Department of Defense Press Briefing on Operations in Syria by Lt. Gen. Mayville in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of Operations J3 and Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Good morning, everybody.
As you all know, last night and early this morning U.S. and partner nation forces began undertaking military actions against terrorists in Syria, using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk land-attack missiles. Our strikes were against two particular groups: ISIL and the Khorasan group.
The decision to conduct these strikes was made yesterday by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander-in-chief. These strikes were taken as part of the president's comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL and to protect the United States and its partners.
Our coalition partners in the fight against ISIL, which in these strikes included Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, with Qatar in a supporting role, continue to be a critical part of our strategy.
Secretary Hagel appreciates their partnership, and, in particular, the hard work and the strong leadership shown by our Central Command Commander General Lloyd Austin who gave the secretary an update on the operation throughout it.
We do not coordinate with the Assad regime. While the United States did inform the Syrian regime through our U.N. ambassador of our intent to take action, there was no coordination and no military-to-military communication.
In terms of the Khorasan group, which is a network of seasoned Al Qaida veterans, these strikes were undertaken to disrupt imminent attack plotting against the United States and western targets. These targets have established a safe haven in Syria to plan external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices, and recruit westerners to conduct operations. The United States took action to protect our interests and to remove their capability to act.
In a minute, I will turn it over to the Joint Staff's J3, director of operations, Lieutenant General Bill Mayville, to provide more detail about the operation. But before I do, I think it's important to note just a few things.
First, and while I'll let General Mayville get into the details of our assessments, our initial indication is that these strikes were very successful.
Second, while it's not our policy to discuss future operations, I can tell you that last night's strikes were only the beginning. For this reason, there may be some tactics, techniques, and procedures that we just won't be able to address here today to preserve options that we may want available to us in the future.
And finally, we're going to leave it up to our partner nations to detail the specifics of their involvement. I think you may have already seen statements by the Jordanians and by -- and by Bahrain, as well, acknowledging their involvement.
And I'll also just note that Secretary Hagel's immensely proud of the U.S. personnel who participated in and supported these missions. And he deeply appreciates their service and their sacrifices.
With that, I'll turn it over to General Mayville.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM MAYVILLE: Good morning.
Last night, at the direction of the president of the United States, U.S. military forces, under the command of United States Central Command, in conjunction with coalition partners in the region, executed a series of strikes against ISIL and other terrorist targets in Syria.
Coalition strikes targeted ISIL training camps, headquarters, command and control facilities, logistical nodes, armored vehicles and leadership.
U.S. military forces also executed unilateral precision strikes against the Khorasan Group, an A.Q.-affiliated terrorist organization located in northwest Syria.
The intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland.
Last night's strikes were organized in three waves.
The first wave began around midnight in Syria, or 8:30 Eastern Standard Time.
I draw your attention to the map. The first slide, please.
In the first wave strikes, the USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea and the USS Philippine Sea in the northern Arabian Gulf launched more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles in eastern and northern Syria.
As you look at that slide, it is the target area around Aleppo and Ar-Raqqah.
The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan Group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps.
The second wave consisted of F-22 Raptors in their first combat role, F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16s, B-1 bombers and drones. They launched from bases in the region around 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time against targets in northern Syria. The targets included ISIL headquarters, training camps barracks and combat vehicles.
The final wave occurred shortly after midnight Eastern Standard time. F-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush in the northern Arabian Gulf and regionally based U.S. F-16s, among others, attacked targets in eastern Syria, to include ISIL training camps and combat vehicles, principally in that circle to the far east, around Dayr az-Zawr.
Coalition partners participated in both the second and third waves, supporting with a range of combat capabilities that began with combat air patrols to actual strikes on targets. The preponderance of coalition support was in the third wave.
Ninety-six percent of all the delivered munitions were precision-guided munitions. And I'd like now to show you several before and after pictures that highlight the effect of these munitions.
I'm good on the next slide.
Next slide, please.
This is -- this first picture shows an ISIL finance center in Raqqah. It's a before and after. On the left is the before and on the right as you look at it, is the after. It was engaged with Tomahawk Cruise missiles, fired from the USS Philippine Sea.
Now, the intended target was the communications array on the roof of the building. The Tomahawk Cruise missiles detonated as air bursts with the effects focusing on the communications array.
And, as you can see, on the right hand side in the picture, the after picture, the rooftop communications is heavily damaged, while the surrounding structure remains largely untouched.
If I can go to the next slide, please.
The second picture shows an ISIL command and control building in Raqqah that was targeted by U.S. Air Force F-22s during the second wave of strikes. This strike was the first time the F-22 was used in a combat role. The flight of the F-22s delivered GPS-guided munitions, precision munitions targeting, again, only the right side of the building. You can see on the left-hand side, the before shot, and then you can see as you look at it on the right-hand side, the after shot.
And you can see that the control -- the command and control center where it was located in the building was destroyed.
If I can go to the third slide.
The third and final picture is a residence near the town of Abu Kamal. It's along the border between Syria and Iraq. This was a residential area that had been used for a training site and for a logistics site for ISIL fighters. It was engaged with multiple GPS-guided missiles -- munitions fired from F-18s launched from the USS George H. W. Bush.
And as you can see, the aircraft targeted locations within the boundaries, within the fence line of the residence. There is video here that shows exactly how that was done. So give me a moment here to switch the video and I'll let you look at that as well, of this same target.
Again, you'll note that the effects of the strike were contained within the boundaries of the target area. As these pictures in the video highlight, the strikes involved multiple aircraft and cruise missiles from several countries.
It was through the careful planning and coordination of U.S. Central Command's combined arms operations -- combined air operations center located in the region that these strikes were successful with minimal collateral damage.
Last night's strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. Our immediate tasks are to continue the degradation of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, to build and strengthen regional partners, and to build a regional coalition; to assist in placing Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga forces on the offensive; to support the broader diplomatic efforts in the region; to implement a Syrian train-and-equip program; and to continue to work with Iraqi security forces and ministries.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'll be moderating today -- (inaudible). We've got time for 15 to 20 minutes…
Q: General Mayville, when you talked about the mission continuing, you did not mention the Khorasan group. Can you tell us at all, do you expect more against the Khorasan group? Should they assume this is it? And do you have any battle damage assessment against them? Do you believe it's possible you killed their leader al-Fadhli? Do you have any sense of what you accomplished against -- any that you're able to give us of what you accomplished against -- (inaudible)?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: As I'm sure you probably know, we're still assessing the effects of our strikes. But we've been watching this group closely for sometime. We believe the Khorasan group is -- was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands.
The Khorasan group is clearly not focused on either the Assad regime or the Syrian people. They are establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the west and the homeland.
Q: Do you (inaudible) -- do you have any assessment of what you did accomplish in those particular strikes last night?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: It would be premature to comment on the effects we see. We need to do a little bit more study.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Jen?
Q: (inaudible) -- take you a year, general, to train the Free Syrian Army, the 5,000 troops on the ground? Are you going to put ground forces or need ground forces in Syria between now and then? And if not, how is this any different from 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why is this any different from Whac-a-Mole?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: The -- the short answer to your question is no, we will not put -- we have not put, and we will not put ground forces into Syria. The Syrian train-and-equip program is, as you said, would - we are in the beginnings of implementation. It will be a multi-year program. It is a necessary component of the overall strategy, but as you've pointed out in your question, it's not sufficient.
Q: Are you concerned about not putting ground forces in?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: I think we're -- appropriately sized for the task that we've been given.
Q: General, were any leadership targets included on last night's hit list? And -- and -- and what results did you
get? Did you -- did -- were any leadership, ISIS leadership taken out…
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: No --
Q: -- last night?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: -- we -- we did not target individual leaders. We did, however, target command and control nodes. And we looked over time as we developed those targets for patterns of life where leadership would routinely go. And if they were there, that usually was an indication of -- of a command and control node. But we did not specifically target individuals.
Q: And you talked about a credible and sustainable campaign. What does sustainable mean? How long can the American people expect these airstrikes to continue? And -- and what shape will they take? The strikes like tonight or targets of opportunity? Can -- can you -- can you look forward for us?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: What you saw today and what you saw last night were a disruption in the -- in a -- to -- to ISIL forces that were enabling their strikes into Iraq.
And the way I would encourage you to look at this is look at what we're trying to do regionally. We are focused, first, in Iraq because we have a partner in Iraq to work with, the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government. But we are striking through the depths of -- of ISIL's formations because we are trying to disrupt their support bases while we enable in Iraq their Iraqi security forces with the help of partners to dislodge and ultimately remove ISIL from Iraq.
Q: Could this take years?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: I would think of it in terms of years, yes.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Craig?
Q: General, hi. I'd like to follow up on the Khorasan group. You said there's evidence that they represent an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland, to Europe. Is it your sense that the threat has been contained within Syria? Or is there evidence that they've sent operatives already outside of Syria to plan for attack?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: I -- I would want to walk away from that and not talk about intel matters here.
Q: Well, but you did say they represent an imminent threat to the United States. I mean, people are going to know, is that threat been deterred at this point because of these strikes? Or --
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Yeah, I see your point. Let me -- let me go -- let us -- give us some time to assess the targets and the effects we thought we had last night before we can answer that.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Julian?
Q: You talked about these strikes as hopefully having an effect on Iraq. I wonder if you could assess a little bit, obviously, the Iraq end of this campaign has been going on for a while. Do you think that you've had an effect so far with those strikes? And what more is going -- is hoped for from this wave?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: The most important thing is to create some space for the Iraqi security forces to reorganize and replace leadership that has -- that needs to be replaced, to allow them to reorganize their equipment and re-arm, to get their ministry connected to this newly formed government, and to allow them to get on the offensive.
What we have been doing over these last couple weeks and what last night's campaign was about was just simply buying them some space so that they can get on the offensive.
REAR ADM KIRBY: (Inaudible)…Tom?
Q: General, you talked about the overall plan, allowing the Iraqis and peshmerga to go on the offensive.
Won't these strikes in Syria benefit Assad? You're hitting the Khorasan group, you're hitting ISIS. Won't that allow him to go on the offensive? This benefits him, doesn't it?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Well, right now, the task at hand is countering ISIL. That's job one. And, as you mentioned last night, we not only were doing strikes in -- in Syria, we did several strikes in support of Peshmerga forces in Iraq.
But the principal focus right now is countering the threat to ISIL, first to Iraq and to the region.
Q: But as a result of that, it's benefiting Assad, isn't it?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: I wouldn't characterize the effects we had last night as benefiting Assad. It's certainly causing ISIL to address the fact that there now is an air war against them.
Q: But you said that Assad, the Syrians were informed through the U.N. that this was going to happen. We've heard a lot about their air defense system being very robust.
Were any of your aircraft painted with radar coming in? Was their radar turned off? Was there anything along those lines you can share with us?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Yeah, the target acquisition last night, radar acquisition on the part of Syria I would characterize as passive.
Q: They turned it off, or what?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: I won't get into specifically what we know they did, but I think it would be fair to say the assess last night was a passive radar.
Q: General, can you talk a little bit about the decision to use the F-35 -- (barely audible correction from unknown… said “F-22”)?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Well, what we were looking at was the effects we wanted to see on the -- on the -- on the target areas and what platforms in the region would be best suited to do that. We had a large menu of targets to strike from, and then we -- and we -- and we chose from there.
So, you just -- really, it's less the platform than it is the effects we seek, and then it's what platform can deliver those effects. That's really the job of the CAOC.
Q: General, can you give us a sense of what percentage of the munitions were dropped by Arab allies or air partners in this operation, what percentage of the strikes against the general targets were dropped by --
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Let me let the host nations of those partner nations that provided capabilities to us last night to speak to their level of effort.
REAR ADM KIRBY: Jim?
Q: General, was -- could you talk to what level of coordination there was with, with the moderate opposition, and whether there's been any movement on the ground, either on the part of the opposition forces to capitalize on these strikes, or in the case of the Syrian government forces?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: The reach to moderate opposition is, rightly so, in the hands of the civilian instruments of our national capabilities. So I'll deflect that, and let our State Department colleagues address that.
Q: Have you seen ISIS take any actions, post-strike?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Look, ISIS is a -- is a very well-organized and very well-resourced force that is an adaptive and learning force. It is -- we haven't -- it's too early to characterize precisely what ISIL has done in result of last night's attacks.
But they are -- they are very well-funded. They are a learning organization, and they will adapt to what we -- what we've done and -- and seek to address their shortfalls and gaps against our air campaign in the coming weeks.
REAR ADM KIRBY: Tony?
Q: Question, what the rationale for striking the financial center, specifically its -- its electronics. Was that to disrupt any kind of electronic funds transfers?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Principally to look at the bases of support as well as command and control.
So we saw the -- we characterized the area and the activities that were going on there, gained an understanding of what that target represented to them and decided that disrupting -- striking that would have a disruptive effect.
Q: Going forward, does CENTCOM now have a -- a license to strike unilaterally without going through the secretary of defense for prior approval of targets, or is that -- is Hagel still in the chain of command in terms of fleeting targets, fixed targets going forward?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Yeah. Both the secretary of defense and the president are still in the chain of command. They'll remain in the chain of command.
As far as what targets and -- and future operations, I'd -- I'd like to not comment on what -- what our next page -- other than to say that you are seeing the beginnings of a sustained campaign, and strikes like this in the future can be expected.
Q: Well, can it be expected fairly quickly though? If CENTCOM sees an opportunity, can they strike unilaterally without going up the chain of command?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: The operational pace, the tempo of this thing will be dictated by the facts on the ground and -- and what the targets mean in terms of the effect we seek, which is to disrupt.
It would be difficult for me to -- today, to kind of lay out some sort of very lockstep process. It's -- it's driven by the opportunities that we -- we see.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Could I just -- General Austin has the authorities he needs, Tony, to -- to continue to conduct strikes when he needs to do it. I think that gets at what you're asking.
Q: General, there've been persistent reports that ISIL is already dispersing its people to mix with the population and hide. That is going to make airstrikes extremely difficult.
How are you going to maintain their effectiveness, and isn't that going to require something like JTACs maybe? Are you going to train the Free Syrians in this?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Your point about ISIL adapting to the airstrikes is -- is a good one, and we have seen evidence that they're already doing that. We've seen that now as a result of the air campaign thus far in Iraq.
There are other ways to deliver precise munitions than putting a JTAC forward.
It obviously is something that we prefer to do when collateral damage or concerns about precision in a closed environment, in an urban environment, when there is a convergence of forces -- is -- is in play. There's obviously a desire to put something on the ground.
But we don't always have to strike with -- JTACs forward. We've been doing this very successfully thus far in places, not only the rural places like you saw in Mount Sinjar and as we moved to support the Pesh and Iraqi forces that went to -- to Mosul Dam but also in the Haditha area, which is a relatively built-up area.
We've been able to provide air support without putting --- forces forward, and I think we will continue to look at how we can do that as we move forward.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: (inaudible) -- time for just two more.
Q: General, just to ask an earlier question a different way, what percentage of the total munitions drop last night were by U.S. forces?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: The preponderance of -- of the force was -- came from U.S. platforms, so --
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: -- I -- I quite honestly will have to get into numbers and actually count the types of munitions. It's a little bit misleading because we used different types of munitions. So we might have available to us a very precise munition that can service an effect with only one rocket, one missile. And others may have to service it a couple of times to get the effect we see.
Q: But the vast majority of the strikes were carried out by American assets?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: The math supports that. That's correct.
Q: Are there any plans or were there any attacks last night in support of the Syrian Kurds who have been fleeing now because of ISIS, similar to what happened with the Yezidis?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: The supports last night in Syria were in support of countering ISIL targets that the U.S. Central Command developed and has been developing for sometime.
Q: And have you ruled out any kind of strikes in support of helping the Syrian Kurds who are trying to get out of the way of ISIL?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: We haven't ruled out anything other than to continue to focus on what it's going to take to counter ISIL through the depths of the -- of the -- both Iraq and Syria. Right now, the way our partnership -- our coalition air campaign is working is we've got the ability to find and to fix and finish, if you will, let me use some military jargon there, with the assets that we have. Those assets, by the way, include partners in the region.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: (inaudible) -- you've been very patient. You get the last one.
Q: Thank you.
The Syrian Observatory and other rights groups have already said that citizens have been killed in these strikes. And they're claiming that they were American strikes. Do we have any confirmation that civilians have been killed? Is there a way to get that tally? And how do you differentiate if it's the United States that caused that or if it's other nations?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Yeah, we are unaware of any civilian casualties. But obviously, limiting civilian casualties is a top priority for the United States. And if any reports of civilian casualties emerge, we will fully investigate them.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. Appreciate you all coming.
*The slide presentation from today’s briefing can be accessed at the following link: http://www.defense.gov/pubs/140923_SyriaStrikesForPressRelease.pdf