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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Colonel Warren via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq

Press Operations

Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman; Captain Jeff Davis, Director, Defense Press Office March 21, 2016
March 21, 2016
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CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS:  All right.  Good morning everybody.  Thank you for joining us for a sort of specially scheduled brief.  We've asked Steve to move his brief up this week given some of the news from over the weekend.

Steve, just want to confirm you can hear us, okay?

COLONEL STEVE WARREN:  Jeff, I can hear you loud and clear.  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Good morning and thank you for joining us.  We'll turn it over to you.

COL. WARREN:  Well, good morning, Pentagon Press Corps.  I'd like to start off on a somber note by offering our condolences to the family, friends, fellow Marines of Staff Sergeant Louis F. Cardin of Temecula, California who was tragically killed on March 19.  Staff Sergeant Cardin was part of a U.S. Marine Corps detachment located near Makhmur, Iraq, and his death reminds us of the risks that we all face here.

Now, there's been some confusion about the role of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Iraq, so before we go on, let me clear it up.  Several weeks ago, thousands of Iraqi troops began occupying a tactical assembly area in Makhmur.  This is part of the force generation associated with the liberation of Mosul.  These Iraqi forces, along with their coalition advisers, require force protection.

So we constructed a small fire base to do just that.  About two weeks ago, a small contingent of Marines from the 26th MEU began moving into position at the newly constructed fire base.

This unit is providing force protection for coalition advisers and Iraqi forces.  And let me be clear, all of these movements have been done in close coordination with, and at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

Well, now that that is cleared up, let's move into a formal battlefield update, so.  Jeff, hopefully the map is up, and let me jump right into it.

In the Tigris River Valley, recent coalition strikes on bridges near -- (inaudible) -- and Sharqat, both of which are about 50 miles south of Mosul, have limited ISIL's ability to maneuver and sustain its fighters east of the Tigris.

In Mosul, we struck an ISIL headquarters and weapons manufacturing facility on Saturday, March 19th.  Now, there have been some press reports of civilian casualties as a result of this strike.

As with any civilian casualty allegation, we will review the information we have about the incident, and if the information is determined to be credible, we will investigate further.

I can tell you, of course, that we take great care to minimize the risk of non-combatants.

Moving to the Euphrates River Valley, Operation Desert Lynx continues to put ISIL under pressure.  Iraq Security Forces are securing the western approaches to Hit and making steady progress.

One airstrike of interest occurred on March 17th against and ISIL headquarters and weapons storage facility in Hit.  There, we destroyed the headquarters building, along with nine weapons storage facilities.

In the last ten days, the CTS, the Iraq Counter Terror Service and local forces have cleared more than 25 miles of the Euphrates River Valley from Zangora through -- (inaudible), liberating several smaller villages along the way.

Units from the CTS and the 73rd brigade are making preparations now for the final advance on Hit.  The 7th division is currently isolating and clearly ISIL strongholds in the vicinity of Kabisa.  Clearance to the ERV from Zangora to Hit is part of our wider effort to eliminate ISIL fighters, deny access to resources and cut off lines of communication in preparation for the liberation of Mosul.

Simultaneously, northeast of Ramadi, Iraqi Security Forces continued operations in -- (inaudible), and in fact, they cleared 572 IEDs, opening a six-mile long stretch of road.  So, this is good progress.

Additionally, as part of our training mission, 334 Iraqi federal police officers moved into Al Asad to begin the advanced military skills course.  This is a four-week course, which will improve their ability to hold cleared areas and maintain security.

Moving to Syria and Shaddadi and along the Mara line, Syrian Democratic Forces continue to pressure the enemy.

Finally, Operation Tidal Wave II continues.  In fact, we have struck 117 targets to date, eight in the month of March alone.  Tidal Wave II has debilitated ISIL oil infrastructure, and it has hamstrung their ability to fund terror operations.

And so, with that, I want to get right into your questions.  So, Bob or Lita?

CAPT. DAVIS:  Go ahead.

Q:  Hi, Steve.  One quick question.  You mentioned a number of weapons facilities strikes.  Are -- can you tell us if any of these, or how many of these were possibly chemical weapons facilities?

And then on this new Marine outpost, can you tell us a little bit more about this?  Does this increase the authorized number of U.S. troops in Iraq?  How many Marines are there?  Is it, you know 100 or 200?  What's the basic number?

And this sounds a lot like combat.  How is this not a combat mission?  And maybe you could just tell us a little bit more about what this real mission is.

COL. WARREN:  Sure.  A lot of questions there, Lita.  Let me jump into it.  We believe the strike in Hit probably had some chemical capabilities associated with it.  We're not completely in a place where we can disclose everything, but there was some chemical infrastructure associated with that Hit strike we did on the 17th.  We believe it was very effective.

On the Marines.  So we've deliberately not put out the exact number.  It's a -- it's about a company size, so less than 200.

They're there to provide force protection for our advisers that are providing advice to the forces of the 15th Iraqi division that are beginning to generate combat power in Makhmur.  So you see, it looks a little bit like, in my view, Taqaddum looked, right?  In Taqaddum, we had set up the Anbar operations center, we pushed a number of advisers into the Anbar operations center in Taqaddum.

Those advisers were there to provide advice and support and assistance to the Iraqi generals who were orchestrating the battle for Ramadi.  In addition to those advisers, we had some howitzers there to provide protection.  A similar situation up in the vicinity of Makhmur.  In Makhmur you have the area where Iraqi army forces are beginning to generate combat power.  What does that mean?  It means they're staging, preparing, getting ready for battle.

So as we generate the combat power there, we have advisers there also performing the same exact functions.  They are providing advice and assistance, helping with the planning process, helping plan everything from operations to logistics, and of course, we'll begin the process of helping to synchronize air and ground operations when that time finally comes.

So to provide protection for those advisers in Makhmur, we realize that we need some fire support, we need some artillery to provide great protection.  So we moved these Marines into position in a location right adjacent to where the troops are in Makhmur where the Iraqi troops are.  We kind of generated a fire base.  We scratched out a fire base there, placed the guns.

There's other resources and assets there that will help provide force protection.  I'm not comfortable getting into all of them, but know that there is capabilities, infantry capabilities, field artillery capabilities and some other early warning systems that we have that are going to really enhance the survivability and the protection around the advisers that are -- that are assisting the forces in Makhmur.

So -- so total numbers, like I said, we're not going to go into the exact numbers, but it -- it's a company, essentially.  I think that's -- (inaudible).  Well, you know, again, this is the same -- the mission that these -- that these forces are providing for the advise and assist troops in Makhmur is -- is no different than what we're doing in Taqaddum, what we're doing in Al Asad.

You know, this is field artillery, which is a very lethal weapons system.  It's able to fire back very quickly when the enemy shoots.  We're able to shoot back very rapidly and it's a threatening system that's going to -- going to cause any ISIL fighters in the area to think twice before approaching our forces.  And so that's the mission.

Q:  Total U.S. force numbers in Iraq, does this constitute an overall increase?  Can you just update us on what the total force number is and whether this is an increase?  And is this the first time U.S. forces have set up a separate outpost outside the -- because at Taqaddum, weren't they more within the same area?

COL. WARREN:  All right.  So the total -- it's -- I think its 30 -- the numbers probably -- I think its 3,870 is the exact force cap.  We remain within our force cap.  As you know and as we've discussed before, there's temporary -- people come through on a temporary basis and go above and below the force cap all the time, but we remain under our force cap.

This is the first time we've established a spot that's only American and we simply did that -- there's really no special reason behind it.  It was a tactical decision that we made because the space on Makhmur and, you know, for coverage and others things.  So -- but yes, it is.

In -- in -- in Taqaddum and Al Asad, the forces are there on -- on larger bases -- much larger, so significantly larger bases along with Iraqi security forces as well.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Tom Bowman

Q:  Steve, can you give -- give us a sense of why we were not informed about the 26 MEU Marines heading into Iraq?  I understand there was talk of releasing the information last week.  The decision was made not to, number one.  Number two is can you give us a status of the wounded -- of the seriously wounded -- wounded return to duty?  And then lastly, did you take out some of these missile and rocket launcher sites used by ISIL?

COL. WARREN:  So I'll start at the end.  Counter-battery fire -- the Marines did shoot counter-battery when these two rockets came in.  So it was only two rockets that came in.  One landed harmlessly and the other one unfortunately did not.  Marines got some shots off back at it, but as we'd seen in the past, you know, this enemy, what they'll do is they'd -- and this is kind of a long-standing technique the enemy uses is they'll set up some -- some rockets, they'll fire them off and -- and -- (inaudible).  Often, they'll fire them remotely.  So while we did conduct a counter-battery mission, the BDA came up negative.

On the wounded, you know, we -- (inaudible) -- won't get into too much detail on the wounded.  I'll tell you a majority of those who were wounded were immediately returned to duty.  You know, scratches and things.  Some Marines were evacuated outside of Iraq for higher-level care and they're -- right now, they're with, of course, probably the best medical capabilities on Earth up at Landstuhl.  So they're in good hands.

The timing of the release.  You know, we certainly weren't going to announce these -- this movement before the Marines had closed on Fire Base Bell.  So that's the reason.   We were keeping it to ourselves until such time as the Marines arrived there; they had become fully operational and were ready to fight.  So we released it exactly what we wanted to release it, which is after that force had closed on its location and was prepared to fight.  And that was the only reason.  We never -- we wouldn't announce such a thing, you know, before they -- before they arrived.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay, next to Barbara Starr.

Q:  Colonel Warren, isn't it -- you've described what they're doing right now from Fire Base Bell, but isn't it a fact that the plan now calls for these Marines and their artillery to provide fire support for Iraqi forces as they begin to move on Mosul, that their mission is beyond just defending Makhmur, they're going to go provide forward protection to Iraqi forces?

COL. WARREN:  Well, we try not to talk about future operations.  This sort of telegraphs our punches and we don't want to do that.  What I'll tell you is their mission now is to provide force protection.  There is no forward movement of the Iraqi forces, so the answer doesn't yet exist.  When the Iraqi forces being to move, then we'll talk about what our forces are doing associated with that.  But for now, the Iraqi forces are generating combat power in the vicinity of Makhmur, the Iraqi forces have coalition advisers present with them, and this Marine forces is providing force protection for them.

Q:  The Marines, you've indicated, they do not count against -- that they are temporary, that they do not count against the force cap.  But senior defense officials, starting with, I believe, General Stewart at DIA have said the assault on Mosul would not begin for several months that they're just not ready.  So I am puzzled how these Marines are temporary. While they may rotate out, it would seem you're going to keep the capability there for several months. My other -- so how can they be temporary when the assault on Mosul isn't happening anytime soon.

And my other question is for these Marines, who provides the foreword controller capability on the ground, the forward spotter of targets for these Marines?  Who's doing the target spotting for them?

COL. WARREN:  Well, in their -- in their force protection, the shots are only counter battery, so they'll use radar.  And of course, we have overhead capability as well.  So you can do -- remember, targets can be spotted from the ground and from the air, and we have the capability to do both.

As far as the -- how long the Marines are going to be there, the capability will certainly stay as long as it's required.  These particular Marines are here temporarily.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Mik.

Q:  Steve, are any of these Marine special operations forces?

COL. WARREN:  Well, I think the Marines would tell you they're all special, but what I will tell you is that this is the -- these are members of the 26 MEU, the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit.  They're infantrymen, artillerymen, command-and-control structure, et cetera.

Q:  Follow-up on -- on what Lita asked too about this base.  This is strictly a U.S. military base, forward deployed in a combat zone.  Is this not an escalation of U.S. military combat operations there in Iraq?

COL. WARREN:  Well, I don't -- I don't know that escalation is the word that I would use.  I would say, you know, we've -- we've spoken all along, or at least for months, about accelerants.  So placing advisers into Makhmur along with the 15th Division, that's the accelerant.  Bringing these force protection Marines into position to protect those are just that, it's -- its force protection and if -- if these -- if these troops end up conducting other operations, then we can -- we can address it then.

And I think it's important to also note, while the -- you know, this company of Marines is -- is physically, you know, a few hundred meters away from Makhmur, we kind of look at it more as a -- a base cluster, right, so they don't have to all be inside of the same piece of concertina wire.  So it's a cluster, so you've got a little cluster here of -- of Iraqi army and some advisers, and then very nearby, a matter of several hundred meters, you have another cluster.  It's completely independent, it's quickly encircled by, you know, wire and stuff.  But we -- we look at that as a -- as a cluster.  So while they happen to be a little bit separate, we see it kind of as -- as one thing.

Q:  You use the word independent.  If they're independent from Iraqi military operations, how is that not escalation of U.S. combat role there in -- in Iraq?

COL. WARREN:  Well, maybe independent was a bad word choice.  You know, they're -- they're sitting a couple hundred meters away from, you know, the 15th Iraqi Army Division, they're tied in with the adviser who are, you know, co-located with the Iraqi army division.  And what -- what they're there to do is simply shoot back if somebody shoots at them or at the forces in Makhmur.

So they won't kind of go off and conduct any type of mission on their own.  They don't really have that capability anyways.  They're just providing coverage, right?  They're providing fire support coverage for the several thousand Iraqi soldiers and the several hundred advisers.  I don't think it's several hundred, I think it's less than 100 advisers that are on Makhmur providing that advise.

So you know, self-defense, of course, is inherent in everything we do, so they'll -- they'll be able to conduct self-defense operations instantaneously.  And they're, you know, physically a few hundred meters away from the Iraqi army troops that are on the main -- at Karasur and the main Makhmur assembly area.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to Tara?

Q:  Hi, Colonel Warren.  Following up on Mik's question, it seems like word choices we're making here -- if this was 2007 and there was an independent outpost of Marines, this would just be a forward combat outpost.  I don't know why there is a hesitation to not call it what it is.

And the second question on Ramadi, there was a -- in the announcement today, there was a hit on a large, tactical group of ISIS fighters, and we've seen several hits on Ramadi in the last week.  I'm wondering if ISIS fighters are returning to the Ramadi area, what you're seeing there?

COL. WARREN:  Well, Tara, I think we are calling it what it is, right?  It is a fire base.  It is behind the forward line of troops, right?  It's behind the FLOT.

So, that's where it is.  It is a fire base behind the FLOT.  It is not a combat outpost.  A combat outpost is something different.  This is a fire base that is behind the FLOT.  This is a fire base that is providing force protection for both coalition and Iraqi forces that are generating combat power in Makhmur.

So, I think we're being pretty crystal clear about it, frankly.  And I would refer you to doctrine to check my definitions, if you don't -- if you're not satisfied.

In Ramadi, we are seeing disruption operations in and around Ramadi.  What we believe this is -- you know, Desert Lynx is this effort to clear through the Euphrates River Valley, and the more pressure that the Iraqi army is able to put through the Euphrates River Valley, the worse it is for ISIL, right?

And you know, they've already cleared about 25 miles of this river valley, and it's causing quite a bit of disruption for ISIL forces.

What ISIL wants to do is slow that progress, and they don't have the ability to generate real combat power, to face the Iraqi forces that are working their way along the Euphrates River Valley.  So, what they're trying to do is create disruptions, right?

So, they are -- they've got these little small groups, squad size, you know, a dozen guys or less.  Maybe a suicide vest, or maybe an RPG or whatnot, and they're trying to disrupt the Iraqi Army in other pages, so that in their view, will bleed off combat power from Desert Links to go deal with that.

So, that is what we're seeing; we don't believe it's -- it's real combat power, we don't believe that they have the capability to try to retake any territory in and around Ramadi.  This is -- this is enemy forces conducting disruption operations.

Q:  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Missy

Q:  Hi, I just have two -- a follow up question regarding the troop level, and how these troops are considered temporary.

Can you just flesh out a little bit the distinction between what's the threshold for a temporary placement of troops, and when it -- when are they considered permanent enough to be counted towards the troop cap.

And secondly, on the clearing operations in the Euphrates River Valley, can you tell us what, in any detail, what the sort of American advisory role is for that?

What are American advisers doing to support the CTS clearing operations in those areas, and where are they advising them from?

COL. WARREN:  So, for Desert Lynx and these other operations throughout the Euphrates River Valley, we have advisers at Al-Taqaddum, which is where the Anbar operation center is directing a lot of this.

We also have advisers at Al Asad.  So, between those two spots, we're able to provide the advice and assistance that the Iraqis need to continue to press Desert Lynx.

On the -- on the numbers, so, you know, the actual threshold -- so it's whether or not they're going be stationed here permanently.  So for example, we just had some turnover between the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Division to provide the overall command-and-control of the C-FLCC, the Combined Force Land Component Command.

So all those -- all those 82nd personnel and now all the 101st personnel, these are all permanently stationed here, you know, I guess permanently being a relative term, you know, for the duration of their assignment.

Additionally, we'll have -- we'll have various types of forces come through here.  It could be anything from an inspector general team who's here to -- you know, to give us a look at some of our systems to in this case, these Marines.   So, you know, I think it's -- you know, it's just a decision based really on what they're doing.   So hopefully that answers the question.

Q:  Would it be a little bit different if you had a DOD I.G. team coming in for two or three days versus a, you know, Marine unit that was going to be there for several months, and I'm not sure that these -- that -- you know, that will be what occurs with these Marines.  But if it were, it would seem like they should fall in the -- a different category.

COL. WARREN:  Well, I'll certainly take that.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Did you have --

Q:  Just wanted to have -- clarify, so what is the troop -- the exact number now of American troops?

Q:  Including so-called temporary.

COL. WARREN:  So our -- yeah, so our force management level is 3,870, and we're within that.

Q:  (off-mic.) say how many?

COL. WARREN:  Well honestly, Missy, we're not giving the exact number, but we're within our force management level.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to TM

Q:  Hey Steve, TM here.  Thanks for doing this.  I'm going to come back and hit you on the force protection role of this fire base.  From what I understand, that staff sergeant who was killed was a HIMARS chief, which means, I understand, that you might have some 155s there, but it also kind of insinuates that you also have HIMARS that you guys have been using in pretty much all your offensive operations that kind of ticked up in the -- in the strike releases.

So I kind of want to just understand, you know, I understand right now that the fire base is solely for force protection, but from how it looks from here is that you're using these HIMARS in offensive operations elsewhere and that now you've kind of moved it closer to Mosul -- I mean, again, Gimler's range, you're going to be -- you're not all the -- getting all the way to Mosul.

So the way it looks is that you're kind of moving these fire bases closer and closer to the FLOT and to, you know, where future offensive operations are going.  So, I mean, tell me if I'm wrong if, you know, this is only going to be for force protecting your staging area.  But from how it looks from here, it looks like yes, you have force protection assets, but you also have offensive capabilities and that you plan to use them.

COL. WARREN:  I'm not going to tell you you're wrong, but I'm also not going to telegraph our punches.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Next to --

Q:  Hey, Steve.  It's Phil Stewart.

When -- when they announced Taqaddum or Asad, it was announced before we actually moved -- U.S. troops there, and in this case, we learned about the base after this incident.  And I'm wondering, is that the way of things to -- for the future?  Are we going to learn about the pre-positioning of -- the positioning of U.S. forces close to the front lines after an incident occurs or after they're in position?  We're not going to know about U.s. strategic planning as it happens?  The dialogue is going to happen in this way?  Is that -- is that the way of things?

COL. WARREN:  Fair question.  It's going to be case-by-case.  You know, we -- we -- we do assessments and they make these decisions based on our assessment of the threat and our assessment of the vulnerability, right?  You know, it's -- we make these decisions not to hide information, but to protect troops.  So when we decide to hold a piece of information for a couple extra days, it's -- it's for one simple reason, and that's so that we can protect these forces as they are at their most vulnerable, which is when they're moving.

So I wasn't here for the decision on Taqaddum, so I don't know the -- all of the different, you know, factors that went into making that decision, but in this case, we conducted an assessment and decided that these forces are vulnerable when they're transitioning, right, that's always your most vulnerable time is when you're in transition.  So when they were transitioning onto the fire base, we wanted to protect that piece of information as best as we could.

So we always plan on issuing that press release after they had become what we call FOC, full operating capability.  So -- and that's what we did.  It's -- it's tragic and unfortunate that Sergeant Cardin was killed before we were able to issue this press release.  But that's all it is, is tragic and unfortunate.

Q:  And also, just to be clear, you know, when you -- when you go forward and if you establish more bases like this, will we learn about it the same way?  Will we learn about the establishment of more independent U.S. operations after they're -- they're -- (inaudible)?  We won't know they're being considered beforehand or they're being decided on beforehand?  Is that the -- they'll all be presumably, you know, vulnerable.

COL. WARREN:  It will be case-by-case.  Yes, it'll be case-by-case, but the decision will be made purely for force protection reasons.  And I guess I want to go back tot his independent piece because it's making me a little uncomfortable.  So again, this fire base is -- is geographically separate from Karasur, which is where the Iraqis are generating their combat power, but it is part of the advise and assist operation.  There is nothing independent about it.  It is part of the advise and assist operation.  It is geographically separated, but it is part of our broader advise and assist operation.

You know, it's really just for -- for tactical reasons, safe firing distances and other things why we physically separated it.

Q:  And then very quickly, Steve, does -- does that mean that those Marines cannot launch an operation or launch any of their artillery until they have cleared it through the Iraqis?

COL. WARREN:  Force protection is an inherent right.  So if they are -- if they are being attacked, they don't have to ask anybody's permission, they fight.  They're Marines, that's what they do and they do it really well. So no.

Q:  Could I ask a follow up on that?  Can it -- can they -- yeah, Steve, go ahead.

COL. WARREN:  Go ahead with your follow up.

Q:  Just a quick follow up.  Does that mean that they can only fire defensively and not offensively?

COL. WARREN:  Well, I'll tell you, when the shell hits you, it all feels offensive.  But currently, their mission is to provide force protection, so they will fire defensively, or -- you know, situation dependent.  I suppose if they see something that is a threat to them, they will make a decision.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Lucas.

Q:  Colonel Warren, can you rule out that these Americans were not specifically targeted over the weekend?  And also, what kind of rounds did ISIS use?  Or excuse, what kind of rockets did ISIS use when they attacked the American base?

COL. WARREN:  I think it was Katyusha rockets that they fired.  No, I think they were targeted specifically.

Q:  And just to follow up, do you think there will be more attacks in the future?  Is their concern that, now that ISIS knows that these Americans are on the ground, that there will be further attacks?  And what kind of preparations are you making to prevent that from being successful?

COL. WARREN:  Yeah.  Lucas, we're in a dangerous place, and there's a war going on.  So, we have to expect that there will be attacks.

I won't go into the details of our force protection, of course, but we believe that the force protection is adequate.  I mean, these are our force protectors, they are there to protect the broader force.

They have significant combat power and the capability of fighting hard where they are.  So -- but it's still a war, and there are still going to be tragedies and things are still going to happen that we're unhappy with.

But they are the most highly trained forces on this planet.  They're United States Marines.  They know how to fight, and they have got some very powerful cannons with them.  They have got the most modern technology that we can provide them, and they are there and any enemy that comes into that area, they will -- they will be sorry they came.  They will be.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Excuse me, yeah, next to Andrew.

Q:  Colonel Warren, can you tell us with any level of specificity how far this fire base is from the forward line of troops, the FLOT?

And also, how -- how many times have they come under fire or been on contact?  I mean, was this -- the only -- this incident with a couple of rockets, was this the only report of this kind?  Or have they been experiencing that with any regularity since they arrived?

COL. WARREN:  They've only been there for a few days.  This was the first incident.  There were some small arms fire this morning -- ineffective.

They're -- they're back from the FLOT.  You know, I'd have to go back and check.  I actually -- I just can't remember the distance.  I want to say it's about 15 to 20 kilometers, but I'll have to get that for you.  I don't know off the top of my head.

CAPT. DAVIS:  And next to -- (inaudible).  Is it a follow up?

Q:  Yeah, a quick follow up.

Q:  It is a follow up.

Colonel Warren, you say they came under small arms fire this morning.  If ISIS came within small arms range of these Marines at this fire base, what does this say about their ability to protect themselves?

What are we talking about here?  Did they -- within what small arms range did they come?  And how did they get there without the Marines being able to see them first?  Small arms range is pretty darn close.

COL. WARREN:  So it was about a squad-size enemy element.  Actually, the attack appeared to be focused more on Karasur, the -- the -- the larger base nearby.  Some ineffective small arms fire directed towards –Bell as well.  It was just simply infiltrated -- (inaudible) -- through.  Again, small, ineffective.  Two enemy killed in that operation, the rest ran away in fear.

Q:  How close did they get?  Did they get to -- next to the fence line?  How close did they get to Bell?  How close did they get to the other position?

COL. WARREN:  I don't have a distance for you.  I just don't have it.  But it -- it was not close enough to do any damage, but close enough to get at least two of them killed before the rest of them ran away.  So you know, a couple of hundred meters I would assume.  I don't have the distance, though.

CAPT. DAVIS:  (off-mic.)

Q:  Colonel Warren, were any U.S. person -- U.S. or Iraqi personnel wounded at either location?

COL. WARREN:  No, just -- just enemy and just killed.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Laurent

Q:  Hello, Colonel Warren.  I wanted to know, can you say how many U.S. advisers are in this location that was -- that was attacked?  And -- and what -- can you just summarize what is the mission -- describe what is their mission?

COL. WARREN:  So there are -- there are a handful of U.S. advisers at -- in Makhmur providing advise and assistance to the Iraqi security forces who are generating the combat power there, specifically the 15th Iraqi Army Division.  I'm not going to put out the exact number.  It's less than 100 and their mission is to provide advice and assistance to the Iraqi security forces as they prepare for future combat operations.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Tara 

Q:  Colonel Warren, just one follow-up on that.  The force protection Marines, are they there to just protect the less than 100 advisers or are they there to protect the entire base?  Because it seems like there's less than -- there's around 200 Marines there to protect less than 100 U.S. advisers.  I just -- clarification, please.

COL. WARREN:  They'll protect everybody.  Their primary mission is to protect obviously Americans and -- and they'll also protect the Iraqi security forces that are there.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Kristina
Q:  Okay.  That was sort of just my question.  Are the Marines authorized to protect Iraqi forces alone?  And then I wanted to know what the Iraqi troops at Makhmur are doing.  Are they operational?  Are they still training?  Are they fully trained?  And then I wanted to ask how is it that ISIS was able to kill a U.S. Marine?  And what does that say about the risk to Marines and other troops in -- in the area as they move forward?

COL. WARREN:  Christina, you broke up on your third one there, and I didn't take good notes.  So, can you ask all three of those again?

Q:  The first is, are the Marines authorized to protect the Iraqi Security Forces, even without Americans?

COL. WARREN:  Yeah, they absolutely are.  You know, we do that from the air, and these Marines will do that, you know, from where they are on the ground, so yes.

Q:  Are the Iraqi forces at Makhmur, are they operational, are they still training or are they fully trained?

COL. WARREN:  It's across the spectrum; some are fully trained, they're operational.  But they're going through their -- you know, their procedures to prepare for combat, and so, I'm kind of getting ready.  So, there are trained forces, there's other forces moving there after they get trained.

On site, they're obviously -- they'll continue there just on site, hit pocket kind of training that you do when you're waiting for -- to launch your major combat operation.  And of course, they're building up, you know, taking care of the logistics piece.  They're getting ready to right.  Yeah.

Q:  And so, it sounds like they're not launching nay offensive missions now, it's just -- they can protect themselves if they're under attack?

COL. WARREN:  That's correct.  That's -- their mission right now is to conduct force protection operations for advisers and Iraqi forces at Makhmur.

Q:  Okay, thanks.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Now, go first there to Paul 
Q:  Colonel Warren, have the U.S. advisers and the Iraqi 15th Division come under attack before this?  Is this why the deployment of the Marines was necessary?

And is there any concern that, now with this fire base, that the Marines kind of act as a sponge for more attacks, you know, ground attacks or rocket attacks?

COL. WARREN:  They're -- you know, there's -- again, we're in a war.  So, there's indirect fire attacks at Al Asad periodically.  There's indirect fire attacks at Taqaddum periodically.  There's indirect fire attacks at Makhmur periodically.

So, this is just part of building up, right?  So, we've been building up this force, generating combat power.  So, positioning these force protection assets is part of that process, in this case, it's providing the force protection for the advisers who were there.

And that is a unique capability.  And so, not a capability that the Iraqis have.  So, as the added benefit, it provided great protection to the Iraqi forces who were there, generating their combat power.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Yeah, go.

Q:  Colonel Warren, just want to follow --

Q:  He's still talking.

But he stopped.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Were you done, Steve?

COL. WARREN:  I was done.  Oh, I thought he might have had a second half of that question, which I forgot.

CAPT. DAVIS:  All right, Bill 
Q:  Are you done?

Q:  Yeah, man.  I'm fine.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Yeah, he's done.  Now, I'm just checking for you, and then I'll go to Nancy.

Q:  Colonel Warren, when you said before that the -- you thought the U.S. forces were targeted specifically in this indirect fire attack, does that mean that you believe that they knew the Americans were there before, you know, we did back here?

Did the Islamic State know that, and if so, was there some sort of protocol breach or security breach, or how did they find out that they were there?

COL. WARREN:  Well, it's impossible to know exactly how they found out they were there.  Obviously, I mean, they had the minute helicopter and they've been conducting registration fires and, you know, practicing with their guns, checking distances, doing, you know, operations such as that.  So you can't hide it forever. I mean its cannons. So people are going to find out.  And in this case, the enemy found out.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Nancy.

Q:   I wanted to follow up on Bill's question.  You said earlier that it would be a case-by-case basis in terms of when the American public would know when troops are being deployed into places like this, future fire basis.  Can you help me understand the chain of command in terms of how that decision is made?  Who determines when the public can learn about this, and what are the factors that they consider?  And then I had a follow-up.

COL. WARREN:  Sure.  Very fair question.  And I know that, you know, again, we always have to try to balance our requirement and our duty to be transparent with the American public, along with our sacred duty to do everything we can to protect our forces.  So this is a tricky balancing act that we have to go through all the time.  It's a continuous process.

In this case, these decisions are made, frankly, at a fairly low level here in-theater.  The decision to protect this information until such time as the forces have settled into their positions and are fully capable of operating and fighting.  Once they're there and ready to go, so to speak, we'll announce their presence.

And now -- to be very clear, that was the plan all along with this force.  You know, I had seen and chopped off on the release days ago, and we had it ready to go once the force was settled and fully operational, and so the day that we had picked to issue out that release is the day we issued that release.  So that will continue to be the case.

So as there are forces -- if there are forces -- and we don't even know that there will be -- if there are other forces who come here for various reasons, then this is something we're going to have to make a decision on.  If these are forces coming to, you know, I don't know, Baghdad, that's probably something that we'd be comfortable talking about.  If there are forces going kind of further afield, then this is probably going to be information that we want to protect until such time as they're there on the ground and ready to fight.

Once you're there on the ground and ready to fight, then we have a duty to ensure that American -- the American public knows that they're there, and this is a duty that we take very seriously.  It's a duty that we never lose sight of, and it's a duty that we're going to continue to fulfill.

Q:  Sorry.  If I heard you correctly, you said it was made at a low level.  I still don't understand the -- sort of the chain of command on that decision.  Who decides when the public can know where troops are deployed?  And also, was Congress notified that troops were at this fire base before Sergeant Cardin was killed?

COL. WARREN:   Nancy, I don't really know the congressional notification piece on this one.  That would have come out of Washington anyways.  So I'd refer you to them for that.  You know, in this case, it was -- it was, you know, a decision by the commanders, you know, by -- the general officers here in Iraq  decided that they wanted to keep that information protected until that force became operational.

Q:  And one other thing.  Could you help us -- you've talked a lot force protection and how they're there to conduct force protection.  You've now had two pretty significant attacks.  A squad of ISIS fighters and two rockets fired at the base.  Isn't ISIS signaling that they believe that this base is not very well secured?  And are there adjustments being made, given that there have now been two pretty significant -- one very significant and another less significant attack in a matter of days for a base that's only been there for days?

COL. WARREN:  We're always improving our fighting positions.  There's no question about that, so we are adjusting.  We are continuing to improve our fighting position, so to speak, to ensure that we've got the best ability to protect ourselves.  So this is everything from ensuring there's -- you know, fields of fire are cleared, this is ensuring that battle drills are conducted, ensuring that our early warning processes are understood by every -- every Marine and soldier, every service member on the ground there.

This is very tactical stuff that the unit itself is doing to ensure that they are as survivable as they can possibly be, and they're going to continue to do that.  They will do that every single day until the day they leave.  You always improve your fighting position, and that's what they're going to do.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Anyone else?  Barbara?

Q:  Colonel Warren, can -- on the question of how many U.S. military personnel are in Iraq, whether they are permanent for a full tour of duty, whether they are so-called temporary, the U.S. -- the -- General MacFarland, the U.S. military would know exactly everyday how many U.S. troops are on the ground in Iraq.  We're not asking for locations, but I would like to ask you to take the question with an answer back today, if at all possible.  Not talking about an inspector general going in for just a few days for an inspection.  How many U.S. troops are on the ground in Iraq, including the ceiling limit and the so-called temporary?  How many do you have, please?

COL. WARREN:  That -- that's a very fair question.  There's been a decision made not to release that number.  The number that we release is our force management level, which is 3870, and we're within that number.  And so I -- I can't take that question, Barb, unfortunately, so sorry.

Q:  For not releasing that number, what is the reason?  We're not asking locations, just a total number.  What is the reason?  And have you told Congress the number?

COL. WARREN:  We have informed -- I'm told that we've informed Congress of our methodology for -- for head count.  I don't have a reason not releasing this number other than it's the orders that I'm under, so.

Q:  Richard Sisk.  Only a couple of minutes left.

Q:  Hi, Colonel.  Can you say how many 155s are there at the new fire base?  And can you confirm that the HIMARS is there?

COL. WARREN:  There's -- there's no HIMARS there.  It's four guns.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Laurent

Q:  When the -- the Iraqis that are being trained near -- trained and start to move on to -- on the offensive to Mosul, do you envision this until, this artillery -- (inaudible) -- continue and accompany them in -- in their -- going on their march to Mosul?

COL. WARREN:  No, like I said, we're not going to telegraph our punches around here.  So, I'm going to take a pass on that one and not answer it.

But understand this, we're here to support the Iraqi fight against ISIL.  And I think everyone from the president on down has said that accelerants are part of this process, and that when we find tactics, techniques and procedures that work, we're going to do more of them, and I'll leave it there.

Q:  How do you --

CAPT. DAVIS:  We are out of time.  I'm sorry.

Steve, thank you for adjusting your calendar to come out and talk to us today.  And we'll look forward to talking to you again soon.

COL. WARREN:  Thanks, guys.  And once again, our thoughts and prayers are with -- (inaudible).