Excerpt from the Video:
COL. WARREN: … That said, it’s primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo, and of course, al-Nusra is not part of the cessation of hostilities. So it’s complicated. We’re watching it. Our focus, though, as the Combined Joint Task Force, is ISIL. And so don’t forget that, that’s our focus. The cessation of hostilities, the diplomatic and political processes — while they certainly have — are of interest to us and potentially could influence our operations peripherally, our focus remains ISIL.
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Col. Warren via Teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: – you joining us nonetheless.
Everyone is getting their tape recorders turned on here, and we will turn it over to you. Good morning.
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: Well, good morning, and thanks. And it — the technical problems apparently are on this end. I guess this internet line goes — it’s commercial contracted out locally, and so, there’s a problem with, apparently the switch in downtown Baghdad.
So, that’s where we had to switch the telephone, so forgive me, Pentagon press corps.
Well, I’ve got a few remarks here that I’ll work through, and then we’ll get to some questions. So, good morning, Pentagon press corps.
Q: Good morning.
Q: Good morning.
COL. WARREN: During his visit here on Monday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced there are five new accelerants, which have been approved by the president and coordinated with the government of Iraq.
These accelerants are, number one, authority to place additional advisers with Iraqi Security Forces at the brigade and battalion headquarters level. Number two, authority to employ attack helicopters in support of operations to retake Mosul. Number three, we will employ HIMARS in support of operations to retake Mosul.
Number four, we will provide financial assistance to the Peshmerga. And number five, lastly, we will increase the force management level from 3,870 to 4,087.
We are still working on the specifics of these accelerants, and we will keep everyone updated as our plans develop.
Now, on to operations. On Sunday, U.S. forces conducted a raid, which targeted Suleiman Abd Shabib Al Jabouri, one of ISIL’S military emirs and an ISIL war council member.
Al Jabouri’s removal will degrade ISIL’s leadership network and impact their ability to coordinate attacks and defend ISIL strongholds.
Last week in the Euphrates River Valley, Iraqi Security Forces tore Hit from ISIL’s grasp and gave it back to the Iraqi people. Hit is liberated.
During Operation Desert Lynx, thousands of fleeing citizens sought safety behind CTS forces, highlighting the effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces and the trust they’ve earned from the Iraqi people.
Hit was a linchpin for ISIL; clearing Hit hampers their ability to move foreign fighters and supplies into the Euphrates River Valley, and sets the stage for future offensive operations.
The liberation of Hit will serve to further fragment ISIL’s operations in the Anbar corridor.
A key point to emphasize is the close coordination between the Iraqi army, CTS and Sunni tribal forces. During the Hit clearance, 60 Abu Isa and Al Shamal fighters, along with Iraqi army field engineers and one scrappy tank worked side-by-side with CTS to clear IEDs and relocate evacuating civilians to safe areas.
The operational achievements we’re seeing are a direct result of our commitment to train and equip our partners.
For example, in Anbar Province, coalition advisers are professionalizing more than 100 Sunni tribal forces in a boot camp style course. This is important, because it’s the first time tribal instructors taught the curriculum themselves.
By helping tribal fighters establish their own training program, we’re setting them up to secure long-term stability in the region.
In the Tigris River Valley, which if the map is deployed — is the blue circle on your map, it’s still a tough fight.
The ISF repelled several coordinated attacks consisting of vehicle-borne IEDs, suicide vests, indirect fire and small arms fire.
The Iraqi Security Forces continue to consolidate and improve their defensive positions while continuing to increase their combat power.
So, over to the west, the Peshmerga continue to hold the forward line of troops in their centers.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force deployed the legendary B-52 Stratofortress bomber into theater. The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions, including strategic attack, close air support, air interdiction and maritime operations.
On Monday, this iconic platform conducted its first mission against an ISIL weapons storage facility in Qayyarah, Iraq.
I have a video of this mission, but I don’t know that we have video capabilities right now, so, I’ll — we’ll make sure that video gets posted online.
Now, to move onto Syria, where we continue to see vetted Syrian opposition and ISIL clash along the Mara line.
The Syrian opposition has made gains, but so has ISIL. And (inaudible) has developed into a shoving match over the Manbij pocket. We will continue to pressure ISIL, but we expect them to fight hard to hold their ground.
In Shaddadi, the SDF continue improving positions along the forward line of troops. In preparation for future operations, the SDF recently graduated their first basic training class of 200 Arabs.
These Arabs joined the SDF during the Shaddadi offensive itself. This unilaterally run training course is one example of the SDF working to incorporate Arabs into their ranks.
Finally, I’d like to highlight the efforts of Captain Bradley Grimm. Captain Grimm is a United States Army officer who was recently awarded the Danish Defense medal for special, meritorious effort.
Captain Grimm provided actionable intelligence about a bomb threat against a school in Denmark. And the information he provided helped to foil a plot, and resulted in an arrest and a confiscation of explosives.
Brad’s work likely saved the lives of Danish citizens. I’ve got a photo of Brad. I don’t know if we’ve got the ability to show it. But Captain Grimm is a soldier assigned to the CJTF here, he’s based out of Al Asad. His work had a direct impact in Europe.
CAPT. DAVIS: Yeah, we do — we do have the photo up. Thanks.
COL. WARREN: Ok. So there you see the photo. That concludes (inaudible),
And with that — (inaudible) — I’ll take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: Yeah, we’ll start with Cami.
Q: Steve, hi, can I — I just have one quick question. Where was the B-52 mission on Monday?
COL. WARREN: It was in Qayyarah, Iraq, which is — that is part of the Operation Valley Wolf, so it’s a little bit east — excuse me, it’s a little bit west of Makhmur.
Q: Okay, thanks.
COL. WARREN: It’s on the west side of the Tigris River from Makhmur, yeah.
CAPT. DAVIS: Can you maybe spell that for us?
COL. WARREN: I can. I’ve got to find it. So, we spell it this way: Quebec-Alpha-Yankee-Yankee-Alpha-Romeo-Alpha-Hotel.
Q: And what was —
COL. WARREN: If you don’t know your phonetic alphabet, you need to learn it if you’re going to work in the Pentagon. (Laughter.)
Q: What was the target again?
COL. WARREN: It was — it was an enemy weapons storage facility. And we’ll have that video posted up here I think — I guess it will be on the CJTF YouTube page, and I’ll tweet it out as well.
Q: What type of weapons did they have stored there?
COL. WARREN: I don’t have the specific details to put out. Most of these weapons of this particular target, primarily in these storage facilities what we see is a combination of their indirect fire capability. So they’ll put what they refer to as — (inaudible) — their home-made indirect fire weapons systems. You know, they’ll mass those ahead of distributing them out.
Sometimes they’ll be VBIED — the fundamentals of VBIED. So they’re home-made explosives. They’re truck bombs that are not completely finalized yet, but they’ll go there for final assembly, then eventual deployment.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Joe Tabet?
Q: Colonel Warren, just to follow up on Cami’s question, could you elaborate more on the significance of the B-52? Do you know if this type of aircraft would be used in the operations in Mosul and Raqqah?
Also, do you have any concerns that the use of a B-52 could cause civilian casualties, for example? If you could elaborate on that. Thank you, sir.
COL. WARREN: So, the B-52s really are replacing the B-1s that have been flying here for almost a year. They have larger — (inaudible) — capability and in some cases a little bit more — (inaudible). They can carry a heavy payload.
They — they (conduct ?) the same level of precision which is why I really wanted to show you the video. I know there are memories — you know, — in the collective unconscious of B-52s decades ago doing very sort of less discriminate, arguably indiscriminate bombings. I guess that’s where the phrase “carpet bombing” originally came from back in the “Linebacker” days.
Those days are long gone. The B-52 is a precision strike weapon system, weapons platform. It will conduct the same type of precision strikes that we’ve seen for the last 20 months here in this theater. So it is simply a replacement for the B-1.
Obviously, the B-52 does have a long and very illustrious history. So we do like to talk about it. But really, it’s — it’s simply another platform from which we can launch our precision strikes.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Tom?
Q: Hi, colonel. Tom here from AFP.
You — earlier on, you referenced along the Mara line some gains that ISIL has made. And can you talk a bit more about these ISIL gains? And there was a report yesterday that ISIL now controls a previously government-controlled neighborhood in Deir ez-Zor. Is there anything on those gains please?
COL. WARREN: Well, what you’ve got in the Mara line area is — it’s become a fairly fluid and dynamic place. For months, the Mara line has kind of become very stable. This was treacherous in many ways. You know, I saw some of the — (inaudible). It looked in some cases like a World War I battlefield — very stable, very static, trench-works on both sides, to support this sort of staring each other down.
Recently, the moderate opposition began — provided some devastating air power in support of that, and we started to see the Mara line become a little bit more fluid. So that’s what you’re seeing now.
So, there are several towns in this — and “town” is almost too generous — village, really. There are several villages in this area, you know, on the Mara line that have changed hands multiple times over the last several weeks. So we’ll see some friendly force maneuver and the enemy will withdraw from the town. It will be a gunfight or maybe it will just be maneuver. Then maybe it will get cloudy, and so that will limit our ability to provide air power. And we’ll see the enemy then re-take that town, either through maneuver only or sometimes with fires as well.
So it — (inaudible). You know, I think right now, and I’ve seen some press reporting. But in our view, assigns more significance than it deserved to individual towns being taken or lost. And again, the term “town” is probably too generous. These are villages.
So what you’re going to see, we believe, for some time now is this kind of fluid dynamic, back and forth. That’s why — that’s why I use, I picked that phrase “shoving match” very deliberately, because that’s what we see. You know, the — (inaudible) — will kind of shove ISIL then they’ll go back a few steps, and ISIL will come and will shove the opposition back a few steps.
And that’s what we have right here in the Mara line.
We’re going to continue to provide support. We’re going to continue to encourage opposition forces there to press that fight. We believe it’s important. You know, the Mara line is — is the — is the western boundary of the Manbij pocket. The Manbij pocket is the last open channel between Turkey and Syria.
So if we can close — if we can close off that Manbij pocket — in other words, push the Mara line east to where they can link up with the Euphrates River — to the Euphrates, we’ll then have sealed off the final line of communication — supply line between Turkey and Syria. And that — we think that’s important because that’s where a lot of the foreign fighter flow comes in; that’s where all the illicit items move in both directions. So we think it’s important to seal that off.
In Deir ez-Zor we have, there’s one — in Deir ez-Zor city, we have one portion of the city that the regime forces never lost control of. And so we’re seeing continued maneuver for that final portion of Deir ez-Zor city. And we’re talking about a matter of blocks in this case. So again, way too early to make any — to assign too much significance to this very tactical work that’s going on in Deir ez-Zor city.
Q: So I guess just to follow, then, you haven’t changed your assessment? I think the figure that you gave us previously was that ISIL has lost 10 percent of the Syrian land that they once had. Is that still the claimed number?
COL. WARREN: You’ve got to speak up. I can’t hear you.
Q: Yes, sorry. So, these — these small gains haven’t changed your assessment in terms of the percentage of territory that you have retaken from ISIL? I think previously you said it was 10 percent.
COL. WARREN: Right. So, we’ve been at kind of 15 to 20 percent for some time now. But what you’re seeing up in the Mara line area is — won’t be enough to even move that percentage point in any direction.
Q: Okay. Thanks.
CAPT. DAVIS: Bill?
Q: Hey, Steve.
Quick question on Russian movements and actions inside of Syria. What percentage of — I mean, can you give us a sense of what kind of activity they’re — they’re up to right now? How much of it is targeted at Islamic State or, you know, Nusra? And — yeah, and then give us a sense of what is their kind of fire power in the country I don’t know how many weeks after they’re supposed to withdrawal.
COL. WARREN: Well, you know, when the Russians first came in, they claimed that they wanted to fight ISIL, and in reality, only a small fraction of their strikes were against ISIL. About 80 percent of their strikes were against the opposition.
Since the cessation of hostilities was declared, we have seen that shift. At one point, the Russians really have — they primarily had been striking ISIL. At one point, I think, in the last, I don’t know, week or so, the Russians we estimated — really more than 70 percent of their strikes were against ISIL.
So I don’t have today’s figure and we don’t track it, you know, that closely. But the Russian have been striking either ISIL or, in many cases, Nusra. That said, we have seen an uptick — a general uptick in the number of cease-fire or cessation of hostilities violations. We have seen an uptick in the violence, primarily regime elements coming into contact with other forces.
So this is a concern to us and, you know, we’ve called on the Russians several times to use their influence with the Syrian regime to try and tamp this down.
Q: And do you believe at this point that they’re preparing for an end to the cease-fire? Does it look that way from their positioning?
COL. WARREN: Well, you know, I’m not going to predict — (inaudible) — what their intentions are. What I do know is that we have seen, you know, regime forces with some Russian support as well begin to mass and concentrate combat power around Aleppo. So this is something we’re concerned about and something we’ll keep an eye on.
That said, it’s primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo, and of course, al-Nusra is not part of the cessation of hostilities. So it’s complicated. We’re watching it. Our focus, though, as the Combined Joint Task Force, is ISIL. And so don’t forget that, that’s our focus. The cessation of hostilities, the diplomatic and political processes — while they certainly have — are of interest to us and potentially could influence our operations peripherally, our focus remains ISIL.
Q: Thanks, Steve.
Q: Steve, has this been a significant uptick just recently? Or is this — is this the uptick that you’ve been talking about for weeks?
COL. WARREN: I mean, it’s just — (inaudible) — but it is — it’s kind of – moving – (inaudible)? It’s a gradual increase, so last week, a little but more than two weeks ago, which was a little bit more than three weeks ago. So it is, you know, kind of an incremental uptick.
CAPT. DAVIS: Tolga’s next.
Q: Hi, colonel. This is Tolga. I had two quick questions regarding the Mara line and follow-up questions. First, there is —
COL. WARREN: Hold up. Move closer to the phone.
Q: Okay. So first question on the offensive of the opposition groups in west of Hazas. It seems that there is not any coalition air support for those groups who are fighting against ISIL in the west of Hazas and alongside the Syrian-Turkish border. Is there any particular reason? Is there any — there is not any group that you’re cooperating with there — (inaudible)?
COL. WARREN: Well I don’t have a list of groups, Tolga, we are providing support for the moderate Syrian opposition forces that we are in contact with. You have to keep in mind there are hundreds of these small bands and groups of fighters, and we have not — we’re not in contact with every one of them. Similarly, some that we are in contact with don’t need our fundamental vetting standards, so we won’t support them.
So I don’t know which group you’re talking about, Tolga. You know that we are, broadly speaking, providing support to the moderate Syrian opposition as they fight ISIL.
Q: Okay. And the second one on the Kurdish groups in Mara line. As you know, often Kurds have now reached to ISIS boundaries in the Mara line and they are ready to attack ISIS. And on the other side, alongside the Euphrates River, just east part of the Manbij pocket they’re also ready to attack Manbij. And if — I mean, since you mentioned, about to close the gap, the last part in the — along the Syrian-Turkish border. Did you — did you make any decision about support — to support Kurdish fighters, especially Afrin Kurds in this Manbij pocket?
COL. WARREN: Not yet.
Q: Okay. Is there any timeline or any particular reason for this?
COL. WARREN: So we’re still working through all of this. I don’t have a timeline to give you, Tolga, unfortunately, but we are still working through it. There are, as you know, several competing sets of sensitivities that have to be managed that’s being worked really at the political and diplomatic level. We would like to see, at the end of the day, the Manbij pocket closed. So, you know, there’s a lot of work going on, diplomatic at the political level, as well as at the military level to try and get all the players into a place where they’re comfortable closing off this pocket.
Q: Got it. Thanks, Colonel.
CAPT. DAVIS: Andrew Tilghman?
Q: Colonel Warren, on the — one of the accelerants in terms of putting advisers on the brigade and battalion level, can you just tell us how you think that’s going to play out from here? Have you identified particular brigades and battalions that will be receiving advisers? Roughly how many, do you think? Would it be — would it be all of them up there in the Mosul area, which you described as eight to 12 brigades and their underlying battalions, or would it be more selective than that?
COL. WARREN: So too soon to tell. You know, we’re continuing — we’re working now the plan. I think what you’ll see is an as-needed situation, so, you know, as advisers are required with certain brigades, that’s what you’ll see. But it’s very early right now and we are kind of continuing to develop exactly what this is going to look like.
Q: Can you elaborate a little bit —
COL. WARREN: Mosul itself —
Q: What is as —
COL. WARREN: Mosul itself — it’s all right. You go.
Q: What is as-needed? Can you describe like the scenario that would make a brigade or a battalion need a set of advisers?
COL. WARREN: So Mosul’s still several steps away, so the first thing we have to do is set the conditions in order to get us into Mosul, was what I was trying to say.
You know, I’m not going make up, you know, kind of made up scenarios that don’t exist yet. What I’ll say is that as units — as we assess that units could use the help of advisers and assisters or as the Iraqis request specific units receive advice — more target advice, that’s what we’ll do.
But you know, I’m not going to spin some kind of yarn that imagines a scenario. What I’ll say is that as the Iraqi Security Forces begin their movements, there will be times when those forces need — those forces would benefit from the type of advice and assistance that American and coalition advisers can provide.
And as those — those opportunities and requirements arise, we’ll fill them. Remember, this is authorities, right? That’s — I was very careful about reading that. It’s authorities that push these advisers and assisters to brigade and battalion level.
So, it’s a decision that, now, commanders, these commanders here on the ground, can make at the time the place of our choosing.
CAPT. DAVIS: Jamie McIntyre.
Q: Colonel Warren, it’s Jamie McIntyre.
Two questions, one about the B-52s, and I know we’re dealing with perceptions here, but because these planes are older and bigger than the B-1s, do they — are they in anyway more vulnerable to ground attack, for instance, given the reports that there maybe shoulder-fired missiles in the region? Question number one.
And then question number two, more broadly about the civilian casualty question. There have been some reports suggesting that the rules of engagement have shifted somewhat in order to provide more latitude, and that might permit for more civilian casualties.
Can you help us understand what real — what’s really going on with that?
COL. WARREN: Sure. Jamie McIntyre, who do you work for now?
Q: I work for the authoritative Washington Examiner.
COL. WARREN: Excellent.
Q: Thanks. Thank you.
COL. WARREN: That’s good. That is an authoritative paper.
COL. WARREN: Glad to hear it. Okay, B-52s — (inaudible) — really, they are not more vulnerable than other platforms that we’ve got operating in this theater, and of course, we take all of the precautions that we can. You know, force protection is always our top priority here, and so is protecting, you know, the force that mans the B-1 bomber falls in that category.
On the CIVCAS and ROE. So, what — then there is some recent reporting that — to the rules of engagement, or the rules for how we handle CIVCAS have changed.
Here’s what has happened. The authority to accept risk has been delegated to a lower level. So, when this — when this fight began 20 months ago, the four-star general in Tampa, the Central Command commander retained the authority to be the person who decides how much we’re willing to risk a civilian casualty.
Since that time, as the theater matured, and as our systems have — have developed, as our processes have gotten better, those authorities have been delegated down to a lower level. They’ve been delegated down to our level here at the CJTF.
So, rather than the CENTCOM commander having to approve a strike that carries the risk of civilians casualties, now the CJTF commander, or in some cases, the CJTF deputy commander can — has the authority to make a decision on that risk, on whether or not the strike that we are planning to take — if there is a risk of a civilian casualty associated with that strike, the decision level is now here at the CJTF.
Does that makes sense?
Q: Yeah. So, a quick follow up. So, does it change the threshold for approving such strikes? And do you anticipate that this moving — moving the decision closer to the battlefield would risk an increase in civilian casualties?
COL. WARREN: Well, it’s a war, so there is always a risk of civilian casualties. Let’s be very clear about that.
And in fact, there have been some civilian casualties.
But this does not translate to more civilian casualties. This translates to a more rapid execution of strikes, because you don’t have to send requests all the way to Tampa anymore. We can — in some cases, we can do it here.
So, the way we do this is, you know, we try to figure out what we think — we find a target, we assess the military value of that target, and then we assess whether or not we think, if we strike that target, there might be the possibility of a civilian casualties associated with that strike.
If we think there won’t be any civilian casualties, based on a very extensive and thorough analysis, we hit. If we think there may be civilian casualties, then we go through a very detailed and painstaking process to determine, hey, how many civilian casualties we think might result from the destruction of that target, and what we can do to drive that number, that possible number of civilian casualties down to the smallest possible number, as close to zero as we can get.
And if we can make adjustments — for example, what time we strike the target, drop leaflets ahead of striking the target, use a different type of munition, attack from a different type of angle — if we can make all of those adjustments, and based on our extraordinary knowledge and sophistication, have a reasonable belief that there will be zero civilian casualties, then we strike.
Then after we have made all of our adjustments, if we still believe that there is a possibility of a civilian casualty occurring, well, then, that requires somebody of greater authority to approve that strike.
And the authority level lies with the number of civilian casualties we believe maybe associated with that strike.
So, I think that’s the whole story. But at the end of the day, zero civilian casualties has to be our goal. It’s our goal.
We understand that there are going to be times when — when tragedies happen and the worst happens. But then, it’s certainly not our goal; our goal is to not — we are here to help the Iraqi people, we are here to help the Syrian people.
And so, with that in mind, we do everything we can to not hurt them.
Q: One last clarification. When did this change of authority take place, or when it shifted from CENTCOM to theater?
COL. WARREN: It has happened over time, so it has been incremental.
So, again, as our systems develop, as our higher headquarters starts seeing the same type of target set come up, over time, they’ll say, okay, in this case, we’re going to delegate the authority. You don’t need to show us that anymore.
For example, oil trucks. Right? You know, so if we hit a certain target type repeatedly, over time, the higher headquarters may delegate down that target type. So it’s been ,you know, it’s been an ongoing, I think, process.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Brian Emerstein.
Q: Hi. Brian Emerstein with Air Force Magazine. Back to the B-52s. I wanted to talk about the precision of these strikes. Can you say what type of weapons were released on Monday? And in addition to the B-52 deployment, we’ve seen other new deployments of A-10s from Idaho, F-16s from Germany. Does this represent an uptick in the aircraft that are available to the coalition or are these just normal rotations and — (inaudible) — the same?
COL. WARREN: It’s both. So, you know we have seen for example the Dutch have just sent an additional F- — or was it the Danes – sorry the Danes — have just sent additional F-16s into the fight. These are new, you know, new — added capability. You just saw obviously, EA-6B Prowlers that are moving into Incirlik. This is on top of what we already had. This isn’t a replacement. Other times, it is a replacement. So it’s combination of both.
On the exact munition types that the B-52 delivered in Qayyarah, Iraq, I don’t have that. We can try to — I don’t know if we release that or not. I’ll check with AFCENT and I’ll send the info. I’ll send the answer back through Matt Allen or Roger.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Jamie Crocker
Q: Hi, colonel. I just have two quick questions. Clarification on the HVT operation you spoke about on — that look place on Sunday. Was the target — did you say, was he captured or killed? And then following up on the Captain Grimm operation, can you just elaborate a little more on what — where he was based and what the target was in Denmark that he identified? Is there just anything more you can provide on his role in this?
COL. WARREN: So on the — on the HVI, I didn’t say if he was killed or captured. Let me get — so I’ve got the citation here of the — that was developed for him here. So Captain Grimm did several things. You know, thing number one that he did was to help develop a system to speed the flow of intelligence from here on the ground up to national capitals. So that was of benefit to the various national capitals.
The other thing he did was he provided some actionable intelligence that included information taken from exploited captured documents on enemy foreign fighters who were from Denmark or who had relatives in Denmark, as well as some cyber information on possible terrorist threats to Denmark. This included one instance where the information — information provided on a bomb threat against a school using homemade explosives in Denmark, and the information that Captain Grim was able to provide contributed to an arrest and to the confiscation of these homemade explosives.
So Captain Grimm, at the time he was given the award, had provided 250 tailored reports compiled from reports and information, which were releasable to Denmark and the (unintelligible) the flow of reclassified as permitted material for NATO use.
So he did all this voluntarily, you know, kind of in addition to his duties. He was based in Al Asad while he was doing all of this. So I wanted to highlight it because it’s not everyday an American captain receives a very high — prestigious medal from a foreign country.
And I wanted to highlight it too because it’s important to me to remind everyone who’s listening how very seriously we take the threat of external ops. This is top of our minds. So as we conduct operations, as we partner with our Iraqi partners, we are continuously with them to try and draw out any tidbit of information that we can find that relates in any way to an external attack or an external operation that ISIL is planning.
And when we find such information, we’ll do one of two things. We will move that information where it needs to go to help protect the homeland. Two, and from our perspective just as important, is we will find whoever it is that is plotting this external attack and we will take immediate and violent action.
CAPT. DAVIS: Lucas?
Q: Colonel Warren, did General Votel make this order to shift or delegate authorities from CENTCOM down to CJTF level?
COL. WARREN: This happened overtime, really, from — since September really all the way up to now. I mean, like I said, it’s kind of an ongoing process, but I think the most significant delegation of authority was in October, but this is a continuing process.
Q: Understood. And has this sped up the decision-making process overall to bomb targets?
COL. WARREN: It has. You know, the more authorities that are delegated down, the more rapid we’re able to respond, frankly, on these targets. And that’s just a factor of, you know, there’s time and distance much easier for the, you know, commander on the ground who has nothing else to worry about than the fight to — who’s completely soaked in the daily operations to be able to assess the risk value — (inaudible) — assessment on the target rather than have to bring, you know, a higher level headquarters located thousands of miles away who have significantly larger scope and set of responsibilities, who will approach — (inaudible) — Afghanistan — (inaudible) — all of the CENTCOM AOR.
So of course, I mean, it’s natural that this would speed up the process, and so it has.
Q: And of the 217 new troops that were announced this week will be going to Iraq, can you provide us a breakdown of those forces?
COL. WARREN: Well I’m not going to give you a specific breakdown. What I’ll tell you is that these new personnel will provide engagement support, some force protection, some HIMARS field artillery support. So these are the individuals – and some advise and assist — so these are the individual people associated with the other accelerants, right?
The accelerants are advise and assist to a lower level, so some people will go do that, it’s Apache helicopters, so some people will go do that. It’s HIMARS, so some people will go do that. And that’s it.
Q: Can you give us a breakdown of the services involved? Like Marines —
COL. WARREN: No, we don’t even have that yet.
COL. WARREN: That doesn’t exist yet, so we’re working through those processes now to — you know, to do fills and generation of our own. So that’s coming, but we don’t even have it yet.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Nancy.
Q: Hi, Steve.
I want to follow up on two areas that you talked about — on the decision to move the — the strike decision to the commander and deputy commander. Is it fair to say — I just want to make sure I understand you correctly — that that decision no longer lies in CENTCOM? Are any of those decisions made out of CENTCOM? Or are they all exclusively in-theater?
COL. WARREN: There not all exclusively in-theater — (inaudible). So, it’s — how many civilians we believe are potentially at risk. So – and we’re very deliberate not to give out the numbers.
COL. WARREN: If it’s — you know, zero civilian casualties, then, you know, somebody can approve it. If it’s, you know, one civilian casualty, somebody else can approve it and on up the line.
So at some point, there’s a cut-line where it does have to go back to Tampa.
Q: And is there any discussion of moving that decision-making process lower down to, say, General Volesky’s level? Particularly as you move more troops in closer to where Iraqis are fighting, for example, and the battle toward Mosul? Is it possible that we’ll see that decision made at a lower level, particularly as you move closer to Mosul? Is that being discussed?
COL. WARREN: (inaudible) — works for General (inaudible) and (unintelligible) who can approve some targets. So again, it’s a rolling thing — the same way that Central Command over time decides to delegate down to the CJTF, then over time the CJTF can further delegate in some cases. In some cases, we receive the authorities with caveats that say no further delegation authorized, but those are rare.
Q: Okay. And then one of the things that you said is that we’re still several steps away from Mosul. Are one of those steps Fallujah? We heard earlier about a potential offensive in Fallujah. Is that still a possibility? And is that considered one of those steps towards Fallujah?
COL. WARREN: Well, Fallujah is certainly something that is talked about here every single day. There’s acute awareness of the humanitarian suffering that’s going on in that town. And the Iraqis are — are very much focused on the idea of liberating Fallujah.
Where the liberation of Fallujah falls in the sequence of events, frankly, has not yet been determined. There is continued discussion about that throughout the coalition and the Iraqi chain of command.
So this is ongoing. Fallujah will be liberated eventually, as we hope will every square inch of Iraqi soil be free of ISIL.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Let’s see here. Next is Gordon.
Q: Colonel Warren, I may have missed it during the announcement. But do we know the timing of the arrival of the 217?
COL. WARREN: We don’t, Gordon. They’ll flow in over time. Some are already here. Obviously, the Apaches are already here. So, you know, they’ll flow in over time.
Q: And can you tell us what the current number of forces are in Iraq right now?
COL. WARREN: Standby.
CAPT. DAVIS: He asked for the current number of forces in Iraq.
COL. WARREN: Yeah. Standby. I’m looking it up. Let me check.
CAPT. DAVIS: My mistake.
COL. WARREN: So, on April 15th, there were 3,350 was our FML, so.
Q: So, my real question is, as you know, and thanks to some of our colleagues here, there’s a difference between the public number and the number that’s actually there in Iraq, because they’re on temporary status or whatever.
A, can you give us the number — recognizing that it fluctuates — can you give us the number of the temporary folks? And also, has there been any more thought to the Pentagon just providing that number as a matter of course — the full number?
COL. WARREN: No to both.
Q: Can I ask why?
COL. WARREN: You can.
Q: Can you give us an answer?
COL. WARREN: (Laughter.) Gordon, I — you know, I’ve got to tell you that the chairman of the joint chiefs was very eloquent at his last press conference there in the Pentagon in the briefing room, as to what we’re doing and why. There’s really nothing I can add to that. I feel like he said — he summed it all up in two sentences much more efficiently than I’m able to do. So I would refer you to his — the secretary of defense – excuse me — the chairman of the joint chiefs’ recent comments.
Q: All right. Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Paul?
Q: Colonel Warren, hi. It’s Paul Shinkman with U.S. News.
Just a couple of clarifying questions. On the 217, I know that you can’t comment on — on where these troops are specifically coming from, but that’s an awfully specific number. So can you say are there 217 specific troops or specific kinds of troops that you have in mind, and you haven’t figured out where they’re coming from? Or do you know and just can’t say?
Can you give us a better — excuse me — understanding on that?
COL. WARREN: So, all of the — everything hasn’t been resourced yet. You know, there’s a — there’s a process for how we resource through the United States military, how we resource requirements, the request for forces process.
It’s been about a week, and — (inaudible) — probably still not understand — (inaudible). But it’s very specific. But the number 217 and why I think — the reason it’s interesting to everyone. So, it’s based on units, right, so a HIMARS, you know, battery by doctrine, has X number of people in it. An Apache maintenance crew, you know, by the book, has Y number of people in it.
So as we figure out what our requirements are — okay, we need this many Apaches, with this many maintainers, and this many fuel-handlers, we just look at the book and see what it says. We may not actually get that many people. Very few units are, you know, at 100 percent filled all the time – At least any unit that I’ve ever been assigned to has been like that.
But that’s where the number comes from. The number simply comes from opening up the book and seeing how many people are, by the book, assigned to a HIMARS battery. If it’s 28, then we write down 28. And that’s how we get our number.
Q: So it may not be that 217 ultimately go. That’s just the new cap on how many could go?
COL. WARREN: Good question, a very smart question; 217 is the doctrinal number associated with the amount of force that we have requested.
Q: And then on the civilian casualties, can you confirm how many confirmed civilian casualties there have been so far? How many requests for investigation there have been? And how many active investigations there are?
COL. WARREN: I’m going to have to flip through my book here. If I recall, it’s roughly 26 civilian casualties that we have announced. As you know, CENTCOM makes these announcements. I believe that there are a handful of civilian casualties that have not yet been announced; that we’ll announce, you know, eventually when we get through the whole process.
So these are — these are investigations that are complete. We have determined that there have been some casualties, but haven’t gotten all the way through the checking and re-checking, and people signing the paperwork, et cetera. So those will be announced when ready.
And then there are several — there are a handful of investigations that are ongoing right now. So that’s where we are. I — I don’t have numbers to give out associated with the second category I just described. But my sense is the numbers are very low, though. I mean, after 20 months and 40,000 weapons releases, we’re certain. We’ve completed investigations that lead us to believe that the preponderance of evidence indicates that there have been 26 civilian casualties.
And that — that’s, I mean, remarkable by anyone’s standard. And so I think that level of — that remarkable level of precision will continue. So as these — these handful of investigations that are virtually complete, but not yet prepared for release, as they come out, I think they’re going to look an awful lot like what you’ve seen thus far — one here, two there.
All tragic, all — we wish we could have avoided them. But nevertheless, remarkable in their, you know, in how small they are.
Q: And then lastly, just to sort of follow up on this — on this gradual shift in the authorities, isn’t the fact that there are going to be more strikes by virtue of the fact that strikes can happen more quickly, and that you can take advantage of dynamic targets more readily, doesn’t that mean that the risk of civilian casualties raises, just by virtue of the fact that they’re are more strikes?
COL. WARREN: Well, that’s like when you flip a coin, does the percent — does the chance that it will come up heads change because you’ve already flipped it twice? I mean, I’m not statistician, but I mean, to me, every single — every single target gets the same amount of rigor, the same level of standards apply to it, the same amount of effort applies to drive the civilian casualties to zero.
CAPT. DAVIS: Tom?
Q: Yes, sorry, just a quick follow up on that point.
Can you help me understand, if you’re removing layers of scrutiny from this decision, then how is it that the threshold for a strike wouldn’t be more likely to result in civilian casualties?
COL. WARREN: It’s not that — (inaudible) — remove a layer of scrutiny. All it removes is — all it does is delegate the weight of decision to a different individual.
Q: So — okay. But I mean, it was going higher up the chain of command, and now it’s lower down. That would suggest a lower level of scrutiny.
COL. WARREN: I disagree. You know, I think General MacFarland applies excruciating scrutiny to every single target.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Anything else? Yes, Luis?
Q: One quick clarifier, Steve. The delegation is only to the commander and deputy commander of CJTF? Or does it go lower than that?
COL. WARREN: It goes lower.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Lucas?
Q: Colonel, maybe just one more clarification. The delegation has gone down, but has the ROE changed or the number of acceptable civilian losses? Has that changed?
COL. WARREN: No. The number of acceptable civilian losses is always at zero. And then commanders have to make the decision as to whether or not the military value of the target justifies the possibility that some civilians may be killed.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Last call.
Thank you, Steve, again. Sorry for the technical problems. I understand we’ll have your video posted here — (inaudible).’