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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Colonel Warren via teleconference in the Pentagon Briefing Room from Baghdad, Iraq
Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman
Oct. 28, 2015
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Everybody wanted to welcome Colonel Steve Warren from Operation Inherent Resolve, coming to us live from Baghdad.
Steve, without any ado here, we'll turn it over to you.
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Thank you, Jeff, and good morning Pentagon press corps. I'd like to give a quick overview of the battlefield before we get to questions, and I'll jump right in.
As of today, we have conducted 7,712 air strikes with 5,032 in Iraq and 2,680 in Syria. In Hawija over the past week, of course, many of you have read about and reported on the hostage rescue operation in Hawija that freed 70 hostages.
Here in Iraq, we're all thinking about the family of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler. He is a hero.
In Ramadi, Iraqi security forces are conducting consolidation and reorganization operations on all five axis of attack. The ISF continue to face IEDs, counter-attacks spearheaded by VBIEDs and Iraqi forces have held the line.
Coalition forces have conducted 26 air strikes in Ramadi since we last spoke. These strikes have broken several enemy counter-attacks, and provides maneuver space as the ISF continues to clear obstacles and IED clusters.
In Bayji, CTS, that's counterterrorism service, the federal police and the PMF continue to clear both Bayji City and the Bayji oil refinery. Coalition air strikes this weekend killed dozens of enemy fighters and destroyed weapons, equipment and supplies. Recently we’ve seen propaganda stating that the coalition provided supplies to ISIL at the Bayji oil refinery. We find this to be laughable.
In the high-value individuals department, earlier this month, as you know we killed Sanafi Al Nasr, a Saudi national and the highest-ranking leader of the Khorasan Group. For perspective over the last 13 months, our strikes have had an impact on this group of terrorists. We've killed thirteen leaders and more than 100 of their rank and file.
Moving to Syria, regarding the air drop in Syria, I’ve seen some press reporting about the ammunition resupply operations that we recently conducted. And I want to once again confirm that we are satisfied the ammunition, the 50 tons of ammunition that we air-dropped into Syria was delivered to members of the Syrian Arab Coalition.
Continuing in Syria, earlier this week we saw intense fighting between pro-regime, ISIL and opposition fighters near the Al-Ghab plain, also in Aleppo, Dahr Al-Zawar and Al Talisia.
Before we go to questions, I have one last point. Over the last several weeks, what I've tried to do is paint for you a picture of our operations broadly and the impact those operations are having. Several weeks ago, we spoke about high-value individual, or HVI strikes that create confusion and paranoia.
We discussed last week the Omar oil facility strikes and our efforts to break the enemy's war machine by attacking their industrial base. Today I would like to address some of the new training we're providing Iraqi security forces. The fight that ISF faces requires them to conduct extensive IED clearance and obstacle reduction. To assist our partners with these challenges, we've adjusted our training and our equipping program. We're teaching the Iraqis how to get through the types of obstacles that ISIL has put in place around Ramadi. –And we’re giving them new tools to help.
One example is the Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System. Here, we call it the APOBS. The APOBS is -- it's a kind of explosive rope attached to a little rocket, and it can be shot across a minefield and will explode and clear the mines, or detonate the mines to create a lane that attacking forces can then rush through. Thirty-five of these have been distributed for training and have been issued to the Iraqi security forces.
And before going to questions, I'd like to show you an example of U.S. trainers teaching Iraqi soldiers how to use APOBS, so DVIDS hopefully you can hear me, and let's see if this works. We'll try out some new technology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Voice: Stand up.
Voice: Stay down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COL. WARREN: All right, DVIDS thank you that was terrific. And only like 250 man hours worth of work went in to rehearsing that. So, very well done. I’ll take a round of applause from the audience there for the DVIDS team – who put that together. All right, that's all I've got, and I'm happy to take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: We'll open up with Bob, and otherwise, signal me, and we'll call on you, next for the list.
Bob, go ahead.
Q: All right. Colonel Warren, on Ramadi, you mentioned that the U.S. air strikes are creating maneuver space for the ISF, but they're still reorganizing and rearming, I think is what you said?
So, there seems to be a disconnect there between -- if you're creating maneuver space for them, but they're not ready to maneuver, what's -- could you explain that?
And secondly, is this training of this -- IED clearance training one reason why the Iraqis are not moving forward on Ramadi? Is there a period of training that's going to be required?
Additional training, I mean?
COL. WARREN: So, the strikes create the space for the Iraqis to be able to consolidate and reorganize, number one. But number two and much more importantly to begin to methodically clear some of the IEDs that have been in place along the longitudinal (inaudible) axis of advance.
So, you can place obstacles in two ways, right? You can place them this way, you know, to stop movement, or you can place them along the road, in which kind of slows you in depth.
So, what these air strikes do, is keep the enemy at bay, while the ISF can come through and methodically clear those IEDs that have been placed.
The -- and then –- so really what it is the ISF exerted a lot of energy gaining a fairly significant chunk of territory, over the -- you know, two weeks ago, roughly 15 kilometers. That's a sizable amount -- it was a very broad sweeping maneuver, where one of the divisions moved southwest and around, and came in on the western access.
So, that's a lot of energy there, at lot of ammunition expended. So, the Iraq Security Forces simply have to you know, kind of, again, consolidate and reorganize. This is a very deliberate process, where we get some fresh troops on the battlefield, replenish equipment storage etcetera, etcetera.
So, while these APOBS and other types of engineering, training, and equipping will facilitate. There is no specific delay, it's just simply a matter of the pace of the battle.
CAPT. DAVIS: Joe Tabet.
Q: Hi, my name is -- this is Joe Tabet.
From a strategic level, what has changed since the Hawija operation? Can we expect to see U.S. combat troops with the ISF?
Will you be deploying any Apache helicopters to assist the Iraqi forces?
COL. WARREN: Joe, nothing has changed about our policy since the Hawija operation.
You've heard the secretary speak, I think fairly extensively, about fine tuning and adjustment. We're going to continue our train and advise and equip missions. We are going to increase or step up some of our air strikes against the enemy's industrial base.
We're trying to destroy their ability to make money, we're trying to destroy their ability to generate equipment, we're trying to destroy their ability to command and control themselves.
We're going to continue that, and potentially even increase it.
Apaches have been in Iraq since the very beginning of this. They remain there.
CAPT. DAVIS: Tom Bowman.
Q: Hey, Steve, I wanted to get into some numbers for a second.
Last time we talked, you said the Syrian-Arab coalition has roughly 5,000 fighters. You said that number wouldn't be sufficient to press Raqqah.
So, I know you can't get into specifics, but roughly, how many more would they need? Is it several thousand more, et cetera?
And also, the YPG, roughly how many fighters do they have? Because presumably, they would take part in this fight, as well.
And lastly, a ballpark on how many ISIS are actually in Raqqah itself?
COL. WARREN: Tom, what I said was 5,000 members of the Syrian-Arab coalition would not be enough to take Raqqah. They are certainly able to pressure Raqqah, right? And there's a difference.
Regarding the overall size of the friendly forces that we have there, you know, I hesitate to get into specific numbers, what I'll give you is kind of broad ballparks, you know, in the vicinity, you know, 30 to 40,000 total fighters, total -- you know, men under arms, you know, throughout that Northern Syria region.
Tom, I don't have a good count for enemy inside of Raqqah. I just don't have that number with me.
We'll do some digging; see if I can't something for you.
Q: Well, is there a ballpark number? Is it several thousand?
COL. WARREN: Honestly, that's just not a number I've ever looked for, so I don't have a ballpark number in my head. But that's a gettable number. We'll get it for you, and flip it over to you.
Q: This is -- Steve, Jennifer Griffin. Two -- three questions.
Why isn't Iraq -- the Iraqi government stopping the Russian cargo flights coming from Iran, going into Syria? That's one.
And why so few air strikes by U.S. coalition forces in Syria since the Russians have come on the scene? And then I'll follow up.
COL. WARREN: Jennifer, thanks for that. The -- you know, the Iraqi government is a sovereign government, they get to make their own decisions. We certainly have expressed privately, our opinions with the government of Iraq, but at the end of the day, they get to decide how their airspace is used.
Regarding air strikes in Syria, I guess, my number one point on air strikes in Syria, is that they have nothing to do with the Russians. Nothing, whatsoever.
It has to do with a lot of different things. But first, the most important, is really just the care that we take selecting and striking targets.
You’ve got to remember that every strike that we do is part of a broader, operational picture, right? It's just part of a big whole.
And so, I've got here, in anticipation of your question, is that I got a chart -- I don't know if you can see that -- there we go.
So, that's -- actually, DVIDS, you have that chart. Can we just flip it up?
CAPT. DAVIS: Here you go, Steve.
COL. WARREN: Hey can they still hear me?
Here is a chart that charts out the number of strikes per month since the beginning of these operations.
So, it ends in September, because obviously, October is not yet complete. Yeah. Okay, you can pull it down, now. Just put me back in.
CAPT. DAVIS: (inaudible).
COL. WARREN: Okay, so here you have -- here you have an example of a chart that shows, that lays out how many strikes we've done per month, since the beginning of these operations.
I gave this chart to Elissa. She can distribute it digitally to whoever needs it.
So what you see here is that, you know, there are high months and there are low months. And again, the point I want to make is that while we are lower this month, you know, we'll finish out October roughly on par with September at our current pace. So, we’ve seen dips in March of '15, and November of ’14 we were obviously just getting started. We’ve seen some spikes both in January of ’15 and July of ‘15.
So I throw that up there only to create some perspective. So, yes, the last three months, obviously there has been a reduction in strikes, but what’s important is that it’s tied to operations. There’s been an increase in the ground operations in Iraq and a concurrent increase in the amount of airpower that we've sent there.
You've heard the secretary of defense speak recently that he plans to increase the amount of infrastructure or industrial based targets that we strike, you know, across the battlefield. I expect that you're going to see an increase in Syria strikes overall, you know, relatively soon.
So, it has nothing to do with the Russians. It's really more about the ebb and flow of battle, the pace of battle and where our priority efforts are. As we place additional focus on Ramadi and on Bayji well, obviously that's where more of our assets have gone.
Jennifer I spent so much time answering that question that I forgot your other one.
Q: Just a quick follow up. The ammunition that you dropped, the 50 tons of ammunition in northern Syria, how is that in compliance? Or is there any question about whether it complies with U.N. Security Council resolutions, which don't allow weapons to be sent into Syria?
COL. WARREN: So, as you know, the Syria train-and-equip mission has been ongoing now for many months. It started in Khobani almost a year ago when air dropped ammunition to the fighters there in Khobani trying to hold off ISIL as –they flung themselves at that city.
So this is simply an extension of that. And you know, of course, it was, you know, the earlier Syria train and equip where we withdrew forces trained them, equipped them pushed them back loaded them down with weapons and ammunition. So, this is simply an extension of that.
I'm not -- I'm not versed in the U.N. resolutions, but what I can tell you is that this is a continuation of the program that we've been doing now for quite some time.
CAPT. DAVIS: Nancy, I had you as an ambiguous.
Q: Well, I'll be --
CPT. DAVIS: Were you raising your hand?
Q: I am raising my hand.
CAPT. DAVIS: My own fault. Go ahead.
Q: Steve, I had two questions. One, yesterday the secretary testified that the new strategy involved three Rs: Ramadi, Raqqa and raids. And my question is what happened to Mosul? Other than it doesn't fit the rhyme.
My -- is it that Mosul's too far off? And why is there a belief that -- that Mosul is harder than Raqqa, which has been the longest-standing city held under ISIS?
COL. WARREN: Good question. Mosul, of course, is part of the puzzle. But Mosul operation -- ground operations in Mosul, anyway, are probably a little bit further out. And –one of the things we believe, you know, again, here recently we began to look at ISIL as an operational -- you know, a wider problem. Rather than look simply at Iraq as one fight and Syria as another fight, we're now looking at ISIL as the fight, whether they're in Iraq or Syria.
And so operationally, if you lay a map down and look at it, what you see is pressure on Raqqa will relieve some of the pressure, will relieve some of the enemy influence, we believe, in Mosul. So by taking Ramadi and then by pressuring - you know, I won't go into that level of detail, whether or not Raqqa needs to be fully liberated or simply pressured -- I'm not going to get into all of that. But what I'll say is that after Ramadi and pressure on Raqqa is really, we believe, going to be one of the keys that unlocks the entire -- you know, the entire ISIL enterprise, which will then get us into Mosul, if that makes sense.
And what was the rest of your question? I can't remember.
Q: One other. We -- we keep hearing that there are plans being put together in terms of using U.S. forces on the ground as advisers at brigade level, and some other recommendations. My understanding is that it's now in General McFarlane's hands. Can you give us a sense of when he will put those recommendations forward and what kind of timeline we're looking at for any possible announced changes?
COL. WARREN: Well, it's probably better for me to let that come out of Washington, right? I mean, we out here made our analysis and moved it up to CENTCOM. One it gets to Tampa. We don't really have control of it. It then goes over to the Pentagon and –both on the DoD and Joint Staff side. Then from there, you know, even higher.
So unfortunately, I can't help you with that. That's really a Washington announcement.
Q: (inaudible) -- has now done his part, that is it's outside of Iraq's hands in terms of where those recommendations go? Is that right?
COL. WARREN: That's absolutely right. As you know it’s an iterative process. There’s discussions, and phone calls and things, but we have provided our input here from the ground. That input goes to Central Command, commander of Central Command and then from there up through the chain of command.
Q: Hi, Steve. Missy Ryan. On the Syrian Arab coalition and the plan to pressure, or take Raqqah. Can you just circle back and tell us a bit more about how far they are from being able to do that, and what they require in order to sort of launch operations? My understanding is that they've been in a sort of planning mode, but what do they require to be able to execute?
And then secondly, Secretary Carter said yesterday that there were going to be, as Nancy said, more raids as part of the strategy going forward in Iraq. Will the increase in raids, will that require additional enabler assets in Iraq and from the search-and-rescue assets, or other enablers, other additional personnel to support the increase in those sort of risky operations?
COL. WARREN: I'll start with the second part and the answer is simply it depends. There wasn’t a requirement for a substantial increase or at least for a permanent increase to support the operation in Hawija. What you see is maybe a temporary increase. Conduct the operation, and then a repositioning after that.
So, again, I’m always hesitant to get into the tactical level of detail, but it really would depend. I think it's important to make clear and hopefully it's been made clear enough to Washington that, you know, I'm not aware of any plans to substantially increase the presence here or to begin –conducting these major ground operations that we saw here back in 2006. What we're talking about is more of what we recently saw, which is when there's an opportunity and when we have a willing partner, a capable and able partner, then we'll put our support behind that and execute.
And you know, just as a reminder, this is nothing new. I mean, I sense a little bit of outside the wire for the first time kind of surprise. But I would remind everyone that we put forces on Sinjar Mountain well over a year ago. I would remind everyone that we sent evaluators to the Mosul dam eight months ago. I would remind everyone that, you know, we did conduct the raid inside of Syria six months ago.
So the idea that this is kind of a brand new thing, a major shift, that all of a sudden people are leaving the wire is simply wrong and it -- you know, it's a very short-sighted look at this operation. So I would encourage everyone to just kind of take that perspective. From where we sit here, the operation in Hawijah, while heart breaking that we lost a man. Yet at the same time, satisfying that we were able to save seventy people from, you know, execution.
This is not a radical departure from what has happened. We have sent people outside the wire before when the conditions warranted it. And what the secretary has said is we're going to keep doing that and, we'll keep a sharper eye out for more opportunities, but this is not a major shift, this is not anything radically different than what we've seen over the last year.
Q: Syria-Arab coalition was the second part of the question. How far away are they from doing?
COL. WARREN: That's right. So in Syria, the Syria-Arab coalition and pressure on Raqqa. Yeah, I don't want to give away their operational security. What I'll tell you is, you know now freshly-armed with 50 tons of ammunition, you are going to see -- I predict that you are going to see movement in the very near future. So -- and again, these things are always iterative, right? They build on top of one another.
So you know, this was an opportunity, you know, for us to give this ammunition to the Syria-Arab coalition, allow them to conduct, you know, a scaled operation to test this theory, to make sure that this works the way we want it to work. We tried once in Syria. We didn’t get the results we wanted. And now we’re trying something new. So, we have to wait and see if we get the results we want.
Q: Hi, Colonel Warren. This is June Torbati with Reuters. I just wanted to follow up on Jennifer's question. Can you -- can I draw you out a little bit more on the limitations you're facing between the competing priorities between and Iraq and Syria and conducting, focusing more air strikes in Iraq means you're taking away from Syria? And how do you -- is it personnel? Equipment? And have you asked for more resources to be able to address those at the same time?
And then just as a follow-up, you said a few weeks ago that you had looked at the average number of air strikes in Syria and it was eight per day. Just wondering if you had an updated estimate or number on that?
COL. WARREN: I haven't crunched those numbers, so I don't have a daily average yet, but yeah, we can probably run that down. Resources, one thing that I know is that in the history of warfare, no commander has every felt like he had too much resources, so let's get that out first. That said, we believe that we do have, you know, resources adequate to meet our mission.
As with any military operation, there's always a priority of effort. I mean, any military operation. One of the fundamentals you learn is how to prioritize your Fires. And so that's always -- there's always going to be a shift and there's always going to be a movement in both ISR and Fires. That's what commanders are for. The commanders are there to decide who gets the priority. Does the priority go here or does the priority go here?
And that doesn't mean that nothing goes to other places, but it just identifies where the priorities are, and so that's what happens. Again --and don't take it just as, I don't want to leave you the bad impression that the only reason there have been limited strikes in Syria over the last several days is because of Ramadi. That's not the case at all. It's a combination of factors, there's environmental factors, there's our process for finding exactly the right target that we want to hit, waiting for that target to become available to hit with our ability to minimize and mitigate the potential for civilian casualties or damage to the infrastructure.
So we put a lot of energy into developing targets and we’ll continue to develop targets and refine them, and redevelop them and watch them and make sure that those targets meet our standards for minimizing destruction of civilian infrastructure and of course civilian casualties. So -- so it's a lot. That's why I showed you the slide, to say that this is not some unique situation. There's ups and there's downs and it tied to everything from the pace of the operation to our target development cycle and process.
Does that help? Ask me a follow-up if it doesn't.
COL. WARREN: Oh.
Q: Hi Colonel, it's Tom here from AFP. Given that it is -- has seemed difficult to find actionable targets in Syria and given the secretary's comments yesterday that you're going to intensify strikes and considering what you just said, how -- how exactly are you going to develop new targets in the -- in this region that hasn't -- that you haven't been striking in recent days?
And also, I had a question about Ramadi. It seems like you've been talking for weeks about the progress along the various axis and the explosive mine fields and so on. Do you have a timeline? Can you give us actually a better impression of when Ramadi is going to be re-taken?
COL. WARREN: Thanks. I can't and won't give you a timeline for when Ramadi will be re-taken. You know, this is a tough fight, there's a lot of obstacles, there's a determined, dug-in enemy. So this fight is going to continue. I'm confident that Ramadi will be liberated, but I'm not going to predict a timeline. It's just, I try not to do that, because I always get it wrong.
On target development, the way we’ll do this is several ways. One, as we gain intelligence, we gain new targets, right? And everything we do –helps us gain more intelligence. We –as the secretary said gained a trove of intelligence just from our operation in Hawija. And then, of course, we have other methods for gaining intelligence, which leads to development or the nomination of targets.
The other thing that’s important to know is we have a willing capable and consistent ground partner here in Iraq, so of course it's easier, and of course we’ve got ten years of experience, 12, 13 years of experience in Iraq, so we know Iraq better, you know, as a force. So that helps us with target development as well. So the intelligence in Syria continues to pile up. We continue to sift through it and develop targets and nominate targets.
We continue to make ties with forces on the ground in Syria. That will spur target development as well. So, it's a long process, but it’s a process that continues to be refined, continues being built on, and has resulted in I think, real impacts on the ground.
Q: You said that -- I know you said that Russia has no bearing on what your operations are, but has there ever been a case where you've seen increased Russian activity, and decided to stay clear of that area? That -- you know, otherwise, you might have targeted?
COL. WARREN: Well, I think those have come out. I mean, there was one where there was, we announced it two or three weeks ago, where some aircraft were moving from point A to point B.
They saw Russians operating in the area, they decided to attack -- approach that target from a different angle, by the time they’d swung around to get the new angle of attack, the target that they had seen had dispersed, so they weren’t able to execute those strikes.
So, I mean, these kinds of things are going to happen, but it hasn't hampered our operations. I mean, there's going to be adjustments, but impact is minimal -- minimal at best.
CAPT. DAVIS: McIntyre.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren, it's Jamie Mcintyre. I was struck by the testimony yesterday by Secretary Carter, who just almost said as an aside, that the Russian air strikes -- the Russians were using a very high percentage of dumb bombs, I think he said 85 to 90 percent -- I don't have it in front of me.
Considering that Russia considers itself, you know, a high tech super power, I found it startling to hear that in this day and age, they were using such a high percentage of non-precision, or as we like to say, directionally-challenged bombs.
Can you just say more information about that? And also, what does it say about the way they're conducting operations there?
COL. WARREN: Well, so we see the same thing, here. You know, a majority -- I guess two -- two points to note.
You know, number one, despite what the Russians said about their desire to combat ISIL, only a small fraction of their strikes have been in areas where ISIL is operating.
And in fact, some of their strikes have allowed ISIL to maneuver on forces that are friendly to us, so -- which we find concerning.
Russia has chosen -- the Russians have chosen to use a majority of really, just dumb bombs, just gravity bombs, push them out the back of an airplane, and let them fall where they will.
We find this to be reckless and irresponsible. We've also -- you know, there's been reporting that the Russians are using cluster munitions in Syria, which we also find to be irresponsible.
These munitions have a high dud rate, they can cause damage to -- and they can hurt civilians, and they're just, you know, not good.
So, when we see all of this -- it is cause for concern. The Russians say that they want to help us, or that they want to help fight ISIL, but their actions simply don't support that.
Q: Hi, Brian Everstine, with Air Force magazine.
Back to your numbers at the top, just to go back to the issue of air strikes in Syria. There have been ten within the past week, and now, since the F-16s rotated out, and the A-10s came into Incirlik, have these air strikes mean that the A-10s have been active in Syria?
And can you give us any detail on these air strikes -- well, a target, anything about the nature of them?
And I have a second question about the MOU with Russia. Since there is a line of communication set up, has that been used at all?
COL. WARREN: So, every single time we do an air strike, it gets listed on our daily air strike release. And on that we list, you know, where the strike was conducted, and then what was the hit.
So, go back and check those -- and you’ll know exactly what we struck.
On the F-16s and A-10s, I don't have them in front of me exactly -- we don’t get into that, we don't really get into that, hey there was an A-10 here, an A-10 there. The A-10s are in place, and will conduct, you know, air operations in support of this -- the minute they're up and fully running.
And I don't know this -- I don't have the status right now.
And then finally -- what was the last question again?
Q: Communications with Russia, has that been used, since the MOU assigned?
COL. WARREN: So, let me -- right. Yep. So, this MOU is in place. I don't know if you guys have seen it, I don't know if we made that public or not. It gives certain things, some very technical things, about how to act in the air, establishes a regular frequency.
We'll have to -- I don't know. I'll call up AFCENT or maybe Elissa can call AFCENT and find out whether they know if they actually used it, used that frequency to be in touch with the Russians.
I just don't have that answer. It's a good question, though; we'll get that for you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Kevin.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren, it's Kevin.
I was wondering if you could go back to these -- to the raids, and the timeline you just gave.
So, the time you gave would lead to the conclusion that if you're the American public that, before last -- those last raids on the hostages, that there wasn’t one since the -- (inaudible). These are all we hear about.
But one of them was a -- we understand why you promoted it, it was a big HVI now, not HVT, I don't know why you made that switch -- so it was a big grab.
So, this last raid, I wonder, was there any plan to tell the public about this beforehand, or did we just know about it only because it went bad?
There was a Title 10 operator who was killed. There was 70, not 20 hostages as expected. And those helmet cam footage showing up after the fact.
It kind of sounds like -- you know, not to -- not to be combative with you, but this combat operation was not something we were supposed to know about. We're only finding out about it because things went south.
And so, going forward, are we -- or is the American public going to know more about these -- these operations happening?
COL. WARREN: Well, you know, I think saving 70 people from execution and labeling that as a raid gone bad, I think is wrong, it borders on disrespectful to the men and women who actually participated in that operation.
So, I disagree with your assessment. In fact, I'd like to issue a full-throated disagreement with that assessment.
No operation is perfect, in the history of operations. So -- yeah, we knew the Kurds were going to release that video. They released it a little earlier than we thought they would. But, this is something that is part of our plan, and I think we do a very good job of being transparent and reading out operations as they happen. I think I can stand on our record pretty firmly –that when we conduct an operation, if it not -- if there are not some off-the-chart sensitivities, we read that operation out.
That is part of our duty, and we do that duty. I think we are very diligent about it.
Q: Follow up on that briefly?
CAPT. DAVIS: All right.
Q: You say that you're pretty transparent, and yet, we've asked if there are any prior raids, and have not been able to get an answer.
And I would point out that a week before the raid, in Afghanistan, an F-16 came under attack, and we only got details about it days after, when the Taliban released video.
So, to Kevin's question, will we know about future raids as they happen, and can we get a number of -- if there are any previous raids other than the two that have been publicly mentioned?
COL. WARREN: Fair question. The answer is no, there haven't been any other raids. We've read out every single raid and operation that we’ve done here, everything from putting troops in harm's way on Sinjar mountain over a year ago, up to the operations in Hawija. We've read every single one of those –raids out and we’ll continue to do so. I can’t speak to Afghanistan.
Q: I'd like to follow up myself.
CAPT. DAVIS: Actually, it's your turn anyway Mick so you have the floor.
Q: Okay. Jim Miklaszewski. The two raids at Sinjar mountain, as we understood it at the time anyway, was a humanitarian assessment effort in terms of the ground forces there, and airstrikes, of course, against enemy forces. And -- and as Kevin mentioned, the -- the Abu Sayyef was going after a specific target.
But -- but this appears to be, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, the first time that U.S. military forces have embedded with indigenous forces on what turned out to be a combat operation. So is this not -- the Hawija operation -- is that the first time that that has happened?
COL. WARREN: It is, Jim. It is the first mission of its type that we've conducted here. Yes.
Q: It is something new, is it not?
COL. WARREN: On that, thus far -- Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Q: No, that was it. It is new, is it not?
COL. WARREN: Yes. I mean, this is the first time we've done a mission with exactly these parameters -- U.S. special operations forces embedded with Peshmerga forces conducting a raid to free hostages from ISIL prison. My broader point is, it's not the first time that U.S. forces have gone, you know, outside of their cantonement area. We have had forces forward and we're –going to continue to have forces forward as the situation requires.
Q: But the secretary just last Friday said we can expect more of these such raids. This is not just a humanitarian effort or going after a single. These are actual combat missions by indigenous forces. Are we going to see American forces going forward embedded with indigenous forces from this point on -- something that we were led to believe would not happen?
COL. WARREN: Right. So, I think what you're going to see is more of what we saw in Hawija. So you’re not going to see, you know, what we saw in 2006, which is, you know, a large presence of U.S. forces, you know, out there at every level with the entire Iraqi army pressing the fight. I don't think you're going to see that.
What I think you're going to see is specific missions where, you know, when the conditions are right, you know. Number one, of course, you know, we need a request from the government of Iraq. Let’s be clear about that. Number two, capable and willing and able partners on the ground, whether they're Pesh or ISF or CTS, whatever the case may be.
So -- and again, you know, I think the key thing there being raids. So we’re not talking full-blown attacks or assaults on cities, major cities. –We’re talking about raids, which has a very, that is a doctrinal term, a very specific term, a raid where there is combat action conducted to achieve a certain objective, and then the forces are then removed. So that I think is a very key subtlety, a very key doctrinal point that is important to make.
So, that's part of where the secretary kind of laid it out, you know, one of Rs--raids. So this is not embedding, you know, thousands of Americans with thousands or tens of thousands of Iraqis to conduct, you know, offensive -- sustained offensive operations.
And so I think it's a very important point. You know, it's important to know what this is and what this is not. And –I would argue that what it's not is every bit as important. So, did that help? Follow up if it doesn't, Jim, because this is an important point. I want to make sure I'm clear on it.
Q: You ask does it help. Is it is or is it ain't? Is it combat operations?
COL. WARREN: I guess that's a fair question. And so Sergeant Wheeler died in combat. He was killed in action. Let’s be clear about that. He died during a combat mission, combat operation.
So that's what this is. But again, what this is not is what you saw in -- here in Iraq in, everywhere from 2003 where it was divisions, you know, thunder running across Iraq and destroying an entire army. What it is not, is what you saw in 2006 and 2008, major concentrations of U.S. forces conducting -- actively conducting patrolling; actively conducting attacks on specific enemy known locations in order to gain, seize and hold territory.
It's not any of that. What it is, is an opportunity -- it's an acknowledgement that as we see an opportunity to conduct a raid, which again to go back over doctrine, is a mission where forces enter the battle space, they conduct their mission, and then they depart the battle space. That's a raid.
So, what this is is raids, where whether their partnered as we saw in (inaudible) or whether they’re unilateral as we saw against Abu Sayyaf. The secretary simply made clear that these were -- that this is something that's been successful and we're going to reinforce success.
Q: Just to follow up on Jim's question. It's Jennifer here. Are you ruling out that U.S. combat forces can be embedded with Iraqi forces as they move on Raqqa and Ramadi? Because those were also two other –Rs that were mentioned by the secretary yesterday. And you're talking about simply partnering in raids. Are you ruling out U.S. forces being involved in Raqqa and Ramadi?
COL. WARREN: Jennifer, it's absolutely not my place to rule anything in or out. All I'm doing is talking about is what’s happening right now. So I'll leave that to the secretary to answer or for Washington to answer. What I'll say is that we're going to see increased pressure on these places from the air. As of now, through our partner forces on the ground, and as the opportunity arises and the conditions are right, we're going to conduct raids.
Q: To follow up on this same issue. Steve, it's Tom Bowman again. The president said last year, June of '14, when he announced the advise and assist mission, he said specifically this will not be combat. Americans will not be engaged in combat. He wasn't subtle at all. So it sounds like from what the secretary said and from what you're saying, this was a combat mission. So are you violating what the commander in chief said? Or is this all being done with a wink and a nod to somehow, you know, bamboozle the American people that their sons and daughters are going in to harm's way and you're calling it advise and assist?
COL. WARREN: Well, I think there's been an awful lot of energy around making rhetorical hay out of a few of these words.
If anyone thought that there our pilots dropping bombs both in Iraq and Syria for the last year are not in harm's way, they're not paying attention.
There's a reason I carry a gun with me everywhere I go. There's a reason -- you know, we’re handing out combat patches. I’m wearing one right now, to everyone who comes here.
So, I think with the president -- and far be it for me to interpret the commander-in-chief. But what I think you’ve see is -- again, people trying to make rhetorical hay, but not really understanding what's going on.
I mean, of course, this is a combat zone. There's a war going on in Iraq, if folks haven't noticed. And we’re here and it's all around us. It's a dangerous place, you know, we've had a man killed, we've had men -- personnel wounded. That’s going to continue to happen, and we continue to give out combat patches, we continue to collect imminent danger pay.
So, again, it's what it is, and what it isn't. This is a dangerous place.
And then, there are thousands of Americans in harm's way right now. That said, what you won't see is what I’ve outlined several times already. What you won't see is major ground formations. There’s no tanks, there's no tank formations here. There's no assaults being conducted by American personnel, by American forces.
There are not -- there are not defense (inaudible) established, there are no cities and towns being liberated by American forces. That is the job of the Iraqi Security Forces. Here is the job of friendly Syrian forces in Syria.
Our job is to advise, assist, and on occasion, accompany. But let there be no mistake. There's a war happening in Iraq right now; ISIL is fighting both the Iraqis and the Syrians.
So, I'd like to be perfectly clear on what is, and what is not.
Does that help?
CAPT. DAVIS: Richard.
Q: Yeah, hi, Steve. Richard Sisk. I wonder, Steve, at this point, is it possible to give any detail on what happened in Hawija?
For instance, there are reports out that the -- the assault, it stalled, and it was the master sergeant who ran to the wall of the compound, blew a hole in the wall, and that's when he was hit.
Is there any accuracy to that?
COL. WARREN: Richard, I don't know about the blowing the hole in the wall piece. I know that the Peshmerga forces were bottled up, they received direct fire, heavily.
Some of the members of the Pesh were getting wounded, and this is what triggered the advisers to then begin to assist.
And Sergeant Wheeler, in a display of heroism was at -- was at the forefront of that.
Q: Colonel Warren, Barbara Starr. Can we go back over a few things?
You just said a minute ago that several troops had been wounded in action -- or wounded. Giving credit to Nancy who first reported that, that there had been five wounded, can you please tell us what the circumstances were of these five Americans -- military members being wounded?
And then, I have a couple of follow ups.
COL. WARREN: Well, Barbara, I don't have the details of all five. I know one was hit in the nose by -- it's unclear whether it was a ricochet or a chip from a concrete wall that he was looking over, or whether it was the actual round itself.
So, that's the one I know. The others, I don't have those details available, I haven't seen them. You know, and I don't want to speculate. I know we do -- you know, I mean, there are indirect fire incidents from time to time, probably on the order of it’s hard to say, I mean, weeks when we get two or three a day.
And then, recently over the last couple of weeks, it has been very quiet, where I -- I don’t recall any reports of indirect fire at any of our locations.
So, I don't have those details. I don't know if we can get them or not. I can certainly look into it. What was the rest of your question again?
Q: Will you please take that question? We've all known about the incident at the wall for many, many months. But you've also now said there's direct fire and all of that.
So, four Americans have actually been wounded by enemy fire or friendly fire. Will you please take that question, and provide an answer soon, because somebody would certainly know that information?
I mean, did they get wounded, or did they -- was it some other thing that caused non -- kinetic thing that caused them to be injured?
So, first, let's -- can you please tell us how these four -- or other four Americans were wounded? And is it only four? Are there any additional?
Have you had any friendly fire incidents that have led to anybody being wounded?
And I want to go back over this just one more time. I don't think any of us are misunderstanding that this is not force-on-force, 2003, major land and air combat operations, but I think what we would like to really endeavor to know is, are U.S. forces in combat?
It seems a very simple question, and it seems that those who work for the Defense Department seem to have some sort of guidance given to them that they're not allowed to say that. And I don't get it.
COL. WARREN: Well, I don't know about any guidance, but I can tell you we're in combat. I think that's -- I thought I made that pretty clear, so I'll clear it up. Of course it is.
That's why we all carry guns. That's why we all get combat patches when we leave here. That's why we all receive imminent danger pay. So, of course it's combat.
But what it isn't, again, I think it's important to know what this is and what this isn't. And you outlined what it is not.
But of course it's combat. You know, our aviators are conducting combat air patrols, I mean, that’s the name of the mission, combat air patrol. So, of course it's combat.
You know, they are conducting combat -- when you're a pilot and you strike an enemy target with thousands of pounds of bombs, that's aerial combat.
So, yeah, of course -- of course we're in combat.
Q: Obama said, is it -- we would -- the country would not go back to where it was in large -- I believe he -- not to quote him exactly, but he talked about it wouldn't go back to where it was in previous years. That's not what he was looking for.
Does the military have -- do you think there's some concern to make sure you don't go back to that? That you -- will your recommendations fall short of that?
The recommendations that the U.S. military is working on right now, they fall short of returning to major land combat. Would that be accurate?
COL. WARREN: That would be accurate.
CAPT. DAVIS: A couple more we have time for. Let's go to Jennifer again. You raised your hand for a follow up? Or did you? Or you're good to go?
QUESTION: Yes. A follow up. Sorry.
CAPT. DAVIS: Tom Bowman. Did you? You're good. I think we're good then. Anyone else? Last call.
Steve thank you very much. You've been very generous with your time. We appreciate, especially the visual aids. That was a nice touch. And we look forward to seeing you next week.
Thank you, everybody.
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