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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Colonel Dillon via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq

MAJOR ADRIAN RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Good morning, everyone.  Today, we're joined by Colonel Ryan Dillon.  Colonel Dillon is the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and joins us from Baghdad, Iraq.

We'll start with a quick radio check.  Sir, how do you hear us?

COLONEL RYAN DILLON:  Adrian, I hear you well.  How about me?

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  I hear you, sir.  If you have an opening statement, please take it away.

COL. DILLON:  All right.

Good morning, everyone.  I'll begin in Syria and then discuss Iraq.

Our Syrian Democratic Force partners are keeping pressure on ISIS, advancing toward the confluence of the Khabur and Euphrates River Valleys, thus far clearing more than 4,000 square kilometers since the beginning of operations in September.

We've not shown a graphic since my last Pentagon press briefing about a month ago, so we'll show two slides covering 16 October to 13 November.

And so, I want to just make sure that you see right now the first map that shows from the last time over a two-week period.  So you should be looking at the SDF progress to the 31st of October.

Okay.  Go ahead to the next slide.

And you should now be looking at a map from 16 to 13 November which shows the progress.

The coalition continues supporting our Syrian partners through surveillance and combat advice, as well as more than 40 precision strikes in the past week targeting ISIS fighters, weapons, logistics and command nodes.  We will continue to deprive ISIS remnants of their resources and safe havens, and continue our defeat-ISIS missions so long as they pose a threat.

Even as we remain focused on the defeat and discretion of ISIS, the coalition is supporting stabilization efforts, so Syrian cities like Raqqa and Tabqa can recover after years of fighting and brutal ISIS occupation.

To ensure lasting security and safety so residents can return home, we continue supporting local solutions, such as the Raqqa Internal Security Force, which includes more than 2,000 coalition-trained members from the surrounding areas.

They are now working directly with the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, to cordon off dangerous areas and clear explosives and booby traps left behind by ISIS terrorists.

We anticipate the fielding and training of security forces such as the RISF, that they will grow in importance and as ISIS' conventional force continues to face defeat and reverts to its terrorist roots.  The coalition will continue to support our partners, their needs for effective forces tailored to meet the needs of the Syrian and Iraqi people.

As explosive remnants of war are carefully cleared, residents can begin to return home.  This week, thanks to coalition-enabled efforts, nearly 8,000 civilians were able to return to their homes in Mishlib after the Syrian Democratic Forces cleared the area.

The inclusive and locally governed Raqqa Civil Council has led the way in public health, safety, economic and educational efforts in the area, with continued support from the coalition.

As an example, coalition members delivered interagency emergency health kits to the Tabqa General Hospital in support of the Raqqa Civil Council's health care initiative. These kits provide approximately two months of emergency medical supplies to those in need in Tabqa, to include IDPs from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor residing in nearby camps.

The Raqqa Civil Council also facilitated the opening of a municipal building that provides essential services in Karama, a sign that a city is returning to normal operations.

Many of these stabilization efforts in Syria are coordinated through the U.S. State Department's Syrian Transition Assistance and Response Team, or START.  And they support the locally led civil councils.

And if you do not already have it, I will provide you with contact information for the START forward public affairs officer after this brief, so you can contact him directly with any type of stabilization efforts that are underway in Syria.

Moving to Iraq, our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces continue steady progress in their clearance of Western Anbar province, targeting Isis in their final remaining holdouts in Iraq.

In the past week, they have completed back-clearance operations in al-Qa'im, eliminating ISIS weapons caches, including IEDs and mortars.  As the ISF secure and hold these recently cleared areas, they are also continuing their advance against ISIS in the city of Rawa.

As with all these operations planned and executed by the capable ISF, the coalition continues to provide intelligence, advice and support.  To that end, we have conducted six strikes against ISIS in Rawa during the past week, targeting tactical units and fighting position.

With regards to relations between the governments in Baghdad and Erbil, we reiterate the importance of continued dialogue.  We have seen recently, when military attention and security resources are diverted from the fight against ISIS, that terrorist groups seize on opportunities to launch attacks against civilians and security forces.

As with Syria, areas liberated of ISIS still require attention to ensure lasting security and to set conditions for long-term stabilization.  Therefore, continue supporting development -- we continue to support development of our ISF partner forces.

At the same time, the global coalition is working with the government of Iraq to support various economic and education initiatives.  A number of rehabilitation projects are restoring essential services.  Renovations to the main hospital in Shirqat are complete, four public health centers and the Shirqat Health Management building are also complete and are ready to be handed over to the Directorate of health.

Ongoing UNDP cash-for-work activities include, the cleanup of the Al Jadidah area in western Mosul, which is employing 200 workers, while other product…projects include cleanup of Ninawa University.

USAID funding is helping rehabilitate the Tikrit water network and an electricity substation, three schools, 100 small business grants for micro and small enterprises, and cash for work emergency deployment – employment for debris removal, solid waste collection and minor repairs to damaged houses.

UNDP estimates more than 60,000 residents in Tikrit now have access to clean water and 50,000 residents have electricity in their homes as a result of this initiative.

Across Iraq, we are seeing this kind of progress and stabilization.  To consolidate and secure these gains, we must remain committed to ensuring long-term security, which will require the united efforts of Iraqi Security Forces and partners of the global coalition.

Customary for many of my briefings, I will close with providing the newest names of Daesh associates who are no longer leading fellow terrorists.

Yusuf Demir, an ISIS militant tied to media operations and ISIS terror networks throughout the Middle East and Europe, was killed by a coalition airstrike on October 26th.  He was killed while traveling with his brother Omer Demir, also an ISIS external operations coordinator with links to ISIS networks in the Middle East and Europe.

Abu Yazin, an ISIS senior leader and weapons facilitator, was killed in an air strike on November third, near Mayadin, Syria.

And finally, Abdellah Hajjoui, a Syrian-based ISIS operative was killed by a coalition airstrike on November 5th, near Abu Kamal, Syria.  Hajjoui facilitated external attack plotting with ISIS terrorists in multiple countries.

And as per normal, you will also have these names in a press release waiting for you by the time you return to your desks.

These are three more ISIS high-value individuals of 117 who have been hunted down and killed by the coalition this year.  Our professionals are constantly looking for Daesh leaders to include Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  And to preempt questions, we do not know where Baghdadi is.  We're looking for him, and if we find him, we'll be after him.

Allow me to reiterate that despite recent and significant military successes against Daesh, the threat of its hateful ideology persists.  We must and will pursue them and we will remain committed to partner support that enables the enduring defeat of these criminals.  We are proud to stand by our Iraqi and Syrian partners as they continue to strive toward a better life for future generations.

And with that, I will now take your questions.

STAFF:  All right, we'll start with Harry Lowe from BBC.

Q:  Yes, hello.  I'm sure you saw our report, which demonstrated that a lot of fighters were allowed to leave Raqqa in the last month.  I'm just wondering if you know how many foreign fighters were in the buses and trucks and was the coalition aware that tons of ammunition and weaponry were smuggled out in the same convoy?

COL. DILLON:  All right.

So just to go back and to reiterate and to talk about Quinton's article, you know, this is -- was not a secret and the information that we provided on the 10th and the 14th in the form of press releases in my open statements and interviews with the media had, you know, talked a lot of the agreement that was made between the Raqqa Civil Council, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the tribal elders in that area.

So to address, number one, the foreign fighters, when the civilians that were coming out of Raqqa as a part of this agreement for the sole purpose of stopping or saving civilians, to prevent any further civilian casualties as a result of the conflict -- as they were coming out, there was an agreement that was made that ISIS-aged males or civilians that came out would be screened and would be -- and also we would take biometrical data from them, screen them to see if they were in our system.  And then if not, to be processed in that system.

In the course of that screening, there were four foreign fighters that were identified and were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces.  Out of the rest of the -- out of the 3,500 civilians that came out of the -- Raqqa at that time, approximately less than 300 were identified and screened as potential ISIS fighters.

So I think, without going on much further, I'll go ahead and address that.  I'll go ahead and ask for a follow-up or ask if you need any more clarification.

Q:  Thank you very much for that.  That's a comprehensive answer.  I'm just wondering if you're aware about the buses and trucks carrying tons of ammunition and weaponry as well, that was smuggled out in the same convoy.  Were you aware of that in advance?

COL. DILLON:  So, I -- what we have -- what we understand was, there was -- the 3,500 family members and the 300 ISIS fighters.  We were not aware of, and certainly cannot corroborate, the amount that was described in the story, nor can we also corroborate the statements that were made by those bus drivers.  So the -- we followed these buses as they departed the Raqqa area.

And as with other events like these, if opportunities presented themselves to conduct strikes any potential ISIS fighters that were -- had decided to flee, then we would have -- we would have provided strikes.  That did not present itself and there were many civilians that were part of that convoy, so that did not happen.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  All right, next to Kasim Ileri with Anadolu.

Q:  I will follow up with this question first, and then I will have my own question.  So, back in 17 October when you briefed us and then also the press releases came out on 14 and 10 of October, you were saying that there was an arrangement or there was some kind of an effort by the SDF to take -- to help the civilians who were stranded in the city, out of the city to the safety -- to safe areas.

And then you also mentioned at the time that 350 ISIS militants had surrendered to the SDF at a time.  But the BBC story does not say that it was a surrender, or it was kind of an -- you know, a rescue operation.  Rather, there was an agreement with the -- the militants in Raqqa City, and then with the SDF and the Arab elders, whoever they are.  And then they smuggled out -- or they smuggled fighters, they smuggled weapons out of the city.

So that's -- I think the way that you expressed the thing and the way that the BBC story is saying are seeming, I think, somehow different things or different conceptualizations.  They are claiming that those fighters ran or escaped the city and then went somewhere else, while your statements say they were detained or they were there under detention of SDF.

Can you clarify the differences between your statement and then whatever the BBC story is saying?

COL. DILLON:  Okay.  I caught most of that.  And I think the way that we'll address that is that, you know, there were surrenders that happened both before the agreement and after the agreement.

So, I know that prior to that agreement being made, there were about four to five ISIS fighters per week that were -- had been -- had been identified, to include emirs, to include some of the leaders in that area.  And they were either captured trying to escape by blending in with civilians, or they turned themselves in.

So, then we had the agreement that, as we stated on much -- throughout that entire period that, while we had an opportunity to present our position on what they wanted to do, we were not active participants in those discussions.

And then after that agreement was made, after the buses had departed, there were an additional about a hundred ISIS fighters that had surrendered after the fact.

So, during these very short amount of time, during this week and -- there was a lot of people that were turning themselves in and surrendering.  So, I don't know if there was confusion with that, but I know that we were open with the number of civilians and the number of fighters that had been a part of this arrangement.

Q:  Can you say that no ISIS fighters escaped or, kind of, found their way out of the city within the scope of this agreement?  So, based on this agreement, they were not allowed to leave the city and go somewhere else; can you say that?

COL. DILLON:  I mean, we -- we are always going to do our very best and our partners are going to do our very best to identify fighters.  And when you have thousands of people that are, you know, coming out of the city, you know, there have been those that even prior to that were also, you know, blowing themselves up.

But regardless, I can't say with a 100 percent certainty that every single fighter was identified coming out of Raqqa.  And that's either leading up to this agreement or even prior to, with the other civilians that were able to break out and -- and to get free.

Q:  And then the other question -- just one more question; sorry.

About the Raqqa Internal Security Forces, can you tell us what are the composition of this force?  And I -- you know -- yeah, what's the composition of this force?

COL. DILLON:  I don't know what you mean by their composition.

You know, the Raqqa Internal Security Force operates in and around the environs of Raqqa.  They maintain checkpoints.  They have, you know, gone on patrols.  So, they -- they play a myriad of different roles, you know, with the security in and around Raqqa.  They work for the Raqqa Civil Council.

I know that they are also doing their very best to prevent civilians from danger, as civilians are attempting to move back into their homes.  And I've gotten reports on that to say they -- Raqqa Internal Security Force, because they are from the area and the surrounding areas, are, you know, much -- are being very effective with the interaction that they have with the -- the Raqqawis from the area.

Q:  Colonel Dillon, how many ISIS fighters have been detailed?  Do you have a specific number?  And how many ISIS detainees are in U.S. custody or are being interrogated under -- under the U.S. military?

COL. DILLON:  Okay.  Answers will be, number one, don't have number of total ISIS detainees.  So if we're talking Iraq and/or Syria, because, you know, the Syrian Democratic Forces or the Iraqi Security Forces, they maintain any of those who have been detained.  And regarding your second question about Americans citizens that have been detained, that is a question for the State Department on any kind of repatriation or anything that is happening with American citizens in Iraq or in Syria.

Q:  I'm -- Colonel Dillon, I meant both in Syria and Iraq, how many ISIS fighters are in U.S. custody now, are being interrogated under the supervision of the U.S. military?

COL. DILLON:  As far as I know, right now, there are no ISIS detainees that are underneath American detention.  I will have to go back and check for, you know, for -- to be 100 percent on that.  But what I understand right now is that we do not have anybody in custody.

Q:  No one of those who are being detained by the SDF is a high-value target maybe close to Baghdadi for example?

COL. DILLON:  Mr. Tabet, I don't know.  So again, if -- if we -- if the Syrian Democratic Forces or the Iraqi Security Forces have any kind of detainees or high-value individuals they can be questioned and if we have information that leads -- that we can exploit either, you know, what they through what they have on their person, then we will use that to identify and find other ISIS targets to include Baghdadi.  But as of right now, I do not know of any ISIS members that are being detained by a U.S. forces.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Laurie Mylroie, Kurdistan 24.

Q:  Thank you, Colonel Dillon for this.

I have two questions, one is in your opening remarks, you emphasize the importance of continued dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil.  Could you elaborate on that?  And particularly, I know you've undertaken mediation efforts to stop the fighting between the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.  Could you give us some insights into that mediation effort?

COL. DILLON:  What I would say is that just because I know that that is a topic of interest and continues to be a topic of interest here in Iraq, well, certainly prior to the earthquake, but that is a continuing beat of what is in the news.  So I addressed that because it's a good sign that dialogue continues.  So that is kind of where -- that's why I brought I up in the first place.

Number, you know, two on that is that, you know, there has been fewer face-to-face meetings, but I understand that they are in constant dialogue over the phone working towards a resolution for the posture in Northern Iraq.

Q:  Are coalition officers involved in mediating those discussions between Baghdad, between the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces?

COL. DILLON:  We did have a U.S. -- or coalition general officers that were present for some of these meetings, I think he even had General Gerard here a couple weeks ago who said that he personally was sitting in on some of these meetings.

Because of those face-to-face meetings are no longer in effect, I know that our coalition members and leaders are still in contact with Kurdish and with Iraqi security force leaders who are also playing a part in the mediation -- in the efforts to, you know, to come to a final solution on what is going to happen going forward.

Q:  Thank you, and my second question has to do with Abu Kamal.  I would -- and last week, there was a claim that Syrian forces from Syria, including Lebanese Hezbollah, and then Iraqi forces are shared militias, and specifically the two that the House has identified in a bill as Iranian proxies, that they had liberated Abu Kamal, and I wonder if you had any advanced knowledge or -- of that operation?

COL. DILLON:  We don't have information on that operation, I would also say that I think that there still remains a fight in Abu Kamal, so despite what was said earlier by the Syrian regime, I think that they have not liberated that area.

The other thing is that to touch on, you know, a quote that I have seen recently that Prime Minister Abadi has said that any Iraqi security forces would not participate or not go into Syria, not cross the border.

So those elements that fall underneath the Iraqi security forces that go into Syria, they are violating the Prime Minister's direction and I think that Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq have made other statements about what they will do.

But the Iraqi security forces, to include the popular mobilization forces, should be falling under and following the directions of the Prime Minister.

Q:  Are you confident that the Prime Minister has full control over these militias that were involved with Syria in the effort to liberate Abu Kamal from ISIS?


Q:  Even though they seem to have acted without his authorization?

COL. DILLON:  Mr. Abadi has shown that he is very much capable of leading, and doing a very good job of being a commander-in-chief.  We have all the confidence in him, and, you know, the -- he has made a lot of progress in the fight to defeat ISIS as we have seen, we're down to the last 1 percent of the area that remains to be cleared of ISIS.  So, we've shown that he is very effective, and he has proven that he is a wartime commander-in-chief and has done a very good job.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Now to Ryan Browne, CNN.

Q:  Colonel, thank you for doing this.

Just a quick last follow up on this evacuation deal that the SDF made.  You talked about the screening process with biometric enrollment with the 300 ISIS-aged fighters.  Were there any coalition advisers present for that screening?

COL. DILLON:  Ryan, there was not.  I know that we have provided instructions and we have also showed that there was -- how to use these -- the equipment -- to fingerprints for photos for retina scans and otherwise.  So, not that I know of that there was not coalition presence, or it was the Syrian democratic forces that did the screening for these personnel.

Q:  So, you said, not that you know.  Is it possible to take the question and find out whether or not there were coalition forces present for that?

COL. DILLON:  I will look into that to see if they were present.  I know that they were not actually doing the screening, but whether or not there was someone like -- we had leaders who were in the room, but not active participants I will look into that and provide you an answer.

Q:  And just off the word -- the combo itself -- was that surveilled by coalition assets after it left Raqqa?  I mean, was there efforts to be made to track the movement of the people once they left the city?

COL. DILLON:  Yes, there was.  And as I stated previously, with the other events similar to this where we saw a smaller element in Tabqa and as we saw the other element that happened between the deal that was made with Hezbollah that had to do with a transfer of fighters.

We did everything we can, at that point, to prevent further movement but with -- particularly with this agreement and the movement out of Raqqa, there were several family members that were part of the convoy and they were staying inside of Syria.  So, if anyone were to move on to other ISIS-held territory, it was just a matter of time before they would have been -- we would have fought them again, wherever they moved to.

Q:  On a different topic, you mentioned the civil councils being set up to govern liberated areas.  I assume the SDF have kind of made inroads into the Omar gas fields and oilfields and some of the other gas fields out east.

Who's paying for salaries for officials that are operating on the civil councils?  And is the coalition working to help -- I know they're talking about helping -- or the USAID is helping rebuild areas.  Is there an effort to also rebuild some of this oil and gas infrastructure or help get that up and running?

COL. DILLON:  Ryan, I don't know who pays the Raqqa Civil Council members.  I can look into that, but my guess is that I will probably punt that to the START forward team.  And the same thing goes for putting forth efforts to assess and/or repair and/or operate the stuff that these oilfields -- the equipment that are at these oilfields.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Next to Sylvie Lanteaume from AFP.

Q:  You know, Colonel, thank you for doing that.  Are you -- in Syria, are you scaling down the number of your advisers with the SDF?

COL. DILLON:  Okay.  Right now, we are not.  The fight continues in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.  But as we see in Iraq and as we see in Syria, as ISIS continues to lose territory, commanders will make an assessment and will make recommendations to the chain of command to either -- to say they don't need other further forces or to, perhaps, transition for the type of you know, to the type of support that the coalition will provide in the future.

So does that mean more niche personnel that are going to help train future RISF or RISF-like elements, that is something that those commanders on the ground, they make those assessments and they make those recommendations to the chain of command for what is needed.

Q:  So does it mean that these -- the special operations forces could be sent elsewhere?

COL. DILLON:  I don't want to speculate on anything that could happen.  You know, I'll just go back to what I said before, those commanders will look and see what is happening on the ground.  They'll continue to see what is required to militarily defeat ISIS, and then to help with the enduring defeat of ISIS and they will tailor their forces accordingly and will make requests based off of what they know and what they're going to have to put forth towards that future fight.

Q:  Thank you.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Paul Shinkman, U.S. News and World Report.

Q:  Yes, hi Colonel.  I wanted to ask you about a -- a report yesterday that -- in the Syrian town of Afrin, there are Kurdish forces that contributed to the fight to retake Raqqa and that -- that are there.  And that there are Turkish forces nearby that are poised to attack them.  Can you confirm any -- any part of that?

COL. DILLON:  I cannot.  I can look into that.  That is a first that I've heard on that.  So, you know, we'll take that down and -- and look into that for you.

Q:  And can you just confirm generally speaking what responsibility does the coalition have to protect forces, like Kurdish forces, for example, that have contributed to any anti-ISIS operations now?

COL. DILLON:  I think I caught most of that.  Is there a responsibility for the coalition to -- to defend or support our partner forces?  I would say yes, you know, we have shown and we have proven that we will support our partners and that partner force is the Syrian Democratic Forces.

So does that mean -- you know, that is everyone falls underneath the umbrella of them, the Arabs, the Kurds, the Yazidis, the Christians.  So underneath that blanket, if -- as they are fighting for -- against ISIS you know, we will support them and we will defend them, if necessary.

Q:  Clarify, Colonel, if any of those forces, any contributing, fighting force to the coalition is attacked by somebody other than ISIS, is the coalition still under a responsibility to protect them?

COL. DILLON:  Okay.  You cut out there again, I'm going to leave this right here.  But I would say that, you know, we will support our partners who are fighting against ISIS.  I think we've shown once in the past that with the element who were working out of Al-Tanf who did not want to fight ISIS and had other endeavors.

We cut our ties with them because that's what they wanted to pursue and then they were not going to be supported by the coalition any further.  So, I think that indirectly answers your question.  If you're not fighting ISIS and you're not working towards the same mission that we are, then you don't get that support.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Carlo Munoz with Washington Times.

Q:  Hey, sir, thanks for doing this.  Just two quick questions on Iraqi Kurdistan.  One, can you provide the coalition assessment or commanders' assessment of how many forces are still sort of amassed along sort of the borderline between Iraq and the KRG region, particularly in some of the disputed areas Kirkuk, Sinjar, those sorts of areas?  And two, have you seen an uptick, drop in numbers or have the numbers maintained the same since the temporary cease-fire was called a few weeks ago?

COL. DILLON:  Okay.  So, I'll answer the first one since I think I heard that pretty clearly.  And that is the array of forces in northern Iraq.  I'm not going to speak on behalf of the KRG or the government of Iraq.  What I can say is that, you know, the coalition forces are not there in a large presence.  We do have some training areas that are located in that particular area, where we continue to work and train, but as far as the disposition of Iraqi or Kurdish forces, that's not for me to answer.

Can you ask your second question again?  We're having some audio issues here.

Q:  Sure, sir.  I just wanted to see if the coalition had detected any sort of increase in Iraqi troop numbers?  A decrease in those numbers?  Or have those numbers sort of maintained -- have those numbers been static since the temporary cease-fire was called a few weeks ago?

COL. DILLON:  I think -- so, you're not asking about coalition forces, you're asking about the disposition of Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces?  We've not seen much of a -- from our perspective, where we've seen -- we've not seen any buildup, if you will, or a drawdown, if you will, from either side.

Q:  Thanks, sir.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Back to Kasim from Anadolu.

Q:  Hello.  Colonel, you said you were confident that Prime Minister Abadi has full control over those militias crossing into Syria to help Abu Kamal operations.  Do you know, whether -- did the Prime Minister Abadi have any role in mobilizing those forces into Syria or did he approve that movement?

COL. DILLON:  Sorry about that, Kasim, I didn't get any of that.  Please, we'll try one more time, and if we've got issues, we'll go to backup.

Q:  So, you -- responding to a question, you said that Prime Minister Abadi has full control over those militias closing into Syria to help Abu Kamal operation.  Did the Prime Minister Abadi have any role in mobilizing those forces into Syria to help Abu Kamal?  Or did he approve that movement?

COL. DILLON:  So, Kasim, anything that has to do with the Iraqi forces is completely -- those decisions are completely made by the government of Iraq.  So I think -- I hope that answers your question.  We don't have a say in which Iraqi forces go where, in particular, the Popular Mobilization Forces.  I know that the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces know that we are -- who we can support and who we can't support.

And so, I think they also are smart to know how to tailor their forces and their efforts so that they can receive that support as they conduct their operations.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Next to Ryan Browne, CNN.

Q:  Colonel, I just wanted to follow up with you, thank you again for doing this.  So the Russian Ministry of Defense put out a statement today accusing the U.S. air and coalition air forces of helping ISIS around Abu Kamal and using them to promote American interests in the Middle East.  Do you have a response to that statement, sir?

COL. DILLON:  Ryan, I would say that the Russian Ministry of Defense statements are about as accurate as their air campaign, and I think that is a reason for them to start coming out with their latest barrage of lies.  They are currently having some setbacks, particularly with the civilian casualty allegations of the 50 who were reportedly killed by their strikes in Aleppo.  You've got what happens in -- with their partners in the Syrian regime in Abu Kamal saying that they liberated the city and they're not in the city and they're still fighting there and then some setbacks in Deir ez-Zor recently.

So I think that these -- this is consistent -- consistent in that almost anything that comes out of the Russian MOD is suspect and inaccurate.  So these are all things that I think they would put out to deflect from their issues and their challenges.  I do take comfort in many of the journalists who are in the room there that, when these accusations come, that you see them for what they are and their lies.

And I appreciate that you almost laugh them off because they are as ridiculous as today's was, as an example.  And I certainly can't verify, but I've seen the report that one of the pictures came from a video game.  So again, that is pretty consistent with what we have seen come out of Russian MOD as being baseless, inaccurate and completely false.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Next to Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan 24.

Q:  To follow up on Kasim's question, if the Iraqi Security Forces take actions without consulting you, without informing you, like in Abu Kamal, and in this case, the two militias have been identified by the -- the House -- the House committee as Iranian proxies, are you not concerned that these movements of forces that you don't know about, because you can't deal with them, are not part of an Iranian effort to establish that land bridge to the Mediterranean?

COL. DILLON:  So, ma'am, what I'll say is that, you know, in -- the government of Iraq is a sovereign country, and -- and they are making, you know, these decisions and they are ordering their Iraqi Security Forces.  This is, you know, something that is to be addressed by the government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces.

We will continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces as they continue to defeat ISIS.

So, I would -- I think question is best posed to the government of Iraq.

Some of the other things that I will, you know, point to while we're talking about the Iraqi Security Forces, is that they are continuing to show their ability to, you know, take care of and secure their citizens.

As a most recent example, we've seen in the pilgrimage that happened in -- in (inaudible), which has traditionally had attacks associated with it.  This is a massive congregation that traveled through the area, and Iraqi Security Forces were able to provide that security.

So there are several opportunities to identify and show where the government of Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces are very capable of, you know, maintaining their citizens' safety.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Elizabeth McLaughlin from ABC.

Q:  Hi, Colonel Dillon.  Thank you for doing this briefing with us.

To go back to the Raqqa BBC story just one more time, what do you think explains that discrepancy between four foreign fighters and several dozen that's in that reporting?

COL. DILLON:  Can you ask that one more time, you know, please?  Sorry.

Q:  OK.  I'm going to try this with the mic.  Is that better?

COL. DILLON:  Yes.  That's good.

Q:  OK.

Just looking for what you think explains the discrepancy between taking four foreign fighters when that screening occurred versus the allegations in the -- in the BBC reports that there were several dozen that left in that convoy.

COL. DILLON:  So -- so, I -- I had mentioned a little bit earlier, you know, you know, what possibly could have happened.  Again, we can't corroborate, you know, what those -- and drivers had said.

But what I can tell you is you know, the screening by the Syrian Democratic Forces, they were looking for this.  And the stipulation was that any foreign fighters that were identified would be detained.  And that was -- that was something that was put into place and was a part of the -- the screening criteria.

Whether or not there were some of these fighters that were -- that were able to move in with the civilians or as a local ISIS affiliate, that could have been the case.  But this is all, you know, speculation on our part.  And so, I can't make, you know, the big difference or tell you why there was difference between the dozen versus the four.

Q:  Thank you.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  We are at the end of my queue.  Are there anymore questions for Colonel Dillon?  All right.

Sir, thank you very much.  Do you have any closing words for the group?

COL. DILLON:  Nope.  Thank you very much.  And thanks for your patience.  Sorry about the audio challenges.  Thanks.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Thank you very much.  Have a good day.