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Department of Defense Background Briefing on Enhancing Counter-ISIL Operations

STAFF: I just want to reiterate at the outset, this is a background briefing. This audio, you may use for your own transcription, but it is not for broadcast in any way, shape, or form. Please, no photos as well.

We have our senior defense official today, who I think you all know. I will turn its over to her. She's got a hard commitment to be at a next meeting by 3 o.m., so you've got her here for about 40, 45 minutes.


So let me help give some context to the announcements coming out of the White House today, and to do that, what I'd recommend is just we review the -- we rewind the tape just a little bit, to July of this past year, and understand how we got to the some of today's announcements.

Excuse me. I'm just getting over a cold.

So, as some of you may remember the president cam to the Pentagon for a meeting -- a briefing on counter-ISIL. He received an update, and we went through the status of the campaign.

We essentially did two things at that meeting. Number one, we have reaffirmed to the president, the senior staff and the senior military commanders that the original strategy of working by, with and through local forces remains sound. There was no substitute for local forces on the ground in order to actually make significant gains against ISIL.

And then, number two, the president reaffirmed to all of us in the room that he was willing to hear all options of doing more in Iraq and Syria, as long as they would produce strategic success vice just tactical success. Right? Nothing just simply temporary.

His visit also kind of coincided with the one-year mark of the counter-ISIL campaign, give or take. So that was just a normal moment of inflection on the campaign.

And so we went about taking a very hard look at what was working, what wasn't working, in both Iraq and Syria, and what we thought might help us enhance our campaign.

You've seen us make this point throughout the fall, that we are willing to adjust the program when things are succeeding, and we're willing to change the program when things aren't succeeding.

You saw that with the Syria train and equip program and the announcements we made over the past month. We're willing to adjust the program and capitalize on what worked.

And in that context, the department really looked hard at -- at five main objectives for what we think the next year of the counter-ISIL campaign really requires, and these five objectives working in concert are really where we think we can have strategic success.

So I want to go through those so you can capture them. Number one, in Iraq, assisting the government of Iraq to take back Ramadi and Baiji, and setting the conditions for Mosul.

Number two, in Syria, enabling new and additional local forces to pressure, take and ultimately hold ISIL's declared stronghold of Raqqa -- capital of Raqqa.

Number three, secure the border between Syria and Turkey to drastically reduce the foreign fighter flow, the flow of materiel and money making its way to ISIL.

Number four, across both Iraq and Syria, degrading ISIL's internal lines of communication, (LOCs) and supply.

And number five, finally, reinforcing Jordan and Lebanese defenses as ISIL is pushed south and west under greater pressure.

As I mentioned, these objectives are meant to be pursued concurrently in order to maximize pressure on ISIL. So some of the announcements you saw coming out of the White House today fit directly under those five objectives. Or, all of them do.

So -- for instance, Ramadi -- helping the Iraqi Security Forces take back Ramadi and Baiji. So as the White House announced, we're going to continue to strengthen efforts to assist Iraq in their campaign.

For the DOD crowd specifically, this means enhanced combined arms training, enhanced breaching training, surging counter-IED equipment to the Iraqi Security Forces and getting the right Iraqi units and the right Iraqi leaders into the fight.

So I think Ramadi is actually an interesting example, just as an aside, of kind of looking at the campaign one year on and adjusting it as needed.

We started out in our building partner capacity program providing basic tactical training to units, and then ISIL demonstrated a pretty sophisticated use of IEDs in particular, in how they protect cities that they've held.

Frankly, many of you may have seen this, but they are -- ISIL was using IEDs the way armies use precision-guided munitions. They have completely encircled towns. If -- if you're able to breach through a ring of IEDs, they use VBIEDs -- often multiple VBIEDs -- to come and attack the first forces through.

So the -- we noticed that there was a true need for enhanced training -- particularly counter IED, counter breach -- breaching and combined arms training -- using a number of pieces together to get through that kind of tactic.

So we've adjusted our approach with the Iraqis, particularly around Ramadi, and that's some of the things you heard today.

For objective number two in Syria, enabling new forces to isolate, take, and ultimately hold Raqqa. So as you heard the White House say, providing more equipment -- equipment to groups fighting ISIL -- you saw the -- the resupply, I believe a week ago, in Syria -- that's a demonstration of that.

Number two, continuing raids and joint operations in both Iraq and Syria, and then now, newly, today, a small complement of U.S. SOF -- special operations forces -- deploying to northern Syria to help coordinate with local ground forces.

Just because I know it's a topic of great interest here, those forces will be doing strictly an advise and assist mission -- those forces going to Syria. They will coordinate with local groups on things like tactics, operational planning, logistics.

They will be located at by the quasi-headquarters element of the local forces in Syria. They will not be going out and -- and doing joint operations with those forces.

Number three -- objective number three, securing the border. One of the principal things we will do to put pressure in the border area and into Syria is, quote, "thicken" air operations in northern Syria.

That means we want a greater density of planes striking. We need a greater density of intelligence assets developing targets. You -- the White House announced A-10s, which are already on the ground at Incirlik, and F-15s forthcoming on -- in Incirlik, to help in the counter-ISIL campaign.

We will also be working very closely with coalition allies -- people who are in the counter -- countries, excuse me, that are in the counter -- counter-ISIL coalition. Adding additional resources to Incirlik as well, not just an American addition, and generally using the positive geography we have at Incirlik to prosecute additional targets.

For this -- those kind of activities also work, obviously, for objective number four -- so, degrading ISIL's internal lines of communication and supply. Anything that has us prosecuting additional targets in Syria to -- just strain that connection between Raqqa and Mosul. And then, from Raqqa up through the border is something we are going to be focused on.

Last objective, strengthening Jordan and Lebanon's defenses. We have -- we are enhancing our counter ISIL support to both those countries.

In certain areas, it's enhanced contingency planning, so that we have a strong defense plans established and reinforced in places like, in Lebanon, for instance, we're nearly doubling our security assistance to the Lebanese armed forces -- a real sea change there in order to protect against the encroachment of ISIL and other terrorist groups coming across their borders.

So that's the general frame, and I just thought it was important to give a little bit of the history of how we got here. I'm happy to take questions now, and pardon me if I don't know everybody's names.

I think we're starting with Lita.

Q: Thanks a lot for doing this. Just a couple quick things, you talked about these special operations forces -- you said that they were not going to be going out, but will they be forward deployed with some of the Syrian forces in advise and assist roles? So will they be actually traveling with them even if it's not, you know, fighting on the front line?

And, so -- can you give us, I guess a little bit more detail on what they're doing, and also on the number of aircraft that you're talking about adding to Incirlik.


Q: Some little more detail on that.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. Let me start with the SOF and then we'll go -- we'll go to Incirlik.

On the -- the SOF forces, again, we're talking about, essentially, less than 50 individuals. And certainly, for the time being, they will remain singularly at the headquarter's element.

They are not going to be out and about in advise and assist the way we are, in some cases, in Iraq. And the point is to get some guys on the ground, get eyes on, work with the units that are -- that are there fighting ISIL and see what more is possible.

This is a start to gauge what's possible, and in the meantime, help them with operational planning. Again, tactics, logistics, key elements to being able to take and hold territory. But for the foreseeable future, they will not be accompanying on any operations that these forces partake in.

On the thickening and on the additional planes to Incirlik, as I said, I think we -- we have 12 A-10s that just recently went into Incirlik in the past couple of weeks, and we are finalizing the package of additional F-15s. It will be about a dozen, give or take, but we're still figuring out the exact details of the mix. I know folks are interested in the mix of Cs and Es are likely to go in.

Q: About a dozen extra?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: A dozen -- so we have the A-10s already there, which is about a dozen, and I -- we are poised to put it about a dozen more F-15s. But I don't want to give you a hard number because it could be up or down by a --

Q: And then, just quickly, you said for the foreseeable future they wouldn't be going out. So, you're not ruling out the possibility that down the road, these special forces might actually go out, or be in a more forward deployed advise and assist role?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not ruling it out, and I think today's announcements are a perfect example of -- and you shouldn't rule out anything. We'll adjust once we get a better sense of who's on the ground, there capability and what's actually needed.

Q: Okay, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, I know I'm supposed to go to someone in TV, but I -- I don't know --

Q: I'm from TV.


Q: You wouldn't know (off mic).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I wouldn't know either way.

Q: You didn't mentioned one of the -- one of the things that the White House put out, which is consulting the Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi government on the establishment of the Special Operations Task Force.


Q: That sounds like putting commandos into Iraq to be part of the whatever you want to call it -- a strike force.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. So, I think one of the things that we're talking out with the Prime Minister right now is enhancing the package of special operators we already have up in northern Iraq.

Again, this is something that's subject to Iraqi government approval, and -- and support. But the idea is, as we're trying to really strain ISIL's internal lines of communication and, in an ideal setting, we would have as much of a Special Operations package as possible up there.

We're not talking about a serious enhancement, because, frankly, we already have a complement up there. Many of you have seen the special operators that we have based out of Erbil. But we are talking about doing more, but that's a poor subject to the Prime Minister.

Q: And, back on the special forces -- will they -- they'll obviously have the ability to call in airstrikes to protect themselves --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Are you talking about Syria, or are you talking about Iraq?

Q: I'm talking about Syria. Will they have -- will they have the ability to call in airstrikes on ISIS positions?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Right now we are -- our plan is not to have those special operators based in Syria act as JTACs or call in airstrikes as you're -- as you're referring to.

They will certainly help the forces there, but as you know, the forces on the ground in Syria have already been assisting in the -- the placement of airstrikes -- coalition airstrikes for nearly a year now. So they don't -- I'm not sure that they -- how much support they actually need in that particular mission. But no, we're not envisioning them acting as JTACs.


Q: The special operators going into northern Syria, will they meet with the Syria coalition as well as the YPG?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: They'll meet with a whole range of folks who are out there, so that's Syrian Kurds, Turkmen, Syrian Arabs -- the whole range of groups that have been fighting together against counter ISIL, or against ISIL.

Q: You mentioned equipment. What kind of equipment -- additional equipment will all these groups be getting? And also, obviously drop 50 tons of --


Q: -- ammunition to either of the YPG or the -- or the SAC, whoever you listen to. Will they be provided with additional ammunition or arms? All groups?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So we've already, as you said, we've already supplied ammunition -- 50 tons. It was to the Syrian Arab coalition, and claims, otherwise, are claims and not fact. Unless you have information I don't personally have. But it was intended for the Syrian Arab coalition.

By all reports, it -- it landed on its target. We have confirmation from the leadership, including photographic confirmation, that the information -- the ammo hit its target. But, to be honest with you, this is -- it's a two-way street. So the groups that received the -- the ammunition need to use it.

We have good information that they are launching offensive operations that were intended. That was the intention of the -- of the drop. And we would certainly follow up and provide more if they needed it.

Q: What about -- what about additional equipment, and also any ammunition or arms to the YPG?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Right now we have not, and do not intend to provide any ammunition directly to the YPG. We are --

Q: Why not?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Right now, we are starting small. We are starting with the Syrian Arab coalition and seeing where that goes. I don't rule it out in the future, but I certainly -- nothing would be done without the close coordination with the government of Turkey. So we are not intending to drop anything at this time to the YPG.

Q: And lastly, the equipment? What kind?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What type of equipment? So, as you know, in the first tranche it was a -- a significant amount of ammunition for a range of -- of weapon systems.

I think we are testing the waters, and if they if they -- if the groups on the ground are actually using the ammunition as they intended, we would consider sending things like small arms. So the arms that equate with the ammunition we sent the last time. But that's it at this point.

Q: Are you differentiating --

Q: Could you -- could you explain again the forces that the SOF forces will be working with in Syria? Which ones?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. So it'll be a combination of a wide range of groups. Syrian Arabs, Syrian Kurds, Syrian Turkmen. There are a wide range of groups over there.

I'm not going to get into specifics, because --

Q: And -- right. And -- and whose headquarters will it be? Will the SOF have their own special headquarter and all these groups come to meet them? Or are they going to move from group to group to group? Because all those groups are not headquartered together.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, many of those groups actually do have -- I wouldn't call them headquarters, but they have ways that -- they have liaison, and they have --

Q: -- but you called it "headquarters".

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so that's, again, it's a term of art. So we will not be establishing our own U.S.-led headquarters. We're talking about less than 50 guys.

So we will go to where they are "headquartered" -- that's a term of art -- and where these forces -- we can liaise with a wide range of groups, where we can meet a number of the groups who we've met previously, and at this time -- at this point, engage them on the ground as -- as opposed to doing everything virtually.

Q: So they will be on the move?


Q: They won't be stuck in one place? Or -- .

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You know, I think our -- our vision, at least at the outset, is for them to go in for small amounts of time and to one location. I don't anticipate that they will be moving from place to place to place with regularity.

Although the whole point of this exercise is to get on the ground, see what's there, see what we can work with and then move out from there. So I want to rule anything out. But at this point we know some locations where they work together and have a headquarters-like function that we plan on spending our time at.

Q: When you say a small amount of time, are you talking days? Weeks at a time?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think we're thinking weeks to months.


Q: Are you differentiating between Syria and Iraq in terms of what SOF will be allowed to do? You say, in Syria, that they won't be able to embed or go on raids, but in Iraq, we saw recently, they did go on a raid.

Are you saying that's no longer going to happen in Iraq? Or is it a different circumstance in both -- (inaudible)?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's just a very different circumstance. I mean, the circumstance for the raid that happened last week was us working with the permission of the Iraqi government, with a force that we spend our time living and sitting next to, who we know -- both in this context, but for years beforehand, in the previous wars and no-fly zone.

So the faith that we have in the forces that we're working with in Iraq is just fundamentally different from the groups that we -- that we've been working with in Syria -- to good effect, but we need to get on the ground, meet them -- you know, there's nothing quite like the face-to-face contact.

So until we have greater faith, then I don't think we're anticipating our forces going and accompanying the forces on the ground in Syria.

Q: And just so I understand, in terms of the -- the task force you want to set up in northern Iraq, are you ruling out that they could, in fact, be embedded and go into Ramadi with forces there?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not ruling that out, but that's not the intention. The effort in -- with our special operators in Erbil is a very different mission than the forces we have, frankly, at Taqaddum, right? Much closer to the fight.

Those are the forces -- including some special operators, but -- forces who are working directly with the Iraqi units going into Ramadi. So that's where that support would come from.

Q: Are you still considering putting U.S. advisers at the brigade level in Iraq? And also on Ramadi, are -- are you looking at putting JTACs alongside these -- these forces, and -- there was also talk about Apache helicopters being pushed towards that fight. Is that on the table?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I think all of those options are still very much on the table right now. The things that we've announced today are things that are specific to the actual problem set the Iraqis have been having in -- in and around Ramadi.

It hasn't been a problem of air support. It has been a problem of getting into the city and breaching through these IEDs. That is not something that a JTAC in particular is going to be useful for.

But if there -- if we are successful and the Iraqis are breached through, this problem that they've been having with the IED's -- I'm not ruling out that there might be more support, including the things that you mentioned.

Q: But you did say at the beginning that you envision -- you know, U.S. troops going on raids in Syria and Iraq. So can you talk, number one, a little bit more about that? What -- what's the difference? Is it a different group of troops? What are you talking about?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So you know, and the secretary mentioned in his hearing, we have seen, for almost a year -- at times, we will do unilateral raids, in particular, into Syria. That has been done. We will continue to -- to do that.

These 50 SOF that we're talking about today and announcing today are not going to be doing unilateral or accompanying raids. They are there just to give advise and assist at the headquarters level -- I'm sorry, that's a bad term.

But -- so that's the distinction -- Barbara -- is we will continue unilateral raids, particularly it's -- if it's against high-value ISIL targets that have a direct impact on homeland security or -- or Europe's security.

Q: Is -- it's always been our general understanding that kind of thing would require significant specific approval by high-level people in the administration, and we would expect that to continue.


Q: Okay. And my other question, very quickly, then -- I'm sorry -- is the Russians. As this moves around and you -- now hypothetically -- you have raised the notion that, down the road, troops could go in various places.

What communication have you had with the Russians, now, about all of this? Are you going to tell them where the U.S. troops are going to be? Do you want them to know for their own -- everybody's safety?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So the Russians coming in, obviously, complicated the overall -- the already complicated situation that existed in Syria. But to be clear, we -- we set, and we have not changed, the scope or scale of our counter-ISIL efforts in Syria since they've come in. They just have not.

We have created safety procedures with them, but we -- and we have made clear to them, in multiple -- in multiple avenues, that we are -- we expect them to keep a significant and safe distance away from us.

And to be honest with you, the area where we're placing -- we're planning to place these SOF is not an area that they have struck, nor would they need to strike. It's not ISIL and it's not -- it's -- it is not regime-controlled.

Q: Understood.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So -- so we don't anticipate any problems or --

Q: So you've not -- you've not notified them of the location.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We have not notified, and we -- we do not feel the need to notify them of their location. We expect them -- they -- they are keenly aware of what happens, as we are, over the skies of Syria, and coming in and out of Syria, and we expect them to maintain a safe and responsible distance from us.


Q: Thanks.

Are any SOF in Syria at the moment? We're hearing reports that the first 10 to 15 were actually there.


Q: What's the duration and the flow? You expecting it'll be all -- roughly 50 -- by -- in a month or two, or two weeks?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I think it's weeks to month.

Q: Weeks to month.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's somewhere in that range. And there are SOF coming not from Iraq, but from the homeland. Yeah.

Q: And -- the -- the duration will be weeks to months that they'll be in northern -- this is not in perpetuity? It'll be just a year or two?


Q: I'm sorry, we -- weeks to months before they get there? I know you said weeks to months on -- (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Weeks to a month to get there.

Q: To get there. I'm sorry.

Q: But their presence would be weeks to months --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, on the ground.

Q: -- on the ground.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would say less than 60 days at a time.

Q: Okay. Then you would reassess that -- each 60-day cluster --


Q: -- to see whether they're needed continually?


Q: Just to clarify, when you say some are coming from the -- from -- not from Iraq, are some coming from Iraq as well? Is there a mix?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. The group that will be going in will be coming from CONUS.

Q: All of it?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All of them. For the -- sorry, for the 50 going -- 50 or less going into Syria.

Q: Okay, so none are coming from the region.


Q: Can I -- just get a clarification?

Q: That was -- that was my -- one of my questions. But I also want to clarify on Barbara’s point about the Russians. So if I understand this, the U.S. is putting 50 American service members into Syria with the hope that Russia will not strike where they're at right now?

I -- I just -- help me clarify if we're -- if the United States isn't communicating with Russia -- I get that the majority of the strikes aren't in that area, but the United States has done a really poor job so far predicting what Russia's going to do in Syria.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So -- of course, whenever we put U.S. forces on the ground in any situation, force protection is our primary concern. So we will, first and foremost, do everything the military believes is required to keep themselves safe, and if that includes potentially talking to the Russians, we're open to it.

We have not, as of yet, communicated with the Russians, and I do not know of a plan to do that, to be -- we have lots of means we can communicate with them.

You know that the -- Secretary Kerry is speaking with the Russians right now. We have opened a channel based on our safety protocols that we established, about Syria. So we have multiple ways to do that.

As of right now, we have no plan to communicate with the Russians, but we would always do whatever we had to to protect our forces going into a new place.

Q: And why wouldn't you communicate with the Russians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think the Russians, first of all, have quite significant visibility on what happens in -- in and around Syria. So there's pretty good visibility for all parties on where our forces are, where our planes are.

That became very, very clear during our negotiations over our -- these safety protocols. And, again, I can't -- it's not that it's not -- not --may not happen. I just don't know of a plan at this time to coordinate with them, so.

Q: So just to clarify, earlier, you said that coalition allies are also going to be increasing their role at Incirlik.


Q: Potentially? Have you got any commitments from any Arab allies to do that? And also, is the United States the only country that's going to be sending in SOF, or are any allies in the region going to also send in some -- some forces, which would mean, obviously, there would be a reason to have Arab forces in Arab lands.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yep. So we're talking to a number of coalition allies, including Arab allies, about potentially locating some assets at Incirlik. At this point, I don't have -- and I don't want to get ahead of any of those nations, in terms of -- of announcing any commitments.

But as of right now, I do not have -- just to answer your specific question -- I do not have any specific Arab country commitments to go into Incirlik, per your question.

And in terms of other country commitments for special operations forces, so, I think we are in close consultation with a number of our allies about this very issue.

A small number of allies are interested in additional special operations forces in both Iraq and Syria. I do not know whether they will make that decision and would leave them some space to make that decision. But we -- there are some allies who have been interested and asking about doing more with special operations forces across the whole theater.

Q: Okay. Just to clarify, too, before, you said the U.S. would work with Kurds in northern Syria. Is there a distinction between working with Kurds in northern Syria and working with the YPG in northern Syria?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There's a whole host of groups up there, the YPG being one of them. But there's other Syrian Kurdish groups. So it's -- it is an umbrella term for a whole host of folks that are up there fighting ISIL.

Q: Okay. But even though the U.S. is not going to do airdrops for the Kurds right now, or flying weaponry directly to the Kurds right now --


Q: -- to the YPG. It might still do that -- it might -- but does that rule out cooperation with the YPG right now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, for -- for almost a year, we've been supporting them with an air campaign. So I think we've demonstrated our willingness to work with pretty much any force who's willing to fight and hold territory from ISIL.

Sir, second row?

Q: You -- Jordan and Lebanon, you mentioned Lebanon, you're going to double the -- the funding there. Can you just explain where that funding's going to come from, and if there's a similar funding boost -- a double boost -- coming for Jordan?


Q: And also, Jordanian defense minister, Prince Faisal, has been on the record saying he would really like some unmanned systems in Jordan. Is that something being considered?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So the majority of funding for the bump up -- both for Jordan and Lebanon -- has actually been in train for a little while.

It's the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund -- CTPF. So if you go look -- and this is all public information -- at -- at how we've notified the assistance under that, it's -- it's -- I'm going to forget the exact numbers, but it's hundreds of millions for Jordan and -- I want to say something like $100 million plus for Lebanon.

We can get you the specific numbers. It's all public information. But that's where the -- the source of that funding, and that's something that Congress has been in strong support of even before -- (inaudible).

Q: So this includes -- this -- this plus-up includes the last few months.


Q: Okay. It's not a full stop or adding any --.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's not a full stop from today. We plan to double. It's -- this is -- many of these things have frankly been in train already. I'm sorry, I'm forgetting the second part of your question.

Q: The unmanned systems to Jordan.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The unmanned systems. So -- a very popular item for lots of our our partners and allies across the world, and Congress has a significant role in approving any unmanned systems that would go to any -- that would be sold or provided to any other country abroad.

I -- I honestly don't know the status of the Jordanian request. I know this is often one of the most sought-after and controversial security assistance items that we deal with, and it's -- it's been a struggle, frankly, even with some of our NATO allies, to get some of those systems released.

We can get you more specifics. I just don't have it off the top of my head.


Q: Thank you.

On the raids in Syria, would we see joint raids, like we saw in Hawija? Or would -- would we see unilateral -- unilateral raids, as we saw with Abu Sayyaf?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, what we're talking about right now in Syria -- This was – Barbara’s question, I think -- was we will continue, when necessary, unilateral raids in Syria, as you probably saw with Abu Sayyaf and a few others.

And that is what -- that is it right now. We are not planning any accompanied or joint raids because we don't have a strong sense yet of whether that's possible with the joint -- with the forces we've been working on the ground with.

In -- in Iraq, it will continue as you -- as you've seen, unilateral, typically not because we have the government of Iraq working with us and supporting us.

Q: But joint raids might be -- some of them -- more -- that we may look at once the forces get there?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can't rule it out. I can't rule it out. I -- that's why we need to get on the ground and understand -- you know, sort of who's really there.

Q: Can I follow up just very quickly on Hawija? Was that the first time that U.S. military forces, SOF or otherwise, were embedded with indigenous forces and ultimately engaged in combat?


Q: Okay.


Q: You said once you used the term, "start small," and another time you said they're going to go look and see what's possible. So does that suppose that if it's possible, there will be more special forces sent into Syria?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I can't speak for what will happen. I -- all I will tell you is that the president has made very clear that he's open to recommendations on things that will have a strategic impact.

So I don't know whether we'd recommend further action, and I don't know whether he would accept further action. I just know that it would be a fool's errand at this point to say we're not going to adjust again, because I'm here telling you about an adjustment.

So it's -- I'm not leaving -- I'm not trying to secret-message you that there's more to come, nor am I trying to secret-message you that this is the end.

I -- I literally -- we will adjust based on conditions on the ground and what we learn, and the level of risk.

Okay? Ma'am.

Q: When you talked about the third element in the strategy, you said, in order to either clear or try and prevent foreign fighters, and some of the lines of communication that you're going to thicken the air ops in northern Syria -- there's been a lot of talk and a lot of pressure. Calls for a no-fly zone or something resembling it.

Is that -- are we building towards that in any way?


Q: Not on the table?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It -- it is something obviously, you know has been in the conversation, and has been in the discussion, but today's announcements are not keyed any way to the beginning or start of a no-fly zone.

This is simply the -- the point -- you've seen it in the media, that we want to be prosecuting as many targets as possible in Syria against ISIL. And in order to do that, we need to have the right assets in the theater, in proximity to do that.

And so some of that is just making sure you have the planes on quick -- quick reaction that can come from the geography of Incirlik to do that. And some of it is developing the targets with ISR and a whole host of other things that allow you to have targets to hit. But it is no -- in no way a -- a -- the start of a no-fly zone or a creeping no-fly zone. That's just not the intent.

Q: I'm sorry, just one thing to follow-up. I'm just trying to understand the progress here. You said that the president came and said, I want to hear all options. And then what we're seeing, is what's been sort of framed as a subtle shift. But there's certainly announcements that were made that President Obama seemed to be ruling out before.

In that meeting, did he sort of open things up in a way that he -- were certain structures taken off the -- the strategy --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I honestly -- I don't -- I don't think that he has put, like, left and right limits on us. He wants something that will have a strategic affect. And what we can't get around, is this fact that you need -- and we learned this from the last war in spades -- you need a local force on the ground who's gonna come in and hold that territory, right? It's -- I mean, very basic. It's clear, hold, build.

The United States could clear it very quickly we clear some of these areas. But we need forces on the ground that will hold and build, or else we'll be there for a significant chunk of time. And I don't necessarily believe that will make the conflict better.

We've actually seen in many cases where, our presence of foreign troops on the ground has made things worse. So it -- the -- I don't -- I really never feel like the president told us, you have left and right limits. It's that you have to have an ability to tell him a strategic story, and that's what we done. We've made a recommendation to him and he was open to those recommendations.

Q: Given that local forces on the ground were a part of the strategy for the entirety -- from -- since the beginning. But you've used phrases like, we don't have faith yet that we can go on raids with these forces, we don't necessarily have faith yet that we can do X with these forces. We've, you know, we've been -- so if that's been a part of the strategy since the beginning, what do you think are some of the constraints that have resulted in us continuing not to have faith in local forces on the ground?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I would just be real careful to -- to parse my words.

I never said that about Iraq, where we're going on accompanied raids --

Q: But in Syria where that's gonna --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well in Syria, yeah, because we have a very high standard for our forces and for protection of our forces. So when we're not on the ground to get to know them, to look at them face-to-face every day, any military officer will tell you that that will give you -- that will give you pause.

So they have had -- actually these groups have had a very positive record over the past year. They've taken back the majority of the Syrian-Turkish border. They've had success in, not just clearing, but holding territory.

So they've had real success. But that doesn't -- that -- that mean that there still a gap between having real success and accompanying them on raids. That's a higher standard, and part of us going out and meeting with them, spending some time in Syria, is seeing where they -- where they are on that spectrum.

It's just prudent -- prudent force protection responsibly.

STAFF: We have time for about one more here.


Q: Yes, could you just tell us, you said what more is possible in -- in Syria. Could that mean more armaments -- different kinds of weapons, vehicles that you could -- that you would provide to those forces?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, as I said before, we've provided ammunition for a whole range of -- for a whole range of weapons.

If these forces prove to be trustworthy and to take back the objectives that they are aimed at, I think we're willing to consider providing the arms that go with those -- that ammunition, right? So, small arms, you know, the range of ammunition -- or a range of weapons -- small arms -- that we've provided ammunition for.

That's all that I think we're thinking of at the current time.

Q: What about training and having the ability to call airstrikes more effectively? Is that part of the new mission?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I think certainly, the forces -- the 50 or so that we're planning to put on the ground -- would advise them on the whole range of things, including, yes, how to more effectively work with our forces and our -- our air power.

They've done a pretty darn good job. I've got to tell you, they -- they have learned the skill set through very challenging circumstances. But, of course, our forces would be on the ground to talk about the whole range of improving their tactics.

STAFF: Thank you everybody.