CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning.
A couple of quick unrelated items at the top before we turn over to Colonel Dillon.
First, I wanted to let you know the secretary, as you're aware, is in Brussels today for the NATO ministerials. We expect his press conference at the conclusion of that to occur at about 2 p.m. this afternoon Eastern Daylight Time. That will be live-streamed on defense.gov, and carried here in the building as well on channel two.
Second, to let you know that tomorrow, the DOD Warrior Games kick off in Chicago. And they will run through July 8th. This is the -- a year that the Navy is hosting it, in partnership with the city of Chicago, and it's the first time the games will be held off of a military installation or a (inaudible) facility. The opening ceremonies, which will be held on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago, will include entertainer Jon Stewart as the MC, and music by Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton and others.
There's a total of 265 athletes from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, special operations commands, and athletes from other countries as well. It's the fifth year the United Kingdom will be participating, and the first year that Australia will be participating. For more information, DODWarriorGames.com.
And with that, we will turn it over to Colonel Dillon.
Ryan, I want to make sure we can hear you and you can hear us.
COLONEL RYAN DILLON: Yes, Jeff. If you can hear me, I'll go ahead and get rolling.
CAPT. DAVIS: Loud and clear. We'll turn it over to you for opening remarks, and then take questions from here.
COL. DILLON: Super. Okay. Good morning, all. We'll go ahead and start in Syria, and then we'll move to Iraq.
The Syrian Democratic Forces are in their third week of offensive operations in Raqqa to defeat ISIS in their self-proclaimed capital. The SDF have cleared about 7.5 square miles from ISIS in and around Raqqa this week. ISIS fighters, abandoned by their leadership, are being pressured by the SDF from multiple axes around the city.
On the northeast side of the city, the SDF continued to work through the significant defensive IED belt outside of the sugar factory. On the southeast side of the city, the SDF have reached the northern-most portion of the Rafiqa Wall, the ancient wall there. And the SDF have also continued to advance eastward south of the Euphrates River, moving to completely encircle ISIS in Raqqa.
The SDF now control all high-speed avenues of approach into Raqqa from the south. And the east-west de-confliction line south of the Euphrates is holding as regime forces remain south and SDF forces remain north of that agreed-upon line.
And similarly in southern Syria, regime forces have their weapons trained on ISIS and the coalition continues to train our partner forces in and around Al Tanf.
Moving to Iraq, this morning in a dawn assault, the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service forces pushed further into the old city, successfully liberating the al-Nuri mosque area. Last week, ISIS militants blew up the mosque and the famous al-Hadba minaret when CTS forces moved to within 100 meters.
Iraqi Security Forces continued their advance on the remaining two ISIS holdouts: the old city and the al-Jumhuri Hospital complex. The al-Jumhuri Hospital north of the old city sits on high ground and has been the 11-story killing tower for the terrorist group. And they've used this tower to murder hundreds of civilians, women and children who have attempted to flee the city.
The old city still remains a difficult, dense, suffocating fight. Tight alleyways with booby-traps, civilians, and ISIS fighters around every corner make the ISF's advance extremely challenging. But Iraqi grit, determination and support from the coalition will lead to the imminent liberation.
While inevitable that ISIS will soon lose their capital in Iraq and their largest population center, ISIS still maintains strongholds elsewhere in Iraq. What comes next in order to defeat ISIS, is a decision that will be made by the government of Iraq. Whether the next fight against ISIS is in Tal Afar, Al-Hawija or Al-Qa'im, the coalition will continue to support our Iraqi partners to defeat our common enemy.
ISIS' so-called caliphate is crumbling from the outside and from within. As ISIS continues to lose territory, their morale plummets.
We have reflections of serious internal conflicts within ISIS' ranks. Leaders have abandoned fighters to die, local fighters are being left to rot where they fall, while foreign fighters receive proper burials. And remaining inexperienced fighters are making rookie mistakes, blowing themselves and fellow fighters up accidentally in preparation for combat.
ISIS cannot stop the progress that Iraqis and Syrians have mounted in the last two years. ISIS realizes this. They are on the run, and we will not allow them to regroup and catch their breath.
While our efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria are focused on Raqqa, we have continued to strike ISIS whether we find them.
Some of you have asked if ISIS has changed their capital, their hub to Mayadin or Deir Ezzour, and I'll tell you there is no hub anymore. The last five higher-level ISIS leaders we have removed have all been from the Mayadin-Abu Kamal area.
ISIS oil revenue production has plummeted due to pressure from the coalition. We continue to conduct planned, precision strikes against ISIS where they think they are safe throughout Iraq and Syria.
Collectively, the coalition and our partnered forces in both Iraq and Syria will not allow this terrorist organization time, resources or sanctuary to plan, plot, organize or inspire attacks.
And while this war is far from over, the progress made to date is promising. More than 84,000 square kilometers have been cleared of territory once held by ISIS, more than 4 million people have been freed of ISIS control, almost 2 million people formerly displaced have returned to their homes in Iraq, and foreign fighters who once flowed into Iraq and Syria at hundreds per week have now slowed to a handful per month. These are all concrete examples, a steady trend of the direction we are headed to completely take away ISIS' physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The coalition is on a fixed course, with a sound and proven strategy, committed the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
And with that, I'll now take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: Sure.
We'll start today with Zach Biggs from Jane's.
Colonel, in your opening statement, you mentioned that the ISIS fighters in Raqqa were, quote, "abandoned by their leadership." Is the assessment that there are no more senior ISIS leaders in Raqqa that they've all gotten out?
And you'd also described the -- this -- the -- the supposed state is capital-less now. Is there any assessment that the leaders themselves have completely left the area? Or is it that they are hiding in other pockets?
COL. DILLON: We have assessed, and we have seen this before, when ISIS -- when they are beginning to be surrounded and encircled, and they know that an offensive in the particular area in the towns in which they are going to be defeated, we have seen a steady stream of leaders that have attempted -- you know, some unsuccessfully, but some successfully -- to move into other ISIS-held areas and territory.
And as you look around, specifically in Syria, you look around outside of Raqqa, as you move down along the Euphrates River Valley, that still is ISIS-held controlled area. And so, we have seen in the last several months -- or the last two months that I have been here -- we have struck each -- every single HVI, high-value target, that we have announced has come from this particular area.
I don't know if that answers all your questions. I'm -- I'll go ahead and -- and wait and see if you have another one.
CAPT. DAVIS: He's good.
We'll do Laurie Mylroie from Kurdistan 24.
Q: Thank you, Colonel Dillon, for doing this.
You've described how ISIS is on the verge of defeat. And we're all very pleased -- delighted to hear that.
So, I wondered, the Kurdish government has announced a referendum on independence for late September. Do you see that having any impact on the fight against ISIS, or are they two different things?
COL. DILLON: As far as the -- the referendum, that is something that we definitely want to have the government of Iraq address.
One thing that, you know, we will continue to do, and we have done since we have stood up this coalition, is that we will to continue to train Iraqi Security Forces. And an element of the Iraqi Security Forces are the Peshmerga. And to date, we have trained more than 20,000 Peshmerga forces, who have been critical and been vital in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq.
Now, we'll continue to do that. We'll continue to -- to train the other elements of the Iraqi Security Forces as well: Iraqi Army, their CTS, the -- the tribal mobilization forces are some other examples, and border guard forces. As of this morning, we had -- have trained to date 106,000 total Iraqi Security Forces.
I hope that answers your question.
Q: So, just on -- so -- so you regard what you're doing as so important that whether or not there's a referendum, you're going to keep doing what you're doing.
COL. DILLON: The coalition's -- our mission is to defeat ISIS militarily in Iraq and Syria, and that is what we are doing. And we're doing that with the government of Iraq, and we're doing it with our Syrian Democratic Forces and other partners in Syria, to do just that.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Sir, I'm sorry, I don't remember your name.
Q: Saagar Enjeti, Daily Caller.
CAPT. DAVIS: Yeah, (inaudible).
Q: Colonel, thanks for doing this.
Some are drawing a connection between the conciliatory message that you gave to the Syrian regime last week in terms of its assistance in fighting ISIS and its preparations for a chemical attack. Do you still welcome the regime's assistance in fighting ISIS?
COL. DILLON: Well, I wouldn't necessarily call it assistance.
I would just say that, as I just told, you know, Ms. Mylroie, that our goal and our mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
There are a lot of -- there are plenty of ISIS fighters to be defeated still. And so, if we have other elements that are going to do that, that means there are fewer ISIS fighters left for us to -- to defeat.
So, I will leave it at that. And I will say that we will continue our focus in Raqqa, and then we will continue to look elsewhere, but we also de-conflict, you know, with the Russians on the movements of the regime so we do not have some of these mishaps that we have had in the past.
And over the course of the last week, things have deescalated and we've been able to focus on what we are there to do.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Jack -- and pardon me, I forgot your last name.
Q: Thanks for doing this, Colonel Dillon.
Secretary Mattis, it seemed, talked to the Turkish prime minister this week about U.S. plans to increase support for anti-PKK activities in Turkey. My question is: How can OIR kind of ensure that those efforts don't distract from the campaign with the SDF in Raqqa?
COL. DILLON: Yeah, that is something that I know that we also recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. As far as how we are going to assist as a government and how it relates to us as the OIR -- at OIR and to the CJTF, I don't have an answer for you on that right now.
I know what our focus is, and I've already explained that a couple of times. But right now, our focus is on ISIS and not on, you know, PKK. But we are always prepared and ready for receiving direction from leadership.
Q: Got it. And just given Secretary Mattis's other comments that weapons assistance to the SDF could continue beyond the Raqqa campaign, do Turkey and the United States have any sort of military-to-military or other understanding about the parameters around that assistance going forward?
COL. DILLON: Right now, the focus with the SDF is in Raqqa. We are in our third week there. We will have to see once ISIS has been defeated in Raqqa what ISIS strongholds still remain, and whether or not the SDF are going to be a part of that force that continues to defeat ISIS elsewhere in Syria.
So I think it's -- we'll have to see after Raqqa, but that is what the current plan is and I'll go on to see what happens after that.
CAPT. DAVIS: Courtney Kube from NBC News.
Q: Good evening, Colonel Dillon. Two questions for you, please.
First off, after the White House statement on Monday evening our time, Tuesday morning your time, spoke about the U.S. having some intelligence that saw activity around a location that could indicate that the Syrians were planning a chemical attack.
Can you update us on what you're seeing? Can you update us on whether you still see that the Syrians may be planning some sort of a chemical attack?
COL. DILLON: Courtney, we've seen the same statement from the White House, and I've seen the same reports and some of the background, or the information that Jeff provided in the gaggle. That particular area where the potential chemical weapons were is outside of our area. You know, we continue to focus in and around Raqqa, along the MERV (Middle Euphrates River Valley), and southern Syria in al-Tanf.
So we are trained and prepared for many different threats and we'll be ready for those threats. But that is something that we are not focused on, and we are able to maintain our efforts toward defeating ISIS.
Q: I'm sorry. I don't quite understand. You mean that that's not inside of your AOR, the location where they were talking about potential chemical weapons?
COL. DILLON: That is correct. We are -- where we are focused on is right now in Raqqa, the middle Euphrates River valley, and in southern Syria. So, we have been able to continue to focus on our mission, do it -- (inaudible), that we have been given the mission to do. And that continues.
So that statement from the White House did not affect our mission and our ability to continue to defeat ISIS.
CAPT. DAVIS: To throw Ryan a lifeline here, when we did the missile strikes in Syria before against the airfield associated with chemical weapons, that was a U.S.-only activity that was not associated with OIR, which is strictly a D-ISIS and a coalition activity.
Q: Yeah, understand. I guess I just -- I didn't -- I didn't realize that there was a -- I thought that when it came to sort of ISR and what not, and intelligence for Syria, that was an overall CJTF mission as well, and that -- so as far as the intelligence that the White House put out a statement about, again, you know, they put out a statement talking about it.
But let me ask you one other question, please, Ryan. The -- can you talk to us about any outreach that General Townsend may have had in the past 48 hours or whatever it's been since that statement? Has he made -- not asking about time or specific details of conversation or anything -- but can you say whether he has reached out to any Russian counterparts specifically to talk about anything to do with a Syrian potential weapons attack? Not asking about specifics of the conversation, just whether he's reached out to Russian counterparts.
COL. DILLON: I cannot.
CAPT. DAVIS: Joe Tabet, Al Hurra.
Q: Thank you, Colonel.
As you may know, Turkish artillery this week targeted SDF positions in northern Syria. Are you concerned that Turkey or groups allied with Turkey could invade the SDF positions?
COL. DILLON: We have seen that same reporting. And we do have concerns on whether it's regime or whether it's other elements that will distract us or keep us from -- the SDF from fighting ISIS, particularly in Raqqa. So, you know, we do have concerns and they are not specifically associated with that particular question and that area that you're asking about, but, you know, throughout the battlefield in Syria.
So we want to remain focused. We're in our third week. We've made some very good progress against ISIS and their self-proclaimed capital. We want that to continue.
Q: But Colonel, if this happens, will you defend the YPG-SDF against Turkey and against its -- the groups that they are allied with it?
COL. DILLON: We're not going to get there. I don't want to speculate on that. We will continue to support our SDF partners in the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and perhaps elsewhere after that.
CAPT. DAVIS: Ryan Browne from CNN.
Q: Thank you.
Colonel, thank you for doing this.
A quick question on Mosul. Your opening comments -- I appreciated that. So, I just want to make it clear: Are you saying that the mosque area has been fully recaptured?
And in addition, you mentioned a hospital complex in the old city. We're hearing mixed reports from Iraqi officials about when Mosul might be declared liberated.
What is your current assessment of the progress against the remaining ISIS bastions in the old city? I mean, is it any day now? Or do you see that they're pretty well dug in?
COL. DILLON: Yeah, thanks, Ryan.
So, yes, as I mentioned in my opening statement, the two areas that remain in Mosul are ISIS strongholds -- ISIS holdouts, and they have been severed from one another.
So, you have the Jumhuri Hospital complex, which is north. And then you have already captured or retaken area by ISF. And then you have the old city to the south.
Prior to this morning's dawn offensive into the old city by the CTS, there remained less than two square kilometers of area that was still left to be cleared. And that was before this morning.
The CTS has -- they have taken that particular area that was blown up last week by ISIS. So that is completely, you know, liberated or -- or retaken by Iraqi security forces.
As far as, like, the -- is it less than a kilometer -- square kilometer left now? I can't say, you know, that exactly. But we have seen today, by the war media cell from Iraq that they are closer to days versus weeks on an announcement that will -- that will come out with an announcement.
And we look -- we look very much forward to that. But it will be made by the government of Iraq. And I can't, you know, put a timeline on that for them, but I see closer to days than -- than a week or weeks.
Q: And just -- and one follow-up, and I -- on a different topic.
I understand that Lieutenant General Townsend and -- and the DCOM, Major General Jones, were in Syria. Can you talk a little bit about what the purpose of that visit was? I know they met with Special Envoy McGurk. Can you talk a little bit about that visit?
COL. DILLON: Well, the -- General Townsend and, you know, General Jones, as commanders, they typically and routinely move around in both Iraq and Syria to get updates from other commanders in the field. So, this is something that -- that happened this week. And it makes sense to have the commanding general who's in charge of the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria to travel around.
And so, he was doing a battlefield circulation. And same for the DCOM, for General Jones. I was lucky enough to go with General Jones last week to East Mosul.
So, they frequently move around to see troops and get progress from our partners in both Iraq and Syria.
CAPT. DAVIS: Dion Nissenbaum, Wall Street Journal?
Q: Hey, Colonel.
I just wanted to ask you about the statement from the Iraqi military and the prime minister that the seizure today of the mosque area represented the effective end of the caliphate -- the Islamic State caliphate. Do you think that's a little premature?
COL. DILLON: We will definitely wait for -- you know, that is a -- that is a significant and symbolic recapture of the al-Nuri mosque area. Today is the three-year anniversary of when ISIS declared their caliphate.
So it is not just significant. It's also symbolic.
But we are going to wait for the government of Iraq to say when Mosul is completely liberated. And when that time comes, then we will also applaud those efforts. There's a lot of sacrifice by Iraqi security forces throughout this campaign, and the same goes for the civilians that have suffered.
So it's a matter of, you know, time and a short amount of time before they announce liberation, but we're going to wait for that.
Q: They -- they already are announcing that the caliphate is over in Iraq. So do you agree with their assessment?
COL. DILLON: I will say, and we will say, that there still remain ISIS strongholds that remain after Mosul. I don't think anybody's unclear about that, to include the Iraqis. So we know that Hawija, we know that Tal Afar, we know that Al Qaim still remain ISIS holdouts, and there will be fights that remain against ISIS in those locations. And we'll continue to support and stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners in those fights.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Kasim Iliri from Anadolu News Agency.
Q: Hi, Colonel. Thanks for doing this.
I have question about the hold force in Mosul. What will be the composition of the hold force for west Mosul, the old town? And will there be any Shia militia in any part of Mosul as a part of the hold force?
COL. DILLON: So, Kasim, what I can tell you is that the tribal mobilization forces, along with the Iraqi army, and along with police elements, will all be efforts -- all be organizations that will provide security in Mosul.
I was, like I said earlier, I was fortunate enough to meet with the Ninawa police chief last week and go around with him in east Mosul. And each one of those organizations, each one of those elements have a significant role to play in the security of Mosul. And what they're doing in east Mosul, we can see that happening in the west.
The tribal mobilization forces, as an example, they are, you know, people from this area. These are trained soldiers who are from this area. And not my words, but words from the Ninawa police chief, is that these are the sons of the city who know the area well. They know who lives in and amongst these areas. And they've played an integral role in identifying people who are not from that area and stopping attacks before they happen.
So, while I won't predict what that is going to look like, it has been successful in east Mosul, and I expect to see something very similar in west.
Q: And then just a couple of follow-ups. To Joe’s question, you said -- you expressed your concern about a fight between Turkish-backed forces and YPG elements in northern Syria. As far as I know, the United States does not support -- or does not have any connection with the YPG elements in Afrin.
So are you also expressing concern? And as far as I know, the Turks -- Turkish-backed forces are shelling the YPG elements in Afrin, which the forces that the United States doesn't have connection with. Do you also express your concerns about that part of the fight? Or are you just meaning the -- the skirmishes between the YPG elements and any other elements in eastern Euphrates region or around Raqqa area?
COL. DILLON: Yeah, Kasim, so we are concerned about anything that distracts or takes away from the focus that we are on right now, and that is Raqqa. So, if SDF forces that are currently in the fight in Raqqa have to, you know, train their attention and their focus elsewhere, then that means that they're not, you know, trained -- their weapons aren't trained and they're not fighting ISIS.
So we have a concern if that happens. And it doesn't have to happen from, you know -- it doesn't matter what force that comes from. Anything that takes their attention away -- could be regime, could be, you know, what you were talking about -- that distracts from what it is that we're trying to do. So, that concerns us.
Q: On the leaders, as the Mosul operation is about to complete and the Raqqa operation is moving so fast, apparently now the leaders remain the main in the old cities. Can you -- do you have anything -- any efforts underway looking for al-Baghdadi, where he is, what happened to him? And whether there is any effort to capture, kill or find out him?
COL. DILLON: Kasim, I'll say that, as I said in my opening statement, but this also includes leaders at all levels, whether it's Baghdadi or other lower-level leaders. We will continue to look for them and if opportunity presents themselves, to strike these leaders, then we will continue to do so.
I'm certain that there are assets not just at the JTF level, but also elsewhere throughout the Department of Defense and the coalition that are, you know, focused on these specific things. And so that's what I'll say about that.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Nancy Youssef from BuzzFeed.
Q: Colonel, can you tell what percentage of Mosul has been destroyed or is inhabitable because of the operation to liberate it?
COL. DILLON: Yeah, Nancy, I don't have that information right now. I can clearly say that through those, you know, who have been to the west side, is that, you know, it has been -- it is not the same as east. The east has been able to rebound very quickly, but we know that there are significant efforts that are going to have to happen in order to stabilize and bring west Mosul back to where it was prior to the offensive and prior to ISIS arriving there.
Q: The west was more damaged than the east, if I'm hearing you correctly?
COL. DILLON: That is correct. I don't think there's any question about that from, you know, all organizations, ourselves included.
Q: One of the things we saw in Fallujah and Ramadi was destroyed cities such that residents were unable to come back. And I'm curious, what lessons you took from that that you will then apply to western Mosul such that -- that this -- that the liberation is not actually destroying key cities in Iraq, and are actually places where residents can return?
COL. DILLON: Well, I mean, as we've seen in Fallujah and Ramadi and elsewhere, the remnants of explosives that Iraqi -- not Iraqi, but rather ISIS have left in their wake is -- is very concerning. And there have been efforts and stabilization efforts that have been put forth by the greater coalition that goes in and focuses on that.
The government of Iraq also in -- looking at returning the essential services back as -- as quickly as possible. And I know that the government or even non-government organizations, and the Department of State, and others are -- are working -- already are working at returning that to a level where people can return and get back into their homes.
Q: In western Mosul. And I hear you saying is that it's not the U.S. military that is part of that effort, is that right?
COL. DILLON: That is correct. The U.S. military -- you know, we have folks from within our civil military operations that monitor and work with the Department of State, USAID and other organizations.
But this is -- largely the stabilization efforts for -- for Mosul right now, both East and in West, are really going through the Department of State, and the greater coalition, United Nations and non-governmental organizations.
Q: What services or what percentage of the population has returned to Fallujah or Ramadi -- and/or Ramadi?
COL. DILLON: And, Nancy, I don't have those figures immediately in front of me right now. Hold on one sec. Let me do a quick look here.
I can say, while I am looking, that 191,000 people have been able to return to their homes in East Mosul. But I'll -- I'll look for that answer for you. I do not have the figures for those that have been able to return to Ramadi or Fallujah. I owe that to you.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, ABC, Elizabeth -- I -- I forget your last name.
Q: Elizabeth McLaughlin.
CAPT. DAVIS: McLaughlin, okay.
Q: Thanks, Colonel.
I'm wondering if you have an estimation for the number of ISIS fighters in the hospital and in the old city.
And then also, if you could just walk us through the role of the coalition once Mosul is liberated. What will they be doing? And how will they be assisting the Iraqi forces on the ground?
COL. DILLON: Okay.
So, we assess that there remains in -- in the -- in the remaining parts of those two final holdouts, a few hundred ISIS fighters that remain. I don't have a -- a complete breakdown of how many are in the -- the al-Jumhuri Hospital complex and in the old city, but we assess that there still are a few hundred.
But as far as what the coalition will do after the liberation of Mosul has been announced, just as with anything that we have done in Iraq, we have done so by, with and through the government of Iraq. They get to decide where the operation goes next, and they will ask for coalition support. And if we can provide it -- and we've been able to do so thus far -- we will do exactly that.
And it is -- that is how we have been, you know, executing and -- and operating our operations here in Iraq, you know, since we began almost three years ago.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, the gentlemen here. I'm -- I don't know your name, sir.
Q: Alex Ward from Vox.
So, if you can permit me maybe two bigger, I think, questions for my allotment, if -- if the -- if the campaigns in Mosul and in Raqqa are successful, so if they fall and they go to U.S.-backed forces, is the war against ISIS over? And if not, how does that explain to the American people who would say, "The capitals are gone; how could they still be around?”
COL. DILLON: Okay.
We recognize as well that after the, you know, fall of Mosul and the eventual fall of Raqqa, you know, once that happens, the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria -- and I just want to make sure that I'm clear on that is that our -- our mission is the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria; not, you know, globally, but actually physically in -- in Iraq and Syria.
So there still does remain ISIS fighters, and there still remains ISIS holdouts in both Iraq and Syria. And those -- that military defeat will still have to happen. And we don't have a timeline set for when that will end, but we will continue to -- to do exactly what we've done to date, and, you know, going rate after all of those other holdouts that have happened, Tikrit, Fallujah, Ramadi, and the list goes on and on.
Q: Thank you. And then one -- and one more.
So, if the goal is to defeat ISIS militarily wherever they are, are there are certain assessments saying that they're going to Deir ez-Zor especially, but also perhaps Abu Kamal, would that mean that we're going to be headed to the east soon? And -- and if so, wouldn't that mean we're on a bit of a collision course with Iran in -- in that sense?
I know a number of -- lot of you put out a statement saying it wouldn't be too bad if the Syrian regime helped out in that region. So, maybe even going further, if the Syrian regime, which it does want -- if it controls Deir ez-Zor and Abu Kamal, would that be okay?
COL. DILLON: And -- and like I said before, right now the focus is on Raqqa. We'll have to see what happens after Raqqa and where there are still ISIS fighters that remain.
We are going to have to see how far the regime makes it, you know, where they are going to concentrate their efforts. Are they going to go to Deir ez-Zor and Deir ez-Zor only? Are they going to go to Abu Kamal?
These are all things that are going -- that still have yet to happen, and we have to let that play out before we figure out where we are going to fight ISIS next.
Q: So, one clarification, and then I'll finish here. There are currently -- based on what you said, is there are currently no -- no assessment to ISIS fighters or even leadership are headed to Deir ez-Zor?
COL. DILLON: I -- I didn't say that.
I -- and I recognize that, you know, there are, you know, ISIS fighters that remain in that entire sliver of land that continues all the way down the middle Euphrates River Valley.
Do we expect and -- and assess that there are ISIS fighters in Deir ez-Zor? Yes. In Mayadin? Yes. In Abu Kamal? Yes.
So, again, you know, we recognize and understand that this is still ISIS-held territory. It still has fighters. It still has some leaders that are there. But what -- where we go after Raqqa, we'll have to -- we'll have to figure that out after we defeat ISIS there.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Luis Martinez, ABC News.
Q: Hey, Colonel.
Quick question about the -- if you could update us on the situation in At Tanf please? Are there still any of those pro-regime militia forces still inside the de-confliction zone? What is the status of the interactions with that force?
And are they moving towards that Deir ez-Zor-Abu Kamal area? Or are they, kind of, remaining static in that zone?
COL. DILLON: Okay. Thanks, Luis.
First question is yes, there still remains a less-than-a-platoon-size element, the same one that has been there over the course of the last two weeks; weapons, and -- and they are facing away from our forces. So, yes, number one, those elements still remain.
And we still do see progressive movement of the regime forces to the east. So, yes to both of your questions.
Q: If I could follow up. When you talk about the progressive movement, how large of a force is it? Does it seem like they're headed to Abu Kamal or Deir ez-Zor specifically? And are they a large enough force that they could take an offensive strike on those areas?
COL. DILLON: Yeah, I'm not going to go too much into detail, number one, because I don't know what their intentions are. But they still continue to move east. And it is still premature to see or say, you know, which direction they're going to go, whether that's Deir ez-Zor or Abu Kamal.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. A couple of follow-ups here. Laurie Mylroie?
Q: Yes, this is to follow up on Joe's and Kasim's questions about distractions from Raqqa. And has the United States communicated it to Turkey or any other party these concerns about distractions?
COL. DILLON: I don't know if that has happened at the diplomatic level or higher channels. I don't know an answer to that, Ms. Mylroie.
CAPT. DAVIS: Courtney Kube?
Q: Just one quick one, please. Your answer to Luis' question about the platoon-size element. Are they inside the de-confliction zone?
COL. DILLON: Yes, they are. They are still within the 55-kilometer ring in the same location where they have been for several weeks now.
CAPT. DAVIS: Joe Tabet?
Q: Thank you. We have seen reports last night that many -- several missiles targeted the T-4 Airbase in eastern Homs. Are you aware of any -- any explosions that took place in the T-4 base?
COL. DILLON: I have received questions on this and queries on this. And we as a coalition do not operate in and around the Homs area. We have received allegations of this -- of an explosion in this area. This is not where we operate, so this was not coalition. And that's -- and that's that.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Last call.
Loree Lewis, good to see you again -- Talk News Radio.
Q: Thank you.
NATO announced at the end of last month it was formally joining the coalition. I'm wondering if you could speak to any practical effects this has had?
COL. DILLON: I would defer to NATO right now. Clearly, they are an integral -- you know, a great organization that brings a lot of, you know, skill and a lot of training aspects. What they are doing with the coalition at this moment, I don't have a detailed breakout of that. But many of the nations that already contribute forces to NATO are already members of the coalition.
So, I will be ready for that answer next week for you, and specifically we will have -- it will not be me next week -- we'll have Brigadier General Anderson, who is our CJ7, and he is in charge of training of our partner forces in Iraq and Syria. So I will make sure that he is prepared and ready for that specific question.
Q: Can I ask one more?
The U.N. rights office said yesterday that it's gotten reports of the SDF recruiting children and several other offenses, including looting, abductions and arbitrary detentions. I'm wondering if you could speak to whether the coalition has received these same reports?
COL. DILLON: I read that same report. And I know that our forces, the coalition forces that advise, assist and accompany the SDF forces, this is something that they would be required to report if they were to see it. And we have not seen any reports of this right now. It is concerning, but we have not received any reports of this through our advisers who are with the SDF.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Last call.
Q: Yes. Sir, just one quick one, to follow up on Luis' question.
On At Tanf, the rebels -- or the VSO that we're supporting at At Tanf, are they able to attack ISIS positions right now without having to pass through regime-controlled areas? Or are they kind of cut off from ISIS right now?
COL. DILLON: If there were ISIS elements that remain in and around that 55-kilometer ring, you know, clearly we'd be able to allow -- and those partner forces would able to fight ISIS on what's there. However, if what you are suggesting is that if we had to, you know, go towards the middle Euphrates River valley, in that direction, then the regime is there. And something -- we'd either have to go a different way or a different route, or work something out with the Russians to de-conflict that.
But, you know, we are in and around At Tanf training those partner forces. And it's not to say that we can't use those partner forces in a future fight against ISIS elsewhere throughout Syria.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. And with that, thank you, Ryan.
And any closing words for us before we sign off?
COL. DILLON: No, I know that we are very much all looking forward to the announcement that will come, as we've said, you know, shortly, imminently, on the liberation of Mosul. A lot of sacrifice, a lot of effort from obviously the Iraqi security forces and coalition members to get to where we are in defeating ISIS in their largest population center that they've ever been able to hold, and their Iraqi capital.
So that will be a significant day. It will be a significant announcement that will be made by the government of Iraq. So that's what I've got. Thank you very much, everyone.
CAPT. DAVIS: Thank you, everybody.