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Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Jarrard via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq

Press Operations

Major General James B. Jarrard, commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve; Eric J. Pahon, Defense Department Spokesman
Oct. 31, 2017
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ERIC J. PAHON:  Hi.  Good morning, everybody.  Lot of new faces in the crowd today, so hopefully, I get all of your names.  If I don't, please give us your name and affiliation as we're asking General Jarrard the questions.

We've got a special guest for you today.  I know you're used to seeing Colonel Ryan Dillon up there for the OIR update briefs, but this week, we are honored to have Major General James Jarrard, the Special Operations Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve commander.  SOJTF-OIR is the primary advise, assist and accompany force in Syria, working closely with the SDF as they work to defeat ISIS in that very complicated battle space.

SOJTF-OIR does have an advise-and-assist presence in Iraq as well, sharing those duties with the Combined Joint Task Force, Land Component Command, CJFLCC.  I'm sure you've heard that before.  But, again, they really are the driving force behind the enormous success of working by, with and through our partner forces on the ground in Syria.

And, sir, I just want to check and make sure you can hear us.  Do you read us well?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES B. JARRARD:  I do, Eric.  Thank you.

MR. PAHON:  Okay.  

All right, sir, with that, I will turn it over to you for an opening statement, and then we'll take questions from the press.

GEN. JARRARD:  All right.  Thank you, Eric, and good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining me today.  I'm here today to talk about the SDF's success in Syria and how our coalition continues our support.

As you know, our coalition was established to militarily defeat Daesh.  Their extremist ideology and gross disregard for humanity pose a serious threat to Iraq, Syria and our homelands.  

We continue to work by, with and through our partners to militarily defeat Daesh, and we will continue our efforts until the Daesh threat is permanently removed.  Once we have successfully defeated Daesh, the coalition will continue to have a key role for enduring counter-VEO efforts.

Raqqa was held by Syrian opposition forces until falling into Daesh's hands in January of 2014.  Daesh called it the capital for their so-called caliphate, and the city soon became a focus for terrorists committed to barbaric acts against international humanitarian law and basic human rights.  

Beheadings, crucifixions and torture became the norm for thousands of innocent civilians who were trapped inside the city by Daesh and used as human shields.  Defensive positions were routinely established in hospitals, mosques, schools, and other protected sites to provide cover for Daesh's operations.  Civilians attempting to flee were routinely shot and killed by these terrorists.

On June 6th, 2017, the SDF began their push to liberate Raqqa.  This multi-religious and multi-ethnic alliance of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Yezidis, Armenians and Turkmen, which also includes female fighters and commanders, overpowered an entrenched enemy and demonstrated courage and tenacity in the face of significant losses.  

Precision coalition air support and ground artillery enabled the SDF's advance throughout and minimized civilian casualties in the process.  Some of you heard last week from General Isler about the protocols we use for conducting targeting in areas near civilians.  I'll emphasize that our coalition always seeks to apply the four basic principles of the law of armed conflict in this regard:  proportionality, distinction, military necessity and the avoidance of unnecessary human suffering.

Raqqa was liberated on October 20th.  The false governance structures of Daesh were removed for good and the weakness of their military strength exposed.  Many SDF soldiers were wounded and killed for their efforts and we honor the sacrifices that led to their victory.

The coalition support to Raqqa continues, with the whole-of-government effort including our partners at Department of State and USAID.  We are all supporting the Raqqa Civil Council, or RCC, the local governing body, who is working to stabilize the city that Daesh destroyed.

There will be several months of tough work to clear each building.  This multi-ethnic body has engaged with local tribal leaders to prioritize tasks in the recovery efforts.  The RCC has started to provide essential services and deliver aid.  The RCC is coordinating with various aid agencies operating in the area, to ensure internally displaced persons, or IDPs, have access to water, food and shelter.  It is a big job and will take some time.

The Raqqa Internal Security Force, or RISF, is an indigenous partner force established to provide local security and prevent Daesh's re-emergence.  The RISF answers to the RCC and continues to grow in size and will, at some point in the near future, assume control of the city from the SDF.

For the people of Raqqa at the moment, it is still unsafe for them to return home.  Although the city is void of Daesh fighters, hundreds -- and maybe even thousands -- of Daesh improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, bombs and booby traps remain.  Sadly, civilian deaths have already been reported among some of those who have tried to return.

The clearance process will take time as teams assess, identify and remove explosive hazards.  In the coming weeks, the SDF will serve as the hold force continuing to clear explosive hazards from the city, preparing to turn over security in the city to the -- to the RISF at some point in the near future.

Civilians will be allowed back in the city once conditions are safe.  The RCC is leading the way in providing advice to Raqqawis about when they may be able to return home.

I know they need more help with the removal of these explosive hazards.  Internationally supported stabilization efforts are central to the enduring security and stabilization of life after Daesh.

The loss of Raqqa was a major blow to Daesh and exposed the lies, cowardice and evil in the Daesh ideology.  Yet these terrorists still exist.  Together, the coalition will continue our support to the SDF as they liberate the remainder of areas along the Euphrates River to the border with Iraq.

I'll close by outlining what the SDF's successes over the last several months tell us.

Daesh has no capital and no physical caliphate.  Daesh is running out of places to hide.  Daesh terrorists are running away from our partners in the coalition.  Their leaders are in hiding.  Raqqa was freed by -- by Syrians.  Raqqa will be secured by Syrians.  Raqqa will be governed by Syrians.  I'll stop there, and I'm happy to answer your questions.

MR. PAHON:  Okay, sir.  Thank you very much. 

First, we'll go to Cami McCormick, CBS Radio News.

Q:  Hi, sir.  Thank you for doing this. 

I'm wondering if you're concerned, after the fall of ISIS in Syria, that you will also see the sectarian divides arise again in that area.  Your area seems almost -- it could possibly be even more complicated than in Northern Iraq -- and what you plan to do to prevent that from happening.

GEN. JARRARD:  Well, thank you for that question. 

And I guess my personal experience tells me that that -- that that may not be the -- one of the areas of concern for us.  As I have traveled around and have talked to the SDF leaders personally, there is a large percentage of the SDF that are Arabs, working very closely with the Kurdish personnel in the SDF.  And they are working together very, very well.  In fact, the commander of the SDF that was in charge of the Raqqa operation was an Arab. 

And the second data point I would give you is that there are hundreds and thousands of Arabs that are fleeing from around the Euphrates River Valley, from Deir ez-Zor, to Mayadin, to down around Al-Qa'im.

And they are fleeing not -- they're fleeing Daesh, they're fleeing the regime liberation of those cities.  And they're not going south into Arab-controlled territories.  They're going north into the SDF-controlled territories.  And so that tells me that they -- they understand the risk to both, and that they would much rather be in the SDF-controlled territories.

And so I think that those examples, plus the examples in Manbij, in Tabqa, where everybody -- the stabilization efforts are underway and everything is going well -- are clear examples that this may not be one of those areas that we need to be concerned about.

MR. PAHON:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  And, General Jarrard, please let us know if you can't hear the questions.  Sometimes, the mics in this room aren't the best.  We have a hand-around mic we can use. 

Next is Sylvie (Lanteaume) from Agence France-Presse.

Q:  Hello, General.  Thank you for doing that.  If the Syrian regime army tries to take back this region, which is an oil-rich region, will the U.S. come to support the SDF militarily?

GEN. JARRARD:  I'm sorry.  I think the question is, if the Syrian regime comes to take back, or try to take back control of this area, will we continue to support the SDF. 

And so that is -- what I can say is that we are committed to support the SDF through the military defeat of Daesh.  The liberation of Daesh from areas on the east and west -- on the east and north side of the Euphrates River is the first step.

But there's a long process after that:  making sure that we have the security in place, the stabilization efforts in place to allow the IDPs to return home -- that is all part of the military defeat of Daesh, making sure that we treat the symptoms that allowed Daesh to take over this area in the first place.

And we are committed to supporting the SDF throughout that process.

Q:  What after?  What will happen after?

GEN. JARRARD:  I think the -- you know, that is obviously a policy decision, and how long we will be there supporting the SDF is not for me to answer.  But I will say that we are committed to making sure that the region is stable and secure, and the evil of Daesh is not welcome in that area, and the SDF are able to provide security and the local civil structures are able to provide governance.

MR. PAHON:  Okay.  And next, we'll move to Mr. Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.

Q:  Thank you, Eric. 

I would like to hear from you, sir, an assessment about your interactions with the Russians and the Syrian regime in that area -- the northeast of -- and the east of Syria.  How close are you operating to them?

GEN. JARRARD:  Okay.  Eric, I had a little bit of a hard time, but I think the question was, how hard are we working, or how close are we working with the Syrian regime?  And the -- my answer is we are not working with the Syrian regime at all. 

We are working and supporting the SDF.  There are de-confliction efforts with the Russians that we -- at various levels, from the operational level at the CJTF headquarters, all the way up to very senior levels of our government, to make sure that we understand where each other are on the battlefield and we do not interact with each other.

But there is no coordination or working relationship with the Syrian regime.

Q:  My question was about your interactions with the Russians and the Syrian regime.  As a commander on the field, on the ground, how close you are -- your operations are from them?

GEN. JARRARD:  The -- so thank you, and I understand better now. 

So the enemy -- we are both focused on Daesh.  And as such, sometimes our actions do become close.  But there is no tactical de-confliction on the ground between commanders, even on each side of the Euphrates River.  As I said, the operational level, all the way to senior leaders in our government, do have de-confliction measures that we will take. 

And there is a direct line for air de-confliction between their air forces and our air forces.  And we do use that routinely.  But there's no de-confliction channel for discussions on the ground.

Q:  All right. 

My second question, having the Syrian regime pushing towards the Abu Kamal  area, backed by the Russians -- and at the same time, we have the Iraqi Security Forces, with the PMF, conducting operations surrounding the Al-Qa'im and the Khabur areas. 

How likely you think Iran would be able to control the Iraqi-Syrian border, especially in that area -- the Abu Kamal, Al-Qa'im area?

GEN. JARRARD:  Thank you for your question. 

And so the -- there are close coordination between the coalition forces and our partners, both the SDF on the Syria -- Northeast Syria side, and on the -- in Iraq, with the Iraqi Security Forces.  So we are very well synchronized in our efforts as we both move -- as the ISF in Iraq moves to the west, and as the SDF in Syria moves to the east.

We continue to deconflict with the Russians as they are -- as they assist the Syrian regime forces moving down the southern side of the Euphrates.  I do not think that there will be any Iranian control of the border from inside of Iraq.

I do think that there is that potential in Syria, but that is a question for the Syrian regime, and I do not have good information and am not able to answer that question in sufficient detail that I think would satisfy you.

MR. PAHON:  Okay, sir.  Thank you.

And next, we'll move to Wyatt Goolsby with EWTN.

Q:  Thanks, Eric.  And thanks, Major General, for doing this.

You had mentioned before how well the Kurdish members of the SDF are working with the Arab members.  In addition, it seems like coalition has worked well with Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq.

I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about what it is about the Kurdish that have been so effective, and what has made them good partners in the fight against ISIS?

GEN. JARRARD:  I thank you for that question.

And I think that, you know, first of all, they have an indomitable will.  You know, they were backed up in Kobani, several years ago, and almost -- Daesh almost overran their position in Kobani.

And I think a small group of them got together and agreed with each other that they were not going to let this happen to them or their -- the people or the territory -- the historical Kurdish area.  And they decided that they were going to defeat Daesh.

And ever since then, they have been ferocious fighters, and excellent leaders and pretty amazing tacticians as they have methodically taken back their terrain from Daesh.  And they continue to -- even to today -- and they are committed to -- and they have worked with the tribal sheikhs as they move into more Arab -- historically Arab terrain, and less Kurdish historical terrain.

They work very closely with the tribal sheikhs, and they are working with the Arabs and all of the ethnic makeup of the SDF very, very well.  And they're all committed -- they -- you know, the single, unifying enemy of Daesh and the evil that they displayed throughout all of northeast Syria has unified all of these ethnic groups to work very, very closely together, and very effectively, to take back those areas that Daesh controlled.

MR. PAHON:  Okay.  Thanks a lot, Wyatt.

We'll move to the front here, with Idrees Ali and Reuters.

Q:  How many U.S. troops are there in Iraq and Syria right now?

GEN. JARRARD:  So there -- we have a -- approximately 55,000 Syrian -- or 5,000 -- I'm sorry -- it's -- I think it's a little over 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria right now that are supporting efforts in -- against Daesh, and supporting the SDF.

Q:  So you have 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria?  Because I thought the -- publicly, previously, the number was 1,000?  This would be four times -- well, it was actually 500.  But you're saying 4,000 U.S. troops are currently in Syria?

GEN. JARRARD:  I'm sorry.  I misspoke there.  There are approximately 500 troops in Syria.

(Laughter.)

Q:  Because I think the accurate number is 1,000.

Q:  Then why'd you ask the question if you know the answer?

Q:  Well, I knew -- (inaudible).

MR. PAHON:  Idrees, as you know, the FML is 503 in Syria, and 5,262 in Iraq.  FML is 503 in Syria and 5,262 in Iraq.

All right.  Next Kasim Ileri, Anadolu.

Q:  General, thanks for doing this.

I will -- I have follow up and couple of other questions.

You said that you have -- you don't have concern about –- kind of breaks within the SDF, because the Arab component and the Kurdish competent of the SDF are currently working very closely.

But we saw the same thing in Iraq.  The Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces were working very closely together, very coordinated, they were -- they took over Mosul.  Peshmerga enabled the -- the -- the liberation of Mosul to a great extent and now we see that the two forces are fighting each other.

So what -- what is -- what else do you have other than just your confidence or your just trust in the cooperation currently going on on the ground that these two groups within SDF, the Arabs and Kurds, would not take on each other?

GEN. JARRARD:  Yes.  So thank you very much for that question.

Again, I think I mentioned earlier -- so right now Daesh has -- the evil of Daesh has coalesced these groups, both Arabs, Kurds, both in Iraq and Syria, to fight together and work together.  And I think that -- the relationships that they've developed over the years in this fight will bode well for the future.

As I mentioned earlier, I was -- I have had the opportunity to meet the -- the commander that was in Raqqa and he was Arab.  I have witnessed the effectiveness of that force.  And they continue to be effective all the way down the Euphrates River Valley.

Also, in Iraq, I was fortunate enough to be at the meeting with the Kurds and the senior leaders and the Kurds and the senior government of Iraq military officials met, and I -- I can tell you that -- I will leave it to government of Iraq to talk to you about the specifics and those results of those discussions.  But I think all Iraqis, both Kurds and Arabs, can be very proud of the professionalism and compassion and commitment of General Othman, the chief of defense, and Minister Sinjari, the minister of the Pesh, and the character and wisdom that they displayed throughout those discussions over two days to work very hard to come to an agreement that would limit any more Iraqis fighting Iraqis.

And that agreement has held for a few days here and I think it -- the -- there -- we have great optimism that it will continue to hold into the future.

Q:  And then as you had worked with SDF so closely, can you acknowledge or have you seen any kind of trace that the YPG, a significant component of SDF, has ideological connections with PKK?

GEN. JARRARD:  Thank you for that question.

And obviously, that is a concern for many folks.  But I have not -- I have seen no connection between the SDF and the PKK, and we have worked very closely with them for over two years.  And so we -- we have not seen any evidence of that.

Obviously, the United States does not support any terrorist organizations to -- and so we continue to support the SDF, because we have not seen any connection to any terrorist organization.

Q:  You said you haven't -- seen no evidence.  But, when -- during the liberation of Raqqa, the YPG displayed the -- Ocalan's pictures, the PKK leader, and also dedicated the liberation of Raqqa to the PKK leader.  Isn't that an evidence for you to consider that there is a connection between -- or ideological connection between YPG and PKK?

GEN. JARRARD:  I do not think you're speaking about the formal press conference from SDF leaders and RCC leaders that declared the liberation of Raqqa.  During that ceremony, I do not think there was any reference to any terrorist organization or terrorist leaders.

While we are aware of some symbols and -- of divisiveness, both in Syria and -- have been displayed in Iraq in the past, we do not support this -- support those.  And we do not believe that either the government of Iraq or the senior SDF leadership sanctioned those devices -- the display of those symbols.

Q:  One last question.  According to a mutual agreement between the coalition and Turkey, the YPG -- the SDF -- the YPG component of SDF would leave Manbij.  But, according to the military -- Turkish military sources, the YPG elements have not left Manbij yet.  Can you -- do you have anything to say -- to share with us, why they have not let yet?  And why are they there?  What is the reason?

GEN. JARRARD:  What I can tell you about our relationship is -- with Turkey, and especially the military -- the TGS, the Turkish military -- is that we have a very transparent relationship with them.  

We communicate with them routinely about all that we're doing in our campaign and in our relationship with the SDF.  And we have communicated at those levels and they understand exactly what truth is.  And so we've expressed it in those channels, and I feel comfortable that they're satisfied with those responses.

MR. PAHON:  Next, we'll go to Kevin Barron with Defense One.

Q:  Hi, General.  Still on the -- on the Kurds and recent attitudes after the events.  U.S. special force -- special operations forces have probably been the closest to them in -- with the training mission and moving alongside them.  

So what is the mood, both with -- both from your troops, and the other side, the Kurdish troops, since the -- you know, since the referendum, the violence, Barzani -- everything that's been happening?

Because, publicly, we're hearing a whole lot of trust and resentment from -- problems from the Kurdish side.  How -- so what are you getting -- what are you hearing, getting filtered up from your troops and the -- and the Kurdish troops that you're fighting alongside?  Is it similar to the public sentiment that we're hearing?

GEN. JARRARD:  I think that the main thing that we're hearing from our Kurdish partners are that they are committed to -- committed to working with Iraqi security forces to continue the defeat of -- of Daesh.  

No Iraqis that I've talked to, Arabs or Kurds, want to see any more Iraqi deaths because of fighting between Iraqis.  And so there -- obviously, there's been some turmoil and tension between that relationship over the last couple of weeks, but the overriding sentiment between all of our relations is that they want to see a peaceful solution to this, and they want to make sure that we continue our efforts together to defeat Daesh.

Q:  Can you give a sense of -- of, has it changed any plans for future, you know, training mission, the hold mission, as you shift from the -- those, you know, counter-assault days to -- to hold and -- and stability ops going forward, especially within Iraq?

GEN. JARRARD:  So, we -- we are continuing to determine what that posture will be.  Obviously, we will be here -- whatever the -- the size of the coalition presence, we'll be here at the request of the government of Iraq.  And we continue -- we will -- we plan to continue all of the -- the key partnerships.  Some of those partnerships are with -- with Pesh.  Some of -- most of them are with Iraqi Security Forces.

But we are continuing the deliberations and the planning efforts to determine exactly what level will remain, and who those key partners will be.  And so -- so right now, it's a little too early to -- to say definitively, but we do anticipate continuing the relationships with -- with some of the Pesh forces.

MR. PAHON:  Thank you.

And Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News.

Q:  General, how concerned are you between the increased reports of fighting between Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurds?

GEN. JARRARD:  So, thank you for the question.

I -- I, you know, I -- I think that as long as we have a -- well, a couple of different pieces to that.

The first one is that there's still Daesh left in -- in Iraq, and all security forces here, the Pesh and the -- the Iraqi Security Forces, are all focused on eliminating that threat. 

And then once that is done, I think that -- that we collectively will continue to develop and train and advise and assist various partner forces as they reset from the -- the struggle that they've had with Daesh over -- over the years. 

And I do not -- as I said, I was at -- at the meeting here over the weekend, and the leadership that was displayed by -- on both sides, from the Pesh leaders and from the Iraqi Security Force leaders, gives me great optimism that there will -- there's a very low chance of any continued conflict internally within Iraq.

Q:  So bottom line, you're no longer concerned about this fighting?

GEN. JARRARD:  I -- I personally am not, no.

Q:  And just to go back to the question about U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, just for the sake of the record and the transcript, how many U.S. troops are in Syria and Iraq right now?

GEN. JARRARD:  So I -- I can give you a better answer for Syria.  I don't have that answer for Iraq off the top of my head.  But there's 503 forces -- coalition forces in Syria.

Q:  Now, is that the force management level, or is that actual 503 U.S. troops on the ground in Syria?

GEN. JARRARD:  There's 503 coalition forces in Syria.

Q:  Thank you. 

MR. PAHON:  (inaudible) -- in Syria and Iraq, so 503 Syria.  Thanks.  Yeah, I appreciate that.  Thank you.

Do you have another question?

Sisk, Military.com. 

Q:  Sir, you mentioned earlier that many SDF were killed or wounded in the taking of Raqqa.  Do you have estimates now on how many were killed and wounded?  And do you have estimates on how many ISIS were killed, and how many surrendered? 

GEN. JARRARD:  Yes, I don't have good ISIS figures off the top of my head, but I do have good SDF numbers. 

So, throughout the fight, there have been over 1,200 friendly KIA of SDF forces.  Specific to Raqqa, there were approximately 434.  Wounded, throughout the fight in northeast Syria for the SDF, is a little bit greater than 2,500, and for Raqqa, specifically, approximately 905, so a significant, significant loss to both Kurds and Arabs fighting together to rid northeast Syria of the evil of Daesh. 

And when they are -- the SDF, both -- Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, all of them continue to honor them in their sacrifice.  And the world owes them a significant debt for all that they've done to help us rid the world of this evil. 

Q:  Sir, on ISIS, you have no estimates on their casualties?

GEN. JARRARD:  I don't have -- off the top of my head.  But we can -- we can find those figures and get them to you.  And I'll ask Colonel Dillon to do that. 

Q:  Sir, is it possible -- of the ISIS -- the ISIS fighters who surrendered -- what's happened to them? 

GEN. JARRARD:  So, that is -- so some -- a lot of those are -- continue to be detained by the SDF in their facilities in northeast Syria.  There were a lot of ISIS that were considered ISIS because of their relationship with the ISIS -- the -- Daesh.  But a lot of them were not necessarily fighters.  They were in administrative positions, working in hospitals, helping feed the large number of Daesh on the battlefield. 

And so a lot of those that were captured have been turned -- that were local Syrians -- have been turned over to their tribal leadership underneath their control.  And the SDF leadership feel comfortable that the tribal leadership and the tribal code in northeast Syria will make sure that they maintain control of those individuals. 

And so we feel pretty comfortable that that is the case. 

Q:  Sir, again, do you have an estimate on how many surrendered?

GEN. JARRARD:  I do not have a good number for you.  There have been large numbers that have surrendered in each of the fights, the major fights, in Manbij and Tabqa and throughout the liberation of northeast Syria. 

But I can -- I can tell you from experience, from driving around, that the security there provided by the local civil councils and the internal security forces is such that it is a very low threat of any Daesh attacks, or any Daesh, period, in northeast Syria. 

They still have the ability, as the -- closer to the front line of the enemy -- as we get closer to the Euphrates River Valley, to infiltrate around the SDF positions.  But, once you get away from the front lines, it is a relatively secure place throughout northeast Syria. 

MR. PAHON:  Okay, thank you. 

And next, to Mr. Ali Rebaz from Rudaw.

Q:  Thank you, General. 

What is the position of U.S. advisers to troops at the negotiations between -- the security negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil?  Are they personally attending those negotiations?

GEN. JARRARD:  Thank you for the question.  And there were some -- myself and Lieutenant General Funk had the privilege of being in the room while those discussions were taking place.  And we did nothing but listen to those discussions.

The -- all of the -- the main -- all of the interaction was between the Pesh leadership and the Iraqi security force leadership, under direction of -- for the Pesh, it was Minister Sinjari, and for the Iraqi security forces, the chief of defense, General Othman.

And again, it was -- we had no part of that negotiation.  We just monitored it.  And it was a privilege to see the character and wisdom displayed by those two leaders.  And all Iraqis have a lot to be proud of, that they have leaders like that, that are working this difficult situation out.

Q:  Are your troops going to be positioned at the border crossings alongside the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga?

GEN. JARRARD:  If the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces and the leadership in the Pesh would like us to be there, then we will take that under consideration and we will -- we will potentially do that.  But that will be at the invitation of the -- of the government of Iraq.

Q:  One last question.  The Shia militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis -- he said in an interview with Associated Press yesterday, and I'm quoting, "Iran was the only country that supported Iraq from the beginning of the Daesh crisis," unquote. 

And before that, a couple days ago, during a conference in Baghdad, Hadi Al-Amri, the Badr militia leader, said, quote, "Iran is the only -- is the one that helped on the ground in Iraq, and not the international coalition," unquote.  What is your respond to that?

GEN. JARRARD:  I think that the government of Iraq has -- definitely understands the commitment that the United States and the -- and the entire coalition has made to help them, as they have worked very, very diligently and very effectively to rid Iraq of the evil of Daesh. 

This -- Daesh was very effective early in their seizing of terrain in Iraq.  But together -- all of us together, throughout all of the entire coalition, plus our Iraqi security forces have shown the entire world that Daesh is not welcome in Iraq.  And I do not anticipate it's going to be much longer until we can say that they're completely liberated from Daesh.

Q:  Okay.

MR. PAHON:  Thank you. 

And I am so embarrassed that I am drawing a blank on your name.

Q:  It's all right.  Jeff Seldin from VOA. 

MR. PAHON:  Jeff.

Q:  General, thank you very much.  A couple questions. 

First, do you have any updated estimates on how many ISIS fighters are left in Syria and in Iraq?

GEN. JARRARD:  We do have a number out there.  I mean, it's an estimate.  I don't know how -- it's not a very high -- I don't have a high confidence level of what that is.  And -- but you could throw anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 Daesh that are left throughout the Euphrates River Valley -- from up around Deir ez-Zor all the way down to -- to Al-Qa'im in Iraq.  

Q:  And, as a follow-up to that, I know you said that Raqqa's been cleared of ISIS influence.  How concerned are you, and are your SDF partners, about sleeper cells, about fighters who are staying there, perhaps looking to cause trouble over the long term?  And what types of measures are you taking to make sure that they won't be effective if there are any?

GEN. JARRARD:  So thank you for your question.

And I think that, you know, there -- there are several examples throughout northeast Syria that give me confidence in saying that there's a very low probability of any Daesh that remains in Raqqa.  There's Manbij, there's Tabqa, there are other -- Ayn Issa.  There are other locations that, once they were liberated by the SDF, have not had one Daesh attack since then. 

The other problem with Raqqa is that there are so many unexploded ordnance or munitions that remain there.

Just a vignette, we just now started to have bad weather here in this part of the world, as we get closer to winter, and the other day we had the first significant rain storm in that part of Syria.  And there are so many explosive devices still left, that the rain was hard and actually was causing some of those explosive devices to -- to detonate.

And so there are so many out there.  Nobody moves around very freely until areas have been cleared of those unexploded munitions by the SDF and by the civilian companies that we have that are working for the -- the international community to assist in this effort.

So I -- I think it's a very low probability, that there will be any Daesh sleeper cells that remain in Raqqa or any -- any of the locations that the SDF have liberated.

Q:  A question, General, if I may.

What types of measures are being put in place, or are there measures being put in place, to track the Daesh fighters who were handed over to tribal leaders?  Perhaps they weren't front-line fighters, but they were still affiliated.  Are they being tracked in any way, other than assurances given by the tribal leaders in Syria?

GEN. JARRARD:  So the -- the solution to that problem was a -- a local Raqqawi solution.  And I think it was -- it's a great news story.

You know, our by, with and through process means that the -- our partners are the ones that determine how they prosecute this fight.  And in this particular instance, it -- it showed that the SDF, who is the military arm and is conducting the military operation to liberate Raqqa, was pressured and convinced by the -- the civil council, the civil leadership, in that part of -- of Syria, who listened to the tribal leaders, who are their -- the constituents of the Raqqa Civil Council, to figure out a way to solve this problem that would eliminate any civilian -- minimize the civilian casualties.

I mean, one of the most difficult things for us over the latter days of Raqqa was to watch, as we looked through ISR, and watch civilians, trying to flee Raqqa gunned down by Daesh fighters.  Absolutely horrific.  

And so the -- what we did do with the SDF, is we did take all of those members and we enrolled them biometrically, so that we are able to track them if -- into the future.

But this was a -- a good news story for -- for everybody in this part of the country, that -- that it was a Syria solution to a Syrian problem.  And, in the end, it was the -- the civil governance that dictated that solution.

MR. PAHON:  Okay, back one more time to Lucas Tomlinson, Fox.

Q:  General, just a follow-up to Jeff's question:  How is the American ISIS fighter going to be prosecuted?

GEN. JARRARD:  Thank you for that question.  And that is not a military -- I do not have a military answer to that question.  That is a Department of State and Department of Justice problem, and they are -- they're working to sort that out.  And I'm not aware of the answer right now, so I couldn't help you, but it's not a military solution to that problem.

Q:  As far as you know, General, he will be flown back to the United States to face federal court?

GEN. JARRARD:  Again, I -- anything I said would be pure speculation right now, and so I do not have an answer for you.  And so I'd even hesitate to speculate.  So I think the Department of Justice and Department of State is much better qualified to give you a good answer on that question.  I'm sorry.

Q:  And lastly, General, as we're sitting here, the coalition, it appears, released a list of ISIS leaders that have been killed recently.  My question is, can you talk about those leaders being killed?  

And has -- have your Special Operations troops stepped up their attacks on ISIS leaders recently, or, as ISIS is getting squeezed, have those strikes gotten smaller -- air strikes, as well as direct-action raids?  Thank you.

GEN. JARRARD:  Hey, thank you for your question.  

And so our forces -- we are always hunting the senior leadership of Daesh.  And we have been from the earliest days, and we continue to do that.  I will tell you, it has been harder, because everybody is moving.  

Daesh continues to displace.  They were in Manbij, then they were in Tabqa, then they were in Raqqa, then they moved down to Deir ez-Zor, then they moved to Mayadin, and they continue to move down -- and right now, the last bastion of their existence is around Abu Kamal and Al-Qa'im in Iraq.

And so we continue to pressure them across the network -- senior leaders, the facilitators, all of them.  And we have had tremendous success.  But it is getting harder.  

As I mentioned at the outset, I think that the senior leaders are hiding from the coalition.  They are -- we -- as I mentioned a little earlier, I've been involved in Iraq here for a long time, in our counterterrorism efforts.  And we normally find the senior leaders hiding in basements, or holes in the ground, or caves.

And I suspect, when we find the senior leaders now, that's where they'll be.

MR. PAHON:  Okay.  And moving to Ricky Zipp from Medill News Agency.

Q:  Thank you, General.  I just have a quick question.  

Do you know how long it will take for Raqqa to be cleared of explosive devices, or about how long, and how long it will be before people can return to the city safely?

GEN. JARRARD:  Hey, thank you for that question.  

And it is unfortunate that Daesh left the city and tried to prepare those defenses so elaborately, and -- so many unexploded munitions.  And so it will take a long time.  The -- you know, Raqqa has -- like any urban area, has some suburbs that are -- that we -- that Daesh did not seed with unexploded munitions as much as others.  

And so some of those outlying areas have been cleared already, and some families are able to move back in.  But the -- the part of Raqqa that was the city center, that was where we ended up fighting the remnants of Daesh that were left there, is going to take a long time.  

And I do not have a good estimate for you.  We have -- we have some civilian companies that are helping us clear those areas of unexploded munitions, and this is an area where our coalition partners can also help. 

We need any and all available experts in this area that can train Syrians to help us increase the capacity of those that are able and willing to clear the ordnance and improve the speed of -- which it's going to take to do this.  But it's not going to be a quick solution.  It's going to take a good bit of time.  And I'm sorry, I just don't have a good estimate for you.

MR. PAHON:  Not seeing any other hands.  Anybody else?  Going once, going twice. 

All right, General Jarrard, thank you very, very much for your time today.  Do you have any final comments?

GEN. JARRARD:  Well, thank you, and I just -- I would like to, again, congratulate the SDF on a -- on a phenomenal record since they've started prosecuting this campaign against Daesh.  They continue to amaze us as we watch them, and the sacrifices that they continue to endure to assist the world in eliminating this area of Syria from the evils of Daesh. 

And I -- and I continue to thank all the coalition partners that -- in their efforts, as we continue to support the SDF.  And thank you for your questions and your time today.

MR. PAHON:  Okay.  Thank you, sir, and thank you, everybody.