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Department Of Defense Press Briefing by French General Parisot via Teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq

STAFF:  Good morning.  We've already done our audio check.  This brief should last approximately 45 minutes.

Today we have Brigadier General Frederic Parisot, director of Civil-Military Operations for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve from Baghdad, Iraq.  He'll be giving an update on operations, stabilization efforts and French contributions.

Sir, the floor is yours.


Today I'll provide an update on current operations in Iraq and Syria, and will follow by an update on stabilization efforts in our areas of operation, as well as contribution French forces have made to the fight.

In Iraq, the Iraqi Security Forces continue to secure the country in order to prevent the resurgence of Daesh, and set the conditions for stabilization efforts to take place.

In the (inaudible) Mountains near Kirkuk, the ISF and the Peshmerga conducted joint operations to clear the area of Daesh presence and other malign actors.  Their ongoing coordination in the area shows that Iraqi forces are most effective when all forces are cooperating and working together.

Along the western border, the ISF continues to prevent terrorists from pouring into Iraq, while the coalition continues to provide intel, overwatch and fire support to our partner force on the ground.

In Sinjar, Fire Base Um Jurius was relocated in July -- on July 4th, after 34 days of combined operations between the coalition and the ISF.  Established to provide support to ground operations against Daesh in Syria, the relocation of assets from Fire Base Um Jurius reflects the changing mission in Syria.

In Syria, Operation Roundup is on its 84th day of activating the offensive to defeat Daesh remnants in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, the MERV.

Last week, we announced the completion of the reversion of Dashisha, one of the last remaining Daesh strongholds in the MERV.  Thanks to the combined SDF ground offensive, strikes by coalition and Iraqi forces, and border security operation by the ISF, Dashisha has been freed after four years of tyrannical Daesh rule.

While operations shift towards the last Daesh territory east of the Euphrates in Hajin the SDF will continue to clear and secure Dashisha in order to create conditions that would allow stabilization efforts there.

I'd like to announce the deaths of a number of Daesh leaders who were responsible for planning terror operations overseas.  The names and suspected activities of the six individuals eliminated from the battlefield in the month of April and June are detailed in a press release that goes out tonight.

Thanks to the operations conducted by the SDF, ISF and the coalition, we are stopping Daesh from being able to conduct terror across the world and degrading their ability to plan and finance such operations.

Nevertheless, the death of these terrorists demonstrate that Daesh remains committed to planning and executing terror operations to places far beyond Syria and Iraq.  And my country knows firsthand the horrific acts that Daesh is willing and capable of committing.  And that's why we will remain committed to this fight.

I'd like, also, to talk about stabilization efforts in the area of operation.

The military is not the lead for stabilization.  However, we acknowledge that stabilization is critical to the success of our mission to defeat Daesh.  We fail to defeat Daesh if stabilization is not successful.

The stabilization effort is taking place just after major combat operations to enable the safe and voluntary return of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, to their region of origin, and restore basic services like water, electricity, shelter, education and social services.  It comes ahead of reconstruction, which is a longer-term enterprise.

Stabilization is mainly done by international, governmental and non-governmental organizations.  It has to ensure short-term needs of the Iraqi and Syrian people to rebuild their lives after the destruction brought by Daesh's tyrannical rule.

As the director of civ-mil affairs to for the coalition, I have seen firsthand the steady progress of our partners in Syria and Iraq.

The numbers of displaced persons, for example, continues to decrease, with less than 2 million Iraqis in camps.  They were just under 2.8 million seven months ago.

The positive trends in these numbers indicate that the ISF is creating the safety necessary for people to return home and rebuild their lives.  However, we cannot emphasize enough the urgent need for the international community to ensure that stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria are sustained to be successful.

The United Nations Development Program's Funding Facility for Stabilization, the primary mechanism for immediate stabilization in Iraq, says that $500 million is urgently needed to fund the project as well as stabilization efforts in the liberated areas.  Half of it is just for Mosul and northern Iraq.  In Syria, the need is equally great.

Let us remember that the evil threat of Daesh did not end in the borders of Iraq and Syria.  The Iraqis and the Syrians found themselves in the front line of a global war and that threat is about to be defeated thanks to their sacrifices.

It is now the global community's turn to prevent terror groups such as Daesh from gaining power again.  And to achieve this we must make sure that returning IDPs are safe, they can rebuild their lives, and are given livelihood opportunities.

Finally, I would like to highlight the contributions of French forces as part of the coalition.

It's been a privilege to act as the senior national representative for the 1,100 French forces in Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that are working side by side with the 26 troop-contributing nations at the forefront of our efforts to defeat Daesh.

The 10 Rafale aircraft that are currently located in the region have conducted approximately 1,400 sorties and struck 130 targets in the past year, while our artillery CAESAR guns have conducted more than 500 missions resulting in more than 150 enemy targets neutralized.

Additionally, French forces have also been a part of the coalition effort to enhance the ISF capabilities to secure the homeland and to fight terror groups such as Daesh.

Task Force Monsabert and Task Force Narvik, our two main French training forces in Iraq, have trained more than 2,000 forces from the Iraqi counter-terrorism services and the 6th Iraqi Army Division in the last year, while continuing to enable Iraqi trainers to train the fellow service members.

Sadly, while we share the successes of the coalition and of our partner force in defeating Daesh, several coalition troops have made ultimate sacrifice in our goal to rid the world of the threat of Daesh.  This includes two French soldiers, and let us always remember the service and sacrifice of Sergeant Major Stephane Grenier, who died in September of 2017, and Corporal Bogusz Pochlyski, who died in March '18.

Whatever the price, we will continue to fight until Daesh is defeated.

France is honored to stand among the 72 nations and five international organizations that comprise the most successful international coalition ever formed.  We remain committed to the fight to finally rid the world of Daesh once and for all.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

STAFF:  For all questions, please provide your full name and agency prior to asking your questions.  All called on will have an opportunity to ask one question and a brief follow up due to our limited time.

And with that, Voice of America?

Q:  Thank you so much for doing this, General.  Carla Babb from Voice of America.

I was wondering what you have seen of Iranian forces and Iranian-backed forces in Syria.  Are they near your forces or have they backed away?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, thank you for the questions.

As we understand, it was about, you know, Iran forces in -- in Syria.  We -- we don't, you know, in -- in our area, there's no Iran forces.  We -- we do not, you know, obviously work against these people.

You know, Iran is in Syria, that most, you know, the -- they work with the regime and -- and not -- not in the parts that we are in charge of.  And so, you know, to answer your question quickly, no we haven't seen any Iraqi forces there.

STAFF:  Kasim?

Q:  Yes, General, hi.  Thank you.  Kasim Ileri with Anadolu agency.

What role does the French forces play currently in Manbij?  Are they going to join the joint patrol with the Turkish forces there?

Thank you.

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, on this, you know, the French forces are where they need to be.  And I'll refer to, you know, the declaration of the French president that says, you know, that -- he owns the location.

And I cannot comment on specific locations, but basically, you know, the French have been involved in many of the, you know -- since 2014 in all of the operations, and -- and I cannot comment on specific missions or locations.

Q:  And I would like to use my follow-up for a separate question, if possible.

The military and civilian councils in northern Syria have their social media operations and also political affairs activities.  Does the coalition provide funds for resourcing those type of media-oriented activities in northern Syria?

GEN. PARISOT:  Can you confirm that you were talking about the Manbij military councils, right?

Q:  Not only Manbij military councils, Raqqa civilian councils, Raqqa protection -- Raqqa military councils and all other councils under the SDF have their social media and also public affairs activities.  So my question is whether the coalition provides funds or supports those kinds of activities.

GEN. PARISOT:  Okay, thanks.

What we do in northern Syria is we support the military forces.  So it's part of the training that we're doing to support the people that actually liberated northern Syria.

And so, we limit our help to the military side of you know the local forces and not to the civilian councils.  So basically, we train them as security forces to make sure that they can handle any resurgence of any kind of threat.  And for this actually they're doing a pretty good job.

Q:  Thank you very much.

STAFF:  Tara?

Q:  Hi, sir.  Tara Copp, Military Times.

A few minutes ago you said whatever the price, you'll continue to fight until Daesh is defeated.  Could you define for us when will you know that ISIS is defeated?  What signs are you looking for to be able to then withdraw, stop providing the military support for this operation?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, now we're still engaged in major combat operations.  And I won't -- I can't speculate, on when it's going to end.

We provide, you know, the best military advice for the political level, but basically, you know, as long as there is a military mission, I guess we are going to stay.

And you know, we're still in combat against Daesh in the last place they are.  Our immediate goal is to defeat Daesh for good.

And obviously doesn't mean that, you know, Daesh will be erased from the area.  But at least they don't have any more capacity initially to hold land.  And then obviously we're going to have, you know -- make sure that Daesh is not able to come back as a combat force.

And to do this, we train -- on one side we train the Iraqi Security Forces, who are actually doing a very good job there, and  on the other side, you know, we train the northeast Syrian Defense Force -- you know security forces that actually are doing, as well, a good job.

So you know, we are involved in the military operations and then, you know, it's going to be up to the coalition as a whole and the French government to decide, you know, what will be next.  And that's policy and that's not military business.

Q:  (inaudible) sir, but as a follow-up, so if Daesh can't hold land and get to the point where there are no additional major combat operations, but it's just conducting, say, low-level insurgency attacks, does that still count for supporting a military presence and, you know, military operations against that organization?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, this is really a policy issue.

At our level in the CJTF, you know, our mission is to defeat Daesh and now what's next is are things still to be decided?  We're still in the fight for at least two or three months.  And then obviously you know there will be more decisions.

But what is very important to my country is the capacity of Daesh to be able to project, you know, power outside of Syria and Iraq.  And obviously this is something that our government is informed on by, you know, obviously our intelligence partners, (inaudible) the contact with the coalition.

And I think it's the effort of all the coalition to make sure that, you know, after a major combat operation stay enough to defeat Daesh on a permanent basis.

STAFF:  Tom?

Q:  Good morning -- good afternoon, sir.  Tom Squitiere with Talk Media News.

I have a clarification of something you answered earlier and then my question.

My clarification is on the number of French troops you've provided.  Of all the countries you listed, you did not say Syria.  Was that an oversight by you?  Does that number include French troops in Syria?

And then my question is a follow-up to what Tara just asked in a sense.  For the last six weeks, the press release coming out of Central Command talks about how the coalition is going after remnants of ISIS, of Daesh -- remnants of ISIS, of Daesh.  Each week it's the same press release, the same lead, the same headline, yet you're saying now that there's been -- going to be a major -- there's a major effort, a major logjam to get rid of Daesh.  Which is it?

Thank you.  Merci beaucoup.

GEN. PARISOT:  Merci a vous.

To -- for your first question, you know, I cannot detail where our forces are.  They are where they need to be, and I'm sorry I can't go further than that.

But, you know, I'm in charge of all the forces and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Regarding the remnants of Daesh, you know, you know, we have already, you know, in Iraq, in the remnants of Daesh.  And obviously, you know, we are more into very small groups, you know.  And -- and that's where -- because they are desperate, you know, they can hide, in some very remote places.  And basically, if they last, then we're going to strike them.

So right now they're still, you know, down the MERV between Hajin and Abu Kamal.  That would be the last place they own so far.

But, you know, in the coming weeks, hopefully, we're going to get rid of that place.  And basically, that will be the end of any land owned by Daesh or ruled by Daesh.

And obviously, you know, they won't disappear like that.  So with the ISF, the Iraqi Security Forces, with the Syrian Democratic Forces, we're going to make sure that, you know, they cannot gather their forces again.

And obviously, for that there will be a transition, a slow transition to the end of the mission.  It won't happen overnight.

So basically, you know, smaller group.  We talk about a few individuals, you know, that they are trying to get away from our surveillance, because if we see them, we're going to kill them.

And now, they're really in the disarray.  They're in a really disorganized manner.  And -- although they are still dangerous.  So, I mean, we need to keep an eye on these guys and that's what we do every day.

STAFF:  Ryan?

Q:  General, Ryan Browne with CNN.

I have a question in your stabilization, civil affairs capacity and then one as you're French senior representative.

Stabilization-wise, we're told that the training of local security forces was kind of a key part of making sure that Daesh does not come back.  How is that going?  How many forces have you trained in Raqqa, for instance?  And how many more would you need to train until you're comfortable?

And then I have one question as the capacity as a senior representative.

GEN. PARISOT:  Okay.  So regarding that first question, obviously, you know, part of our mission is -- the stabilization part, is to make sure that, on one side, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the other side, you know, the security forces of the SDF, would be able to handle security.

So people that are in camps, when they want to go back home or to go back to the place where they belong, they need to feel safe.

And safety is not only, you know, a military presence that they can accept.  Safety is also, you know, a place they can live.  It's also having water, having electricity.

So, I mean, it's a whole effort.  And as I said in my statement, you know, this is not led by the military.  But the military helps in terms of making sure that people, they can return home and have a safer environment, you know, in terms of making sure that they -- they not attack, they're not at risk.  And that's something that is very, very important.

Regarding numbers for Raqqa, I don't have the numbers off the top of my head.  But, you know, maybe we can come back to you with the numbers.

But you know, the work with the Raqqa Security Forces is actually to make sure that they can handle not a war-fight threat, you know, but more like small cells.  Also the crime, you know, because every time there is damage to a city, obviously the first thing that goes up, the number of crimes.

So they need to be able to make sure that the city is safe in terms of having checkpoints outside the city so people come in, they don't have, you know, IDs or (inaudible) IDs.  So that's all the work.

And obviously, you know, as we're going to go along, the -- the training of these people, we -- we make sure that they can handle, you know, anything from low crime to, you know, gangs and stuff like that.

But really, they're doing a very good job in terms of providing security to the people of Raqqa, at least, which were liberated back in October.

Q:  Just one question in your term as a French -- in your French capacity.

There's widely reported that about a dozen French nationals are -- that had fought for ISIS are being held by the SDF in detention facilities.  Do -- do you, do French forces have access to these individuals?  And they're working to repatriate them back to France?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, on this question, it's quite clear.  First of all, the government of France said that they don't want these people back.  So I mean, that's a policy statement.

So I'm -- and obviously, it's not part of my mission.  I'm here to be, you know, in the fight against Daesh and not dealing with other things.

So probably, the SDF are talking to, you know, the nations.  But this is not something I'm involved to.  So I'm sorry, but I cannot answer your question there.

You know, that -- that's all I'll say about that.  I don’t know more about this.  I'm sorry.

STAFF:  Sylvie?

Q:  Bonjour, General.  Sylvie Lanteaume from Agence France-Presse.  I'm going to ask my question in English, though.

The -- the -- it's a question about the -- in Qatar, the Qatari are going to announce today -- or are announcing -- the extension of the update -- update.  And you said there are some French base there.  And I wanted to know if it's an extension that was requested by the coalition and if it's something that the French are going to benefit from.

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, thanks for the question.

It's news to me.

So obviously, you know, in Al Udeid Air Base, that's where the command of the air -- air force component is.  It's -- it's a base that, you know, is owned by -- by the Qataris.  So I guess they're going to have bilateral agreements with the, with the, you know, the country that will benefit from that.

But since the French perspective, there was, I guess, no request from us.  And now our forces in the area will stay steady for the foreseeable future.

So if it's open to other nations, that's something I don't know.

STAFF:  Elizabeth?

Q:  Hi, General.  Elizabeth McLaughlin with ABC News.

I have -- my question's answered by (inaudible) so I'll ask a different one.

Do you have a latest estimate for how many ISIS fighters are still inside Syria?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, this is probably hard to say, because, you know -- and I won't speculate on specific numbers, but, you know, one ISIS is one ISIS too many.

You know, just so we expect to have, you know, a few hundred of them at least, you know.  But again, we don't know how many but we make sure that we kill, you know, all of them.

That's, you know, the best answer I can have.  You know, it's to say.  But you know the best intelligence we have is that we’ve got a limited number, but they're going to fight hard, and that's for sure.

So I mean, we expect to have a tough fight in the last, you know, place where ISIS is, but the good thing is they are trapped.  You know, the Iraqis are doing a very good job in making sure that they cannot leave on the east side of the area.  And we hope that know the regime and the Russians will do the same on the southern side.  So basically they're trapped there and if they are trapped there, we're going to kill them.

Q:  Thanks.

Can I get your assessment about how you're working with your Russian partners?  I know the U.S. uses the deconfliction line, but what's your assessment about a potential military partnership with Russia inside Syria?

GEN. PARISOT:  So I understand your question, it is about working with the Russians -- is that -- is that just for the French or is that for the coalition?

Q:  What is your assessment of whether that would be beneficial to the French and the coalition in terms of a military partnership with Russia?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, to be clear, we don't have any, you know, partnership with Russia.

I mean, we deconflict what we do for the safety of our forces on the ground, we make sure that our forces are not at risk if -- if the Russians are at this level.

So basically it's a political level I think that the -- you know the -- probably what you refer to is at the political level, but at the military level, it's a deconfliction.

Although it's very professional, we need to recognize that, you know, the dialogue between the general officers at this level is very, very professional, but it's a safety issue for our forces there, and that's the only reason why we talk to the Russians.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Hey, sir.  Corey Dickstein with Stars & Stripes.  Appreciate you doing this.

I wanted to see, can you give us an idea of the amount of land at this last area that ISIS controls, that the -- size I guess of the land area?

GEN. PARISOT:  I think -- on top of my head, I think it's about 30 kilometers by 10.  I mean, it's quite small.  We -- we'll get back to you with the exact number, but basically it's roughly in that area you know, place there.

So it's quite small.  There are a few cities in there, but the rest of the land is kind of open, so we hope that the last combat will go very quickly.

And obviously the main threat there is the IEDs.  We expect Daesh, like they did in Raqqa, like they did in Dashisha, to leave behind certainly a lot of IEDs.
So I mean, we expect to have, you know, a very overwhelming force from the SDF.  But actually, it's going to be -- it might be slow because of the other threat.

And for example, in Dashisha, you know the fight is over but they're still back-clearing to make sure that people can go back to the houses and can start, having a new life after, for example, in Dashisha, four years under Daesh rule.

So it's actually quite amazing to see the resilience of these people.  Right after the clearance, they come back and they try to open markets.  And it's quite amazing to see these people, how they react to that liberation of, you know, from ISIS.

So that's what's we expect from the MERV as well.  But more houses, so probably more work on the back-clearance.

STAFF:  If we have any other questions from the floor before I -- before I go to follow-ups?

Okay, I did -- I did note a couple of follow-ups.  Kasim?

Q:  General, thanks.

You -- in a talk to Tara, you mentioned northern Syrian Defense Force.  General, could you please explain what is this northern Syrian Defense Force, and what type of trainings are you providing them?  Is it -- does -- does it include border security?

GEN. PARISOT:  So it's the Syrian Democratic Force, you know.  And they're going to have what we call security forces, which is, you know, because after the fight, and it's the same actually on the Iraqi side, they need to be able to, you know, concentrate the gains they had on the military side after the operations.

So it's very different from, you know, gaining -- I'm not an army guy, but you know gaining terrain is different from keeping terrain.  So we are training them to keep terrain.  And there is no border, you know, forces in that training.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Tara?

Q:  Thank you, sir.

As a follow-up on the 30 kilometers to 10 kilometers that's still being held by ISIS, do you have any estimates of how many civilians are held in that area?

And then separately, to get back to the -- the question of how many ISIS fighters remain, just wanting to see if you can explain this a little more.  If you don't know how many ISIS fighters there are, how will you know when you've defeated them?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, we're getting the civilians -- you know ISIS understand, you know, the -- the war.  So what they do is they take, you know, human shields, but actually they dress as well like civilians.

So I mean, we're going to be very, very cautious in terms of strikes and so on.  And we make sure that, you know, when we strike, we positively ID, you know, someone that looks like Daesh.

And if it's going to take, if it takes some time, it's going to take some time.  And basically, you know, that's, but we have gathered information for many, many months now.  So we know where they are, we can see defensive positions, we can see a lot of what they do.  So that's one point.

But for the second part, obviously we have numbers, you know.  But in this forum, I cannot give you the numbers.  And I'm sorry about that.  But it's not ten of thousands, you know, and it's not, you know, smaller numbers.

So we have an idea of how many ISIS fighters there are.  But, you know, once we clear the terrain, basically we know that we defeated the physical caliphate.

And as I said earlier, you know, there're going to be still groups living, there're going to be still groups, you know, moving.  But it's going to be very, very small groups.  Like -- like we -- we can -- they're going to hide after that, basically.  You know.

And -- and hiding, when you hide you cannot fight.  So that's -- that's the first step.

Q:  Sure.  And just respectfully, the numbers of civilians in the territory that's still held by ISIS -- do you have any estimates on the numbers of civilians that are still living there?

GEN. PARISOT:  Sorry, we haven't made any census, you know?

So we know that a lot of civilians have fled, you know.  And what we see now is that, you know, much more fighters than civilians.

But, you know, it's possible that civilians are held hostage, you know, as kind of, as a human shield.  So I can't give you numbers, exact numbers.  It's something that, you know, that it would be absolutely speculation there.

STAFF:  We have time for just one more question.


Q:  Yeah, General.

Just one last question on -- has -- have the French forces in Syria or in the region conducted any self-defense strikes against pro-regime forces, either aircraft or artillery or forces on the ground?  Have they been in a situation where they've had to engage regime forces in self-defense?

GEN. PARISOT:  No.  We never had that, that case.

If, obviously, you know, if this happens, you know, basically we get (inaudible) engagement and it's very clear what we're supposed to do.  And our pilots, our artillery, you know, men, and all the forces we have on the ground, they know exactly what to do in that case.

But we never had this case in the last three and a half years now.

STAFF:  Thank you.  That's all the time we have for your questions.

Sir, did you have any final words for the group here?

GEN. PARISOT:  Well, first of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to the Pentagon press.  I was in the Pentagon a few years ago, so I know exactly where you are.

And, second, after a year here and I'm leaving in a few days, just I think the coalition is doing fantastic work in terms of first defeating Daesh and then  and then training the forces.

So there is still work to do, you know.  There is so we keep on killing the bad guys and making sure that the Iraqis and the northern Syrian people, they're going to have, you know, clear days ahead of them.

And you know, France is very proud to be a part of the coalition.  We've been here since the first day.  And as I said, we're going to stay until the fight is over.

Thank you very much.

STAFF:  Sir, thank you very much for your time.  Have a great day.

GEN. PARISOT:  Thank you.