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

Press Operations

Colonel Ryan Dillon, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman; Captain Jeff Davis, Director, Defense Press Office
Aug. 3, 2017
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CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS:  Good morning.  Happy Thursday.

We're pleased to be -- well, we're not joined by him, are we?  There he is.  Pleased to be joined by the good Colonel Ryan Dillon coming to us from Baghdad.

Ryan, I want to make sure you can hear us and we can hear you.

COLONEL RYAN DILLON:  Got you loud and clear, Jeff.  Thanks.  How me?

CAPT. DAVIS:  If we could just get a tiny bit more volume in here, Tom.

And Ryan, we'll turn it over to you for your opening comments.

COL. DILLON:  All right.  Very good.  Thanks, Jeff.

Good morning, everyone.  Let's go ahead and jump right into it.  We'll begin in Syria and then we'll move to Iraq.

We've completed the second month of operations to defeat ISIS in Raqqa.  About 45 percent of the city is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Fighting in Raqqa continues to be intense, as fanatical ISIS dead-enders and foreign terrorist fighters left to die use the dense urban environment to try to cling to territory.  ISIS continues to use the closely spaced buildings and tight streets of the city to hide large improvised explosive devices, attempting to slow the advances of the Syrian Democratic Forces who are clawing away at remaining hiding places.  More than 80 percent of the ISIS attacks against the SDF have been accomplished by using hidden IEDs.

Despite these fierce and suicidal tactics, the SDF continues to progress.  They're advancing from three sides:  from the east, the west, and south of the Euphrates River.  And as of this morning, as -- there was still about a 250-meter gap between the east and west axes.  That can be covered by fire, but it's only a short amount of time before there's an actual, physical linkup there.

Civilians who remain in Raqqa are also being targeted by ISIS.  In the west of the city, a female terrorist joined a stream of 500 noncombatants who were being evacuated by the SDF and detonated a suicide vest.  ISIS also indiscriminately fired on the evacuating crowds, causing casualties including those of the rescuing SDF.

Throughout cleared areas of the city, the Raqqa Internal Security Forces, otherwise known as the RISF, a local volunteer counter-ISIS force comprised mostly of Arabs, continues to take on the role of providing order and preventing the escape of, or return of, terrorists.

The RISF graduated an additional 230 new members this week.  Their training in basic arms proficiency, first aid, the Law of Armed Conflict, and screening and checkpoint procedures is allowing them to assume responsibility for security for more people and areas as the SDF pushes deeper into the city.

In southern Syria, I briefed last week that the coalition had ceased support to the Shohada Al Quartyan because they wanted to pursue objectives outside of fighting ISIS.

Over the course of this past week, after meetings with their leadership, the ShQ have returned heavy weapons and other equipment provided by the coalition but they have been allowed to maintain some small arms and light vehicles.

We will continue to train, advise, assist and accompany other vetted partner forces in southern Syria that wish to defeat ISIS above other objectives.

Moving to Iraq, the coalition continues to support the Iraqi Security Forces as they carry out detailed clearance operations in Mosul and prepare for offensive operations in Tal Afar.  Iraqi Army Emergency Response Division and Counter Terrorism Service will transition security to hold forces in West Mosul here shortly.  The ISF are firmly in control of Mosul.

Security leads to stabilization and aid.  And the more secure areas become, the more aid and projects that can get under way in neighborhoods that were previously under control of ISIS; neighborhoods that need that aid the most.

Territory must be cleared of ISIS fighters and cleared of the tons of explosives that have been left behind by these jihadists.  We know the immense amounts of explosives ISIS has used in their defenses throughout Iraq.  We've seen that they have purposely left, in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, booby traps that they've left in ovens, in closets, in dresser drawers, as some examples.

I was talking to a colleague yesterday from the embassy here, of an Iraqi family he talked about that returned to their house in Mosul and when they flipped on a light switch, it triggered a bomb in their neighbor's apartment, killing several members of that family.

While ISIS may not be physically present, they have shown time and again that they will continue to leave destruction in their wake.  They will leave a clear intent -- they have a clear intent to kill and maim civilians who wish to return home.

In conjunction with the United States embassy here in Baghdad, we have been able to allow humanitarian assistance and efforts of stabilization to begin as quickly as possible once areas have been cleared.  There was a surge this week of engineers that assessed some 200 schools, 20 electrical substations, seven sewage treatment plants, and two hospitals and several police stations in west Mosul.

Schools have reopened in cleared parts of the city and electricity has been connected to a water treatment facility that is expected to begin providing clean drinking water to several hundred thousand Moslawis in west Mosul very shortly.  And these are just a few of the many projects decided by local governments to return to life after ISIS.

Last week, I announced seven high-value targets that the coalition removed from the battlefield in recent months.  I've got some more for you today.  Most recently, the coalition targeted and killed ISIS leaders involved in directing external operations, as well as bomb-making directed at regional and Western targets.

Abu Futtum, an ISIS explosives specialist, and one of his associates, were killed in an airstrike July 13th near Mayadin, Syria.  Abd Al-Gafur, a Syria-based ISIS external operations official, and one of his associates, was killed in an airstrike July 24th near Abu Kamal.  Gafur's assistant, Abu Hammam, and three other ISIS members were killed by a coalition airstrike on July 16th near Deir ez-Zor.

Gafur and Hammam were responsible for managing and directing external operations and participated in plotting attacks against Middle East and Western targets.  Their removal deprives ISIS of well-connected members with links to trans-regional terror support networks around the world.

The coalition also targeted ISIS foreign fighters from southeast Europe operating in Syria as recruiters, facilitators and attack plotters responsible for multiple atrocities within Syria.  Lavdrim Muhaxheri was killed by a coalition airstrike on June 7th near Mayadin.  He was an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo and the self-proclaimed leader of ISIS foreign fighters from Kosovo.  He was known as the most prominent and radical ethnic Albanian fighter in Syria and was directly responsible for inciting jihadist ideology within European communities and encouraging foreign fighters to travel to ISIS-controlled territory.

He was also responsible for planning numerous terrorist attacks, to include the failed plot to bomb the 2016 Israel-Albania soccer match in Albania.  There are eight other dead colleagues of his that I will not mention, but you will find them in a press release that will be available to you by the time this briefing is complete.

ISIS poses a global threat because of its commitment to plot, direct and incite terror attacks and its ability to recruit, move and finance the terrorists who commit those attacks.  The coalition will not stop targeting ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria until this threat is removed, the region is secure, and our homelands are safe.

And with that, I'll now be happy to take your questions.

CAPT. DAVIS:  We'll start today with Joe Tabet from Al Hurra.

Q:  Thank you, Captain Davis.

Colonel Dillon, I would to ask you about news coming from Turkey.  Many Turkish media reports are saying that the United States has sent thanks and hundreds of truckloads of weapons into Syria to support the Kurdish YPG.

First, is that true?  Do you have any comment on that?

COL. DILLON:  First off, I'll say it is not true, because we support our -- the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight in Syria.  And I'm not going to confirm or deny numbers of truckloads or whatever has been reported.

We have made it clear that we are going to be transparent with the weapons and the equipment that we provide to the Syrian Democratic Forces for the fight against ISIS in Raqqa.  In particular, we will make sure that Turkey knows what those -- what that equipment is and what those weapons are.  And we have maintained that transparency and maintained that dialog with Turkey and will continue to do so.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Zach Biggs from Jane's.

Q:  Thanks.

Colonel, I want to follow up on a couple of thing you mentioned in your opening statements.

First off, I might have missed this number, but you said that there were 230 new trainees that graduated from the Raqqa Internal Security Force last week.  Is there a total number for how many have been put through the program thus far?

COL. DILLON:  Yes, Zach.

That number currently stands at about 850, and that is including this new 230 that have come aboard.  There have been a desire, and there are a lot of passionate people who have wanted to join the ranks of the Raqqa Internal Security Force, and we are continuing to vet them and train them so that they can provide security for their neighborhoods and prevent ISIS from coming back to these areas that have been liberated.

Q:  Thanks.

And also, I wanted to follow up:  You mentioned that 80 percent of the ISIS attacks against the SDF now are from IED.  In Afghanistan, there was a big push, obviously, to have ISR assets to try to track some of the placements of hidden IEDs.  Are those sorts of coalition ISR assets being used to try to prevent the threat -- or to mitigate the threat of these IEDs and help track their placement, or is this purely the SDF discovering the IEDs as they move into territory?

COL. DILLON:  Well, Zach, those who -- we do have capabilities and I'm not going to get into the details of them.  But anything that we can do to help identify where these IEDs are, these vehicle-borne IEDs, these factories, where they are being built and striking them prior to the ability of ISIS to use them, we will do those things.

And as far as detection of these IEDs, there are capabilities that we have and are using in Raqqa for that purpose.

CAPT. DAVIS:  The gentleman from the Daily Sabah.

Q:  (inaudible) -- Daily Sabah.

Hello colonel, I have a question over the stabilization efforts.  As far as I understand, there was a report in Washington Post, if I'm not wrong, there was a group of American diplomats that visited Syria to understand how to start this stabilization efforts in the country.

Could you tell us whether the coalition started to do this stabilization work, or if it's started, what has been done so far?

COL. DILLON:  Yep.

So first off, you know, we, as a coalition, our primary responsibility is to defeat ISIS, but then also to make sure that the security is set in those areas.

We are also working with the Department of State and they have a team that is working towards the stabilization and the humanitarian aid that is being provided to the Syrians who are displaced and, you know, the stabilization projects that will happen in Raqqa after the -- after it has been cleared of ISIS.

That -- and I'm -- I -- I don't -- I forget the name of the acronym, but it's START.  It's a Syrian transition, but it is a part of the Department of State, similar to what we have here in the embassy in Baghdad, that addresses the humanitarian aid and stabilization efforts.

And that meeting that you saw that I think was Special Envoy McGurk who was there, and we also have one of our deputy commanding generals and our commanding general that routinely travels through the area to get updates on -- both the operational updates, but also on stability that is happening in the region.

I hope that answers your question.

Q:  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Ryan Browne from CNN.

Q:  Hello, Colonel.  Thank you for doing this.

Just two questions.

The -- the first is strike release issued earlier this week.  You mentioned the coalition said that it destroyed an ISIS chemical weapons factory in Deir ez-Zor.  Can you talk a little bit -- and I think also, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights talked about that there was ISIS chemical weapons in Raqqa.

Can you -- we -- you know, we've learned a little bit about Mosul.  Can you talk a little bit about what kind of chemical weapons ISIS is using or has in Syria?  And -- and -- and what that factory -- if you can give a little bit more on that factory that was destroyed.

COL. DILLON:  Okay, Ryan.

Well, first off, we have -- we know that ISIS has proven in Iraq that they are willing to use chemical weapons.  Largely, they have been rudimentary and have not had a significant effect on the overall -- the overall campaign and what they are doing.

We do not want them to get good at this.  And so any time that we find or know that ISIS has stockpiles or have put together anything that can be used to make these weapons, we will strike them.  And just as any type of planning or attacks, whether it's with chemical weapons or otherwise, if we know that they're going to do this, we will try to attack them first.

So, I think that answers your first part of the question.

We have not seen the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but we don't want to wait for them to use it either.  So, again, if we identify it, we will -- we will strike them.

And the -- the type that they were, were mainly, you know, type of -- it was ingredients to -- to make it that were largely industrial-type ingredients; nothing that causes, you know, so much concern for us.

How's -- does that answer your question?

Q:  Excellent.  Thank you, sir.

And my -- my other question is, you talked about the high-value targets taken out in -- in mostly -- it sounded like a lot in Mayadin, including an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo.

You know, Mayadin is kind of part of the middle Euphrates River Valley.  You seem to be taking out a lot of high-value targets in that one location.  Has this kind of become ISIS's de facto external operations kind of main control area?  And is it -- are you concerned that right now, there is no real clear plan to take Mayadin by coalition or coalition-backed forces?

COL. DILLON:  We have seen that there are a lot of these high-value targets have come from throughout the middle Euphrates River valley.  So, Abu Kamal, Mayadin, Deir ez-Zor.  I think I mentioned I think each one of those locations in today's announcement.

So, again, just like with the chemical weapons, if we know that there are ISIS leaders, fighters and resources that are being used, they are ripe for strikes.  And as with the leaders, we have heard in open reporting, yes, there's this de facto, you know, capital where ISIS has said, "Oh, you know, Raqqa is no longer our capital; we're going to move it now to Mayadin."

Wherever they set up, wherever they decide that they want to operate out of, it is not going to be safe for them to conduct operations, whether it's from their headquarters, whether it's running logistics, whether it's setting up and building IEDs.  There is no sanctuary for ISIS fighters.  We're going to hunt them down and they will be eventually defeated throughout Iraq and Syria.

Q:  Is there an increased sense of urgency to kind of go into that area now that there's so much evidence of external plots or external plotters, at least, being there?  Is there an increased sense of urgency to kind of move on that area?

COL. DILLON:  Right now, our focus is on defeating ISIS in Raqqa.  But I think that if you, as you very well do, you look at these strike reports every single day.  And as you look at them throughout the week, you'll know that we are not letting up.  And just as I look at it here, 54 strikes this week in Deir ez-Zor; 15 in Abu Kamal.  So there's no shortage of ISIS targets throughout the middle Euphrates River valley, and we are continuing to strike them and be successful with these strikes.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Jamie McIntyre, Washington Examiner.

Q:  Colonel Dillon, is there any way you can characterize the level of resistance that the Syrian Democratic Forces are facing in Raqqa?  Is it -- is it, for instance, comparable to what the Iraqi forces faced in Mosul when they were in that really deadly urban combat?

COL. DILLON:  There's -- as I mentioned earlier, we have seen an increase in the amount of IEDs and the booby-traps that ISIS is using within Raqqa.  That said, what we haven't seen is a coherent defense.  And unlike what we have seen -- saw in Mosul, as an example, their ability to react as the Syrian Democratic Forces presents and pushes from the different sides and the different areas throughout the city of Raqqa, they have not been able to counter that.  The -- ISIS has not been able to do so.

So we will continue to exploit that, and the Syrian Democratic Forces will continue to take ground every single day.  Even from today, there was a good chunk of ground that was taken on the east side between those converging forward lines of troops from the east and west.  So, progress is being made every single day.

Q:  I know you're not in the prediction business, but does that suggest that victory in Raqqa may come a little faster than it did in Mosul?

COL. DILLON:  You're absolutely right.  I'm not a predictory (sic) on this at all.  But the -- the operation to start it off very quickly, and there was a lot of ground taken in a very short amount of time when this started -- when the Syrian Democratic Forces started their offensive.  That has since slowed down, and we've seen the defenses that they have been able to put in.

We are going to continue to support them.  They are going to continue to put pressure on ISIS from the multiple ways.  And just as I had said before, they're going to exploit those weaknesses in ISIS leadership to continue to take ground.

I'm not going to make any kind of predictions.  We're two months in, almost 50 percent complete, but there still is tough fighting ahead, and we're going to continue to help the SDF put pressure on ISIS, but I'm not going to give any kind of predictions on timeline, when it will be over, just to say that it will be, and ISIS will be defeated in Raqqa.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Kristina Wong from Breitbart.

Q:  Thanks, Colonel.  I think Jamie took some of my questions, but I'll go ahead anyway.  Can you -- can you talk about why the Raqqa fight is going faster than expected, you know, given that there's still tough fighting ahead?  Why is it going faster?  And are you seeing any ISIS fighters fleeing to Southeast Asia or South Asia or any other hubs?

And then, I'd like to know what defeat in Iraq and Syria would look like for ISIS.

COL. DILLON:  Okay.  So, the first one, I think, you're right, I did cover, you know, quite a bit of that with Jamie.  And I think a lot of it really has to do with the initial two weeks, and there was a very, you know, rapid offensive and there was a lot of success right off the bat.

You know, we're going to continue to put that pressure on, and again, I'm not going to predict, you know, when this will be over.  But we're going to continue to push on that.

As far as ISIS fighters moving to Southeast Asia, in Raqqa in particular, as we have that completely surrounded and isolated, if there are fighters there, they're -- it's going to be very, very difficult for them to leave Raqqa.

Similarly, elsewhere throughout Syria and Iraq, where we have Tal Afar, again isolation around that.  As far as their ability to move out of the country, I'll talk a little bit about the greater coalition and the -- all of the different countries that are now sharing information on ISIS fighters.

So between those countries, between Interpol and other organizations like that, the ability for fighters to come into and out of Iraq and Syria has been hampered significantly.  And I don't have numbers, but those that are in Iraq and Syria right now, their chances of leaving are -- are very low.  Their chances of dying in Iraq and Syria are very high.

So -- and I forgot what the third question that you had asked, Kristina.  Can you ask again, please?

Q:  I think in the beginning of your remarks, you mentioned defeating the ISIS threat.  What would that look like in Iraq and Syria specifically?

COL. DILLON:  Well, as we continue to, through our partners, take away ISIS territory and not allow them to conduct the -- the large-scale attacks, the conventional-type fighting that we have seen, we do fully expect that they will devolve back into an insurgent-type organization that looks more like terrorists that conduct these -- you know, prior to, you know, 2014, when ISIS came to rise.  We expect to see some of the -- seem them devolve into those type of actions.

What we are doing as a coalition to address is through the training that we are doing for the Iraqi Security Forces and with our Syrian partners.  So, we spent a lot of time on the front end of this campaign training Iraqi Army, peshmerga, and Counter Terrorism Service forces and federal police for the kinetic fight and for the conventional fight.  But we're also training their police, their border guard force.

And that -- as we continue to do that, as like in Mosul and West Mosul, as the Iraqi army and these -- the conventional forces depart, they're being replaced by trained and equipped police forces that are going to hold this security.

So, the future face of security in Iraq is policemen, it's a police uniform.  But you still have to have the ability to conduct these strikes against these terrorist forces when we know that they are plotting, and that's where you bring in the -- the CTS as an example.

I hope that answers your question.

Q:  It does.  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News.

Q:  Colonel, last week, you said that Raqqa was 45 percent retaken.  And today you said the same.  Can you explain this apparent stalemate in the ISIS stronghold?

COL. DILLON:  All right, yeah.

So, yeah, I think I said about 45 -- and again, we're saying about 45 right now.  I don't want to go, you know, pushing it too far ahead, but there have been incremental gains of a kilometer here and there.

Again, this is a tight -- tough fighting in tight quarters with, you know, a lot of these IEDs.  But progress is being made every single day.

And that was 45 percent as of this morning.  Perhaps it's 46 today after that chunk that I -- I saw.

But I will stay, you know, with the 45 percent.  And I will not say it is a -- a stalemate.  They are continuing to make progress every day, Lucas.

Q:  That's the point of the question is if they're making progress, why is it still 45 or 46 percent a week later?

COL. DILLON:  All right.

So, okay, I will -- I will go ahead and -- and, you know, perhaps, you know, give a little more wiggle room on my percentages next time.

So, I -- I will say, and I will continue to say that they are making progress every day.  And I think we're going to see that here in this week when I present more information and more progress in next week's update.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Kasim Ileri from Anadolu News Agency.

Q:  Thanks, Captain Davis.

Colonel Dillon, there -- there are -- back to the reports out of Turkey.  The reports are saying that the U.S. or the coalition is providing tanks to the SDF.

Can you confirm or deny that you are providing tanks to the SDF or YPG?

COL. DILLON:  All right.  I don't know what it is, Kasim.  It seems every single time -- the mic just started getting jumpy there.

Did you ask about SDF receiving tanks?  Over.

Q:  I believe he's still not hearing.

COL. DILLON:  If that was the question, you know -- if that is the question and you had asked about the SDF receiving tanks from the United States or from the coalition, that is not accurate.

Q:  And on -- on al-Tanf are there still --

CAPT. DAVIS:  Go ahead and just bring your microphone, Kasim -- (inaudible).  You're in that sort of dead spot in the room.  Thanks.

Q:  So on -- on al-Tanf, can you confirm that are there -- are there any coalition forces in al-Tanf right now?

COL. DILLON:  All right.  Something is wrong with the mic here.  We're going to give it a quick whirl right here, Kasim, and try to swap this out.  I'm having a hard time hearing you.  Sorry about that.

CAPT. DAVIS:  -- just fine, by the way.  Is our mic on, Tom?

Kasim, just try one more time.  Speak loud.

Q:  Colonel Dillon, okay, can you hear me right now?  Is it -- am I clear?

COL. DILLON:  Hey, Jeff, even you were cutting in and out a little bit.  I can you a little more clearly from your mic.

But go ahead and try one more, Kasim.  And if it doesn't work, we'll go old school.

(Laughter.)

Q:  So my question was about al-Tanf.  Are there coalition -- are coalition forces still in al-Tanf garrison or not?

COL. DILLON:  I think the question is, are there coalition forces that are still at al-Tanf garrison?

The question is -- the answer is yes.  You know, we still do have coalition forces that are there and there with our vetted Syrian opposition force that we're working with outside of al-Tanf, and still conducting patrols and training with them in and around the Haman Desert area in and out of al-Tanf garrison.

Does that answer your question?  And I hope that was your question.

Q:  Yeah, that's -- that's -- that was exactly my question, but I will follow up with it.

As partnered forces -- the partnered forces do not have contact with ISIS posts around the al-Tanf garrison, so what is the purpose of holding that coalition force -- or leaving that coalition force down at that garrison, as there is no ISIS currently around that area?

COL. DILLON:  So, first off, Kasim, there is no ISIS there because, you know, we have been there.  And we've been there and we've, you know, presented a projection from the al-Tanf garrison with our vetted Syrian opposition forces in that area.

We do know that not far from al-Tanf garrison there are ISIS that still remain, and we've known that because other elements that are in and around have been in contact with ISIS fighters.  So we will continue to train.  And that's one of the other reasons why we are there in al-Tanf, is so that we can train these forces that we are -- have been working with, so that they're prepared and ready for potential future fights that may be along the middle Euphrates River Valley.

Brought this up last week.  Part of the -- the group that we are working with in At Tanf, they are from the middle Euphrates River Valley, from Abu Kamal, up towards Mayadin.  So, we still train with them, and they're still an opportunity to get them into the fight after we finish Raqqa, and love to see how things shake out and where things look after Raqqa is complete.

Q:  Thank you.

CAPT. DAVIS:  And yes, ma'am?

Q:  Okay, my name is Kamala Dia.  I'm from Pakistan.

Okay, I have got three questions.

Like in the start, you said how -- schools have started to reopen.  So, how many schools you expect to be reopening, and how many are actually functioning right now?

And you also said water treatment has started.  So, who's -- who is doing that water treatment?  Is -- is it like Pentagon, or is that Iraqi government?

Third, Trump administration recently halted the CIS support to rebel groups in Syria.  So, do you -- is that -- has that really ended?  And do you think that is negative or positive towards Pentagon military strategy?

And last, can I have your comments on, like, ISIS do not regroup?  Like, they are on the defeating stance.  So, do -- do you think -- like, what is your strategy that they do not regroup?

Thank you.

COL. DILLON:  All right.  We're going old school because I -- I -- it's all -- it's all cutting up here.  So, I'm going to give a call here, Tom, real quick, and we're going to switch to the -- the Pentagon briefing room.  We're going to go off of this, okay.

I -- I didn't catch any of that.  I'm sorry.

Q:  Hello.  Can you hear me?

COL. DILLON:  All right.  Can you hear me now?

Q:  Hello?

CAPT. DAVIS:  Yeah, I think we -- we got you.  We can hear you.  Can you hear us?

COL. DILLON:  I can hear you.  I think, you know, some -- I can hear you very well, Jeff.  If anyone has a question, I don't know if you have to hand around -- hand microphones out.

But I can hear you well.  Thanks.

Q:  Okay.  So, my first question is, you said in the start that schools have started to reopen.  So, my question is, like, any estimate that how many schools are actually functions now back?

And second, you said water treatment has started, so -- and -- so, that's good news.  So, who's the -- who is doing that water treatment?  Is it Pentagon or is that Iraqi government?

COL. DILLON:  Okay, so, first off, I -- I said that the electricity, you know, for -- to this water treatment plant has started, it has been connected.  And it should be a very short time before the -- the electricity and that water treatment plant is started to get the water into West Mosul.  East Mosul, you know, they've been getting water and it's already being trucked in as well.

So, I just want to make a clarification on that is that the -- the water treatment plant in West Mosul has not started to crank out water yet.

As far as your first question on the schools, that is the -- one of the latest numbers that I saw were 83 schools in West Mosul have opened.  And I think that it was more than or about 60,000 students are already back in classes.

And all of these things, you know, while we are supporting, we as the coalition through providing security, it is really the government of Iraq and it is the United Nations who are doing all the heavy lifting and doing all the work to get these stabilization projects and this aid back in place.

I hope that answers your question.

Q:  Thank you, but I'm a little bit clear (sic) about water treatment.  It's not started, but who will do that actually?  Under whose jurisdiction will it come?  Under Iraqi government or under Pentagon?

COL. DILLON:  No, no, that would be the government.  Everything is in the -- is in charge of -- by the Iraqi government.  And it's the local governance that decides and chooses the projects that they want.  In this particular project, I believe it's through the U.N. -- UNDC who is -- who they are working through on this.

Q:  My third question, Trump administration recently halted the CIA support to the rebel groups in Syria.  So, has that really ended?  And do you think that is negative or positive for the Pentagon military strategy?

COL. DILLON:  That is something that I cannot address.  That is a program that was by the CIA.  We are working with our vetted Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian Democratic Forces, all vetted by law for us to authorize and provide training and equipping for them.  Those groups, we did not work with them in the past and we are not working with them now.

So, for any of those questions, I would refer you to the CIA, but definitely does not -- towards the Combined Joint Task Force.

Q:  My last question, what is your counterterrorism strategy that ISIS do not regroup?

COL. DILLON:  So, I can talk about the, you know, number -- (inaudible) -- is, you know, by, you know, killing them, allows them -- they won't be able to get -- fewer people to get together.  As far as the, you know, counter -- countering terrorism within Iraq and Syria, I addressed a little bit of that before with the training that we are providing to the local police, to the federal police, to the border guard force, and also to the Counterterrorism Service.

So, right now in total, we have trained about 109,000 of those forces throughout the Iraqi security force umbrella.  We will continue to do so.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  Elizabeth McLaughlin, ABC News.  I think with you speaking up, we could probably hear you, but go ahead and try.

Q:  (inaudible) -- can you hear me?

(CROSSTALK)

COL. DILLON:  I can.  Thanks.

Q:  Thanks for doing this.

So, just a few minutes ago, you talked about how the future fight would be in the Euphrates River valley.  Just to clarify, when that begins to happen, would you shift SDF forces along with their coalition advisers, after Raqqa was 100 percent retaken?  Or would you expect to start shifting some of those forces to -- to be in -- you know, to start to retake the Euphrates River valley as the Raqqa operation was still ongoing?

COL. DILLON:  Yeah, Elizabeth, on that I'm not going to give any, you know, future projections on what we may or may not do.  Right now, the focus is on Raqqa.  We will continue to conduct strikes throughout the middle Euphrates River valley.  But as far as when we want to adjust and shift and transition, I don't want to address that for obvious reasons.

Q:  Thanks.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Okay.  And with that, are there any other questions?  The queue is empty.

With that, Colonel Dillon, we will allow you to sign off.  Any final words for us before we cut you loose?

COL. DILLON:  No.  You guys all know hopefully the press release is waiting for you when you get back to your desks.  Also, thanks for struggling through with this.  I think this is a good contingency plan.  I'm sorry about the coms issues, but I think we overcame that.  Maybe I should have pulled the trigger a little bit earlier.

But thank you very much and we'll see you guys next week.  Always, you know, free to answer your questions if you send me an e-mail or give me a call, too.

CAPT. DAVIS:  Thank you, Colonel Dillon.

Thank you, everybody.