Department of Defense Press Briefing by Col. Dorrian via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
Colonel John Dorrian, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman
PETER COOK: JD, are you there?
COLONEL JOHN DORRIAN: Yes, sir. This is John Dorrian.
MR. COOK: All right. JD just confirm before we get started, you're -- you are rolling a camera, you're looking at the camera and that video's being taped and it'll be uploaded to DVIDS.
COL. DORRIAN: You know what, sir? I'm -- I'm afraid that's not the case. It appears that DVIDS was unsuccessful in being able to patch in to this call.
MR. COOK: All right. All right, we'll go ahead anyway. Apologies to the broadcasters today for that.
Listen, I wanted to be here for this update from Colonel Dorrian at the top here just to say, more than anything else, I wanted to personally thank Colonel Dorrian for his efforts, at least on my watch here at the Pentagon, to represent OIR and everything going on downrange.
I can assure you that a few months ago, Colonel Dorrian had no idea that he was going to be in Baghdad at this time conducting this very important role -- playing this very important role for us. So I just want to -- while I have the opportunity, with everyone here, publicly before I step away from the scene here at the Pentagon -- to thank Colonel Dorrian for everything he's done. The effort and commitment that he's made to this particular position and to trying to share as much information as we can from downrange.
So with that, JD, you have my personal thanks and you also have a room here of reporters, who'd much rather hear from you than hear from me. So take it away and thank again for all your efforts, really appreciate it.
COL. DORRIAN: All right, sir.
Well, you know, Pentagon press, I hope you'll just indulge me for a quick minute. I want to take just a quick moment and thank Mr. Cook for his service, for his leadership and support for our public affairs activity out here.
Operation Inherent Resolve is tremendously complex and we just could not do what we do without a lot of support from Washington, and, sir you always delivered that support and you did it in a spirit that made you a pleasure to work with.
So I want to wish you well, every success and happiness and I hope you'll stay in touch.
MR. COOK: I will do that. Thank you, JD.
And I want to make sure everyone knows that I am -- in addition to Colonel Dorrian, there are all those people that you all don't get to speak with who are part of this effort that I want to personally thank, who have made significant effort to make sure you guys get as much information as possible. I know you guys -- it's never perfect, but it's been a pleasure to work with these people.
I spoke with Colonel Joe Scrocca. I'm going to mention his name. Some of you have dealt with him. So I just found out today, that Colonel Scrocca in October, missed the birth of his -- of a new daughter, and is leaving to take a break to go meet his daughter this week. That's the kind of commitment we've seen from folks downrange in the public affairs operation.
So with that, JD again, please pass along my thanks to everyone along the way with OIR and I just wanted to do that publicly this one last time. So Jeff's going to be master of ceremonies here, to help. But there's questions abounding, but do you got an opening statement?
COL. DORRIAN: I do indeed, sir.
MR. COOK: Take it away.
COL. DORRIAN: All right, we'll get started. Folks, we'll start in Syria and we'll move on to Iraq.
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition have continued their progress, isolating Raqqa. Since their operation started November 5th, our partner forces liberated 3,172 square kilometers of terrain and moved within five kilometers of Tabaqah Dam to the west of Raqqa.
They've cleared the entire area east of the Euphrates and northwest of Raqqa, displaying tactical skill by switching back and forth between the northern and western advancements -- axes of advance to keep ISIL guessing and on the back foot. Now they're facing the stiffest resistance thus far, about five kilometers north of the dam.
Elsewhere in Syria the coalition continues its daily coordination and its conversations with Turkey. As a result, we have recently flown several ISR missions to support Turkey and their partnered forces operating around al-Bab. We've also begun conducting strikes against those targets in the vicinity of al-Bab. These strikes eliminated Daesh capabilities around the forward line of enemy troops near the city.
The coalition will continue to work with our Turkish partners to maximize these and other counter ISIL operations, on as many fronts as possible, to ensure the military defeat of ISIL provides stability to the region and security to our homeland.
U.S. and Turkish military officers will continue to work in combined headquarters de-conflicting, coordinating and developing targets to maximize effects against Daesh and avoid negative effects from this complex and crowded battlefield.
In Iraq, the ISF have continued making steady progress against the enemy, taking control of the east bank of the Tigris River in Mosul along with three -- the three southern-most of the five bridges over the river in the city.
As the Iraqi CTS continues clearing operations along the river, the big news of the week, from the Iraqi forces is their liberation of Mosul University, a sprawling complex on the northeast side of the city where the enemy was deeply entrenched.
The liberation of the university is a very significant event for a lot of reasons. It denies ISIL a significant base for operations and research, it's culturally significant to the citizens of Mosul and it's also important as a landmark educational institution.
As the ISF continues searching university buildings, they are finding laboratories and workshops the enemy is suspected to have used to manufacture machine-grade weapons and facilities indicating the university was a significant command and control node.
The enemy fought hard to retain this key terrain and the -- they were vulnerable to the ISF's continued use of synchronized advances on several axes. The waning resources of the enemy on the east side leave them vulnerable to such coordinated attacks.
As the university is liberated Iraqi forces are finding the types of damage, booby traps and weapons storage that we've seen in other places they've controlled.
There is evidence the enemy also trained their fighters in the university and we've seen reports that Daesh has torched several facilities, a continuation of the despicable tactics we've seen from these terrorists throughout the campaign.
In recent days we've seen the tapes of the enemy’s use of vehicle borne improvised explosive device attacks waning and we've seen them use VBIEDs with less up-armoring which makes them a bit more difficult to identify, but a little bit easier to stop.
Some of this effect is a result of the supply routes from the west Mosul being cut off by coalition airstrikes. We're prepared to continue striking VBIEDs anywhere that they can be found. To date, in the Mosul campaign, the coalition has destroyed 145 of these which are the enemy's weapon of choice.
Even as we support the ISF advance with our artillery strikes, advisers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, we continue to train Iraqi forces to hold the terrain they're liberating and to sustain a strong force that can maintain security as the enemy resorts to terrorist-style attacks. Currently there are more than 4,400 Iraqi security forces in training, including nearly 2,500 police.
With that, we will pause and I will be delighted to take your questions.
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Sure. We'll start with Bob Burns with the Associated Press.
Q: Colonel Dorrian, on the action you've described around al-Bab, it was- at least today's release of U.S. strikes that there were two air strikes that hit a vehicle and an excavator. Can you elaborate on the extent of the air strikes around al-Bab? And was this a one-off thing or has the U.S. made a commitment and like an indefinite commitment to support Turkey with air strikes there?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, these -- Bob, these strikes were a result of continued coordination with Turkey and we saw a window of opportunity where it was in our mutual interest to get those targets destroyed. This is something that we expect to continue doing.
So we strike targets anywhere in Syria or Iraq that they can be found, and you know, essentially there are more targets in Syria and Iraq than we can destroy at any one time. We have identified these targets by working with Turkey and we do expect to continue doing these types of strikes in the day ahead.
Q: So was it just the two air strikes that were yesterday?
COL. DORRIAN: There have been four of these strikes so far. We struck ISIL tactical units, an excavator, we've attacked an armored personnel carrier. I'd have to check and see what the other one was. But we -- we destroyed all those. And again, we do expect to continue doing these types of strikes in the days ahead.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Phil Stewart with Reuters.
Q: Just another follow-up on al-Bab. How many -- how many ISIL do you believe you've -- you took out on the -- in these strikes?
COL. DORRIAN: You know what, I don't have that figure and we'll have to take that one.
Q: You said you identified these strikes by working with Turkey. So they were not as a result of your own ISR, they were a result of targets selected by Turkish forces initially? Or they were both, the Turks are the ones who selected the targets and then you confirmed them with ISR? How did that -- how did that work exactly?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, we -- we have been flying ISR missions with Turkey, and so those targets were mutually developed and then we decided to strike them.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Joe Tabet with Ahurra.
Q: Thank you.
Colonel Dorrian, is it -- is it fair to say that Turkey is coordinating all its operation around al-Bab with the coalition?
COL. DORRIAN: I -- I don't know that I could make that as a declarative statement. I don't know.
Q: Could you give us more details about the -- the two strikes in the vicinity of al-Bab? You mentioned that they have been coordinated with -- with Turkey. Could you give us more -- more details?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, you know what, this is -- this is a part of our ongoing effort to coordinate with Turkey and to continue our conversation about how we might be helpful to them. So we have been working in sharing our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information and -- and develop those targets in concert with them in a joint command center and then struck them.
So, I don't have any further details beyond what I've provided on those targets. But that is, you know, consistent with about the level of information that we provide on all of our strikes.
Q: Quick question: Is the joint command center -- center that you mentioned something new?
COL. DORRIAN: No, it is not new.
We've -- we've had Turkish military in our command center at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. And we continue to work closely with them in Turkey as well.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Carla Babb with Voice of America.
Q: Hi, colonel. Thanks for doing this.
Going back to al-Bab, two questions on that. Does Turkey have the authority to call in strikes like the Kurds or the Syrian Arab Coalition? I know you said that these particular strikes were mutually developed. So, does that mean that they do or do not have the authority to call in those strikes?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, every nation has the authority to call in strikes. I'm not sure I understand the question.
Q: I guess I'm just wondering if this is similar to when the Kurds are on the battlefield and they have a strike, that they are able to locate and call into the U.S. forces the strike.
Does Turkey -- in the fight for al-Bab, does Turkey have that same authority, where they can just call in to the United States aircraft and say, "We have this strike that we'd like you to do, strike this target"? Because this, as you're saying, was developed mutually with U.S. ISR.
COL. DORRIAN: Right.
What I would say about that is all the strikes that we conduct in concert with our partners and with our allies, this is something that we always do when it's mutually agreed that we do that.
So, we -- we do conduct strikes for Turkey. We have done that before. We've conducted strikes for our partners in Iraq and Syria, as well.
This is something that they can request the strikes, we work with our strike cells to make sure that we're achieving the effects on the battlefield that we intend to achieve. In other words, we want to damage the enemy and minimize the risk of collateral damage or some type of mishap.
Q: And secondly, Russia has announced that they've been operating in the al-Bab area as well. Was the Russian military notified of these strikes?
COL. DORRIAN: We do maintain our -- our channel for deconfliction with the Russians.
As far as what was done with these specific strikes, I don't know.
But that's a dialogue that we maintain and it's a regular -- it's a regular dialogue. So I don't -- there isn't anything here that's happened that hasn't been happening for quite some time.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next Tara Copp, Stars and Stripes.
Q: Hey, Colonel Dorrian.
Last week, I believe it was Colonel Sylvia -- I wasn't here -- was talking about, again, the drones and their ability to now drop munitions on troops, although they're very small munitions, and I guess seemed to, kind of, downplay that effect.
I'm just wondering what sort of defenses against the drones are being considered. And is this something that we're seeing a lot more of them, or was it just a couple of drones and we ended up writing about it?
And then, secondly, for training, can you tell us how many Iraqi police have been trained to this point? And is their primary focus the post-conflict role in Mosul?
COL. DORRIAN: As far as the -- the threat from these commercial off-the-shelf drones that the enemy is using, this is something that we've seen quite a bit of, you know, more than -- more than 100 times in the last 60 days. So it's -- it's a regular tactic for them. But as far as their ability to drop ordinance, I'd have to check and see, you know, how often they do that. I know they fly these types of missions with their -- with their little commercial off-the-shelf drones on very regular basis.
It's not a strategic impact on the battlefield. It's a localized threat. It's not gonna stop any of our partners or us from doing what we need to do, but it is a threat that's -- that's ongoing. It's something that the enemy has continued to do. What we do in response to that -- we have a variety of systems that we use to get after it. We can't really go into great detail on those because of classification and tactics, techniques and procedures.
But those go anywhere from simply working with partners to shoot them down, up to other, you know, electronic means to -- to stop them from working.
As far as the forces that are in training now, those are -- many of those, especially the police, are going to act as hold forces and wide-area security forces. The purpose of those is that once the enemy has been cleared out of areas like Mosul and other areas around Iraq, these are the forces that go in behind them and maintain security in those areas so that sleeper cells can't cause major disruptions, nor can the enemy re-infiltrate and cause problems that way.
Q: Do you know how many total of the police have been trained to date?
COL. DORRIAN: I think we can get the number of police that have been trained to date. I don't have that handy, though.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Lucas Tomlinson with Fox News.
Q: Colonel, are you surprised that Turkey's had so many problems in -- fighting in al-Bab?
COL. DORRIAN: You know, they're fighting a -- a determined enemy that has no problem with using civilian shields and they've had quite some time to dig into the areas where they are. So there's gonna be tough fighting there.
We do believe that certainly, our -- our partners, our allies are more than a match for them and they'll be successful against them. But it -- it -- it's not surprising that it's a tough fight to defeat Daesh. They have had a lot of time to build their defenses in all the areas that they control, and so they're not going to be easily dislodged.
Q: And on the battle for western Mosul, do you anticipate that that fight will be tough than the fight in eastern Mosul?
COL. DORRIAN: It's very difficult to predict whether it'll be tougher in west Mosul. There are a couple of things, you know, factors that -- that play into that.
One is that the enemy has, especially early when the -- the bridges were intact, they brought a lot of resources forward from west Mosul into east Mosul, and a lot of those capabilities and resources were expended and a lot of fighters were killed. So that's something that obviously would indicate that some -- there's been some reduction in their capabilities over there.
The tough piece is there are a lot of civilians over there. The U.N. estimates that there are 750,000 civilians remaining in west Mosul. I saw that report recently and it's even more dense terrain in west Mosul than it is in east Mosul. So that would probably have a tendency to complicate factors.
The long and short of it is, we absolutely expect our partners, the Iraqis, to be successful in liberating that area. We're going to hammer the enemy with our air and artillery strikes to help facilitate their advance and our advisers will be there to support them.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next we'll go to Thomas Watkins of Agence France-Press.
Q: Hello, colonel.
Actually just to follow up on that, how many ISIL fighters are there in -- in Mosul and do you have breakdown of east versus west?
COL. DORRIAN: You know, I think we'll have to take that one for you. The number of fighters in Mosul. You know, we were estimating 3,000 to 5,000 early. There have been a tremendous number of enemy that have been killed as a part of the battle, but we'll -- we'll have to get back with you on -- on the current estimate.
CAPT. DAVIS: Christina Wong of The Hill.
Q: Hi colonel, thanks for doing this.
Just a few questions. You mentioned terrorist style attacks versus -- fewer VBIEDs and more terror style attacks. I was wondering if you could discuss what kind of attacks those are.
And then just to get an update of how many U.S. forces are now in Iraq and Syria and if any of those are acting as, sort of, forward deployed you know, J-TACs in Iraq or Syria.
COL. DORRIAN: Okay.
Well, as far as the terrorist style attacks, what I mean by that is that this enemy aspires to be a nation state or -- the Islamic State, that's what they call themselves. So they desire to control terrain. Their control of terrain is being rolled back and it's being rolled back rather quickly.
They've done nothing, but go backwards when they encounter our partner forces for more than a year. So they're not going to control Ramadi, they're not going to control Fallujah. After sometime they're not going to control Mosul anymore and they're going to be pushed out of the other areas that they control.
That doesn't mean that they will no longer be present, there will still be pockets of resistance and what we would expect from them is that they will devolve into the types of attacks that we've seen from enemies past.
So they will still try to conduct spectacular attacks. These are bombings, suicide bombing, vehicle borne improvised explosive devices moving into populated areas and the Iraqis are working to mitigate that threat, even as we speak.
So what they're doing is, you know, conducting hold force training and security police training and that's, you know, a big part of the answer. Because when you have a local force that's from the area that knows who's supposed to be there and who's not suppose to be there, they're more likely to be able to disrupt these types of attacks.
In addition they've built layered defenses in some of these populated areas and reduced their ability to infiltrate.
Let's see, your second question, I apologize.
Q: Number of U.S. forces right now in Iraq and Syria?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, as far as our -- we haven't had any change in our numbers or at least not a significant change. So our FML in Iraq is 5262. And then in Syria it is 495. We're under those numbers in both places. And as far as, you know, for -- for the forces that have been authorized to be in there longer term, we do sometimes have people there for temporary duty. Those don't count against those numbers and we don't give out that number.
So that's kind of where we're at.
Q: And then the J-TACs?
COL. DORRIAN: As far as J-TACs, we do have J-TACs that -- that are in theater. The majority of them are working in our strike cells. I don't have numbers of how many are -- are operating in the country, but we do have them. The purpose of those forces is to make sure that we're coordinating all of our air attacks. So they coordinate with our air operations center, they coordinate with the strike cells and they coordinate with our partners to make sure that the targets that we're hitting we have good eyes on and we know what we're strikingly and we know what effects are going to be achieved on the battlefield.
There are some limited numbers that are operating with special operations forces, but we don't give out those numbers. They're basically doing the same thing, except they operate to help protect the forces that they're with.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Bill Hennigan of the Los Angeles Times.
Q: Hey, JD. Is it safe to say that the -- some of these J-TACs are -- are inside Mosul?
COL. DORRIAN: It's safe to say that they have been in at different times. They do work directly with their -- their teams and those teams are operating with the Iraqi security forces and travel where the Iraqi security forces need them to go.
So as far as specifically where they are, I don't give that out at any given time. But yes, they have been in the city at different times.
Q: Got you. Thanks.
And last week, I think the number was 80 percent cleared from east Mosul. Do you have an update on that? And do you have kind of an expectation of when west Mosul will kick off? Is that days or weeks or months, years?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I would say we're probably at the 85 or 90 percent point on eastern Mosul at this point. I think, you know, it's very difficult to predict exactly how long it's going to take to clear the rest of Mosul, and the reason for that is because one of the tactics that the enemy has used in the past is to have sleeper cells in this sort of thing that will pop up in areas that are largely pacified. So there's gonna have to be some significant clearing to make sure that these areas remain secure.
And we've also seen that the enemy, when they're in close proximity to liberated areas, they continue to fire indiscriminate weapons like indirect fire, mortars and artillery into those liberated areas and -- and harm civilians. So the Iraqis will, you know, take whatever time is needed in order to deal with that threat. And then I would imagine, but I don't have a lot of detail on what their planning cycle is for beginning operations in the west of Mosul, but I can assure you everything that I have heard indicates to me that they intend to do this as quickly as they can.
I know Prime Minister Abadi has thrown out a three-month estimate, so that tells me that, you know, there's not gonna be a long wait before we start seeing ISIL killed in west Mosul.
Q: And just to follow up on the sleeper cell thing that you're talking about, does that mean like these guys are holed up and as soon as the Iraqi forces are there, they launch suicide attacks or something like that?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, it -- it can be that or it can be people that just try to melt away into the population. It can be small numbers of fighters that have found a place to hide and then they decide to come out once, you know, the fighting has passed them. As you know, the enemy has used tunnels under the city for quite some time in order to try to either flank or get behind the Iraqi security forces.
So this is the type of thing that slows the Iraqi advance. They have to clear buildings really from rooftop level all the way through every room, every closet, every area around there all the way down into basements and into tunnels. And then you always run the risk of having these folks pop up. And so that's -- that's going to slow things down, but this is something that now the Iraqis are certainly developing plenty of tactics to deal with, but that doesn't mean that it's not dangerous and that doesn't mean that it's not slow, tedious work.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, Andy -- pronounce your last name for me again.
CAPT. DAVIS: DeGrandpre of Military Times.
Q: Colonel, nice to meet you.
Just to go back to the question about J-TACs for a moment, for the U.S. to conduct air strikes in support of Turkish forces, does that require an American on the ground outside the wire with eyes physically on target or can that work be done from an operation center?
COL. DORRIAN: One of the things that we very much prize is to have boots on the ground operating in proximity or directly with our partner forces. So, you know, that is the preferred alternative and that is one of the reasons why, you know, we have to be very careful, especially in a very crowded and complex battlefield with a lot of different actors to make sure that we're hitting the targets that we intend to hit.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. The queue is empty.
Cami McCormick, CBS News.
Q: Hi, colonel. I have one follow-up to Tara's question about the drones. Have there been -- been any recent injuries due to drone attacks by ISIS, either to coalition or to Iraqi or Kurdish forces that you're aware of?
COL. DORRIAN: I'm not aware of any coalition injuries as a result of drones. As far as the Iraqis, they don't give out their casualty statistics, so I couldn't -- I couldn't say. But this is a dangerous tactic. It is something that certainly we're getting after, and so are the Iraqis and so are the Peshmerga.
Q: And can you say where most of these attacks are occurring?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, most of them are -- are in areas where our partner forces are advancing, so that would be up around Mosul, although it's certainly not restricted there. The enemy tries to surveil any, you know, target that they can and they want to do damage anywhere they can do it because, you know, the nature of this enemy, they're indiscriminate. So, you know, one of the tactics that we've seen from them is they'll fly a drone over a liberated area and drop a grenade and then say that we did it.
So, you know, these are the types of things that this enemy does, and that -- that just makes things very dangerous for civilians.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Can I follow up with a-
CAPT. DAVIS: Yeah, go ahead. Thomas Watkins.
Q: Yeah, hi.
Just to follow up that, I think earlier you said -- you said that you've seen more than a hundred of these incidents in the last 60 days. Is that a hundred attacks using munitions, or was it a hundred surveillance or a mixture?
COL. DORRIAN: That's a hundred surveillance.
Q: So how many attacks have you seen?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I don't have that stat.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, the queue's empty. Anyone else? Going once, going twice.
JD, thank you very much for your time.
And apologizes to everybody for the technical problems today. We will get those fixed next time.