls on all parties in southern Syria to focus their efforts on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to the region and the rest of the world.
And with that, I will now take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: We'll start with Lita Baldor from the Associated Press.
Q: Hello Ryan. Good to finally see you. A couple questions on at-Tanf, you talked about some recent attacks today. Can you tell us, first of all, the drone that was shot down, was it armed? And Hezbollah has warned and threatened that it would strike U.S. and coalition troops with a drone, was that the threat? And can you tell us how many, if any of these Hezbollah, Iranian backed forces are still within the deconfliction zone?
COL. DILLON: Okay. Thanks, Lita.
I will -- I got the first one and I think I've got the other ones, but if not I'll definitely follow up. The first one, the drone that was used in the -- the attempted attack on U.S. forces or coalition forces was a MQ1-like Predator -- or not Predator it was like that kind of, a UAV. It was armed and still had weapons on it when it was fired upon by U.S. forces from an aircraft.
And as far as your other question about whether or not these are Iranian backed or -- we assessed them to be pro-regime forces and they posed a threat to the coalition and our partner forces and that is why these -- each one of these engagements happened and why we struck -- why we struck when we did. I don't know if that answered all your questions. If not, I will have you ask again and if you have a follow up, I'll be prepared to answer that as well.
Q: Did the -- follow up. Did the drone fire on coalition forces? And the other question was how many of these pro-regime forces are still within the deconfliction zone?
COL. DILLON: The drone did fire on the coalition forces that were operating and conducting a patrol to the east, outside of the deconfliction zone, doing patrols with our partner forces, as we have done for many months now. And whether or not we still have coalition forces that are within the deconfliction zone, yes there are a few hundred of coalition members and as far as pro-Syrian or pro-regime forces within the deconfliction zone. Yes, there are still some pro-regime forces that remain inside the deconfliction zone, but we have continued to reiterate through the deconfliction line that we want them to vacate the- that zone.
Q: Do you know how many?
COL. DILLON: We assess it to be about a platoon-size element or less.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Thomas Watkins with Agence France-Presse.
Q: Hello, Colonel.
When you say the drone did fire on the coalition forces, can you give us a little more detail about that? And how far inside the deconfliction zone did this incident occur? Coalition forces, can you just speak to that? What are we talking about? Like U.S. and Brits? Or can you give us any more clarity on this incident?
COL. DILLON: Okay. So the first answer is that the drone did drop a munition. That munition did not have effects on the coalition forces. So, that happened. It had remaining munitions that were still on the drone when we fired and we shot it down.
As far as the coalition footprint, that is at the at-Tanf garrison. I won't go into specifics on who it is and who makes up the coalition forces that are in there. There are a few hundred total, to include our partner force that we are training. And we have been training there.
So, in total, there are a few hundred coalition members with our partner forces. And again, this is a location that we have operated out of for more than a year, but we've been established at at-Tanf for many months now.
Q: This is -- this is a pro-regime attack on Coalition forces. Did they give any kind of warning? What precipitated this incident?
COL. DILLON: We don't know. There was no warning that was provided prior to them releasing this munition on our forces. We did have a view of this particular drone, and we were able to quickly engage and take this threat away for any further action that they may have tried to conduct.
They were obviously seen as a threat and we engaged that and took that out of the battle space for them to use again.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Michael Gordon, New York Times.
Q: Colonel, I know you mentioned -- I think this is the third incident -- you said the third instance in which the coalition has taken action against these forces in the -- in this zone. But is this the first time that the pro-regime forces in the zone have actually fired on the coalition or taken aggressive action?
Because my impression is that in the previous cases, it was their presence in the zone that was deemed to be a threat, but they didn't necessarily fire on the coalition.
And I have a followup.
COL. DILLON: Yes, sir, that's exactly right. The previous -- previous strikes that the coalition conducted on pro-regime forces, those were all perceived as threats through several warnings, through leaflets, through shows of force, before we conducted any kind of kinetic strikes on those forces.
The second incident today, the one that happened with the UAV or the drone, that was the first time that we saw them actually firing or shooting at coalition forces.
Q: Just a quick followup. Is this an Iranian drone? Or an Iranian-manufactured drone in your assessment? And you may have explained this prior, but what are -- what is this -- how large is the zone that you've established? And what are its contours? Obviously, you've told them what it is because they have to stay out of it. So what -- how large is the zone that you've set up around at-Tanf?
COL. DILLON: Okay. The first question. We assess this as a pro-regime drone. We're still doing analysis on -- on whose it could possibly be. But it was a -- it was the same size as our MQ-1 Predator. It was kind of like that.
As far as the second question, the deconfliction zone that has been established is a 55 kilometer ring around at-Tanf, and that allows for ground deconfliction and air deconfliction over the battle space as well. If you have a follow up, I'm prepared to answer that as well.
Q: Okay, thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Carlos Munoz, Washington Examiner. You may need to speak up from the back.
Q: Carlo Munoz, Washington Times. Just wanted to clarify on some of the pre-warnings or -- or notice that you got before these strikes happen. In the previous incidents, there was some back and forth between U.S. and the Russian counterparts, as far as trying to clamp down on tensions. It doesn't seem like that was the case this time.
Does these two incidents represent sort of a break down in that deconfliction channel that you have with your Russian counterparts?
COL. DILLON: All right. You came in a little fuzzy at the end, but what I was -- I think you were asking is the deconfliction that happened between us and the Russians, there is a deconfliction line. We have used that from the middle of May when pro-regime forces first arrived. And as we've seen prior to the May 18th strikes, we definitely maintained an opened deconfliction line with the Russians in that sense. We also dropped leaflets, we also provided video -- or not video -- but messaging to them and we also conducted shows of force and warning shots before conducting kinetic strikes.
After that strike on the May 18th, we thought it has been very clear our position on what we do not -- what we perceive as a threat -- any armed vehicles or armed forces that are moving into and towards our forces that pose a threat. We will engage and we will defend ourselves.
CAPT. DAVIS: Barbara Starr, CNN.
Q: Can we go back over a couple of points on this.
So number one, if this is the first time that you have now seen them fire at coalition troops, including U.S., much more than just a threat. They actually fired at you. Why are you stopping at just firing back at them? I don't know of any case where the United States is fired upon that you don't do something with -- in return to defend yourselves with slightly more overwhelming force. I realized you don't want to talk about future operations, but frankly, is this it and you're just waiting for next time?
My second question is, when you said they used a munition, if it's a predator type, was it actually a missile that they used? What kind of munition and why not fire at them if you saw this threat before they fired at you? I'm not clear why there was firing back by the U.S. only after they fired.
So what type of munition and why would you wait? And when you said there was no effect of that munition on coalition forces, should we take that to mean no U.S. wounded?
COL. DILLON: Okay, so the first question, ma'am, is that our focus is on fighting ISIS and that's what we want to do. That is why we are there. That is why we have been there before. That is why we are training these partner forces so that they can go and fight ISIS, either in this area where they are from. They are from a region that is north of the Jordanian border all the way to the Euphrates River Valley.
And so, we want to focus on that and we want the regime, with whatever their goals and objectives are to -- to focus on that as well. So we do not want to have a fight with the pro-regime forces. Our focus is on ISIS. So I think that's the answer to the first questions.
The second question is the munition that was used by this drone. It was a munition that was dropped from this drone. I can't classify to say whether it was a missile, but I will say that it did not have effects that cause any casualties whatsoever to the forces that we have on the ground. I don't know if that answered all your questions. If not, I'll wait for a follow up.
Q: Just very quickly. I take it no U.S. wounded and to follow up, I understand you don't want to fight with the regime. You're not looking to fight the regime and you're not looking to fight the Iranian-backed forces that has been stipulated are there. But do you -- do you think that U.S. commanders should worry -- they're just giving them a bit of a pass to do this again.
COL. DILLON: Okay. So the first question, no casualties, that also means there are no wounded. So didn't have any coalition members that were wounded or casualties as a result of this -- this failed attempt of this drone to strike our forces.
Secondly, I'm not going to think on behalf of what the pro-regime forces are -- are doing, but I know that we are very well prepared, in position to defend ourselves. We have clearly showed that we are able to do that. And in the case of today, not once but twice, when the pro-regime forces presented a threat and showed hostile action, we were able to quickly defeat them and take that threat away. Again, we do not want to continue this everyd ay, it distracts from our number one goal, which is to defeat ISIS.
CAPT. DAVIS: OK. Ma'm next to Carlo Munoz. I don't know your name.
Q: Hi, I'm Laura Kelly also from the Washington Times.
Sir, is there concern from the coalition over recent attacks in Baghdad and terrorist attacks around the world, but just in Baghdad in particular, that you'll be moving Iraqi security forces from Mosul back to Baghdad for security? Or no?
COL. DILLON: Came in pretty loud, but as far as our concerns about attacks in Baghdad or elsewhere, our focus right now in Iraq is on Mosul and in Syria it is on Raqqah. And we have seen in the past that ISIS, when faced with being defeated, where we know our concentration of our efforts and our focus is, there are these attacks elsewhere to distract us and to try to take us away from that number one goal.
So we will continue to support our Iraqi Security Force partners, number one, in Mosul, but also elsewhere throughout Iraq wherever ISIS presents itself.
And as far as Baghdad, there is a robust security force that is the Baghdad police. And they also have a -- many of their -- they have a way to handle this insurgent threat. And so I would, you know, turn that back over -- that question to the government of Iraq, but I believe that they're prepared to handle what comes after ISIS as they devolve into an insurgency.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Hans Nichols, NBC News.
Q: Yes, thanks, Colonel Dillon.
If I could just get clarity on one point. I know I'm being a bit precious here. But is the 55-kilometer ring, is that the radius or the circumference?
And then I heard it both ways that the -- the coalition forces were patrolling inside and outside the de-confliction zone.
And then I'll have another separate line of questioning.
COL. DILLON: Okay. Thanks for that.
The 55-kilometer ring is a -- the radius. And that allows for de-confliction, but it doesn't limit us to continuing to patrol outside of that area. Again, our focus -- we know where the regime forces are, and we want to make sure that we, you know, keep our distance from them. Our focus is on predominantly in the north, and to the east towards the Euphrates River valley, and in that area, and in the Hama desert.
So that's where we have been in the past conducting our training. And that's where we've operated. So, that's kind of our focus right now in southern Syria.
Q: But the- the patrolling group that came under fire, were they inside or outside the de-confliction zone?
COL. DILLON: They were outside of the de-confliction zone, conducting patrols, normal patrols that we have been doing for many months now.
Q: And just a total separate line, but could we get an update on how many ISIS fighters are inside of Raqqah? And if you think external operations are still being plotted from inside Raqqah?
COL. DILLON: Right now, the estimated enemy force inside Raqqah is about 2,500. I can't say whether or not there are still attempts for ISIS to conduct external attacks. We know in the past that Raqqah has been a planning base, in particular for attacks in Paris and Berlin. Our goal is to defeat them, obviously, in Raqqah.
And to not allow them sanctuary not just in Raqqah, but throughout the rest of Iraq and Syria, so that we do not have to -- so they cannot finance; they do not have the ability to conduct battlefield operations; they don't have the ability to finance, to recruit, and to plan other external attacks.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Tara Copp, Stars and Stripes.
Q: Hi. Good to see you for the first time in here. A couple of questions.
The drone -- do you think it was a pro-regime forces drone? Or actually direct regime? And same with the forces on the ground where you have these three incidents. Are these Syria direct forces? Or are these Iranians? Or Hezbollah? That's the first question. I have a couple more.
COL. DILLON: Okay. So the first one, we saw it as a regime drone. And regardless of what kind of drone it was, it fired upon our coalition forces, and therefore showed hostile intent, and it was perceived as a threat. So regardless of what kind of drone it was, we engaged and we successfully destroyed that drone.
As far as the other elements that are still within the deconfliction zone, those are also regime forces -- we asses to be regime forces. And I think that answers it.
Q: And then the forces that were on patrol, did they have U.S. advisers with them, at the time? Were these partner forces, were these -- if you could describe what was the patrol composed of.
COL. DILLON: All right, Tara, I'm not going to go in to the number. It was a patrol and it was a patrol of our partner forces. And we did have coalition members that were advising them and that were with them -- who were with them on this patrol.
Q: So forces, U.S. advisers?
COL. DILLON: I'll just leave it at coalition. We had coalition advisers that were with these -- these partner forces on these patrols.
CAPT. DAVIS: Kasim Ileri, Anadolu News Agency.
Q: Hi, how are you? Nice to see you. Does the SDF have any anti-attack weapons currently being delivered to -- for the Iraq operation?
COL. DILLON: Okay, I think you're asking about the SDF and the weapons that have been provided to the Kurdish element for the Raqqah operation. That authority had been approved and we have already started to provide the weapons and the equipment and the ammunition that we said that we would, and we will continue to provide those to our Syrian Democratic forces, both the Syrian Arabs and the Syrian Kurds for this fight against ISIS is Raqqah. We want to make sure that they are prepared and they have the equipment that they need to be successful against ISIS in Raqqah.
We are looking at the types of threats that have emanated, or that have -- that we've seen in Mosul, and we expect the same type of threats, with the vehicle born, improvised explosive devices, and the car bombs that they have shown, and so we're going to make sure that they are successful.
Now as far as the- what we are giving them, we are being very clear, and open, and transparent with the equipment that we're providing with our ally Turkey.
Q: We heard that the coalition support strike operation with HIMARS, Apaches and 777 howitzers. Are they currently being employed or will you provide those platforms to the operation in the future?
COL. DILLON: Yeah, each one of those capabilities that you just discussed are being used for this operation to defeat ISIS in Raqqah, supporting our Syrian Democratic forces.
Q: Up on the number of the ISIS fighters inside Raqqah, the other day we heard that they're 800, and then now you are saying there are 2,005, your estimate -- approximate estimate is 2,500 fighters inside Raqqah. Are you talking about the core city of Raqqah or include -- are you including the vicinity of this areas as well?
COL. DILLON: Well, right now we're talking those that are in the Raqqah city center in the environs that are just on the outskirts, the suburbs if you will. And when I'm saying suburbs, I'm talking about, right now the Syrian Democratic forces have already gotten a foothold into the eastern part of Raqqah city center, and on the west side. To the north, they're still about three kilometers to the north of Raqqah city.
So this is the area that I'm talking about, and we estimate about 2,500 ISIS fighters that are in there right now.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Kevin Baron, Defense One.
Q: A couple of things. I'm back to the drone. I mean, I'm trying to figure out what kind of drone this is. Maybe we can -- (inaudible). Do you have any imagery that you're going to release to us, to the public? Or -- it would be interesting to know more about what it is.
On Raqqah, can you just talk a little bit more about the next steps to get to the city center? What -- what can be expected? And Turkey's response, cooperation, both with not with the fighting, but the expected civilian/military group that governs after?
COL. DILLON: Okay. I got the first question about the imagery, about providing that. I'd have to go back and look into that and find out if it's something we can declassify. And if so, and we are -- I can provide that. I will find that out. That's a due-out.
And then your second, after you asked about the imagery, it was completely choppy. I didn't get any of that question. I don't know if you need to move somewhere else.
Q: I'll try a little more loudly. But I just wanted a little more clarity on what to expect going forward in Raqqah, getting toward the city center. And then any -- what's the state of cooperation with Turkey both on -- on the fighting or allowing Kurds to fight, and moving ahead to the post-fight governance to come.
COL. DILLON: Okay. So, on 6 June, that's when they began their offensive operations to defeat ISIS in Raqqah. They have made some steady progress in the first neighborhoods and have successfully been able to take ground from ISIS already in Raqqah. We expect to have the coalition continue to provide our intelligence, our surveillance, our reconnaissance, and our advisers will be with them throughout this engagement fight.
And our air, artillery, and as the question asked earlier, we'd also have helicopters in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces as we move forward.
We expect this to be a fight very similar, not quite as built-up and as a dense urban terrain as we've seen in Mosul, but nonetheless ISIS has had almost three years to prepare for this fight, and we expect it to be very difficult, just as we've seen in Mosul.
I don't know if that answered your question.
Q: Yeah- for now, that's okay.
CAPT. DAVIS: He was asking you about Turkey.
Did you get that?
COL. DILLON: Oh. I didn't -- no, I did not.
Q: Are you getting any resistance from Turkish- anything at all with Turkey when it comes to the ground fighting and the coalition job that you want to happen?
COL. DILLON: Outside of some of those -- some of the comments that we've seen in open source, no, we have not. The Syrian Democratic Forces are clearly in a position. They have been a force that is most prepared and ready and poised to start this offensive operation. And as they've kicked it off and already begun making some progress, you know, they are the right force. And we'll continue to support them, we will defeat ISIS and we'll move on to wherever they are next.
We do continue to service ISIS targets continuing in Deir ez-Zor and in Abu Kamal and elsewhere wherever they present themselves and wherever they have been a threat. And we'll continue to do that as well.
CAPT. DAVIS: (inaudible) – from Jane's.
Q: Thanks. So there've been the three groups of strikes as well as the leaflets and some of the messaging, but has there been any indication that that platoon sized element inside of the 55 kilometer buffer zone is preparing to leave or has, in any way, diminished its presence inside of the deconfliction zone?
COL. DILLON: Yes. We have -- we have still not seen any physical signs of them departing that area. We will continue -- they have not presented a threat. They have not continued to move towards our forces in the at-Tanf garrison, but we will continue to attempt to get them to vacate the area. I think that we have seen how clear we are about the threat that has been presented and posed to us and we'll continue to push to have them vacate that area.
Q: And there's only been three sets of strikes, but have they had, in your assessment, had any meaningful impact on the capability of the pro-regime forces in the vicinity? Has their ability to pose a threat to coalition forces been diminished at all as a result as those three groups of strikes?
COL. DILLON: And I don't want to speak on behalf of the, you know, the pro-regime forces. They have their objectives and, you know, we -- we think that they are also towards defeating ISIS, but I'm not going to make that assessment for them.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Elizabeth, from ABC News.
Q: Hello, Colonel.
Can you just clarify on the Tuesday strike the Syrians conducted that the Russians used the deconfliction channel to communicate with us? And then on this third strike, was the deconfliction channel again used? And what is your assessment of how successful that's been?
COL. DILLON: We have used the deconfliction channel with the Russians and that is in place and it is something that we use regularly to do. And I don't want to sound cheeky to deconflict and I know that we have -- we have confirmed in certain instances when we have not had coalition forces in the area to allow them to conduct their operations.
I'm not going to every single instance, but I'll just say that the deconfliction line is open. It is in use and as far as it being successful, you know, unfortunately there have been some -- these incidents that have taken our focus away from fighting ISIS. But we have used this deconfliction line, believe that they have used it in a way to persuade the pro-regime forces to not do -- make these threats that we have seen happen. And that's why we have used other means to let them know that they pose a threat before we conduct any type of kinetic strikes.
Q: Just to be clear, it was used in this third strike. You have confirmation that the Russians did communicate to those pro-regime forces that -- a warning that you wanted them to leave again?
COL. DILLON: Yes, and so what I will say is that, we use the deconfliction line and now whether or not that deconfliction from the other end makes that message all the way down to the driver of the technical vehicle who came in to the -- who posed a threat to us this morning, I don't -- I can't say that. But the deconfliction line is in use.
CAPT. DAVIS: Shawn Snow, Military Times.
Q: Thank you for doing this Colonel. The drone that was shot down, was that an Iranian Shahid 129? CENTCOM says that that drone has been active in southern Syria.
And also back to Raqqah, the Syrian observatory for human rights says that U.S. Special Operations Forces are on the front lines of Raqqah. Are U.S. Special Operations Forces operating on the front lines in Raqqah or are they embedded at a headquarters level? Thank you.
COL. DILLON: Okay, so the first one, the drone was as I stated, we assessed it had to be pro-regime -- a regime drone. It was an MQ-1-like drone and that's as far as I know right now.
As far as the second question on the advisers and the forces -- the coalition forces that advise and assist our partner force in Raqqah, as was stated a few weeks ago by General Dunford, our forces have to put themselves in the best place where they can provide the assistance to our forces that are conducting these operations.
They are I've been told not to -- to be at the very front, kicking down doors and to be at the very front of these formations conducting operations and so I will leave it at that. They are supposed to go to the last cover and concealed position from the front line of advance of the partner force.
CAPT. DAVIS: Carla Babb, VOA.
Q: Hi, Colonel, a lot of clarifications. Let's start with the drone.
You mentioned that there were no casualties, no wounded, was there any damage to coalition or our partner equipment? And where specifically was this strike? What town? How far away from this was- were the coalition and their partner forces to those regime forces that you had mentioned?
COL. DILLON: Okay, so first question, there was no damage to coalition forces or partner forces equipment. And the second question, this strike -- or the attempted strike that happened -- well, first off we'll say that the attempted strike by the drone was west -- or correction, east of at-Tanf while we were conducting operations.
So I'm not going to say how far out that was. It was outside of the deconfliction line, you've already heard that, I've said that that was 55 kilometers in radius, so it was outside of the confliction zone. And they are conducting operations moving to the east area. And that is the same area where the drone was also shot down.
Q: Where is that in relation to where those regime forces are located?
COL. DILLON: So, regime forces have been located from the beginning, when they showed up in mid-May, are to the northwest. So, our patrols were in the opposite direction of where the regime forces were.
Q: A couple more follow-ups.
How many regime drones are still in the area do you assess? And when you struck what was mentioned in the strike report, the two artillery systems which you said were two technical vehicles, were those inside the de-confliction zone? Or were those outside -- were those regime forces outside of the de-confliction zone?
COL. DILLON: Okay. The first question, I don't know the number of drones that are not coalition forces that are in the air around at-Tanf. I know that we have the right amount of forces that are able to defend ourselves both on the ground -- and the capabilities both on the ground and in the air.
As far as your second question, yes, those -- those artillery pieces and the damaged tank and the other vehicle that we struck on the 6th of June, they were inside of the de-confliction zone. They were moving towards at-Tanf, and posed a threat. And we -- we did try to dissuade them before conducting a kinetic strike.
Q: And so my final follow-up -- sorry, because there were a lot of questions. What was the aircraft that shot down this drone? Was it a U.S. aircraft?
COL. DILLON: Yes, it was. It was a U.S. aircraft. I won't go into the type or kind that it was, but it was U.S.
CAPT. DAVIS: T-M Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post.
Q: Yes, sir. How's it going?
A couple of questions. The first on this drone strike on the pro-regime forces. At any time in the three strikes that led up today and today's strike, was -- did U.S. aircraft take any effective or ineffective fire? I know there was anti-aircraft weapons on the ground.
Then I have two followups on Mosul and Raqqah.
COL. DILLON: Yeah, Tom, on that first question, not that I know of. Our aircraft, as far I know, aircraft they were flying, you know, coalition-wise above at-Tanf, none of them were engaged as far as I know.
Q: Awesome. And then on Raqqah, the SDF have told civilians to flee and now they've kind of switched the messaging, telling them to hold in place. What precipitated that decision?
And second, on Mosul, white phosphorus use -- that kind of popped up over the weekend. Can you kind of describe the circumstances of that? And also the U.N. claims and HRW claims or requests to stop using indirect fire weapons in the city because of civilian casualties?
COL. DILLON: Okay. So for the first question in Raqqah, the Syrian Democratic Forces prior to conducting the offensive had encouraged civilians to depart and to leave Raqqah city if they could do so freely and safely. We did see several of them do that.
As far as -- as soon as they started the offensive, they have since encouraged civilians that remain inside of Raqqah to remain in their homes, shelter in place, and to avoid ISIS fighting positions. So, that is what the current guidance is from the SDF to civilians that remain inside of Raqqah.
And as far as the -- the white phosphorus question that you had asked, the coalition -- we won't confirm whether or not we used white phosphorus, but we do reserve the right to use it in accordance with the law of armed conflict, which says that you can use it is you're using it obscuration, for screening or for marking. And in don't know what your last question was, but I'll go ahead and pause and have you ask again.
Q: Yeah, the last question was about HRW, Airwars, a couple groups came out today requesting that the coalition Iraqi forces stop using weapons such IRAMs, mortars, et cetera in western Mosul because of a spike in civilian causalities.
Can you just kind of address their request and -- and kind of what you guys are doing to mitigate civilian causalities. I know ISIS has been -- been killing a lot in the recent days, kind of where you guys are coming down on that?
COL. DILLON: Okay, yes thanks. The -- ISIS clearly as you had stated, continue to kill at an alarming rate and we do not want to see that. The -- the quickest way that we see stopping the human suffering that has happened within Mosul is by defeating ISIS as quickly as we possibly can. That said, the coalition will continue to support Iraqi security forces as they push into an attempt to free and liberate Mosul. We will continue to be very deliberate with our strikes.
We will factor in all the tactics that we know that ISIS uses. But we will continue to support our Iraqi security forces with ISR, with our strikes, with our advisers and we're not going to let up on ISIS, but we are always going to be mindful. Our goal is always to have zero causalities, unlike our enemy that we face today.
CAPT. DAVIS: Luis Martinez, ABC News
Q: Hey Colonel- a question about that platoon sized element that's up inside the deconfliction zone?
How -- these three airstrikes, have they been taken against elements that were originally part of that element? Or did it come from outside the confliction zone? And is there a larger pro-regime force outside that deconfliction zone, and can you give us an estimate of how large it is and what kind of activities have they been undertaking, prior to this early contact?
COL. DILLON: Okay. The -- the first question, the elements we have conducted strikes on have all come from outside of the deconfliction zone into the deconfliction zone. They have all had weapons systems, or they have all posed a threat. If -- I'm not saying that we have seen other vehicles that have come in that do not pose a threat, that do not have certain weapons systems on them and we have not struck those.
As far as the outside of the -- the other pro-regime elements that remain outside, it is larger, obviously than the platoon-sized element, or the smaller element that is inside the deconfliction ring, but I won't characterize how large it is or take a guess as to what they're doing.
Q: And -- and this -- I guess there was an airstrike yesterday that the Syrian air force conducted on their behalf. Who were they fighting that they needed to call in an airstrike to support them on the ground?
COL. DILLON: Yeah, as far as who they were fighting, we assess that to be a counter-Syrian regime force and I don't know who that is. What I do know is that, it was not coalition who ended that attack nor was it our partners that are with us at at-Tanf.
CAPT. DAVIS: Phil Stewart, Reuters.
Q: Can you just give us a sense, what actually did the drone hit? I know they fired at something. What did it fire at, what did it hit?
COL. DILLON: It hit dirt. It didn't hit any of the coalition forces.
Q: But you're sure that it was a strike? Because you said repeatedly this was a strike against coalition forces, so did it hit dirt next to them, really far away from them, are they really bad at shooting? Serious question.
COL. DILLON: It was -- no, and it was a -- it was -- it was clearly meant as an attack on the coalition forces and our partner forces in the area. The proximity -- and I don't want to get into details, but it made it very clear who they were trying to fire upon and they were unsuccessful.
Q: You don't think this was a warning shot?
COL. DILLON: We saw it as a threat. I do not see this as a warning shot. This is -- this clearly showed a threat even if it were a warning shot. It was something that showed a hostile intent, a hostile action, and posed a threat to our forces because this drone still had munitions that were still on it and we saw this as a threat and we shot it down.
Q: Part of the threat would also be the person piloting that drone, correct? Was there any action taken against the pilot of that drone?
COL. DILLON: Not that I know of, but yes, that would be -- you would be correct in saying that the pilot of that drone could very well be considered a threat as well.
CAPT. DAVIS: Bill Hennigan -- excuse me -- L.A. Times.
Q: Hey, Colonel. Where did this drone take off from?
COL. DILLON: Bill, I don't know the answer to that. I just know that it posed a threat to our forces and we shot it down. I don't know where it came from.
Q: Okay. You said before that it -- it doesn't much matter what -- you know, who -- what kind of drone it was. But if it was an attack on presumably U.S. forces or at the very least coalition forces, it seems to me that you'd want to figure that out. And the number of forces that actually have that asset in the region can be counted on one hand.
So do you have a good idea of -- of, you know, who was piloting that aircraft and you're just not telling us? Or do you just -- do you not know?
COL. DILLON: So, the first one, yeah, I'm sure that we are assessing and identifying, you know, where and who this drone came from. What I meant before is, regardless, this drone showed a threat when it released munitions and that's why I said it doesn't really matter. If it was -- anything that poses a threat to our forces there, we're going to defend ourselves.
Now, as far as everything else, I'm sure we're conducting assessments right now to identify, you know, who did fire, but I don't know that right now.
Q: Okay. Was the -- did the Russians use the deconfliction line on the flight of this aircraft?
COL. DILLON: We use the deconfliction line every single day. And, you know, we used the deconfliction line today as well.
Q: Had you seen this aircraft in the region before?
COL. DILLON: Not to my knowledge and, you know, if --
CAPT. DAVIS: I swear that's an accident.
Anybody see any hand signals through the window? He's throwing his hands up in despair. That's not good.
Q: Thumbs down.
CAPT. DAVIS: Thumbs down. I will tell you. We are -- are you back?
COL. DILLON: I can still hear you, can you hear me? I can hear you okay.
CAPT. DAVIS: I got you.
Q: We can't hear him though right?
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. We got you back can you hear us?
COL. DILLON: Okay. I can. I can hear you okay.
CAPT. DAVIS: Where were we?
Q: Okay. So you haven't seen the aircraft in the region before. Was the aircraft that shot it down a manned U.S. aircraft? And you said before, that the U.S. is -- you said last week that the U.S. is increasing combat power at the at-Tanf Garrison. Is that continuing to happen? Are there more assets going into the region or into the garrison there?
COL. DILLON: Yes. First off, you know, was it shot down by a manned U.S. aircraft, yes it was.
Secondly, to your question, we have the, you know, capabilities I'm not going to talk about whether or not we continue to beef up the at-Tanf Garrison, but we do have the capabilities required to defend ourselves and to continue our mission towards training our partner forces and preparing them to fight and defeat ISIS.
CAPT. DAVIS: Dion (inaudible) I guess I should just tell you, for the rest of you, we do have a number of people in the queue, but we are about out of time. So we'll -- we'll get to maybe one or two more.
Q: Thanks, Colonel.
Got a couple of quick, clarifying questions. At one point you described the forces as regime forces. Are there elements of the Syrian military as part of these forces inside or outside the deconfliction zone?
COL. DILLON: Yes. We assess there are regime forces that are both inside and outside of the deconfliction zone.
Q: And then last week, you said there was a buildup of these forces outside the deconfliction zone. Are they still continuing to add forces outside the zone that pose a threat to U.S. forces?
COL. DILLON: I -- just like the question earlier, there is a larger force that is outside of the deconfliction zone. I can't tell you whether or not they have continued to, you know, pile on. I know that it's much larger than the force that is inside, but this is a natural -- is what we believe is their natural progression to continue to move east into areas that have not been taken by the regime against ISIS.
Q: You're painting a pretty grim picture of what's happening down there. It seems like the situation is deteriorating, and we're getting into a situation where we're now getting into more serious direct conflicts with the Syrian regime. Is that an accurate assessment of the picture you're painting?
CAPT. DAVIS: Can you hear us?
COL. DILLON: Everyone, can you hear me now?
CAPT. DAVIS: We've got you now again.
Do you want to repeat that, Dion?
Q: Just that you're painting a very grim portrait of what's happening there. We're getting into more direct conflicts -- you got it.
COL. DILLON: Okay. So, our number one focus is still to defeat ISIS and clearly the de-confliction line has not worked to prevent these mishaps from happening. That said, we do not want to focus our efforts on the regime. We'd much rather focus them on training our partners and defeating ISIS.
So, we would certainly like this to deescalate so we can, you know, refocus our efforts on the larger threat to the region and to the rest of the world, and that is on ISIS.
Q: Okay. Thank you, Colonel.
CAPT. DAVIS: With apologies to several others, I know we are out of time. In closing, Ryan, anything you wanted to tell us before we sign off?
COL. DILLON: No. I've obviously seen many of these Pentagon press conferences. Now I understand some of the difficulties in communicating through several thousand miles. But we'll definitely work through it and obviously everybody has -- should have my contact information. If I didn't get to answer all of your questions, please feel free to hit me up and I will follow up with you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Thank you.
Thank you, everybody.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|