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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Italian Brigadier General Vannacci via Teleconference from Iraq

May 22, 2018
Italian Army Brig. Gen. Roberto Vannacci, deputy commanding general for training, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve

STAFF: All right. Good morning, everyone. Today we are joined from Baghdad, Iraq, by Brigadier General Roberto Vannacci. General Vannacci is a deputy commanding general for training in Iraq. General Vannacci, how do you hear us sir?

BRIGADIER GENERAL ROBERTO VANNACCI:  I hear you loud and clear.

STAFF: That's great. All right, sir. Over to you for opening remarks.

GEN. VANNACCI: Thank you very much, and good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Today, I will be talking about the coalition's effort to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces, to enhance their capability, to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, and to set the condition for follow-on stabilization efforts. To date, more than 150,000 Iraqi Security Forces have been trained across multiple locations in Iraq.

The training provided to these personnel address the full spectrum of Iraqi Security Requirements, not only to locate, identify, and destroy the last remnant of ISIS in Iraq, but also to provide long-term security for all Iraqis. In Taji, Bismayah, and in the Kurdish region, more than 98,000 Army, Kurdish and tribal forces have been trained in basic combat skills. Additional skills trained at this location include the demining operations and combat lifesaver training, of which the coalition has already trained more than 36,000 personnel.

In Western Baghdad, more than 25,000 police and border guard personnel have been trained in law enforcement and border security procedures. Finally, more than 18,000 counterterrorism forces have been trained in the skills necessary to defeat the last remnant of ISIS and to identify and pursue rising threats to Iraqi stability.

The coalition also trains and equips the Iraqi Air Force, providing flight training to its pilots, maintenance support for its fleet, and divestment of planes and equipment. The coalition's goal is to develop an Air Force that is capable of sustaining its missions from providing training to its flight personnel to providing maintenance to its own planes. The training that this coalition provides to the Iraqi Security Forces is truly a multinational effort which values nations taking the lead on training in different locations.

Australian forces in Taji and Spanish forces in Bismayah are training ground troops. In the Kurdish region and in Western Baghdad, Italian personnel are training army and police forces. Also, German forces are providing training in the Kurdish region while Danish forces are leading the training in Al Asad Air Base. The coalition recognizes that enhancing the capability of Iraqi Security Forces in order to prevent the rise of terror groups such as ISIS is an international responsibility.

GEN. VANNACCI: Therefore, the coalition's training effort is reflective of that global responsibility. In addition to enhancing the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces through training, the coalition also equips them through the transfer of equipment worth more than $2 billion. Just as the training the coalition provides ensures that the Iraqi Security Forces are capable of providing for Iraq's complex security requirements so that the coalition aims to provide the Iraqis the equipment they need to meet the demands of their operation.

Seventeen Iraqi Army brigades have been provided with initial equipment sets, including personal equipment, small arms, ammunition, around 1,000 non-tactical vehicles and over 1,100 armored vehicles, including high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, and Iraqi light-armored vehicle Badgers. 

Physical security operations across Iraq are being assisted by the coalition’s provision of additional equipment to around 20 federal police and border guard force brigades, including provisioning more than 180 prefabricated, border guard and police presence infrastructure since the beginning of 2018.

Additionally, over 400 explosive detection and demining kits have been provided to the Iraqi security forces this year to assist in the detection and removal of improvised explosive devices and external explosive remnants of war. 

The transfer of equipment to the Iraqi security forces, coupled with the training that the coalition provides, guarantees that the Iraqi have exactly what they need to defeat ISIS and to put into place the conditions necessary to prevent terrorism and radicalization to occur again. 

By all measures, the Iraqi security forces have already proven that they are more than ready and capable of securing the country. 

On May the 12th, Iraq's first national election since the rise of ISIS were held peacefully despite repeated warnings from ISIS of their intent to use violence to discourage Iraqis from voting. 

This is mostly thanks to the training and preparations conducted by Iraqi security forces to ensure that all Iraqis were able to exercise their right to vote free from fear of harm. The Iraqi security forces have also proven their worth as a valuable member of the coalition, by conducting strikes in Syria, targeting ISIS activity designed to export violence elsewhere. 

Additionally, Iraqi ground forces have been instrumental in assisting the Syrian Democratic Forces in the Euphrates River Valley by sealing their borders and preventing ISIS terrorists from fleeing the battlefields.

Finally, the Iraqi security forces are conducting operation from strikes in Iraq on a daily basis, aggressively degrading ISIS' ability to launch attacks by locating, identifying and destroying their remnants in the country. 

The hard-fought victories in Ramadi, Mosul and Tel Afar prove that the Iraqi security forces have always been capable of fighting for the freedom of all Iraqis. The coalition's goal is simply to make a good force better and to enhance to capability of the Iraqi Security Forces to ensure Iraq's lasting peace and security. By all measures, they are well on their way. 

Thank you very much for your attention. And I will now take your questions. 

STAFF: Great, we'll start with Sylvie Lanteaume from AFP.

Q: Hello sir, thank you for doing (inaudible). 

Did you notice any change in the -- the relations with Iraqi Security Forces since the result of the elections, knowing that Sadr won this election and why some of your -- some of the Western troops have fought against him during the war?

GEN. VANNACCI: Well, I have heard -- I have heard the questions not so well. What I understood is that if there is any difference from the election that we had on the 12th of May to the behavior of the forces on the field. What I can tell you is that the election that was held here in the 12th of May was the safest election ever held in Iraq in the last five years.

And this is thanks to the Iraqi Security Forces that were providing the security on the cities, on the fields and wherever the elections were held. The results of the election are the result of a democratic country and are the results of the Iraqi people. 

And I don't think that the result of the election will make a difference on the Iraqi Security Forces as long as we will continue together to fight ISIS and to stabilize this country. 

Q: Did you -- did you notice any change in the mood of the troops?

GEN. VANNACCI: No, I haven't noticed any change of the mood of the troops. Any change on the activities that we are conducting together with the Iraqi Security Forces in the training camps and in the training bases. They're continuing to train and I can tell you that even now that is Ramadan they are continuing to train without any rest.

STAFF: Next we'll go to Wyatt Goolsbie with EWTN.

Q: General, thanks for doing this. I want to ask you about Iran because we hear so much the Iran influence and Iraq their support for militants, terrorists groups. How much of a threat does Iran pose or Iraqi Security Forces and what are the Iraqi Security Forces do to counter Iranian presence in Iraq?

GEN. VANNACCI: OK. I have always some problems on hearing your questions. What I've heard is that what kind of training that we are providing to the Iraqi Security Forces for counterterrorist task and I can tell you that we are training the Iraqi Security Forces in counterterrorist task. We are training the counterterrorist service and other forces are providing these capabilities. 

They are specifically equipped, trained and organized forces are conducting -- they have been conducting counterterrorist tasks in the last month and years and we rely on the operation and capability. And this training is going on in these days and we continue to go on as long as it necessary. I hope I answered your question.

Q: I'm sorry that you couldn't hear it properly, General. What I was asking about was specifically Iran, Iraq's neighbor. Iran has continued to support terrorist group, militants in the region. My specific question was about is there anything specifically that the Iraqi Security Forces or the military is doing to counter Iranian influence.

GEN. VANNACCI: OK, now I got it better. So, I don't have any figure about that. Our task is to defeat ISIS and to fight against ISIS. We don't have, as a coalition, any other task in this country and we are continuing to perform these tasks with the ISIS -- with the Iraqi Security Forces on a daily basis.

So, I cannot answer it to the question you asked me because I don't have any information about that.

STAFF: Now, to Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan 24.

Q: Thank you, sir, very much for doing this. And, I'll try and speak in a way that you can hear me. You mentioned the Italian and German training of forces in the Kurdistan region. Can you provide any more details that's Peshmerga as well as police? Does it include reforms like unity of -- the unifying of Peshmerga forces?

GEN. VANNACCI: I can now tell you that there are numbers of nations involved in the training. And all the coalition -- all the coalition forces are providing training around Iraq that include the Kurdish region. And we are providing this training to the forces that are controlled by the central government, which include the Peshmerga.

As you know, there is a -- a training structure in -- in Kurdistan, the Kurdish Training Coordination Center, that is providing specific training to the Peshmerga forces and to the Ministry of Interior forces, (inaudible) is located in the Kurdish region.

The training we are providing encompasses all the operational capability that are needed to counter ISIS, to protect the country, to protect the population and to conduct the operations against the -- this enemy. So without no discrimination of forces, whether they are from the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Peshmerga, they are all part of the Iraq Security Forces.

And numbers of nations are providing training to them. As we do here in Baghdad or in the other training bases spread inside Iraq.

Q: Training at -- do your efforts in the Kurdistan region include the effort to promote reforms like unifying the Peshmerga forces?

GEN. VANNACCI: Well, unifying the Peshmerga forces is not a military task. What I can tell you is that we are providing the training to all of the militaries that are in Kurdistan. Unifying Peshmerga forces is a political issue.

And I can tell you that this issue, this problem, if I have to see how the military behaves, I can candidly say that they are in the lead for fixing this problem in the future.

STAFF: One follow up?

Q: Another question. To follow up on Iran, yesterday Secretary of State Pompeo in a major speech said that Iran needs to respect quote "the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the disarming demobilization and reintegration of Shia militias."

Those militias were formally incorporated into the Iraq Security Force. Does Secretary Pompeo's position, as he laid it out yesterday, affect your training mission?

GEN. VANNACCI: Well you know, about what he said, this is a policy problem. What I can tell you is that the PMF are an integral part of the Iraqi Security Forces. They have been fighting against ISIS, and they have liberated part of the Iraqi territory from ISIS.

So we are acting along some of these PMF and alongside the Iraqi Security Forces, as long as they will continue to combat against ISIS and to be centrally controlled by the Iraqi government.

Q: But you will not work with, is that correct?

GEN. VANNACCI: Can you repeat, please?

Q: There are some -- if I understood you correctly, there are some PMF that you will not work with because they're too close to Iran? 

GEN. VANNACCI: Well, what I can say is that the PMFs that are working along us and along the coalition are fighting against ISIS. And they're working with the Iraqi Security Forces, day by day. And they are centrally controlled by Iraqi government. This is what I know about the PMFs we are working with. 

STAFF: Next to Jeff Schogol with Task & Purpose. 

Q: Thank you. 

General, now that Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc has won the election, are you preparing to leave Iraq?

GEN. VANNACCI: This is a very good question. But I don't have the answer because, as you know, we are here by the request of the Iraqi government. And regardless of who won the election, I think that if this request will continue to be addressed to the coalition, the coalition will remain. 

As you know, we are military and we don't make these kind of decisions. These are political decisions. So I think that -- that whatever we will be told by Iraqi government, that we will have to leave, the politicians of our nation will take the right -- the right decision.

Q: Thank you. 

STAFF: Next to Kasim Ileri with Anadolu News Agency.

Q: General, thanks for doing this. You said the -- despite ISIS threat, the people went to polls in Iraq peacefully and you characterized the election as one of the safest elections since years. 

So the turnout of the election was 44 percent, which is a record low in Iraq. Can you rule out that the threat of ISIS caused this record low turnout?

GEN. VANNACCI: Well, I cannot say that. I can just tell you that the security in Iraq was almost perfect, and the Iraqi security forces were recognized by all the Iraqi politicians and by all the Iraqi internal actors to have been providing the right safety and the right security for their country. 

The number of electors that went to the polls is a social and political problem, and we cannot say that it was a consequence of the ISIS threat. 

STAFF: Next to Jeff Seldin with Voice of America. 

Q: Thank you very much for doing this. Wondering if coalition forces were to pull out soon, you talked about how capable the Iraqi forces are now. But are the improvements in the Iraqi forces sustainable if the coalition was not there anymore? Would the cultural changes that have been made last, so should a group like ISIS rise again, the world would not see the Iraqi military fall apart?

And I have one other follow-up question.

GEN. VANNACCI: Well, thank you for your question. What I can tell you is that we are growing up a professional, self-contained and self-sustainable force. 

And the Iraqis, as demonstrated us, that they are in the right way to achieve this endstate. What will happen to the future resides on the end of the Iraqis. 
And the coalition will continue to support them as long as they need, and as long as we are -- as we are requested to do so. 

Q: And the second question, what type of training are you doing for the forces inside Iraq, to recognize and then deal with small ISIS cells, sleeper cells, terrorists, and how are you training the forces to track these bad actors and what -- are they being entered into databases? What type of training is going on there?

GEN. VANNACCI: Thank you for this question, and the answer would be quite comprehensive. Because as you know, there is a -- the training we are providing to all the forces is in a certain way contributing to avoid the ISIS cells that are spreading in the country.

Also the conventional training that we are providing to the forces is something that will take the territory out of these cells and gain the support of the population, that is in some way -- that could in some way provide the hide to these cells.

And then we have got a very specific and targeted training that we are delivering to some specific forces and specifically to the counter-terrorist forces to find, locate and neutralize the cells and remnants of ISIS. There is a big intelligence endeavor and effort in that.

This is, as you know, all these operations are normally intelligence led and those -- the forces that we are providing, the specific training and specifically organized train and equipped to conduct these very discriminated and targeted operations.

STAFF: James Garamone, Defense Media Activity.

Q: Grazie, General. You said in your introduction that Iraqi forces have launched attacks into Syria against ISIS. And that the Iraqi forces were aiding the SDF. How specifically are they doing that?

GEN. VANNACCI: Well you know, I'm responsible for training, but I can tell you something about what the Iraqi Security Forces have done in the last period in Syria and in support of the SDF. They conducted some very precise airstrikes inside Syrian territory.

They sealed the border with Syria with a very highly trained border guards. And they deployed their guns, their artillery battery along the border to contrast, to react against ISIS that is located in some pockets close to the borders with Syria.

And they've supported, though the Syrian Democratic Forces that are gaining terrain, they're subtracting the terrain from ISIS. And they are kinetically targeting ISIS in those pockets.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: All right, do we have any more questions for General Vannacci? All right, sir we are at the end of our queue here. Do you have any closing words for the group?

GEN. VANNACCI: No, thank you very much for your attention and for your questions.