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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Lt. Gen. Hesterman Via Telephone from the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, Southwest Asia in the Pentagon Press Briefing room

Press Operations

Lieutenant General John W. Hesterman III, Combined Forces Air Component Commander
June 5, 2015
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COLONEL STEVE WARREN:  Good afternoon.  This is the best part of the Pentagon right here.
 
(Laughter.)
 
Yeah.  Good afternoon, members of the Pentagon press corps.  It's great to see you here on Friday.  I see we've got a full house.  I just spoke with General Hesterman and he is all set.
 
So without any further introduction, today here in the Pentagon we will hear from Lieutenant General John W. Hesterman, III, who is the U.S. Central Command, Combined Forces Air Component commander.
 
And without any additional introduction, General Hesterman over to you for opening remarks.
 
LIEUTENANT GENERAL JOHN HESTERMAN:  Okay.  Thanks, Steve.  And thanks for the opportunity to talk about our coalition air power.  I'll open up with some comments and I'll be happy to answer your questions.
 
Let me start off by saying that I'm very proud of our multi-nation air coalition.  This coalition came together very quickly, which demonstrates the international commitment to defeat this terrorist enemy that we refer to as Daesh.  Interoperability between our nations’ airmen validates years of combined training and multilateral exercises between our coalition partners.
 
And each nation brings capabilities like command and control, intelligence, airlift, fires and aero-refueling to a very complex operational environment, creating a coalition greater than the sum of its parts.
 
Our planning is a true coalition effort in the Combined Air Operations Center here, when we're flying side by side across the region in this fight against Daesh.  And make no mistake, our coalition team is having a profound effect on the enemy.  Our coalition airstrikes are the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare.  We've been able to impact the enemy in a significant way and we do it in a way that minimizes civilian casualties, which our coalition nations rightly are very proud of.
 
The targeting is challenging, perhaps more so than ever before, and we do go out of our way to protect innocent civilians because it's the right thing to do and it's one of the things that separates us from the terrorists we're fighting, who kill anyone who isn't them.
 
Daesh can be targeted while still protecting civilians, and so far, we can and are doing both.
 
Coalition air power's not only been effective, it's enabled virtually every victory on the battlefield.  It's helped ground forces regain territory, remove more than 1,000 enemy fighters a month from the battlefield, eliminated the majority of Daesh oil-refining capability.
 
More important, coalition air power is what is giving the Iraqi government and security forces the time they need to prepare and execute sustained counter-Daesh offensives.
 
And coalition air power is giving all of our coalition nations the space and time to execute the international lines of effort for countering the flow of foreign fighters, countering Daesh financing, providing humanitarian assistance, countering Daesh's messaging and stabilizing liberated areas, all of which will be necessary to finish Daesh.
 
So I'm currently very proud of the coalition team here and what they're accomplishing.  We and many have said this will be a long fight, and there'll be tactical setbacks that we should not give Daesh strategic victory credit for.  And be sure, we and the coalition are fully committed to a strategic defeat of the Daesh terrorists.
 
Thanks again for the opportunity, and I will be happy to take your questions.
 
COL. WARREN:  Sir, we'll start traditionally with Bob Burns from the Associated Press.
 
Bob, I've already announced you, but everyone else will ask -- state your -- remember to state your name and who you're with.
 
Go ahead, Bob.
 
Q:  General, this is Bob Burns.
 
Following up on your point about minimizing civilian casualties, could you provide any information about the strike this week near Hawijah on the IED factory that has reportedly caused Iraqis -- (inaudible) -- dozens of civilian casualties?
 
And also, could you comment on the assertion made by a number of people recently that something like 75 percent of combat sorties returned without dropping bombs?  Is that -- is that accurate, and could you explain how that works?
 
Thank you.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Sure, Bob.
 
The al-Hawijah -- (inaudible) -- factory, I am familiar with the strike, and I've seen the video.  You guys know that going after IED factories is not knew; we've done it at an increasing pace as Daesh has turned to this terrorist tactic that they're using.
 
In this case, after a very disciplined targeting process, we dropped a fairly small weapon on a known IED building in an industrial area.  The secondary explosion, which was caused from a massive amount of Daesh high explosives, was very large, and it destroyed much of that industrial area.
 
So we haven't seen any evidence of civilian casualties so far, but we'll conscientiously look into it as we do every allegation.
 
Let's be clear.  What did the damage was a huge amount of high explosives that Daesh intended to turn into murderous weapons to kill Iraqi forces and innocent civilians.  If there're unintended injuries, that responsibility rests squarely on Daesh.
 
To your second question, Bob, the -- 75 -- (inaudible) -- you know, again, we're talking about -- that's been true for about the last 10 years, by the way, you know, based on the way we do conflict.
 
We've provided 24/7 presence over the battlefield to get after this enemy whenever we have the opportunity, whenever they show themselves.  You know, sometimes they don't, and we bring those weapons back.  But that's not because we're seeing them and not killing them; it's because they manifested themselves in those -- (inaudible).
 
Q:  Sir, hi.  Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News.
 
When you started answering the 75-percent question, it bleeped out, like you were being censored.  Can you repeat your answer on that?  Is 75 percent an accurate figure?
 
And then I had a couple of my own questions.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  The -- what I said was -- is that's probably right.  And then I said that we've been doing, you know, air warfare that way for about the last 10 years.
 
So, you know, the fact that we go after this enemy and we kill them wherever we find them -- but we're there 24/7, which is different than a lot of the previous air campaigns that people like to talk about.
 
Q:  Well, my question is that running -- one of the running debates in Washington is whether the U.S. should employ JTACS with Iraqi security forces.  Would JTACS exponentially increase the accuracy of your airstrikes?  Or can they perform pretty precise strikes without specially trained JTACs embedded with Iraqi units?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Well, you know, Tony, U.S. and coalition JTACS are always value added.  And we use them all the time, by the way, and they've adapted in this fight to be able to get after this enemy with the ISR and comm capability we have.
 
So, you know, would it be helpful?  Probably.  Is it necessary?  Not so far.
 
And General Austin and Chairman Dempsey have been pretty clear that if they determine it is necessary, they'll ask for it.
 
But, yeah, they're -- what we need is precise information about where the enemy is.  I'm a little agnostic as to who gives it to us.  Well-trained forces can do that.
 
Q:  You're very bullish about the effectiveness of air power, yet, again, the narrative in Washington and in many places around the world is they're bombing them heavy, but ISIS is still making major advances around the country.
 
Can you square that circle, please?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Yeah, well, I don't think they're making major advances around the country.  I think every now and again, they make a tactical advance and then we play it like a strategic, you know, victory, and it's not.
 
So the fact of the matter is, this enemy was out parading itself around.  They took over a large part of Iraq in just a couple of days.
 
But, let's be clear about something here.  Let me talk about the comparisons that are being made, because I think, frankly, that's one of the reasons I'm talking to you.
 
The comparisons being made to conflicts against fielded armies in nation states don't apply in this case.  And the folks making them, frankly, haven't been in a fight like the one we're in now.
 
This enemy wrapped itself around a friendly population before we even started.  There is no, and never has been, a well-developed target set for that, which is necessary to do what we've done in the past.  And I can say that with a little bit of authority, because I either participated in or was well-familiar with this for about the last 32 years.
 
With this enemy, we have to be available 24/7 with coalition airpower, differentiate them from the population and go after them every time we find them.
 
It's an order of magnitude more difficult than what we've done before, but we're doing it.   And Daesh's leadership and their lines of communication and their equipment are all at an increasing risk.
 
And I will tell you, the young men and women risking their lives each day from many nations and every service are superb, and they're very effective.  And they're giving Iraq the time they need and friendly nations the time they need to execute all the lines of efforts that are going to  be necessary to finish this.
 
Q:  Hey, general, it's Tom Bowman with NPR.
 
Some of the pilots flying under your command are complaining that they're being micro-managed, that they're not -- they have to take too much time to get approval for a target.  There's one e-mail making the rounds, a pilot who says, "In my 10-plus years, I've never been more frustrated.  We let targets go because we have to wait so long for approval."
 
And then, General Deptula, who you know, retired General Deptula, complained that this air campaign is basically "drizzle, when it should be thunder and lightning."
 
And these guys are Air Force professionals.  What are they seeing that you're not seeing?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Well, first of all, you know, I'm a big fan of air power advocates.  And I appreciate their confidence and I think it's well-placed.
 
I will also tell you, as I stated, that they're not fighting the war that we're fighting right now, and I'm a little bit closer to the facts on this one.
 
As far as the guys that are a little bit -- (inaudible), yeah, absolutely.  I'll tell you, some of his friends talked to him about, and they're not certain he feels that way now.
 
But I expect guys to feel that way.  When I was a captain -- (inaudible) -- that, too.
 
But let me clear up some misconceptions on the approval process.  If Daesh is firing at coalition aircraft or friendly forces and we see it, they dive very quickly.  And the pilot or operator doesn't need to ask permission from anybody.  We call that self-defense.
 
You know, for a planned strike, the pilot has permission before he takes off.  And only in rare circumstances, when something has changed in the target area, might the pilot delay or seek some sort of clarification.  So, you know, anecdotally it might be a bus pulls up, you know, if a bunch of noncombatants get off of it, that guy probably is going to save that target for the next night.  If all those guys are wearing body armor and carrying weapons, he might not wait very long before he strikes that target.
 
So, the kind of targeting that people are talking about, something that we're really good at and haven't done a whole heck of a lot of until this conflict, is dynamic targeting.  Now, let me be real clear about this.  The vast majorities are well away from friendly troops in contact.  And we use a multitude of sources to initially ID the enemy and communicate what we see.  Then JTACS in operations centers do a collateral damage estimate and then we de-conflict friendlies.  And when that's done, a senior officer clears the sortie.
 
You know, the average time for those strikes, by the way, is measured in minutes, not hours or even halves of hours.  Now, in rare cases, it takes longer because sometimes we ID the enemy and they're standing next to a mosque or a school or a residential area.
 
And it is not, you know, there have been cases where a pilot was there for a couple of hours waiting for those guys to move away; ran out of crew duty day, and had to go home.  And no doubt, that guy is frustrated.  But most of the time, the guy that shows up as he's leaving kills that enemy when they move away from the target area, and he's not frustrated at all, and the enemy is just as dead.  And that's usually what happens.
 
So the thought that we're observing large numbers of Daesh terrorists and not killing them anywhere is fiction.  And the relatively few targets we have not prosecuted in total wouldn't have changed the strategic or probably even the tactical situation in the battle.
 
So, let me get after one other thing here, because some of those guys -- and again, you know, a lot of them, you know, are advocating for air power.  But this thought that we don't trust our pilots is just wrong.  We trust these superb men and women to prosecute the most complex aerial battle I've seen in about 32 years.  And it's never been more difficult to identify friends from foe as it is right now in Iraq.
 
You know, this foe is hiding in the midst of the population.  It's not a matter of trust.  It's a matter of ID-ing friendly forces, you know, which are exceptionally difficult to do by observation alone.  And, you know, you should be aware that the initial IDs of the enemy that have turned out to be -- (inaudible) -- happened near 100 times so far.
 
That's not an indictment on aviators.  It's near-impossible to tell them apart when they dress roughly the same and are using the same equipment.  So imagine if those strikes had been made, even a fraction of them, what we call "blue-on-green fratricide," you know, my opinion is the coalition would have unwound, you know, some time ago.
 
But we're managing to do it, and we're talking to our Iraqi brothers.  We do it reasonably quickly, and we're taking the enemy off the battlefield in a significant numbers.  And we're doing it -- (inaudible) -- people that we don't mean to in a historically low way, which, you know, I've got to tell you, I'm wildly proud of.  These kids are incredibly good and they are far better than all the rest of us that have been doing this for a long time.
 
Q:  (inaudible) -- is in the fight, and he says in his e-mail that again many of us have seen, that he's very frustrated.  He said it's not a one-time thing.  He said it happens repeatedly.  He talks about a convoy of oil trucks around ISIS-held area in Syria that he's not allowed to hit.  It takes hours for him to get approval.  Is he misinformed?  Is he wrong?  Walk me through this.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  (inaudible) -- those oil trucks.  And again, you guys are taking what one or two guys have said.  You know, I've that in print, you know, 15 times.  And there are a lot of -- the vast majority of these aviators are wildly proud about the fact that they're taking this to the enemy.  They're the most effective force on the battlefield, and they're going after these guys in a fairly significant way.
 
You know -- (inaudible) -- you know, was -- it was some time ago there were a bunch of trucks in Syria.  All the drivers of those trucks, by the way, were local villagers, you know.  Nobody was real excited about disenfranchising those communities for the next couple of generations by killing those guys.
 
The other part of that is we were blowing up their oil infrastructure at a fairly great rate, and they were sucking that oil off the desert floor and putting in those trucks and fouling the engines -- (inaudible) -- faster than we could blow it up.
 
So there were reasons that we didn't let them go after that.  Bad on me for not communicating better to that young guy.  But I'm telling you, when he found that out, he kind of went, "Oh, okay.  That makes more sense.
 
And as far as waiting around, the thought that guys are waiting around or whatever, watching the enemies do damage and we're not doing anything about it, that is patently false.
 
COL. WARREN:  Hey, sir.  Steve here.
 
For some reason, it sounds like somebody's pushing a button on the phone over there.  In the middle of your sentences, we're getting a beep.  Just FYI.  I'm not sure if it's on your end or our end, but wanted you to know.
 
Over to Jim.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Steve, it's -- it's an old phone in -- in the middle of Doha, Qatar, but that's about the only excuse I can give you.  Nobody's touching anything here.
 
Q:  General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC News.
 
That detailed explanation you gave us about this most complex area of battle you've seen in 32 years just screams for JTACs, does it not?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Well, I don't see it that way, Jim.  I mean, I think that we're using JTACs and we're using them in a -- in a significant way.
 
But, you know, also, we need to be clear, and I know you guys understand this, but about the only thing air power doesn't do is take hold and govern territory.  The Iraqis are going to have to do that, and this air power campaign is giving them the time and space they need to do that.
 
Q:  Hi.  Phil Stewart from Reuters.
 
Just a quick clarifier.  How are you using JTACs exactly?
 
And -- and you tell us -- you mentioned before about the risk of blue-on-green fratricide.  Have there been any cases like that, and if so, what could you tell us?
 
And lastly, what are the limitations of air power in preventing places like Ramadi from falling?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  You're -- you're better than me.  I'll try to remember all three of those.  But can you tell me your name again, please?
 
Q:  Phil Stewart with Reuters.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Okay, Phil.  I'm just going to -- (inaudible) -- question one again?
 
Q:  Question one was just following up on the question of JTACs.  You said they're being used extensively.  Our understanding is that there aren't any American JTACs forward.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  I'm with you, Phil.
 
There's -- we have American JTACs here in the -- (inaudible).  We have them in all the different places, you know, the air operations centers throughout Iraq.
 
And -- and they're watching the fight, you know, with the ISR capability that we have and communicating with the aviators and doing the collateral-damage estimates and -- and making sure that we're getting after this enemy.
 
So it's very much the job that they do when they're standing there watching, except for in some cases, they actually have better situational awareness because they have, you know, more input that comes into it.
 
So we're using them, they're world-class, and -- and we'll take every one we can get.
 
The blue-on-green, there have been, you know, probably -- I'll have to defer to CENTCOM.  There's probably been a case or two, you know.  Nobody's perfect at this.  We're just historically better than we've ever been before.
 
And then in Ramadi, you know, if -- if the enemy had massed at Ramadi, they would be dead.  I wish they had.
 
But like I said, air power doesn't hold and govern territory.  Iraq will have to do that.  And we'll be with them.  And when they go back in, you know, we'll be as much help as we can possibly be.
 
Q:  Sir, this is Joe Tabet with Al-Hurra.
 
Since you have said that ISIS is not achieving any advances, how do you explain what ISIS has achieved in Ramadi and in Palmyra in Syria?  And do you still believe that ISIS is still on the defensive?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  I didn't actually say that they hadn't achieved any tactical advances.  What I said was they have achieved tactical advances.  That's frustrating.  What I said is let's not give them credit for a strategic victory.  That's not what's happening.
 
So, you know, are they able to move around the battlefield in small numbers?  Are they able to show up and -- and wreak terror and havoc in the places they go?  They are.  And that's why some competent ground force is going to have to go peel them out of the mosques and schools and innocent people's homes where they're hiding.
 
But I didn't say that they haven't made tactical advances.  I said they haven't made strategic victories.
 
Q:  This is Nancy Yousseff from the Daily Beast.
 
I was wondering if you could clarify a point you made earlier about a thousand fighters a month are being removed from the battlefield.  Do you mean killed?  And is that only in Iraq?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Is it Nancy?  Is that right?
 
Q:  That's right.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Okay, Nancy, so that number if writ large.  I said, you know, more than 1,000 a month.  And the number is significant, but it's also only a single indicator, you know, albeit an important one.  You know, in my opinion it's probably not the most important indicator.  Governance and arresting foreign fighter flows and crushing Daesh financing may be more important.
 
You know, every one of them is going to be necessary to defeat Daesh.  But we're taking the enemy off the battlefield at a great rate.  You can count on that.
 
Q:  (inaudible) -- number.  And how many, then, have been wounded?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  I don't have that information, Nancy.  Sorry.
 
Q:  (inaudible) -- how you're determining the figure?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Conservatively.
 
Q:  Hi, General.  Missy Ryan from The Washington Post.
 
Two questions.  Can you talk to us a little bit about how you're thinking about the use of air power in the eventual offensive to reclaim the city of Ramadi?  Will you be able to conduct airstrikes in the urban area?  How will you do that?
 
And the second question is regarding Syria.  As ISIS makes a play for the city of Aleppo, will U.S. and coalition planes conduct additional strikes, or perhaps more intensified strikes around Aleppo?  And how will you de-conflict with the Assad forces if that happens?
 
Thank you.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Missy, the -- as far as going back into Ramadi, absolutely.  I mean, we've been in front of and around every offensive in Iraq so far, and all the ones in northern Syria.  So -- and we know how to do that.  And yes, we can get after the enemy in urban areas.  We have weapons that allow us to do that.  And we will be right with them when they go.
 
And can you repeat your question on Syria?  I'm not sure I caught the gist of it.
 
Q:  So, the Islamic state is making a play for the city of Aleppo and the areas around Aleppo in Syria.  Will U.S. and coalition aircraft conduct, you know, more strikes than they have in the past around Aleppo, you know, taking advantage of the ISIS offensive there?  And given the fact that Assad planes have been striking around Aleppo, how will you deconflict coalition aircraft with the, you know, Syrian government aircraft?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  So, what I will tell you is, you know, we're going to go after Daesh in all the places we can in Syria.  The question about what we're going to do specifically exactly around Aleppo, frankly, I wouldn't talk about in this meeting anyway, but it's also a question for the JTF and how we're going to get after this.  And there's policy questions involved as well, since, you know, we're happy to just kill Daesh in Syria.  You know, so far, we haven't moved over to Assad to deconflict with the regime, because we're not talking to them at all.
 
Q:  General, this is Dion Nissenbaum with the Wall Street Journal.
 
One of the other questions that's come up here deals with the rules of engagement and whether they are too restricted.
 
You talked about preventing civilian casualties early on.  I'm wondering if you are comfortable now with the rules of engagement, or if you think there might be a need to broaden a bit.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  I'm sorry, can you tell me your first name again?
 
Q:  Dion.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Thank you, Dion.
 
I am comfortable with the rules of engagement.  As I've described, I mean, nothing stops us from self-defense.  If we see the enemy shooting at friendly forces or us, we kill them right away, and nobody has to ask.  And that's, you know, true in every conflict that we're in.
 
So, you know, I think we are able to get after this enemy in a fairly significant way, you know.  And Iraqi ground forces are going to have to move in and take this territory and hold it, and we'll help them do that.
 
Q:  (inaudible) -- with Voice of America.
 
You had mentioned that this is a difficult -- more difficult than you've seen before.  You talked about how the enemy has wrapped around a friendly population.
 
But, just to focus on the point that there are so many fewer airstrikes in this war than in other wars that the U.S. and coalition forces have been involved in, can you elaborate a little more about the complexity?  Is it mainly being proximity to the friendly populations?  Is it because they're using more stealth when they're -- when we're -- when the U.S. is targeting them for airstrikes?
 
And then, a follow-up, really quickly, there's been reporting that the U.S. and coalition forces have used social media posts from the enemy to conduct some of the airstrikes.  Can you confirm that?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  -- (inaudible) -- I didn't hear your name.  I'm sorry?
 
Q:  Carla Babb with Voice of America.
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Okay, Carla, the first thing -- and I -- you know, I can't be more clear about this, are the comparisons that are being made don't apply.
 
You know, I flew in those conflicts.  We had incredible numbers of well-developed target sets to go after.  You know, targeting a nation -- or targeting a fielded army is relatively easy.  The folks I have here can do that easily.  That's not what we're doing.
 
You know, there's never been a target, you know, that is easily available for a terrorist enemy wrapped around a population.  You have to unwind them from the population and kill them where you can.
 
The more they try to act like an army, you know, take Kobani, for instance, they just reinforce failure and we kill them at a very great rate.
 
But the comparison is not valid.
 
Now, are we able to get after that targeting?  Is it a growth industry?
 
You bet it is.  If you're Daesh leadership, you better be looking over your shoulder.  And there is a whole bunch of targeting that is opening up here, as we gain and learn more about this enemy.  I think it's a growth industry.  I'm reasonably optimistic about being able to get (inaudible).
 
As far as the social media thing, I'm an operational commander.  We will use -- (inaudible) -- that we can verify to target the enemy.
 
Q:  General, it's Michael Maloof with World Net Daily.
 
On 25 May, the Turkish foreign minister at a news conference said that the United States has agreed in principle to back up Turkey -- to back up Syrian opposition forces in the event that they are -- they go after regime -- Assad regime forces.
 
Is that true?  And -- and do you agree with that?  And is there -- does this represent a potential shift in U.S. policy in providing air support if they're going after the Assad regime forces?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Mike, and I apologize.  The short answer is I don't know.  And I'm not, you know, the -- I have a lot of interest in American (inaudible), but I am not, you know, in the middle of the decision-making process there.  I'm afraid I can't help you on that one.
 
Q:  Hi, general.  This is Kristina Wong from The Hill.
 
I was wondering if you could talk about the difficulty of telling friendly forces apart from enemy forces in regards to the different targets such as, you know, vehicles versus buildings?  And then also, could you talk about the difficulty of telling the Shia militia that are under the command and control of the Iraqi government, versus those that aren't, in terms of telling the difference between those practically on the ground?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Sure.  Kristina, the -- the biggest trick about, you know, is knowing where friendly forces are.  If you know where the friendly forces are, then, you know, everybody else that looks like they're military, you know, is targetable.  So, you know, what's difficult is making sure that we know, you know, where the Iraqi forces are.
 
That's, you know, that's not always easy, but they work really hard at letting us know and we take the time to make sure we do know.  As I've stated, you know, even the very best aviators on the planet can look down and say, "those look like military guys," and not be able to discern the difference between Iraqi forces and Daesh forces.  These guys aren't, you know, waving their flag around anymore.  They're not (inaudible).  They very much are trying to look like, you know, Iraqi forces.
 
So, the only way to do that is to talk to the Iraqis themselves and figure out where these folks are, which we're doing very successfully.  It's just something we have to do time and time again.
 
As far as the Shia militia thing, it's a very complex subject.  You know -- you know that.  But it's not particularly complex for me.  When our nation decides that any group is under the legitimate control of the Iraqi government, you know, we help it.  If they're not, we don't.  It's that simple.  It's not that hard to tell because the Iraqis tell us where they are and where they're fighting.
 
Q:  About the targets, can you talk about the ease of targeting certain ones versus others?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  We're not targeting an Shia militia right now.  So, I may just not have understood your question.
 
And oh, by the way, I didn't really mean to say "right now" either.  We don't have any plans targeting Shia militias.
 
Q:  Jim Michaels at USA Today.
 
General, just a quick question on the -- the ISIS-Daesh has been dispersing more around the battlefield.  How has the coalition reacted to that?  And has that created sort of a decrease in -- in targets of opportunity?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Well, the short answer to the last part of your question, Jim, is it hasn't.  You know, we're -- we're taking the enemy off the battlefield at, you know, a fairly consistent rate, you know.
 
They are very adaptive.  You know, they run and hide, you know.  We know from our -- our intel, they're terrified of -- of coalition air power, and frankly, they ought to be.
 
But we adapt, too.  So when they do different things and when they -- when they hide differently, when they make berms, when they cover their -- their equipment, you know, we pay really close attention to that from a multitude of intelligent sources, and we get after that.
 
So literally every time they change their tactics, you know, it's new for us, but it provides opportunities as well.  And so far, we have still been able to get after them.
 
Q:  Dan De Luce, AFP.
 
Just two things.
 
One, it's a little confusing to outsiders why you can give us numbers about estimated killed enemy fighters, but civilian casualties, statistics, figures, estimates are not forthcoming.  If you could just speak to that.
 
And then I have a second question about Syria's air defenses.  Has there been any change in how Syria -- the Syrian regime's air defense systems have been operating or not, and has there been any -- any change from -- from earlier when they seem not to be locking onto coalition aircraft?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Let me address your first question.
 
I think the assumption is wrong, frankly.  We conscientiously look into every allegation, and we investigate Twitter hits.  I mean, we haven't done that, you know, in history either, and it is very conscientious.
 
And the reason that you're not seeing big numbers is because there aren't big numbers, you know.  -- (inaudible) -- historically different than what we've been able to do in the past, because these kids are really good at it.
 
But, you know -- but nobody's being dishonest here.  If we -- we are very clear.  If we think that we did some damage to something that we intend to, we say that.  So again, the thought that we're not talking about that is -- is patently incorrect.
 
As far as Syria's concerned, you know, I pay really close attention to what they're looking at and how they're reacting, you know.  So far, they have chosen not to engage coalition aircraft, which I think is very wise of them.
 
(AUDIO GAP)
 
COL. WARREN:  He might not be able to hear me.
 
General Hesterman, we really appreciate your time that you've given us, and we know you an air war to get back to.
 
We'll close out the questions here, although many others have questions.  But do you have any closing comments, sir?
 
LT. GEN. HESTERMAN:  Just one.  Truly, thanks, all of you.  I mean, you know, I realize your job is to search out the truth, and my last 32 years has been to defend your ability to do that.
 
So I really -- the reason I'm here is to clear up some of these misconceptions that have been out there a lot.  You know, I grew up in a house where, you know, my father told me over and over again that if you're really good at something, you don't have to talk about it.  That's, you know, clearly not true.  So, you know, I want you to understand, you know, what's going on here.
 
The young men and women of the coalition, who are risking their lives everyday to go after these Daesh terrorists and give the world the time it needs to galvanize the multiple lines of effort that will ultimately finish Daesh, they're exceptionally proud of what they're doing and their impact on the enemy.
 
And I will tell you, their suburb ability to do it and the exceptionally limited civilian casualties is historic, and it deserves the deep respect of -- of every one of us.
 
Thanks for spending some time with me, and thanks very much.
 
COL. WARREN:  Thanks a lot, sir.  Out here.