CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us in this alternate table configuration. We took a break from our COCOM PA conference to be able to do this, so our apologies, we didn't have time to reconfigure that room like you're used to. Hopefully, some of you who cover the State Department in other places might -- might find this more familiar and to your liking.
Pleased to have with us here for his update for the week, Colonel Steve Warren from Operation Inherent Resolve. Steve, we will turn it over to you for opening questions. And as always, folks, just signal me and I'll get you on the list here for -- for questions once he's done.
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate it. And greetings, -- (inaudible) -- Pentagon press corps.
You know, I want to start today and mention, of course, France and our condolences to all those victims there. The morning after those attacks, I had the opportunity to sit and have breakfast with a French officer who's here, on FOB Union with us. And his family is fine, they were in Marseille, but it's something that we certainly felt here.
This is a coalition that, over time, becomes a lot like a family, so our thoughts and our prayers and our hearts are very much with the French.
So on that note, I would like to run you around the battlefield a little bit before we go to questions. So the map should be up right now, our -- our main map. I'd like to start with Raqqa, which is, of course, blue circle number four there on your map.
Since Saturday, France has conducted numerous strikes against targets in Raqqa. Those targets include ISIL headquarters, training camps and storage depots. The French have been a robust partner and a robust member of Operation Inherent Resolve. They were the first -- they were our first NATO partner to strike Iraq in September of '14 and they've conducted about 12 percent of all of the non-U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria so far. There are approximately 240 French troops here in Iraq training, advising and assisting the ISF.
Finally, the deployment of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will, we believe, add significant strike capability to the coalition.
Before we move on any further, I do want to quickly run through the rest of the battlefield in the operational picture.
So, in the Syrian Euphrates River Valley, Operation Tidal Wave II continues. Early Sunday morning in Al-Bukamal, which is the southern blue circle number two, you see two blue circles there. They both represent Tidal Wave II operations, but we're in the southern one -- the one further towards the bottom of your screen, there.
In Al-Bukamal, we destroyed 116 tanker trucks, which we believe will reduce ISIL's ability to transport its stolen oil products.
This is our first strike against tanker trucks, and to minimize risks to civilians, we conducted a leaflet drop prior to the strike. We did a show of force, by -- we had aircraft essentially buzz the trucks at low altitude.
So, I do have copy of the leaflet, and I have got some videos, so why don't you pull the leaflet up. Let me take a look at it so I can talk about it.
As you can see, it's a fairly simple leaflet, it says, "Get out of your trucks now, and run away from them." A very simple message.
And then, also, "Warning: airstrikes are coming. Oil trucks will be destroyed. Get away from your oil trucks immediately. Do not risk your life."
And so, these are the leaflets that we dropped -- about 45 minutes before the airstrikes actually began. Again, we combine these leaflet drops with very low altitude passes of some of our attack aviation, which sends a very powerful message.
We also have a video. So, DVIDS, if you can show that video, please.
COL. WARREN: So, those -- I think those videos were a little bit dramatic. I think the first and the last one were bombs and in between, of course you saw strafing runs from the A-10s and the other C-130s that were out there conducting this operation.
So I'd like to move on, go back to the battlefield. If Casper or Tom, you could pull up the Al-Hawl map, please. So continuing our tour of the battlefield in Al-Hawl on November 14, the Syrian democratic forces liberated that town. ISIL held Al-Hawl for the last nine months, but they retreated as the Syrian democratic forces approached. The SDF capitalized on this retreat and reclaimed nearly 200 small villages from ISIL control.
During the two-week campaign for Al-Hawl, friendly forces reclaimed 730 square kilometers of territory, and of course, the coalition supported. We conducted 79 airstrikes that killed over 300 enemy fighters and destroyed 105 ISIL fighting positions. We also recovered significant amounts of enemy equipment that was abandoned.
I can go back to the main map now. This is our last map of the night. Is one the red -- the map with the red on it and the stars. You see in the southern -- in the lower left-hand portion of that map, star number seven is a new star. On November 15th, the new Syrian forces, trained by the coalition, conducted a mortar raid on an ISIL stronghold in the tri-border area near Al Tam. This was the first operation of its kind in Southern Syria, five buildings and a weapons cash were destroyed.
Moving on to Iraq, we'll start in Mosul, which is circle number one, blue one in the upper right-hand corner of your screen. That's Mosul, where we continue our disruption operations in the Tigris River Valley, which includes Baiji, Mosul and Hawaija. We've conducted 105 airstrikes since October 15.
The vicinity of Sinjar, further west, which is star number three, the coalition has conducted 290 airstrikes since October 15. Peshmerga have secured Sinjar, established a new forward line of troops and continue their clearance operations there.
Finally, along the Euphrates River Valley, which includes Ramadi, Fallujah, and Abu Hayat, we've conducted over 190 airstrikes since October 15.
So these are all the whats, and the important, I think, question is always the why. And the why is -- and the why I tell you all of this is because it's -- I think it's important for everyone to understand our overarching objective, which is to partner with indigenous ground forces, enable those indigenous ground forces to conduct offensive operations and then provide coalition air power on top of those offensive operations.
As indigenous friendly forces maneuver against our enemy, it causes our enemy to move. The enemy has to react, and as soon as the enemy reacts, we kill them from the air. So I think that's my overall message here. This is an operation, it -- it spans the breadth and the depth of this battlefield, now going as far south as the tri-border area, as far west as the Mara line and as far east as -- as Baiji.
So that concludes my opening remarks and I guess AP, if it's Lita or Bob, we'll start with you.
Q: Thanks, Dave. Can you hear me?
COL. WARREN: Yes. Can you hear, Bob?
Q: Okay. Steve, I have a question that goes to this -- this question that's been raised about the overall pace of the campaign, particularly the air campaign.
You mentioned that the French in recent days have hit numerous targets in the Raqqa area -- training camps, storage depots, headquarters buildings. Some people would ask, why those kinds of targets which seemed like -- like good, obvious targets, why they haven't been taken out before? I mean, is the Islamic state adding to its infrastructure and expanding? Or why are those -- why were those kind of targets not already hit?
COL. WARREN: Well, fair question and a good question. So the way the targeting process works, as we strike a target, say we strike a headquarters building. And it will -- obviously, some enemy fighters will be killed in that headquarters building strike, but not all of them. And so the enemy then needs a new headquarters building. So they will reposition whatever is left of their equipment out of that headquarters building, and they'll gather up other bits and pieces of equipment, and establish a new headquarters building in a different location.
So then it takes us time to work the intelligence piece to determine where this new headquarters building is, and then to strike it. So it's a continuous rolling process -- everything from fighting positions, which can be freshly dug, to communications nodes which can be repositioned either based on the -- by the enemy, based on the tactical situation, or repositioned because they've been struck and damaged.
So it's a rolling process to identify targets, vet those targets, ensure that those targets meet all of our standards for the reduction of civilian casualties and mitigation of the potential of civilian casualties and collateral damage. And then we strike those targets. So it's a continuous rolling process.
Q: Steve, we were told that for the first time the Russians reached out to the Americans a few days back, and said "we're going to hit Raqqa." Has there been any other communications along those lines with the Russians?
And also, President Obama said, "I welcome the fact that they are now going to step up some of the strikes." And he added, quote, "We are actually helping facilitate them doing so." What was the president talking about there?
COL. WARREN: So, the communications piece first, Tom. As you know, several weeks ago, we established this system that would allow Russia headquarters and coalition headquarters -- in our case, it's the CAOC -- to reach out to one another and -- and warn or advise of an upcoming operation so we could de-conflict. This is all about safety and de-confliction so that there are no incidents in the air.
And so this is what happened. So we actually test that -- that communication channel almost daily, so we know it's a good channel. But in this case, it was actually used for the first time. The Russians contacted us and told us what they were going to do, and we acknowledged it, and everybody continued on with their missions.
It's important to note that the Russian actions in Raqqa here recently had a minimal impact on coalition operations, very minimal.
As far as what the president said, you know, certainly I'm aware of what the president said. We right now here on the ground are not in any type of communications or coordination with the Russians. So that's something that's, being worked at a higher level.
Q: And getting back to Raqqa, as we all know, the Russians are not using precision munitions. Any sense of any increased civilian casualties in Raqqa as a result of that?
COL. WARREN: We don't have a great read on the civilian casualty piece now. It -- it would come as no surprise.
As you noted, you know, the Russians are using dumb bombs. Their history has been both reckless and irresponsible.
You know, I know there was some discussion that the Russians had a large air armada flying into Raqqa to conduct these operations. And it was notable to us that, you know, those are antiquated tactics. We don't even use those type of tactics anymore.
The idea of putting, you know, ten ships in the air at one time, or 12 or even more, are very old fashioned. And those are the type of tactics needed only if you don't possess the technology, the skills and the capabilities to conduct the type of precision strikes that our coalition conducts.
So, uncertain on the civilian casualty piece at this point. We are, of course, continuing to monitor it closely.
CAPT. DAVIS: I think a follow up, then Phil will be next.
Q: Steve, Jim Miklaszewski, following up on Tom's question.
In addition to what the president said, the Secretary of State John Kerry said he could see the U.S. and Russians working together, flying together, side-by-side, I think is what he said, in Syria and perhaps Iraq, I guess.
Is the U.S. military leadership there -- either there or here in the Pentagon, as far as you know -- prepared to fly side-by-side with the Russians.
COL. WARREN: The U.S. military, of course, has the greatest aviators on Earth, so they're capable of flying with anybody.
That said, we right now have no plans to conduct coordinated operations with the Russians.
Q: Actually working together in combat flight operations, side-by-side with the Russians at this point?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, we're -- right now, we have no plans to do that.
You know, if told, we're capable of executing any mission that we're given. Again, you know, we have the best aviators, the most sophisticated technology anywhere on Earth.
But right now, we have no plans. We're not coordinating with the Russians, we're not conducting operations with the Russians, nor are we planning to do any of those things here at the ground level.
Q: On Bob's question, too, if -- if it's so important to cut off the oil shipments, the critical revenue source for ISIS, why did it take so long to take out 116 oil tanker trucks?
COL. WARREN: No, that's a great question, Jim. Thanks for asking it.
So, a little history on Operation Tidal Wave II. Initially, we, you know, we have been striking oil infrastructure targets since the very beginning of this operation.
What we found out was that many of our strikes were only minimally effective. We would strike pieces of the oil infrastructure that were easily repaired.
When we came to that realization, we conducted some more study -- I think I talked about this last week, a little bit -- we conducted some more study, and determined how to better strike the oil infrastructure itself, different pieces of the system.
During the course of that study, we also determined that part of the illicit oil system, from the oil coming out of the ground at a -- at a pump head, to the end of that chain, which is the distribution network.
So, this is a decision that we had to make. We have not struck these trucks before. We assessed that these trucks, while although they are being used for operations that support ISIL, the truck drivers, themselves, probably not members of ISIL; they're probably just civilians. So we had to figure out a way around that. We're not in this business to kill civilians, we're in this business to stop ISIL -- to defeat ISIL.
So, we spend some time developing some TTPs that I read out earlier -- the leaflets, the low pass. We did some -- I didn't mention in my open, but we did some strafe runs as well -- to kind of shoo people away without harming them. So we had to go through that whole process of one, determining whether or not we felt it was in our best interest to strike these trucks. And then once we determined that, yes, it is in our interest to strike these trucks, how do we go about ensuring that we're able to mitigate the potential of civilian casualties?
And these things take time. So this was an iterative process down here at the very lowest levels, although, at the very highest levels of government. As we discussed this and worked our way through this problem set of, you know, how do we -- how do we get at this oil. Because we know the oil funds more than 50 percent of ISIL's operations. This is something we want to take away from them. That we want -- that we need to take this away from them so that they're -- so they're operations are more difficult to conduct.
So, long -- long answer to, I guess, what was a long process of discussion, of analysis and then finally decision.
Q: Hi, it's Phil. Did the Russians hit targets that were in the U.S. or the coalition cue in Raqqa? And have there been any more communications with the Russians since the one yesterday that -- where they advised the U.S. of the -- of their upcoming actions?
COL. WARREN: Phil, we're still analyzing specifically what they hit. It's, you know, there was some cloud cover, and so, you know, we don't have the -- the situational awareness that we'd like when there's cloud cover like that. So we're -- we're still working through the process of determining specifically, exactly what the -- what the Russians hit.
They did not -- when they communicated with us to let us know that they were preparing to do strikes in this region, they did not give us their target set. So now we're going through the analysis piece to determine -- to try to determine exactly what they hit.
Right now, I've seen no indication that they hit any targets in our -- in our target set. That said, you know, they were attempting to strike ISIL targets because ISIL is who's in Raqqa.
What was the second part of your question, Phil, I forgot, I'm sorry?
COL. WARREN: That's right. Yeah, so, as -- as of now the only -- so, again, we test our communication line daily. So, I'm not gonna count that as a communication. So, I mean, we speak to a Russian everyday, but it's purely a communications check. So as far as a deconfliction -- a formal deconfliction, no that hasn't happened again since -- since the initial one.
Q: Then, just to be clear, since the Russian strikes, there's been some reporting out of the region that ISIL leadership or -- or some families that are linked to ISIL are moving out of Raqqa, and they're moving out of the city. Have you all seen anything like that to back that up?
COL. WARREN: We have no seen ISIL forces -- we have not seen ISIL move forces out of Raqqa. I'm not gonna get into our observations on their leadership, that's -- this isn't the right place for that.
Q: Hi, Colonel Warren.
Just to follow up on Bob's question, when the French nominated targets after they were hit in Paris they -- I guess, they had about 10 targets that they were going to hit.
How were those targets nominated? And were there actually ISIS casualties as a direct result of those hits? There's been some question as to whether or not the French and maybe even also the Russians were shelling empty targets or targets that were no longer viable had been hit before.
COL. WARREN: Well, there's a couple of pieces to that question. You know, we often hit targets -- we re-attack targets all the time. So that's a very common practice for us to re-attack a target. So, you know, there's that.
I don't have a casualty count for the French strikes. But what I'll tell you is those targets that they struck were -- were vetted. They are appropriately researched, vetted and queued up targeted. So they were targets that were in the slate to get hit eventually.
So we don't have a good collateral damage assessment. We rarely get that from these type of pre-planned strikes. We can get that -- you know, we -- we can get that battle damage assessment on people, usually through the dynamic strikes. But from these -- from these pre-planned strikes, we rarely get that kind of battle damage feedback ever, in other strikes as well.
Q: And just one follow. CNN had reported that 33 ISIS leaders might have been hit as a result of, like, the last couple of days of airstrikes. Anything you can say about that?
And then on the field convoy, were these 116 trucks, were they all queued up to go over the border? Or were they scattered in various places? Could you describe the scene a little bit for us?
COL. WARREN: So, the trucks. So these trucks were -- were queued up. They were -- they were -- they were sitting sort of on flat desert. There wasn't really anything recognizable as a road around. It was just out there on the desert floor in the vicinity of one of these oil fields, one of these oil facilities that we've been striking. So they were queued up there waiting to take on their illicit oil.
And, you know, because we had struck some of these -- because we had struck the facility that they were queued up out of, the flow of oil obviously was severely, if not completely constricted. So there's this backlog of the trucks. You know, some of them had left earlier; some of them were still there. So there's this kind of I think some confusion on the ground it appears.
So these trucks were -- they were just sitting there, not moving. So, you know, we dropped the leaflets. We did a low pass. We chased any of the -- you know, the truck drivers away, and we destroyed them. So, they weren't moving. They were all, as you saw on the video, they were all stationary. Nothing was driving anywhere. So it was a pretty straightforward, you know, attack.
There was a notable -- I forgot to tell this story -- I remember one case we did see some civilians run away from their trucks, but for some reason they ducked into a tent that was maybe 100 meters or so away from where these trucks were congregated. And they were bumper-to-bumper, these trucks, in many cases.
And so the civilians ran into this tent, and -- and, you know, because of their proximity to where they were and what they were doing, these civilians were -- these truck drivers were absolutely legitimate military targets. But in a great sense of what we're all about here, those pilots made a decision, you know, from the cockpit that they could accomplish their mission without striking that tent and without hurting any of those civilians. So that's something I just wanted to share.
On their leaders, 33 leaders killed. I'm familiar with CNN's report. We don't have any leadership HVI announcements to make today. And we will continue to announce HVIs, you know, as they come out.
Q: Thanks. Hi, Colonel Warren. Good to see you.
Just on these 116 tanker trucks, do you have any idea how much revenue that the loss of these trucks is going to -- to cause ISIS?
COL. WARREN: Well, we have -- we haven't done the math on these 116 trucks. What we have done the math on is Operation Tidal Wave, writ large, which we believe that operation that -- that the -- that the oil facilities inside of Operation Tidal Wave in this region -- this Deir al-Zour region, accounts for approximately two-thirds of their oil revenue. It counts for about two-thirds of the revenue that ISIL makes by selling oil.
So by -- by destroying this chain -- because remember, you can't look at it the trucks as -- the trucks are just one link in the chain. There's trucks, there's wellheads, there's pumps, there's separators, there's collection points. So it's -- it's a chain and the trucks are kind of at one end of the -- wellhead is at the ground. You know, that's where the oil comes out of the ground, that's the step one in the chain. And the truck, that's the last step in the chain.
And so what we've done in Operation Tidal Wave is -- is -- is break every single link of this chain so that it becomes much more difficult for them to (inaudible). So -- so I don't have the math on these other trucks, no.
Q: That was very helpful. Also on France, you said that France was conducting about 12 percent of the non-U.S. airstrikes. How many of the airstrikes are U.S.?
COL. WARREN: The majority. I should've looked up the percent. It's over half -- over half are U.S. We can get you that exact number. Just send me a note and I'll send it to you.
Q: One last question about the Russian airliner that was bombed. There were pictures today from ISIS saying that the bomb was in a soda can. Do you have any comment -- have you seen any sort of bombing tactics like that and is this just turning into a point where the -- the world cannot find a way to predict how to -- to stop these bombs?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, that's -- that's a little bit outside of my -- my lane here. I'm just a soldier, Carla, so you know, we kind of handle soldier stuff here. You know, what I'll tell you is that -- you know, ISIL's decision to start expanding their operations outside of their own borders is something that should concern everyone and it's -- it's the very reason why we're here.
Now, whether or not they are doing this as a result of the fact that they have been dealt several blows over the last several months, and -- and this is a reaction to that or whether or not this was -- is something that they, you know, are doing offensively is -- is a question that I think is worth asking. I don't have the answer, but you know, this is all -- indicates exactly why this is a serious threat and -- and it's why the 65-nation coalition has come together to try and dismantle it.
Q: Colonel, it's Jamie McIntyre. I'm never quite sure whether you can see us or not, but -- so let me know.
But my question is about -- Secretary Kerry, in the last couple of days, has several times mentioned that the United States is working with Turkey to try to close or seal off the remaining open border between Syria and Turkey.
Can you give us an idea of -- of what that operation would entail and what the U.S. contribution would be? Does it involve any U.S. troops on the ground in Turkey? How is the U.S. helping Turkey in this sort of joint effort? Can you paint a picture for us?
COL. WARREN: Thanks, Jamie. I can see you, so -- you've got a blue shirt on.
So this -- there's -- there's one last -- I don't know. Is the map us? If the map's up -- let's take a look at the map here. So the -- the last part of the border that remains open is just a little bit to the right of blue circle number three, here. We call that the Manjib pocket. And in fact -- oh, actually, it's not quite on the map, it's really off the map.
So, actually, where the blue circle number three is, that's the Manjib pocket. And to the left of blue circle number three, sort of off the edge of the map is where the Mara line is.
The Mara line is the line between ISIL forces on the east, and moderate opposition forces to the west. And that little bit of red that you sort of see there underneath blue three, that's the Manjib pocket, and that's the last piece of -- of border that -- that ISIL controls. That's the last piece of the Syrian-Turk border that ISIL controls.
So, we are working diligently in several ways. Number one is our ongoing Mara line operation, which I have talked about almost every week here, and you can see here on our map, it's number three.
So, as friendly forces push east from the Mara line, the idea is that they will link up with friendly forces that are on the other side of the Manjib pocket and seal that border off.
So, that's step one. And as you know, the new Syrian forces, the Syrians who we exfiltrated out into Turkey and Jordan, and we trained them, and we infiltrated them back in -- those forces are on the ground, operating right now at this very minute on -- along the Mara line.
And they're -- you know, they're helping identify targets, and they're using the skills that they learned from us, you know, to rally their -- their colleagues and cohorts.
So, that's step one of our operations to try to seal the Turkish border.
Step two is on the Turkish side. So -- and that's where we're going to have a slightly higher level. There are no American forces conducting operations in Turkey. So, I'll be clear about that right up front.
But certainly, at the governmental level, you know, we are working with the Turkeys on finding ways -- what we can do, what can we do? Is there any type of equipment, or any type of advice or any type of expertise we can provide that will help the Turks ultimately seal that border.
I'm not prepared to detail, specifically what all of it is -- most of it is at a different level thank the joint task force here, it's more at the inter-governmental level, but that's -- that's the other piece of that.
Q: Hey, Steve. It's Christina. It's good to see you.
You know that that -- France has conducted 12 percent of the non-U.S. airstrikes. Do you expect to see that number grow?
COL. WARREN: Well, we're encouraged by the fact that the Charles de Gaulle is -- is en route to this theater.
So, with that -- with that additional influx of aircraft, I do expect that the overall percentage that the -- that the French are contributing will grow, yes.
Q: Question. Have you seen, or do you expect to see ISIS adjust to protect its oil infrastructure, you know, position the trucks somewhere else, near civilian targets and such?
COL. WARREN: Well, ISIL is going to have a hard time adjusting to this, because -- because of the way we executed this operation, very similar to Tidal Wave I back in the 1940s against Nazi oil fields in Romania.
This was not a piecemeal execution; this was a sudden strike. This was a tidal wave that swept across these oil fields, and it really crippled them.
So, this was an extraordinarily, we believe, effective operation -- Tidal Wave II.
So, they're going to have -- you know, their problem now isn't adjusting to our strikes, their problem now is trying to figure out how to fix their broken oil wells.
Q: Hi, Steve.
You said that the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated Al Hawl City, and liberated also nearly 250 villages, 730 square kilometer freed from the Daesh, these ISIS forces.
Can you also confirm that the second package or party of ammunitions have been delivered to these -- to the Syrian Arab Coalition forces successfully or not?
COL. WARREN: We've said from the beginning that we would support the SAC -- the Syrian Arab Coalition forces. We announced the first weapons -- or the first ammunition supply that we did many weeks ago -- maybe two months ago at this point now.
Beyond that, we've -- we've -- so we've made a decision not to announce further operations like that. So I've got no announcements to make, other than to stand on our initial announcement -- our initial statement, which is that we will continue to reinforce success.
Q: For not announcing, while the State Department says yes, it's delivered?
COL. WARREN: You'd have to ask the State Department that.
CAPT. DAVIS: Lucas is next.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren, it's Lucas.
The French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle -- when she arrives on station in the eastern Mediterranean, will the Charles de Gaulle be under the Russian command, or the U.S. coalition?
COL. WARREN: The Charles de Gaulle is supporting the -- the U.S.-led coalition -- 65-nation Operation Inherent Resolve.
Q: And just to follow to some previous questions about targets being hit, is -- is there a catch-22 about the -- not striking civilians and avoiding civilian casualties when, over the past year, the $50 million in oil revenue generated has been going to killing a large number of civilians?
Is there any risk that avoiding civilian casualties is actually prolonging more civilian casualties?
COL. WARREN: A terrific question. Very thoughtful, and -- and this is something that we as -- we as soldiers have to balance every day. This is what commanders have to balance, and this is why the -- the burden of command is so heavy -- because we have to balance that.
We have to ensure that we live up both to our moral obligation to protect the innocent and to the Law of Land Warfare requirements to minimize the -- the civilian harm and -- and harm to infrastructure and collateral damage.
On the other hand, what you point out is absolutely right. This enemy is ruthless, they are brutal, they are sadistic. They kill and torture for fun. So this is a very difficult balance that we have to do, and it's -- it's something that we wrestle with every single day, Lucas.
Q: Hey, Colonel Warren, it's Gordon.
Just three quick clarifications on the trucks again. If -- sorry if I missed it, but why didn't you guys go back on the other trucks? There were 300, I think, to begin with, and then you hit 116. Why didn't you go back?
But also you described, like, the -- the kind of long process to -- to decide whether this was a legitimate target and it was in your best interest or not. At whose level was the authority-- who gave the final approval to do -- to hit these oil trucks? Did it -- was it there? Was it at CENTCOM? Was it at the OSD level, or above?
COL. WARREN: That's two. What's the third?
So, on the other trucks, so -- frankly, the -- the -- the aircraft expended 24 500-pound bombs, and -- and all of their ammunition. So they -- they shot everything they had and then they had to go home.
Who's level -- my understanding, although I'll have to check the details -- my understanding is this -- this decision to strike the trucks was a CENTCOM commander – CENTCOM-level decision to make.
Q: Then I'm gonna give you my third, then. So are you gonna go back and hit the other ones? I mean, you're not gonna talk about future operations, but it would seem like an obvious target at this point, one you -- once you're reloaded.
COL. WARREN: Well, I -- I -- we're not gonna detail exactly what we're gonna do next. One thing I'll tell you is that, you know, the combination of leaflets and -- and strikes, certainly sent a very clear message to these truck drivers. Remember, these truck drivers are just regular people, right?
They're civilians, they're citizens of Syria. Granted, they're oil smugglers. But -- but they're not really members of ISIL, so many of them have -- have got the message that smuggling oil for ISIL is a much more dangerous business now than it was last week.
Q: Hey, Colonel, it's Louie with ABC.
You -- you mentioned that the Charles de Gaulle is gonna join the coalition efforts. Do you have a time frame for when they are gonna arrive, and when they are gonna begin air operations against ISIS off the eastern Mediterranean?
And with the Russians conducting their own airstrikes in Raqqa, have they given any other notification since the first one?
COL. WARREN: Louie, the Charles de Gaulle is -- as the Russian have announced -- is -- is steaming this way now. She will be on station at a date that I don't have. So -- and, of course -- I think I'd really rather leave it to the French to announce specifically when she'll be at our station and when she'll be conducting operations.
Sorry -- (inaudible) – Luis, I didn't take good one. What was your second question?
Q: The Russians gave notification of their first strike in Raqqa. Have they given notification since then of any additional strikes?
COL. WARREN: Right. Yeah. Carla asked that one, too, I think. So, again, we have daily interaction with the Russians on the established communication channel. That interaction is really communications check only.
Since their one notification, their deconfliction call that they made, we have not had another deconfliction or a notification call.
Q: Hey, Colonel, it's Jamie Crawford with CNN. Thanks for -- for doing this.
I was just curious if you could give us an update on the operation in Sinjar that began last week. How close are we to -- or are the Kurdish forces to completely liberating that -- that town. And then, just as a follow-up, if you could just give us a picture of any sort of tangible results of difficulty that ISIS is now having to resupply their population center as they hold like Mosul after this operation started?
COL. WARREN: So, Sinjar is liberated. The Peshmerga forces are now going through the laborious process of identifying and reducing, or clearing the IEDs, booby traps, et cetera that -- that ISIL left behind.
As far as the impact on Mosul, certainly, as is always the case with logistics, it won't be instantaneous, but, you know, having severed that main artery between Raqqa and Mosul, it will force ISIL's resupply on logistics operations off the high-speed avenue of approach, and they'll have to now move through these ratlines and smuggling routes that go through the desert south of Sinjar. This will take a -- what normally would be a several-hour drive from Raqqa to Mosul, will turn it into potentially days.
So this will have an impact. This will cause them -- it will cause our enemy to be less able to do what they want to do, which is to mutually reinforce their own position. Again, this is -- this is the operational nature of what we're doing now. So, pressure in Iraq; pressure in Syria; pressure in the north; pressure in the south.
And what this does -- and all those pressures, primarily by ground forces, but all of those pressures cause -- cause the enemy to have to make very difficult decisions. And cause the enemy to not necessarily be able to help other portions of his organization.
And by continuing this ground pressure, what we see is that as you're being attacked from the ground, as was the case in -- in Sinjar, as was the case in Al-Hawl, as was the case in Al Tam -- the enemy will move, you know, as a reaction to the ground pressure that's been placed on them. And that causes them to pop up and become a very easy target for our air power to kill. So this is the beauty of, you know, these combined air-ground operations.
So, we don't have specific statistics yet, a percentage of how much Mosul will be constricted by the seizure of Sinjar, but what we do know is it will drive ISIL off the main road and onto the back roads which will slow their operations substantially.
Q: It's Brian Everstein.
Back on the Russian contact, this strike was different not only in where it was, but also you've used the term "armada." And they used their longer-range -- you know, the 90s, and 95 and 160 bombers, likely coming in from outside airspace using cruise missiles.
Does that explain a greater need for de-confliction, just the size of this strike? And now that contact has been made operationally, is there an expectation of reciprocation or that you will see more contact like this?
COL. WARREN: Difficult to predict whether or not we'll -- I mean, I think we've established this line and so we understand that -- that it's there. And, you know, if we feel we need to reach out to the Russians so they know we're about to do something so that they can be aware that our aircraft will be in a certain area, and we'll do that for the safety of our own pilots, then of course we'll do it, and presumably the Russians will as well.
I think the -- the need for it this time, you know, was the size, right? I mean, you know, in this case, these were -- these were multi-ship formations and it was cruise missiles fired, frankly, over the Iraqi airspace. So these are areas -- you know, this is stuff that we hadn't seen before. The Russians have not bombed Raqqa. You know, historically it's been coalition planes bombing Raqqa.
So, you know, it only made sense for the Russians to -- to alert us that they would be in the area so we didn't bump into each other in the air, which is the whole idea behind this communications channel. It's all about de-conflicting airspace.
So, that's the answer.
Q: Just a quick one, colonel. The USS Harry Truman just got underway from Norfolk. Will she be going to the eastern Mediterranean to launch strikes against ISIS?
COL. WARREN: Well, I don't have her itinerary, Lucas. I will refer you to the Navy for that one. They'll have that for you.
Q: Good morning, Colonel. Otto Kreis with Seapower magazine.
Kind of circling back on the French strikes -- (inaudible). The House Armed Services Committee Chairman Thornberry yesterday, you know, raised a question, you know, if those strikes or if those targets were passed to the French by us, which you indicated, why didn't we hit them? And he raised the issue of -- when calls the extreme micromanagement of the air war from -- from the White House. Is there anything to that? Are we being -- could we have hit those targets before but we were restricted from doing it, so we turned them over to the French?
COL. WARREN: Like I said, I certainly am not going to weigh into the politics of all of this. What I can tell you is that, you know, we have -- we have struck all of the targets. We -- this coalition is led by the United States, but it's a 65-nation coalition, right? So I mean, there's a -- there's a coalition operation center that works through these targets as a coalition. As these targets are identified, vetted -- nominated -- identified, nominated, vetted and cleared, they're struck.
So again, and as I said at the beginning, this is a process, right? There's a rolling process. As -- as targets are destroyed, other targets will emerge. As targets are destroyed, maybe they'll be repaired and they need to be re-attacked. As targets are destroyed, we conduct an assessment or as targets or attacked, we conduct an assessment, we realize that we need to re-attack it.
So this is the nature of air warfare. It's a continuous process, and that -- that -- that's the case here. These were targets that were part of the continuous process. Just like we give targets to the Dutch, we give targets -- we -- when I saw we, I'm talking about the coalition, right? The coalition headquarters works through these targets and then -- and divvies them out. The Canadians -- every nation who is conducting airstrikes here, they -- they receive these targets. And so this was nothing different.
Q: Steve, Tom Bowman again.
I wonder if you could give us an update on Ramadi. I think last time we talked, you said they'd almost encircled the city, except for the bridge over the Euphrates and I think trouble with the river itself. And if they have completely encircled it, why haven't they gone in yet?
COL. WARREN: So the western access has seen some fairly good activity. I think I mentioned that Camp Warar has not only been seized, but now cleared of nearly 30 -- I think it was 24, 26 IEDs that have been discovered buried at Camp Warar, which is right on the west bank of the river and overlooks the main city.
The CPS then kind of looped around and now they're working up through the -- there's a neighborhood that runs parallel to Camp Warhar. They're working their way up through that.
The northern access has met with some very stiff resistance, frankly. The enemy has put up a good fight here in the last couple of days, so they're continuing -- I think it was about a 200-meter movement here yesterday. So this is -- this is slow and sometimes incremental work, but you know, they're continuing.
We believe that all the piece are in place, you know? We've -- Iraq has asked for some additional enablers, additional air, et cetera. We're providing that. So we believe that all the pieces are in place and that the Iraqis have a plan that's -- that's a good plan and workable and it's time for them to execute it.
Q: Major General Rich Clark of the 82nd that -- the Iraqi security forces outnumber ISIS about 10 to one. If that's the case, I don't understand the stiff resistance if you're 10 to one.
COL. WARREN: Yeah, that's -- that's 10 to one, total. But you know, in any attack, right, there's always a point to that spear. When that point to that spear gets blunted against some stiff resistance, it could -- it could stop all the rest. That's the case here.
You know, the enemy, as I've described, I think -- once or twice before has put in some fairly complex obstacles and then they are fanatical defenders of Ramadi.
Now, that said, we -- we've provided some very substantial air power, some very good training and some specialized equipment to help with these problems -- you know, with -- with this -- with the problem of this integrated defense.
So, again, we believe all the pieces are in place, and that it -- it's time for the Iraqis to -- to make this final move and -- and get Ramadi cleared. We do believe that.
Q: Hi, Colonel Warren.
Just a follow-up on de-confliction. If there's another sizable wave of Russian bomber presence, would it be safe to have U.S. pilots operating in the same airspace at the same time, especially given that they were launching air-launched cruise missiles?
And then, secondly, could you confirm for us that there were sea-based launched cruise missiles also involved in this latest Russian attack?
COL. WARREN: There were sea-based cruise missiles, came out of the Caspian. Yes, and that's the reason we do the de-confliction, is to ensure safety.
Without de-confliction -- without a de-confliction channel to -- to speak to, then there's higher -- high -- heightened risk. And so the reason we established this memorandum of understanding with the Russians was to reduce that risk.
So the de-confliction calls -- what it does is de-conflicts the airspace, so it ensures that there aren't two airplanes in the same airspace at the same time.
CAPT. DAVIS: Hey, last call. We don't have anyone else on the list.
Thank you, everybody, for coming out. thank you very much, Steve, for your time. Be safe, and we'll see you again soon.
COL. WARREN: Thanks, guys.