Department of Defense Press Briefing by Maj. Gen. Gersten via Teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
U.S. Air Force Major General Peter E. Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Welcome. Good morning. We're pleased to have with us today, joining us live from Baghdad, Major General Peter Gersten. He is the CJTF Operation Inherent Resolve, deputy commander for operations and intelligence.
General, we'll turn it over to you for any opening comments you may have, and then we'll call questions on this end for you.
MAJOR GENERAL PETER E. GERSTEN: Sounds good, Jeff. I appreciate giving me the opportunity to come in today. I know its early morning there and its afternoon here. So we're just trying to get through some computer issues. I'll apologize up front if we drop ourselves out. We're just working through those issues at this time.
But let's start off with, as Jeff said, I'm Major General Peter Gersten. I'm the deputy commander for CJTF-OIR. In that capacity, I work directly for Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland. I'm primarily responsible for planning, coordinating, synchronizing and executing all combat operations across Iraq and Syria.
As you're aware, we continue to engage Daesh across the entire spectrum of combat operation, both geographically and functionally. In addition, we're enabling our partners in the region to build stability in security sector reform, and stability for the future.
I don't have to remind you that this is a tough fight that not only affects out here, but affects many of you at home. This enemy is a persistent cancer that has to be stopped. If left unchecked, it will continue to metastasize and significantly infect the world. Please know that the men and women of the coalition are fighting every day to destroy this cancer, but we also must understand that this fight requires both patience and time.
With that, please allow me to highlight some significant current issues that are currently going on. First, there's been much discussion about the approval process for strike operations in a combat zone. Rest assured, as the general officer responsible for synchronizing all combat operations in this theater, I can assure you that we do everything possible to mitigate the loss of civilian life and minimize collateral damage as we engage this enemy.
Additionally, in the last week, the president and secretary of defense have announced the increase of up to 450 troops to support the operations in the theater. These men and women from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition will advise and assist Iraqi and Syrian counter- Daesh ground forces to continue to fracture and degrade the enemy.
You may also be aware of the recent addition of the B-52 Stratofortress to the overall coalition air campaign.
I'd like everyone in this forum to know that my father once flew B-52s in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I'd also like everyone to understand and to clean up any misperceptions about what the B-52 is capable of, that this is not my father's B-52.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: It's a highly upgraded B-52, extraordinary platform that strikes with the same accuracy and precision that every other coalition asset has struck in the recent past.
Finally, in the very high end of the spectrum of combat operation, you may also be aware that we have now begun to use our exquisite cyber capabilities in this fight against Daesh. And those standing capabilities, again, just another precision arrow in our arsenal, aimed directly at the heart of the Daesh enemy, in an effort to eradicate this vile cancer.
Now, I know that it's a bit of a tradition inside the Pentagon that the AP gets the first question, so I appreciate, once again, you giving me the opportunity to come today and talk to you all.
I'll stand by for your first question.
CAPT. DAVIS: Lita Baldor, AP. Lita, go ahead.
Q: Good morning, General. Thanks a lot for doing this.
A couple of questions on the recent troop announcements. Can you tell us whether or not some of these details have been worked out, including how big of an aircraft footprint do you think will accompany the special operations forces when they go into Syria?
I assume with the medical team and logistics, we're talking about a -- at least some aircraft. Can you give us at least some type of idea who that is, and how many there are?
And one quick thing on Iraq. The HIMARS that's going in, will that also be used at the brigade and battalion level, and will it move forward towards -- as the Iraqi forces move forward towards Mosul, will it move also?
CAPT. DAVIS: Yeah. That's not good. All right.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Jeff, it's General Gersten. How do you read?
Jeff, I can see you now.
CAPT. DAVIS: You're good.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: I can see you, but I can't hear you, Jeff.
CAPT. DAVIS: OK. He can see us, but can't hear us.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: OK. OK. Jeff, can you hear me?
CAPT. DAVIS: Hear you, yes. But he can't hear us.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Jeff, I cannot hear you, if you can hear me.
CAPT. DAVIS: I can hear you, but you can't hear me.
OK. Sorry, folks.
OK, for the folks at DVIDS in Atlanta, check your mute buttons.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Got you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Can you hear us? Hello? One, two, three. Three, two, one.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Jeff, I can hear you. How do you hear me?
CAPT. DAVIS: We hear you fine. But we can hear you -- you can't hear us. Sorry.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: I can hear you now, but I'm guessing we're probably buying ourselves about a five-second delay. Is that correct?
CAPT. DAVIS: That's probably right. We can hear you fine, if you can hear us. And I think we were talking to Lita Baldor still about -- what were we talking about?
Q: I don't know if he heard my question at all.
CAPT. DAVIS: OK. Go ahead.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Lita, actually I heard your question loud and clear, so I appreciate that. It's got to do with the number of increase in aircraft to support the presidential bump-up of troops on the ground.
I will tell you that we -- we run daily -- the Combined Air Operations Center runs about 1,000 sorties a day. The sorties required to support, sustain, and enable this team are going to be merely a handful of those 1,000 sorties. We are obviously going to do everything we can to be able to support them. I don't think it's going to be a major problem.
The second question you asked me was brigade-level HIMARS that goes into Turkey. I will tell you that is a recent development that we have been working on, and we are looking at how it's going to be installed, and we're working very closely with our strong partners in Turkey to find out exactly how it's going to operate.
And I will tell you the HIMARS is a fantastic system and it will be able to range exactly where we need it to range. And that will work in combination with our air assets and they'll work very closely to achieve their effects.
Q: (inaudible) is that in addition to the one that is in or plans to be in Iraq. And will the one in Iraq also be moving towards Mosul as the Iraqi troops move?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: That's -- that's a great question. Those are two separate HIMARS systems. One is going to be used in Turkey in support of our operations in Syria. And the second one will be used in support of our operations in Iraq.
Q: And will it move forward with the brigades or battalions as they move to Mosul?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Absolutely. I will tell you that in the -- in the -- more of an OPSEC vein, the HIMARS will be exactly where we need it to be at any given time. It's a mobile system, very agile, and we'll put it where we need, and probably at the liberty of watching the OPSEC of the briefing, we'll stay with that.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right, then. Next, Barbara Starr from CNN.
Q: General, thank you for doing this.
Can we come back to the issue of civilian casualties for a minute? And while we of course understand the military's point that it's always concerned about civilian casualties, can I ask you to be more specific on a couple of things?
As you begin to contemplate additional operations in an around Mosul, in an around Raqqah, where you have significant civilian population, what concerns does this raise for trying to execute an air campaign and still keep civilian casualties at a minimum? How do you deal with that problem? Does it change your calculation in any way?
Could you describe some of that?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Thanks, Barb.
I would say, it -- we have to measure every weapon and every effect that we bring to the battle space. It doesn't change the way we operate; we've always had a very precise system that is highly vetted and highly precise as it engages the enemy anywhere it presents itself.
The enemy obviously is much easier to engage when it openly presents itself. Like, you bring up a good point. As we get into the highly congested environment of an urban operation, much like we had an urban operation in Ramadi, and we're now starting open operations in Fallujah, it's a great concern to us. But we make every effort -- now, if you would allow me, I'll give you an example.
We recently were engaging with some of the bulk cash storage facilities in order to go after counter finance. And we saw in this particular facility, which also had a finance amir in the southern section of Mosul, he was the major distributor of funds to Daesh fighters. We watched him come and go from his house, we watched his supplies, we watched the security that was involved in it.
And we also watched occasionally a female and her children in and out of the quarters.
We actually saturated that with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, RPAs, to get a pattern of life study. And then we formulated a plan to ensure that -- that that particular, women and children and the non-combatants were clear of that objective.
We went as far as actually to put a Hellfire on top of the building and air burst it so it wouldn't destroy the building, simply knock on the roof to ensure that she and the children were out of the building. And then we proceeded with our operations.
That's an example of exactly how we do this. But we have to understand that Daesh is into the fabric of the people. They are using the civilian force as human shields, and we will fight and do everything possible we can to keep those civilian casualties to an absolute, absolute minimum.
Q: A follow-up on two points very quickly. When you described this air burst over the building, did you see, then, the women and children with her, did you observe them run out of the building? This is a technique, I think, that the Israelis have used in the past.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: That's very good, Barbara. That's exactly where we took the tactic, and technique and procedure from. It is called a knock operation, it is a (inaudible) operation, and we absolutely did see the woman and child leave.
And interestingly enough, the men that were in that building, multiple men, literally trampled over her to get out of that building. And we watched her and observed her leaving the building. And she cleared the building, and we began to process the strike.
It's a difficult situation, I would tell you, in this particular event, because it was -- it ended -- it ultimately ended up in a civilian casualty.
So, as much as we tried to do exactly what we wanted to do and minimize civilian casualties, post-weapons release, she actually ran back into the building. That's a -- we watched, very difficult for us to watch. And it was within the final seconds of the actual impact.
The good news, I guess, of all of that, was that we actually brought forth the CIVCAS event for review. We reviewed it with a very thorough process, the event, looked everything we could do to have mitigated that fact. And it was an unfortunality.
But it is a very congested environment we fight in, and we do everything we possibly can.
Q: OK, General. I don't want to take too much time.
You mentioned cyber. Can you describe any of the cyber operations that are proving to be successful against ISIS?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: As we begin to yield the cyber op effects on the battle space, as you know, those are cloaked in the highest of secrecy as we proceed forward. Once again, I appreciate the question, Barbara, but you'd appreciate the use of cyber is a very sensitive capability. We want to protect it for future operations. I can tell you it's highly coordinated. It has been very effective and Daesh will be definitely in the crosshairs as we bring that capability to bear against them.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Kasim from the Anadolu News Agency in Turkey.
Q: I have two questions -- one on the HIMARS to Turkey, and then another on Syria.
About the -- could you just detail a little bit about this HIMARS? How many of them will be provided? Where will they be stationed? And who will operate them, Americans or Turks?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Kasim, appreciate the question. We will be bringing a system into Turkey, with the coordination of the Turkish government, our great partners. I will keep the operational security of its location, how many and how we're going to use them to a classified level. So, rest assured that our strong partners in Turkey against this fight against Daesh are absolutely fully involved in the operation as it goes forward.
Q: There's also a discussion in Turkey that given the rockets flying into Turkish cities, security zones on the northern border of -- northern parts of Syria may also have preventing these kinds of incidents. Based on your military experience, do you think the security zones in northern Syria can prevent these rockets flying into (inaudible) border?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: You know, I believe that as we go after Daesh, we will do everything we possibly can to destroy their capability to take any innocent life. Wherever they find themselves, if they're shooting rockets, artillery, (inaudible), we'll take them down. So rest assured that we'll take care of this.
Q: So the troops that will be deployed to Syria, to what extent does the special operations will help the PYD forces fighting Daesh over there?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: These troops we're putting in will advise and assist and train Syrian-Arab coalition, as they've done in the past; a very effective force to counter the Daesh.
CAPT. DAVIS: OK. Next to Joe Tabet.
Q: General, this is Joe Tabet with Alhurra
To follow up on Kasim’s question on the HIMARS, in addition to what the HIMARS will do to counter the rockets from ISIL, could you explain to us if this system will play a role in security or encountering the ISIL in the Manbij area? And also, could you tell us if this system will play a role in the future operation in Raqqah?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Joe, let me clear up the -- the HIMARS situation.
The HIMARS is simply one of many systems that the coalition is bringing to fight this enemy. We have fighters, we have remotely piloted aircraft, we have cyber, and now we have HIMARS.
We will bring everything to bear against this enemy where ever it presents itself.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Carla Babb of Voice of America.
Q: Hi, general, thank you for doing this. I just wanted to follow up on the announcement made last week by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in Baghdad.
He had mentioned there were going to be an additional 217 troops, but I haven't really seen a change in the number of troops on the ground, U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.
When do you guys plan on -- I think I lost him -- oh, when do you guys plan on taking advantage of that additional number?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Carla, I will take advantage of that number as soon as they show up.
Q: Do you have any idea when that's going to be?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Yeah. We work -- we're working with the process right now. Obviously, we're going to get the right people in the right time working for their capabilities, to ensure that when they come in, it's seamless to our operations.
We have a highly paced operation going on. We want to make sure we put them at the right place, a the right time, with the right tools. I'm fully -- being briefed exactly as that plan develops, and we are ready to take and apply them to the fight as soon as they arrive.
Q: Are we expecting this in the coming days, or the coming weeks?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: We all -- we all want to know that answer, including Daesh. So, I'm going to go ahead and hold off on telling you exactly where, and when and how they're going to get here. I appreciate the question, though.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Thomas Watkins, with Agence France Presse.
Q: General, thanks for doing this.
Just one little point of clarification, I'm not sure if you said it or not, but what was the date of the knock operation that you described?
And then secondly, we were given the news last week that the number of civilian casualties had effectively doubled to about -- I think it was 41, and the increase came, or coincided with the -- with the decision to delegate authority down.
So, just looking at it, it would appear that that -- that blurring of the threshold has kind of coincided with this increase in civilian casualties. And how do you respond to the claim that, while the U.S. has given a lot of credit for -- for keeping tallies and investing the allegations, there are some other groups that say that up to 1,200 people have been killed by -- you know, coalition ordinance, and the claim that only 41 have died is unbelievable.
How do you respond to that?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Well, Tom, I respond to that -- that I'm the commanding general in charge of all combat operations across this theater, and I actually investigate and see the investigation reports for all of our investigations, both allegation, reports, both as vetted allegations and allegations that have not come to fruition.
So, as the deputy commander of operations, I would tell you that I'm very acute and -- to the investigation of allegations that are going on, both internally and externally. It is a transparent process that is a high level of confidence in it. We assure you that we investigate everyone that the -- the investigation or every allegation that comes to us.
To your question about the doubling of numbers, what we have done in the past and what we've changed recently is, we have, as we go through the investigation process, we have been releasing them in -- in groups by months in a series of packages. You're going to see that change, and we'll now -- as they come through, we'll being to release them as they are investigated and brought forth for everyone to see. Both the investigations that are seen as or investigated as validated and those that are not.
The comment that would be -- it's changed somehow due to the fact that there's been a lowering of authorities, I don't believe it has a direct correlation. I think what we're seeing is -- I've been in this fight now for approaching one year. It is a constantly changing environment. We are constantly adjusting the way we are engaging the enemy as we get better and better at taking the right to the enemy.
And what we are seeing is that the capabilities to have the responsibility at the lowest combat level is actually -- has more fidelity to keeping civilians safe. Having the eyes of the commander watching the fight directly have the responsibility to clear those fires is actually a safer operation and we are learning that. And I am actually in charge of the validating of those officers (inaudible) and I have great trust in their ability to find and engage the targets with great precision.
If there's allegations that as high as 12,000, you know, I would -- I don't (inaudible) suspect that people put all sorts of propaganda out there on the net. I would ask them to bring forward their facts and you clearly have access to our facts.
Q: Twelve-thousand -- I think -- I think the number is 1,200. But still, that's a significant increase. And also, could you just give us the date when that is -- the -- the (inaudible)?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Tom, I believe it was probably about four weeks ago. We can pull the exact date for you a little bit later. We have done a lot of bank strikes in the past, both storage and bulk cash facilities have been completely destroyed. Their ability to -- to finance their war through oil refineries has been destroyed. Their ability to keep track of their taxes and -- and to oppress their people has been destroyed.
We are functionally taking down their ability across their counter-governance, across their counter-information, across their counter-finance, and that's what you're seeing on the battle space right now. These effects are having significant strategic damage against the enemy,
Q: Just one last follow-up. Could you give us an indication of overall about how many of these -- these operations that you descried you've carried out, the knock operations where you do this kind of (inaudible) on top of a building first?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: We're doing -- we -- we have tested that operation and executed operation one time. We -- we're looking at other operations and opportunities, and what we have found out that we have not had to execute that in the near -- in the recent past, but it is now one of our operation produces that we'll employ when a situation presents itself.
CAPT. DAVIS: And next to David Martin with CBS.
Q: Still on this -- this knock operation, is this the same operation which was listed in a press release last week as having produced one civilian casualty? Is this the operation for which video of an airstrike against a cash storage sight in Mosul has been released? Was the money being stored in the house of this amir of finance?
And what happened to the amir of finance? Was he killed by the strike?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: David, we have run in the high-teens bulk cash strikes. So we'd have to look at the exact video I think you're referencing. I don't want to get different sets of bulk cash strikes on the table.
This particular one with the amir, we have not seen the amir reemerge on the net as we continue to look for him and his capabilities. But the assessed value of that bulk cash facility was significant.
Q: Can you put a number on it?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Probably somewhere between $150 million dollars.
Q: Being stored in his house?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Absolutely -- being stored in his house. I would absolutely love to tell you the intelligence that we had on this facility and exactly where, exactly what room was exactly where the money was being stored.
Q: Can I just follow up on that, because we lost the sound for a minute?
Sir, we lost the sound for a minute, so could I -- so we have your sound. Can you go -- can you go back on a couple of things? I think David asked you was this in fact the strike listed in your press release that resulted in one civilian casualty? Can you go back over the point you knew what room the money was in and you hit that room, I take it?
And third, since you have now adopted in one instance this technique that the Israelis have used in the past, can you tell us, did you get briefed by the Israelis on how to carry this out? Did you -- did the U.S. military sit down and discuss this technique with the Israelis, how to use it, how to employ it?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Barbara, to your first question, I was cut out I believe on the money. I said I wish I could share with you the intelligence that we had to the exact location of where that -- that money was being stored. Because if you watch the strike, where the weapon entered the facility was the exact location of where that money was being stored.
Now, as to whether we are working with the Israelis on this or did they teach us this, what you're looking at is a highly skilled military force that has spent personally 25 years across the spectrum of warfare. I've watched warfare being operated across the entire region. We did not work with them. We've certainly watched and observed their procedure.
As we formulated the way to get the civilians out of the house, this was brought forward from one of our experts as a (inaudible) built the technique. We employed the technique. We put leaflets down. Knock-offs were achieved. It was actually a very highly paced, precision event in order to mitigate CIVCAS. Across the entire region, we do that.
CAPT. DAVIS: (inaudible)
Q: (inaudible) on this -- this one strike, whether or not that is the strike for which you released video? You clearly didn't release all the video which you've now described of the air burst, the people running out of the house, and then post-weapons release, the woman running back in.
So I'd like to request from you that you start the process of releasing that video, so that we have the visual proof of the story you've just told us.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: David, that's fine with me. I'll have Steve Warren work with your folks to release the video.
CAPT. DAVIS: To -- are we losing you? OK, Courtney Kube from NBC.
Q: General, you actually just covered my question, but I have just one other follow-up.
You mentioned on cyber that your operations there are highly coordinated. What do you mean by that? Who are they coordinated with, or between, or with whom?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Courtney, they are coordinated with -- with every (inaudible) ability for that target -- responsibility for that target area. If there are air forces (inaudible) is present during the coordination process. I am the coordination and synchronization lead on those. I bring those targets, too. I ensure that the staff synchronizes across the entire spectrum of the operations for air, ground and cyber effects.
Once the coordination package is built, I approve the strike, and we have -- we move forward from there. So, I guess, if you're asking who's the synchronization responsible entity, that's me.
Q: We -- I'm sorry to tell you this, but we -- you cut out at the very top of what you just said. We heard the end, so, I'm sorry to ask, but can I ask you just one more time?
I understand you're the synchronization lead or hub, but who are you coordinating with?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Sorry, Courtney. We -- we look at the targets that, and we look at the desired effect we want to yield on that target. We go to the intelligence community and go to the operations, and we basically see who actually has equity, look at all the stakeholders, bring them to the coordination and development operations board. They brief the package, and then we press forward.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post.
Q: Hi, sir. Thanks for doing this. Just want to go back to the HIMARS and just clear up the deployment of the systems.
Just correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that we have a HIMARS system in Jordan. Now there is going to be one in Turkey. We have at least one in the Anbar province, and there will be another in Iraq.
Am I understanding that correctly?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: That's right. Oh, yeah, one is going to be in the Tigris River Valley -- in the Tigris River Valley.
Q: Going back to the 250 special operations guys going into Syria, can you just give some reassurance on, as they move further west with the local forces, how they're going to be supported via medevac assets, how they'll -- if someone is wounded, how those guys will stay with them a golden hour if they're hurt?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: We absolutely -- we -- as we continue to prosecute the enemy in that region, we have a very (inaudible) that comes with a medical team, it comes with a logistics team.
We have taken great pride in our capabilities to stay inside the golden hour. We'll build a bridge for that potential event. It's a very dangerous part of the world. I can tell you -- rest assured that we will put every effort into giving those forces everything they need to operate safely in that region and if something -- a mishap or something happens, we will do everything we can to get them out of there in the best of our abilities.
Q: Does that -- sir, does that involve, you know, building forward air or fueling points or any kind of ad hoc landing zones into Syria or are you going to keep all those assets out -- out of Syria proper? I'm not trying to get into specifics, but...
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: I appreciate the -- I appreciate that your -- you know the sensitivities of the specifics of that. We will build a logistics bridge -- a support bridge for them and a medical response bridge for them, and we'll do whatever it takes to keep our U.S. and coalition forces safe.
Q: On that same topic, General, does that include medevac for the Syrian-Arab coalition partners? Will the U.S. provide medevac and casevac for the -- the Syrians that you're working with there?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: We're going to give obviously immediate help if there's a situation (inaudible) this force that will be built for the coalition and U.S. forces will be for the U.S. and coalition forces.
CAPT. DAVIS: OK. And next will be Lucas (inaudible).
Q: General, have the Russians resumed bombing moderate Syrian opposition forces in Syria?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: The Russians in the battle space have not affected my operations in a way that is in such a magnitude that it concerns me. We certainly watch their operations as they've come into the theater form last year and we watch as they left the theater right now. It's simply something we observe as far their -- how they're maneuvering on the battle space. But specifically to what they're targeting and where they're targeting it, we only see them; we don't actually coordinate in any way with them.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: I didn't actually hear the question.
Q: Have you seen the Russians resume bombing operations around the Aleppo area?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: We have observed the Russians bombing Aleppo down to Palmyra, Hadmer, Deir ez-Zar, Shaddadi, the oil fields. We simply observe their actions and -- and that's about as far as we work with the Russians at all. We just don't -- we don't have a relationship with them, we don't work with them and we have seen them begin operations again in that region.
Q: Finally, can you walk us through efforts to target the ISIS amir -- can you walk us through the targeting efforts -- your mission to kill or capture the ISIS amir Baghdadi?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: What I can talk to you about is that (inaudible) in every way we possible can. We have brought forth not only the -- the air power and ground power to do this, we've also brought forward the Expeditionary Task Force.
And I would tell you, if I was a Daesh, I would be in complete fear that the ETF is now established and working in this region.
Q: (inaudible) the coalition right now to kill Baghdadi?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: I'm sorry. You were cut out there. I lost the first part of that question.
Q: Is the coalition's top goal or top priority to kill Baghdadi?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: The coalition's top goal is to degrade and destroy Daesh wherever we find them. Baghdadi is certainly part of that goal. We will certainly have an effort to go after the leadership across the entire spectrum of this cancer. He is only one of many. We realize that. But our job is to take the entire approach and degrade them to a point where they're completely incapacitated and keep our families back home safe from the tyranny that this enemy is yielding upon the world.
CAPT. DAVIS: A quick follow-up from -- before we go to Luis, from Carla Babb. Go ahead, Carla.
Q: Thank you. I just wanted to follow up, because you said the Russians have been targeting Shaddadi. And I know that the U.S. has also been striking around there and coalition forces have been supporting fights in that area.
So my question for you is how are the Russians not affecting U.S. operations if they're striking in the same area?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Yeah, Carla. The comment of them of them striking Shaddadi was the holistic approach. Like I said, I've been here for a year when they first arrived on the battle space. And we weren't anywhere near Shaddadi at that point. They were bombing in that region. As our forces moved forward, they stopped bombing in that region and went further off toward the west and started working in there.
They are bombing in an around the eastern side in the Deir ez-Zar area. They are no longer in Shaddadi. And they have been quite honestly very respectful of our (inaudible).
CAPT. DAVIS: OK. Next to Luis Martinez from ABC.
Q: (inaudible) question about the strike on the amir. You said that the dollar amount associated with that was $150 million. Now that you have in the high-teens number of strikes, you said, targeting cash facilities, what is the current estimate for how much money -- ISIS money has been destroyed?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: We have all sorts of assessments and the intel community is looking at that. I've heard numbers anywhere between $300 million to $800 million. The center of that is about $500 million. The answer is if it's one dollar that's going towards Daesh fighting, I want to go after it. We just don't know the denominator in the equation. So I'll go after every one of their capabilities, and spending the money to the fight is exactly where I'm going to focus my efforts. And if its one dollar bill on the street that they're using to build a weapon, I'm going to go after that one dollar.
Q: (inaudible) if I could follow up on that. The -- there's also Operation Tidal Wave II, combined with the cash strikes. What kind of an impact are we talking about on their money flow right now?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Luis, the Operational Tidal Wave II was one of our most synchronized, coordinated strikes in the war to date. It was the initiation of the entire intelligence community coming together, multi-agency, multi-coordination, highly sophisticated targeting procedures (inaudible) to finance and make money for the war.
We followed their Tidal Wave series and -- further towards the source. The Tidal Wave strikes led us to their bank sources, their bank sources have led us to their distribution sources, and their distribution sources have led us to their foreign fighters.
It's actually very significant capabilities; they're fractured to the degree they no longer have the ability to freely move on the battle space and strike in a significant way.
I firmly believe that as we continue to fight this cancer, we've got it in a position right now as we make and continue momentum across the battle space. That is going to be detrimental to their future.
CAPT. DAVIS: OK. And next, we'll go to Lori Lewis from Talk Radio News Service.
Q: Thank you, general. I'm wondering if you can tell us, are there any contractors that will be (inaudible) working with this new group of 250?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Lori, this (inaudible) U.S. service members, there are no contractors in that team.
Q: Could you speak to the -- the level of -- to the number of IEDs that are in and around these ISIS strongholds? Military officials asked civilians not to return to Ramadi recently.
I know the State Department recently also allocated additional funds to removing some of these explosives, trying to get a scope of this problem.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Yeah, the IED problem, Lori, is probably one of the most vastly complicated issues we face every single day.
The Iraqi forces have paid dearly against these IEDs, both the vehicle-borne and the ground-planted IEDs.
When we went into -- when the Iraqi forces went into Ramadi, there were literally belts -- and I mean, belts and ribbons of IEDs that they had to fight their way through. I give the Iraqi forces great credit to their ability to get through those belts and -- in what I would say is a very effective way.
For the IEDs themselves, when I first arrived here, for example, the Baghdad downtown was suffering from approximately 30 to 35 IEDs explosions a month. Basically, they were getting an explosion in a market or a home, or a mosque at about one per day.
Over the year I've been here, we've now pushed out an outer security ring around Baghdad, where the number is now 12 to 15 IEDs explosions, and that explosions occur outside the center of the security platform that the Iraqi forces have basically built with the assistance of the coalition.
That is a pretty amazing story. People are back to a semi-normal life as that security zone is built up and we continue to beat back the enemy to make that security sector bigger and get life back to normal as possible in and around Iraq and any place we find that Daesh will go after.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Otto Kreisher.
Q: Good morning, general. Otto Kreisher, Seapower Magazine.
You talked about Tidal Wave II and the strikes on their dollar supply. We've heard rumors of stories about some of the troop -- ISIS, Daesh people leaving, or you know, losing faith and things. Do you have any real evidence of the impact of your attack on their resources on the number of troops they have?
Are people defecting? Or are the inflow of foreign fighters cut down?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Absolutely. Otto, what we're seeing is through our intelligence capabilities; we're seeing the morale of the enemy beginning to deteriorate at a fairly increasing rate. As we went further out to the Euphrates River Valley, we saw Daesh trying to defect coming into playing themselves as refugees, playing themselves dressed as women. That's the kind of cowardice we're dealing with.
We've taken them and begin to find out overall, how the morale of the troops are. We are seeing, through other sources, that Daesh cannot pay their foreign fighters. They are trading vehicles now for pay. Some fighters aren't being paid at all is what we're seeing. We see them generally digging in and not (inaudible) go into the fabric of society and wrap themselves around civilians because that's the kind of cancer they are.
So we do have (inaudible) that are coming in every single day and the effects that we are achieving against this enemy.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Kim Dozier with The Daily Beast.
Q: A follow-up on that, general. Do you have a new estimate on the numbers of ISIS fighters who have taken off the battlefields since coalition efforts began? It's a question that we gave to the press secretary yesterday and he was taking it for the record.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: The answer is not enough.
Q: (inaudible) last you all did a tally?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: I'm sorry? You were -- you were broken that time, I didn't hear you.
Q: Is there a ballpark as to where it stands from the last time you did a tally?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Kim, I appreciate the questions, but the -- the numbers (inaudible) to the actual question of Daesh's ability to lash out, we will strike them, and we've got them in a position right now that they cannot maneuver on the battle space in an effective way. We can throw numbers out there, but really, the answer is as long as Daesh continues to try to affect the -- the free people of the world and to try to (inaudible) that cancer, the answer goes back to as long as there's one, we'll continue to fight them.
CAPT. DAVIS: Go ahead, Tom.
Q: (inaudible) with NPR. I want to talk to you about the operation for Mosul, if you have any timeline for that. People were hoping by the end of this year to re-take Mosul. And I wanted to ask you about comparing that operation to Ramadi, in Ramadi, U.S. airstrikes, we're told, were the bulk of the success in Ramadi, and also, the Iraqi counter-terror forces leading the effort into the city.
Is that the model for Mosul, serious American airstrikes destroying a lot of the city and then counter-terror forces leading the charge? Or do you think there has to be a different model for Mosul? Basically, you're going to have to get into the city block by block fighting.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Thanks, Tom.
Mosul is a different city. It's much larger. It's much more industrial in its nature. It's about four times the size of Ramadi. We used not just U.S. air power, it was coalition air power that the Iraqi forces used in assistance to take Ramadi.
We are looking at a multi-faceted approach as we look at the future (inaudible) different types of forces in order to work in that congested environment.
That's about all I want to say at this time, but it's going to be a different type of engagement.
Q: And just a quick follow-up. When I was there in December with General Milley, the Iraqis were talking about the need to recruit a lot of Sunni tribal fighters up in the Mosul area. They used the estimate of about 10,000.
Can you just talk about that effort? How many -- is that the estimate you think you'll need to do the Mosul operation?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Yeah, we're continuing to recruit as many of the Sunni tribal fighters at this time and get them trained-up and ready to go. They are a good fighting force. I will tell you, the -- the Iraqis are, as they have continued to fight very well in the Euphrates River valley beyond Ramadi. They've recently taken Hit, and with the -- and in a very effective way (inaudible).
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Jeff, I apologize. Stand by. There's a (inaudible).
CAPT. DAVIS: Is everything OK there, we hope?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: I think we're -- I think we're good. I think we're good.
I think the question was are we recruiting those numbers. We are certainly looking for those numbers. We're seeing a lot more volunteerism from the Sunni tribes. We're going to integrate those fighting forces into our game plan. We're working with the Iraqis at this point for the final phases of the plan.
And we will continue to help them get to the (inaudible)
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. I promise what will be a very quick follow-up before we sign off here, General, from Lucas with Fox News.
Q: General, in the last six months, have you seen the number of foreign fighters coming into Iraq (inaudible).
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: It got cut off in the end. I think your question was have we seen a decrease in foreign fighters coming into Iraq. Was that your question?
Q: Yes, if you could walk us through some of the numbers and the effects of the strikes since you've been hitting cash and all these other sites.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Combat operations -- when I first got here, we were seeing somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters entering the fight. Now that we've been fighting this enemy for a year, our estimates are down to around 200. And we're actually seeing an increase in now the desertion rates in these fighters. We're seeing a fracture in their morale. We're seeing their inability to pay.
We're seeing the inability to fight. We're watching them try to leave Daesh. In every single way, their morale is being broken. In every single way, their capability to wage war is broken. In every single way, we will continue to take this fight and eradicate this cancer.
Q: Thank you, general.
Was that 1,500 to 2,000 fighters entering Iraq per month?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: It was originally -- the estimate, we saw as high as 1,500 -- this was a year ago, Lucas. So, when I got here a year ago, there was a pretty high number of foreign fighters coming in. That has drastically dropped off.
Q: Is that -- is that per month, now it's down to 200 per month?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: That's correct. Those are the numbers we're working with.
CAPT. DAVIS: That's Iraq only, or Iraq and Syria?
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Iraq and Syria. That is the entire Iraq and Syria. Those are the numbers we are tracking for Daesh entering the fight a year ago to date.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. And with that, general, we have used your time up. Thank you very much for your generosity with your time and for briefing us today.
And we hope to see you again soon.
MAJ. GEN. GERSTEN: Yeah, Jeff. I appreciate your time, or the guys -- folks at the Pentagon. I appreciate you letting me talk with you this morning.
I would once again tell you that this is a great opportunity to kind of clear up any (inaudible). I hope you all have a great day.