HomeNewsNews TranscriptsTranscript View

News Transcript

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Maj. Gen. Clarke via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq

Press Operations

Major General Richard Clarke, commanding general, Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve
February 23, 2016
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning, General Clarke.

And good morning, everybody.

We're pleased to be joined this morning, this evening in Baghdad, by Major General Clarke, who is the outgoing CJFLCC I, that's the commander, land forces component commander in Baghdad, 82nd Airborne, and getting ready to head home in a couple of weeks, and give you an update on some of the things that have been going on on the ground in Iraq, and some highlights from his time over there.

General, we're very pleased to have you here. Good morning, and we'll turn it over to you for some opening comments.

MAJOR GENERAL RICHARD CLARKE: Hey, Jeff, good morning, and thanks. And thanks to the team.

I know you have a lot going on there. I was just watching Lindsay Graham and others in testimony, and I heard you -- some of you were just with the president. So thanks for coming out.

As Jeff just talked about, I'm the joint forces land component commander and been here for slightly over eight months. I know you just talked to General MacFarland a few weeks ago. He's the CJTF commander and has responsibilities for Syria and Iraq. In my job, I have responsibilities for just Iraq.

And we have three primary missions. Number one is to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. Number two is to provide advice and assistance to those forces, primarily at the leadership levels. And third is to coordinate airstrikes in direct support of the government of Iraq.

The 82nd has formed the nucleus of Iraq for over nine months now, some of our forces getting here in May of last year and our headquarters here in Baghdad. There's about 400 paratroopers from the 82nd. We look forward to getting back to Fort Bragg and jumping out of airplanes. But I would note that we have Marines, Air Force, Navy and 20 different coalition nations that are helping with those missions I describe, with over 4,100 personnel. The 101st has some initial forces here, but they're taking over the same mission as we have here right now.

Over the last nine months, we've seen Iraqi security forces have significant successes and we've seen noticeable progress to lead to the eventual defeat of Daesh. The enemy are under simultaneous pressure here in Iraq, as well in Syria, and what we've seen are great victories in Sinjar and Ramadi and Baiji. But in addition to taking back those key towns, what we've also seen is at least three significant attacks by Daesh, two in Haditha, and one up in Mosul in December, where the enemy put concentrated forces against Iraqi security forces and they held their ground.

The other thing I'd note is that since May 19th of last year, when Ramadi fell, the Iraqi security forces have not lost any ground since then. Daesh fighters remain -- continue to be destroyed by the Iraqi security forces and by our coalition airstrikes. For example, in the past two days, we've had -- we've had horrendous weather here, lots of rain, lots of clouds, usually, that's an opportunity for Daesh to attack. We've seen nothing. Daesh right now is pressurized to prioritize against over-extended resources in money, equipment and manpower.

A quick summary of some of the things we've done in those three missions.

First, on the training and equipping, we've done -- we have trained over 16,000 Iraqi security forces and 4,000 peshmerga, and that is also giving them advanced weaponry, things like Humvees and mine-rollers that helps them with the defeat of Daesh and gives them more confidence and will.

Two of the Iraqi army brigades that we've trained were directly involved in the fight in Ramadi. That's the 73rd and the 76th Brigades, and those two brigades, as I talked to the Iraqi generals will say they are the two best Iraqi brigades in their army.

We've also taken on police training, you know, both the local and federal police, and to date have trained over 2,000 police. We have 1,000 in training right now. I want to give a big thanks to Task Force Carabinieri who answered the call when we needed trainers back in June and continue to uptick the amount of trainers and the amount of trainees that they can put through.

In addition to training, we're advising and assisting at multiple levels. First, we're advising and assisting the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, which is a three-star command, we're advising and assisting at both command and joint operations commands. That's one in Erbil, which is really a three-star level command, and one here in Baghdad in vicinity of my headquarters.

In addition to that, you know, we are advising five Anbar -- five operations command to include the Anbar operations command that was responsible for Ramadi. That's like a core level three-star command and we're also doing five Iraqi divisions that we're -- where we have advisers. In addition -- in addition, we advise with an army colonel the combined joint coordination center, which is up in Erbil, which is manned by both Kurds and Iraqis as they begin future operations planning for Ninawa.

Throughout our advise and assist mission that really show the full support of the Iraqi security forces we show that this is one fight by one team. I think one highlight that I would bring out is our advising of the Ninawa Operations Command that moved up in the vicinity of Makhmour that we've recently built a tactical assembly area there that is pushing Iraqi security forces into that position where we have our advisers.

And finally, you know, we coordinate airstrikes in support of the government of Iraq. To date, we've flown over 20,000 hours of intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aircraft as they've helped develop the intelligence picture that allows us to lethal strikes and as they planned and captured back Ramadi.

In Erbil, we've helped -- we've helped the peshmerga forces to liberate Sinjar through airstrikes, cutting that vital Highway 47 between Raqqah and Mosul. This -- this ISR has enabled about 4000 Iraqi-approved airstrikes that have been done in direct support of the Iraqi security forces providing direct assistance to those in the fight.

With that, Jeff, I'll turn it back over to you to help facilitate this and I welcome your questions.

CAPT. DAVIS: Sure, thanks. We'll start with Bob Burns from the Associated Press.

Q: General, hello. Thanks for doing the briefing.

Question: You mentioned the preparations for the Ninawa fight and what is your view of the necessity, whether it will be necessary to bring in additional U.S. forces to support the Iraqis for that operation and to put these U.S. troops closer to the fight than they are currently?

GEN. CLARKE: Jeff -- thanks for the question.

Everything that we do will be through the -- with the approval of the government of Iraq. We are making plans for Mosul; I met with some Iraqi generals today to discuss what their plans are for Mosul, and we're doing that each and every day.

But I think that still remains to be seen, what exact capabilities will -- will be needed. It really goes to what the Iraqis need and when. I hope that answers your question.

Q: Well, could I just follow by asking, what is your personal view? I mean, you've been there for the past eight or nine months. What's your assessment, from your vantage point, whether it would be necessary?

GEN. CLARKE: I use Ramadi as a great backdrop when I look at what they need for Mosul.

They did Ramadi with the capabilities with our airstrikes, with our ISR and with our advice. And they didn't need it then. And I'll tell you, the confidence that was built during Ramadi by the Iraqi Security Forces in the aftermath has been fantastic.

And I think we all know that if they do this on their own, it will be a more longer lasting, you know, win for the future of Iraq.

Q: Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Cami McCormick of CBS.

Q: Hi, sir. Thank you for doing this. This is Cami McCormick from CBS Radio. I wanted to follow up on Bob's question on Ninawa.

First of all, when we were there recently with Secretary Carter, another brigade-size worth of equipment was moving into the Peshmerga MRAP, so a lot of equipment coming. I was wondering if that was there already?

And secondly, can you tell us how the training at Makhmour is different from the training that these Iraqi soldiers have already been through with U.S. forces?

GEN. CLARKE: Cathy (sic), the part on the first question. That equipment is moving up. And that equipment was specifically designated for the two Peshmerga brigades that we agreed to train as part of our strategy towards, you know, the defeat of Daesh.

And so the -- those have been planned since almost the onset. And so, that equipment is arriving now, and we will be equipping the Pesh brigades in the future.

As far as the operation and the training in Makhmour for the Iraq Security Forces, they're there not as much for training, but to posture for future operations. They'll do training as they prepare for that, but they're really there for future operations south of Mosul.

Q: Indication how many Iraqi soldiers are now in place in that area?

GEN. CLARKE: I'm sorry, we get this pause going. Can you repeat the question, please?

Q: Can you tell us about how many Iraqi soldiers are now in that region to prepare for Mosul?

GEN. CLARKE: Cathy (sic), I can't. Really, for operational security reasons, I'd rather -- I'd rather not say the specifics. But they have a division level headquarters and are moving some brigades up there.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Tolga Tanis.

Q: Thanks a lot, general. It's Tolga Tanis with Hurriyet.

I have two questions, one on Makhmour and the second one on Bashiqa. Could you give us more details about the structure of Makhmour in terms of the forces stations in Makhmour, and the train and equipment program in terms of the Peshmerga, et cetera.

You mentioned about one fight and one team on the upcoming Mosul operation. What -- what is the level of cooperation between Peshmerga forces and Iraqi Security Forces in Makhmour.

And secondly, can you give us an update about the situation in Bashiqa, in terms of the Turkish forces deployment there? What is the consequence of this deployment, and did you overcome the difficulties arise because of this deployment between Baghdad and Ankara?

GEN. CLARKE: Yeah. First, on the level of coordination between the Iraqis and the Kurds in Makhmour, what I've seen thus far has been -- it has been outstanding.

They're -- at both the ground level, as we've worked -- as we have helped with Iraqi Security Forces coordinating their efforts of moving into Makhmour, into the Kurdish region, we have seen no issues and seen the assistance by the Kurdish, you know, regional forces and helping, you know, move them in there.

And that both at a local level. But then, at the -- as I mentioned earlier, the Joint Coalition Coordination Center, where we have Iraqis and Kurds co-located in Erbil, they have coordinated those efforts. They had to coordinate these elements to move, you know, from -- in the vicinity of Baghdad through the Kurdish region.

And we -- thus far, we've seen those soldiers move up there without any problems.

In terms of Bashiqa and the presence there, the -- and I think you're -- I think you're talking about the Turkish forces. First, they are not part of the -- the coalition, they're not here at all. And really, that -- that, in coordination in what with they're doing there has nothing to do with the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Commander.

So, I really don't have a lot to tell you about what is going on in Bashiqa.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Thomas (inaudible) Express.

Q: Hi, general. We're getting some reports -- Kurdish forces in Mosul are claiming that they rescued, on February 17th, a Swedish hostage.

Do you know anything about that?

GEN. CLARKE: Honestly, I don't. I first heard about it about an hour ago. But I -- I'm sorry. I don't have any specific details about it, or have any -- any knowledge about, more than you do or what you just asked.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Joe Tabet from Al Hurra.

Q: General Clarke, could you elaborate more on the readiness and capabilities of the Iraqi forces? Do you think they have enough equipment to -- to get ready for the Mosul operation?

GEN. CLARKE: Sure. And again, I use Ramadi as illustrative for what we could see in the future for Mosul.

The -- the Iraqis have realized the importance, as I highlighted, the use in the 73rd and the 76th brigades that are coming through our training sites, giving them equipment, training them on that equipment to make them better and building up their confidence.

And truthfully, when you get the confidence up, then it makes the will, you know, more ready -- more readily apparent. And I think it -- that will -- you know, helps them with their ability to fight.

As I was just talking to some Iraqi general officers today about the future planning for Mosul, the first thing they talked about was getting the Iraqi security forces for Mosul through our training sites first because they know -- they know that we will give them some -- some equipment and then train them on it, but it also -- they realize the training is -- is -- beneficial.

Q: General Clarke, to follow-up on the Mosul operation, based on your experience, sir, how many Iraqi soldiers do you think should be involved in retaking Mosul?

GEN. CLARKE: (off-mic.)

CAPT. DAVIS: I'm not sure if you can hear, but we've gone blank. Checking here. We hear you just fine. Check again. Can you hear us?

GEN. CLARKE: Jeff, can you hear me?

CAPT. DAVIS: We hear you just fine if -- I'm not sure if you can hear us. We do hear you. Okay. We'll stay on the mic here in case you hear us. Testing one, two, three. We do hear -- we do hear you.

Sorry guys. We could sing some karaoke here while we pass the mic around just to keep it live so they know that they -- that we're -- we're here.

Q: (off-mic.)

CAPT. DAVIS: Right. Testing one, two, three. Three, two, one. General, we've got you. We can see you. Can you hear us? We --

GEN. CLARKE: I see your thumb up.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. We hear you. I don't know if you can hear us. We do hear you. We're -- we're working through it right now. Can you hear us at all? Hello? Hello? Can you say something? Sorry folks. And we're not hearing you now.

Hello? Hello? Can you hear us? Okay. Sorry, folks. Bear with us. We're trying.

GEN. CLARKE: Hey, Jeff. Can you hear me?

CAPT. DAVIS: Can you hear us?

GEN. CLARKE: You got me? I can't --

CAPT. DAVIS: Sir, we hear you. We hear you loud and clear.

GEN. CLARKE: I can't hear -- I cannot hear you.

CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. That's a problem. That's a -- that's a problem.

GEN. CLARKE: I see you talking. You -- hey, Jeff, if you would, if you can hear me, please give me a thumbs up?

Q: (off-mic.)

CAPT. DAVIS: Yes. We hear him, he can't hear us.

Q: Now we can't hear him.


CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Yes. Sorry, folks. We'll keep trying, here.


CAPT. DAVIS: We paused for civilian casualty risk. General, we're still working it here.


CAPT. DAVIS: He's asking about Mosul, I think.

Q: Yes. I had a follow-up. Based on your assessment, how many Iraqi soldiers do you think there should be involved in retaking Mosul? Do you have a number you could share it with us?

GEN. CLARKE: I don't have a number, and that would be to operational security. What I can tell you is we're -- we're involved with the Iraqi security forces everyday in planning the -- not just the numbers, Joe, but actually the capabilities -- not just the numbers, Joe, but actually the capabilities that they will require.

CAPT. DAVIS: Very good. Next, we'll go to Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast.

Q: Hi, general. I had a question on two issues. One was Mosul and the other was detainees. Can you tell us if the U.S. either -- any force, whether it be special forces or general force, is holding any Iraqi detainees? And if so, how many?

And also, can we get an update on what is happening with Umm Sayyaf? Is there concern from your perspective that she hasn't been charged a year after she was detained? Do you have any sense as to why she hasn't been charged? And then I have a follow-up on -- on Mosul.

GEN. CLARKE: Nancy, I don't. I can't talk to either one of those for operational security reasons and I don't know about Umm Sayyaf's exact status right now, so sorry. But go ahead with your follow-up.

Q: You've said several times now that Ramadi is a model for Mosul and I'm having a hard time understanding why because Mosul was held the least amount of time by ISIS, where Mosul has been held -- the most. Ramadi depended a lot on Iraqi special forces where presumably, there aren't enough of those to take on a city as big and complex as Mosul. And also, because you've had so many operations in places like Tikrit and Ramadi, you have a lot of Iraqi army forces tasked with holding areas.

So I'm having a hard time understanding how it's, like, Ramadi, when to me, it seems quite different. Can you help me understand what you see as similar to Ramadi and what would be different about -- than Ramadi?

GEN. CLARKE: Number one, I'd say the geography of -- of Ramadi and Mosul are pretty similar. Look at the bridge that goes -- you know, the river that goes right through the middle and there's five key bridges in Mosul. And there's probably six key bridges in -- around Ramadi.

So in terms of the model, the actual isolation and the terrain, if you almost flip Mosul to Ramadi, you'll see something very similar in nature.

I -- so terrain, even though Mosul is probably five times larger than Ramadi, the model in terms of I think how the Iraqi security forces plan on the eventual liberation of Mosul goes to how they plan on isolating it; how they plan on using those special forces to actually do some of the clearance; how they plan on using tribal forces and police forces to eventually hold the city.

Much of that planning and much of the operational construct with that I think is that model. And the other piece, if I could go back to Joe's question on the training that I think is also helpful, is much of the lessons learned from Ramadi in terms of combined arms breaching and engineer efforts, actually having to put in a bridge like they did in Mosul -- or excuse me -- like they did in Ramadi, they will clearly have to do for Mosul, where they put in the pontoon bridges. And as they repair bridges that have been damaged, I think those are some of the pertinent lessons that I would take for Mosul.

But Mosul is going to be -- no doubt, Mosul is going to be hard. It's further away from Baghdad where the majority of these forces will come from. And it is clearly a much larger city that has many different sects that are part of it, where obviously Ramadi is clearly and mainly a Sunni town.

I hope that got to some of your questions.

Q: Just one follow-up. Ramadi, as I recall, it took somewhere between four and five months. Do you think the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi special forces could sustain potentially seven, eight, nine months, maybe a year of fighting for someplace like Mosul, given the distance and the challenges that Mosul would present just in terms of size?

GEN. CLARKE: Do I think they can? Yes. Do I think it's going to be easy? No. It's going to be a tough -- it's going to be tough to maintain those lines of communication and that logistics effort all the way up there. But that's clearly where some of our advising-assisting, some of our logistics support can help them. But I do see that they can do it.

Q: Thanks.

CAPT. DAVIS: Next, we'll got Andrew Tillman with Military Times.

Q: Hi, general. I -- you mentioned that the Iraqi brigades, the 73rd and the 76th, are known to be some of the best brigades in the Iraqi force. I wonder if you could tell us, is there a number of how many Iraqi brigades that you all have determined are potential partners for advise and assist? As the secretary said a couple months ago, there's discussion of extending the advise and assist down to the brigade level.

How many brigades do you think are, you know, potentially available for that? And also, I'd like to ask you a little bit about the space between, in the Tigris valley, between Baiji and Mosul. How does -- how do you get from Baiji to Mosul? What do you think that part of the operation will look like? And how important is that -- securing that supply line to ultimately moving into the city?

GEN. CLARKE: Andrew, let me go to the first question that you asked about the -- about the brigades.

The Iraqis clearly are seeing, you know, somewhere in the neighborhood I would estimate between eight and 12 brigades that could be part of the Mosul counterattack. Don't know -- don't know, and as they continue to do their estimates, we're going right along with them. And we see that as they are asking us to put brigades through the training sites.

And we are -- we're facilitating that training on all efforts to make sure they get the right equipment; to make sure they get the right training to prepare them for future operations.

In terms of the space between Baiji and Mosul, it is important, but it goes to the operational construct of how the Iraqis may do this. Because they could go completely to the Kurdistan region and be right on the footsteps of Mosul, or they could go up through what you're describing as Baiji up what we call highway one, almost due north. And what this gives them are multiple options.

You know, in working with the Kurdish regional government, they could go through that. Or they could -- or they could go up through the highway one, or they could use a combination of both. So it is important terrain. Daesh controls the area north of Baiji right now, but it's clearly, you know, something that we're looking at in the operational planning and construct.

CAPT. DAVIS: Anybody else?

Q: And General, I had a follow up on Makhmour. Are you using Makhmour Operational Center to coordinate the entire ISIL efforts in Syria as well, especially in terms of the cooperation with YPG?

GEN. CLARKE: No. Easy answer. Makhmour has nothing to do with Syria. That coordination is clearly just with the Kurdish regional government there and up in Erbil.

Q: Did you coordinate with YPG in the liberation of Sinjar?

GEN. CLARKE: No, we did not coordinate with YPG at all with the liberation of Sinjar.

Q: Hi, general. Paul McLeary with Foreign Policy.

How -- how effectively do you think you've been able to shut down the lines of communication between Raqqah and Mosul? I know the highway near Sinjar, when that was cut, you talked about that. And I think the fighting near Shadadi in Syria also cut another line just recently. Correct?

GEN. CLARKE: That's how we see it. And obviously, I watch Syria as it affects Iraq, and I haven't seen the direct effect of Shadadi yet. But illustrative to cutting off Sinjar is prior to Sinjar being cut, along that highway 47 from Raqqah to Mosul, we would watch trucks and vehicles move 60 miles an hour down that highway in between those two key Daesh cities.

Today, we see evidence of movement that has to go through the desert on second and tertiary roads that is moving at 25 mile an hour south of Sinjar to try to resupply. So the resupply -- not only is it -- not only is it cut off, but it's cut off and made slower through -- through that key operation in Sinjar. I -- I hope that got your question, Paul.

Q: Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS: We're going to Nancy Youssef.

Q: I'm sorry. Could you give us an update on Shadadi? Because I know the Kurds had claimed that they had taken it on February 19 and then yesterday, there was some fighting happening there. Is it your assessment that Shadadi's now firmly under Kurdish control? And how dependent was Mosul on that supply line from -- from Syria -- through Shadadi, through Hasakah Province?

GEN. CLARKE: Nancy, I wish I could give you more on Syria. I am not looking at Shadadi as -- that closely to give you -- to give you a firm answer on that. Sorry.

Q: Relevance to Mosul in terms of the supply route?

GEN. CLARKE: I'm sorry, Nancy. I -- I didn't catch the beginning of your answer because of the -- this delay. Sorry.

Q: Is Shadadi to Mosul or Hasakah province at large, how important is that to Mosul in terms of providing a supply route?

GEN. CLARKE: I think it's -- it's moderately important, but not -- it is not that significant.

CAPT. DAVIS: Any another questions? We're good? All right. Well, General, thank you very much for your time, coming to us live today. We appreciate it and wish you Godspeed here for the rest of your tour and your return home, and we'll see you back on this side of the pond soon.

GEN. CLARKE: All right. Hey Jeff, thanks. And thanks to the folks who came in today. I know a lot going on. And apologies to everybody, I'm not sure what happened with the -- with the audio and video, but I appreciate y'all, you know, being there today. Thanks.

CAPT. DAVIS: Thank you, sir.