Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Martin via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
Major General Joseph Martin, commanding general, Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning.
So, we want to first off apologize for the technical problems. We -- we -- due to some unforeseen circumstances in Baghdad -- are unable to bring you video today. We're going to be doing this by phone. We're still doing it here in the briefing room because we want to do a forward -- those in the out-stations who might be watching the livestream of this, the ability to continue to watch it.
And before we get started, General Martin, I just want to make sure you can hear us and we can hear you.
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH MARTIN: I can hear you loud and clear, Adrian.
CAPT. DAVIS: Great, sir.
Before we get to your introduction, I just wanted to pass on another piece of information for all of you.
Secretary of Defense Mattis will embark on his first trip as secretary of defense on February 1st to meet with his counterparts from two critical U.S. allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea. This four-day trip will include stops in both Seoul and Tokyo.
Departing on February 1st, Secretary Mattis will begin his trip in the Republic of Korea where he will meet with Minister of National Defense Han Min-Koo -- excuse me -- and other senior Korean officials. And then on February 3rd, Secretary Mattis travels to Tokyo for meetings with Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada and other senior Japanese officials.
The trip will underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation.
This morning, it's my pleasure to introduce Major General Joe Martin. He is the CG CJFLCC, which is the commanding general of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command for Operation Inherent Resolve. He's also the commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Fort Riley, Kansas, better known to many of you as the "Big Red 1."
General Martin took this position in Iraq in November, 2016 and is as commander of Coalition Joint Forces Land Component Command. General Martin leads the multinational force comprised of land, air, naval, Marine and special operations personnel charged with carrying out operations under the Operation Inherent Resolve umbrella, to include the advice, assist and enabling mission provided to Iraqi security forces working to liberate Mosul.
And just for your understanding, and please, as you talk to him, keep in mind his responsibilities are limited to operations in Iraq. He's not the person who can speak best to Syria issues.
And with that, General Martin, I'll pause to turn it over to you for -- your intro remarks. I'm going to depart the stage and turn it over to Major Rankine-Galloway, who will moderate this event from here forward.
Thank you, General.
GEN. MARTIN: Well, good morning, everybody, and thanks for listening today.
I'm Joe Martin, the commander of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command, which includes all the coalition ground forces in Iraq. And I also command the 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red 1," out of Fort Riley, Kansas.
Last night, after more than 100 days of tough urban combat, the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces announced the liberation of eastern Mosul. While clearance operations will continue, the Iraqi security forces control all areas inside of the city east of the Tigris River.
This is a monumental achievement for the Iraqi security forces and one that would have been a difficult task for any army in the world. This is still a -- there is still a difficult fight ahead in western Mosul, but the ISF has proven that they are both a professional and formidable fighting force.
I want to take a moment to update you on the contributions -- on our contributions to the success and momentum that the Iraqi security forces are having in Iraq. The Iraqi security forces have sustained success in eastern Mosul, liberating hundreds of thousands of civilians from Daesh. Daesh fighters have had their pay reduced. They've seen fewer VBIEDs, much less sophisticated I would add, that are being used at any point in the ISF's effort to liberate Mosul.
Daesh is increasingly unable to respond to the Iraqi security forces' pressure from multiple directions. I know most of you are interested in how long it's going to take to liberate the rest of Mosul. The truth is we don't know. What I do know is that the Iraqis have made significant progress in retaking a city about the size of Philadelphia, in a fight that would be difficult for any army to execute.
Mosul is about 145 square kilometers. It's got a population of 1.2 million people. It has over 200,000 structures and almost 3,000 kilometers of road to clear. It's the hardest door-to-door fighting the world has seen in recent history.
While I'm not going to go into specifics or predict how the Iraqis will take on western Mosul, what I will tell you is that it will be challenging. Daesh has had over two years to fortify its defensive positions and prepare its supplies to that defense. Under these conditions, the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces are taking exceptionally great care to protect the lives of the thousands of civilians who remain in Mosul. Their safety is a primary consideration in the ISF’s ongoing effort to defeat Daesh and liberate Mosul. An unfortunate fact is that Daesh doesn’t value human life.
They continue to occupy protected civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and mosques. We know they've done this on the east side and we can reasonably expect more of the same on the west side.
As we talk about sustained success, it's important to understand the success that the Iraqi security forces have had over the past two-plus years. Think about it. Since September 2014, when the enemy was essentially at the gates of Baghdad, they've liberated over 2.4 million people, regained tens of thousands of square kilometers of ground, and liberated hundreds of towns and villages.
The Iraqi security forces have also secured vital resources, including the Mosul Dam, the Qayyarah oil fields, and the Baiji refinery. And at the same time, the coalition has trained 11 brigades, more than 40 battalions in with just about 60,000 fighters during the same time period.
As for the coalition mission, we advise, assist and enable the Iraqi security forces with the goal of liberating Mosul and defeating Daesh in Iraq. We also build partner capacity by training and equipping them. When our leaders talk about dealing ISIL a lasting defeat, it is this training that will enable it.
We partner with the Iraqi security forces to build and maintain momentum against a determined and entrenched enemy, and will go wherever the Iraqi forces go in order to do that. We also provide lethal strikes that are coordinated and, of course, approved by the Iraqi government.
Force protection is my number one priority. It needs to be understood that there's always risk to coalition forces, no matter the distance from the close fight. That's just the nature of combat. We advise and assist Iraqi security forces down to the brigade level. This aspect of our mission is important to synchronize the actions of our partner forces and the actions of the coalition. This helps us to exploit Daesh's vulnerabilities, which continue to grow each and every day.
With that in mind, coalition forces are not here to fight for the Iraqis, but rather enable their success. We are, however, prepared to defend ourselves if necessary.
Through our operations, the coalition has degraded Daesh's fighters on the front lines. We've disrupted their command and control apparatus and imposed an incredible strain on their leaders, industrial base, financial system, communications networks and the system that they use to bring in foreign fighters to fill their rapidly depleting ranks here in Iraq.
Daesh continues to be a parasite, relentlessly exploiting the people and infrastructure like hospitals, schools and mosques despite the international laws protecting those sites. The important thing to remember is that the Iraqi security forces and every nation in this coalition are united with the goal to liberate Mosul and defeat Daesh in Iraq.
And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: A couple questions. Have you been given any additional or new direction to speed up the campaign, either land or air in Iraq or Syria, if you're -- if that's part of your -- your role? And do you -- do you see room for a bigger U.S. role in Iraq on the ground or in the air in terms of either larger numbers of U.S. forces or U.S. forces being -- operating more -- further forward in Iraq?
GEN. MARTIN: I'm sorry, I didn't get your name.
But what I'd tell you is that we have seen an increase in the tempo, and it began on the 29th of December when the Iraqi security forces began conducting operations after they did, in essence, a refit and a reorganization after 60 days of tough fighting. The combination of their ground maneuver created a condition where the enemy had to react to contact from multiple directions, and in doing so, revealed vulnerabilities that enabled us to target the enemy forces at a significantly higher rate than we had done before.
Our mission has not -- has not changed and I can't speculate on what may come -- come forward in the future, but currently, our mission has not changed. But that is the increase in the tempo that you may have been observing since the 29th of December.
Q: General, this is Bob Burns from AP. Just a follow-up question.
So, you -- you were saying you haven't been given any new direction from Washington on U.S. -- the U.S. role there in Iraq, but do you -- as a commander, do you see ways that would be fruitfully exploited in which U.S. forces could -- could operate further forward or take a bigger role on the ground or in the air?
GEN. MARTIN: Bob, our role is exactly where it needs to be right now and that's beside the Iraqis, advising, assisting and enabling and training them. And it has worked very well since the 29th of December and we continue to plan on supporting them until they defeat Daesh.
Q: Thank you.
MAJOR ADRIAN RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next, we'll go Tara Copp with Stars and Stripes.
Q: Thank you, general. I wanted to know, did the Turks have a role in the fall of east Mosul? The last time we were there, there were Turkish forces kind of to I guess the -- the north and east of Mosul and it was unclear what their role would be. And then I have a follow-up.
GEN. MARTIN: The Turks -- I'm sorry, could you say the question again?
Q: Did Turkish forces have a role in the fall of east Mosul? There were -- in the late fall, there were around 2,000 or so Turkish forces and it was unclear what their role would be in the advance on Mosul.
GEN. MARTIN: What you -- what you saw was the result of Iraqi security forces conducting operations in a simultaneous fashion against Daesh in eastern Mosul. The Turkey -- the Turkish did not have a role in that.
Q: So did those Turkish forces withdraw from Iraq? Their presence had been a point of contention.
GEN. MARTIN: Well, what I would tell you is anybody who operates within the -- within the country of Iraq would -- would -- should coordinate with and receive the approval of the government of Iraq to -- to operate within the country of Iraq. So I would ask the government of Iraq that question. But I -- I can't answer that question.
Q: OK. And then specifically with the U.S. advisers, their role in the fall of east Mosul, how far into the city were advisers? Did they accompany their units all the way up to the river? Or could you give us a sense of what they are doing now?
GEN. MARTIN: I'm gonna -- I'm gonna tell you a story to help you -- give you a sense of exactly what they're doing.
Principally, they're with brigade and division level commanders, and so imagine a coalition force adviser and his equipment and his team in the same vicinity of an Iraqi brigade commander or division commander. They're together, they're fusing and sharing intelligence. They're together, they're fusing and sharing a common operating picture, understanding exactly where the Iraqis are. And together, with the Iraqi's approval, they're striking targets in a much more effective and quick fashion in executing those targets.
And so they're side by side, they're building relationships, they're getting to know each other better every day. And that has created an incredible synergy in terms of enabling the Iraqis ground maneuver to achieve unprecedented success and speed.
Q: (inaudible) -- the most recent success in east Mosul were those brigades in the city. Did the advisers go into the city with them?
GEN. MARTIN: I'm sorry, I didn't answer your question. If that brigade commander at his command post is moving into the city, the advisers absolutely would be right beside that brigade commander in the city -- (inaudible) -- brigade commander goes.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next, we'll go to Laurie Mylroie from Kurdistan 24.
Q: General, I have two questions. The first concerns a role of the Shia militias. News reports have them operating that they're gonna be part of the liberation of western Mosul and that they're operating now to clear up the roads to Tikrit and Mosul. And given earlier reports that they were abusive towards the Sunnis, the Sunnis were afraid of them, do you have any concerns about the participation of the Shia militias in these operations?
GEN. MARTIN: The Shia militias are to the west of Mosul and they're exactly where the Iraq -- the governor of Iraq has asked them to be, providing some security to the west of the city. I'm not aware of them being inside of the city and they're doing exactly what the government of Iraq has asked them to do.
Q: So they're operating under Iraqi command and control?
GEN. MARTIN: They're operating under the command and control of the government of Iraq.
Q: And my second question concerns east Mosul. Now that it's liberated, I'm sure the coalition is learning a lot more about what Daesh was in east Mosul and how it was operating. Was there any particular role that the Chechens had? Were they significant or marginal in Daesh and east Mosul?
GEN. MARTIN: I can't specifically comment as to the activity specifically of the Chechens, but there are foreign fighters that have fought in eastern Mosul and there's other foreign fighters that are in other places in Iraq. But I can't specifically comment on the Chechens.
Q: Could you say which -- from where did most of the foreign fighters come? Is there some area that stands out mostly?
GEN. MARTIN: No, there's no area that stick out. They're from several countries.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next to Kasim with Anadolu.
Q: Thanks, general, for doing this. My question will be about the hold force. Has the hold force started to move in to the -- to the eastern Mosul to establish security over there?
GEN. MARTIN: So, my partner that I work with each and every day has placed a premium on the hold force and they're in the process of transitioning from clearance operations into hold force.
And so, just to give you a picture of this, you know, they -- they've cleared the east side, little over a hundred thousand buildings. If you think six rooms in each building, that's a herculean task. And so what they're doing now is they're going back through and they're ensuring that everything is clear and turning it over to hold forces. And it's a process that will take a little bit of time, but transitioning to that hold force is a high -- is a very high priority for my security partner in the Iraqi security forces.
Q: Are you aware whether the Turkish-trained Sunni tribal fighters are going to be included in those hold force for the east Mosul?
GEN. MARTIN: I don't have the answer to that question.
Q: There is a presence of PKK terrorist group in Sinjar and it has been a point of discussion between the Iraqi government, Turkey and also the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government. Are you aware whether they have withdrawn from Sinjar or not?
GEN. MARTIN: I can't answer that question either.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Next we'll move to Michael Gordon from New York Times.
Q: Sir, I have just three quick questions, one's a clarification on the previous question. For the popular mobilization forces in Tal Afar, is the coalition providing any air support whatsoever for them or are they more or less on their own? Are there any Iraqi forces co-located with them? That's my first question and then I just have two quick follow-ups.
GEN. MARTIN: OK. So your first question, no, we're not providing air support to the PMF that's out to the west.
Q: My second question is Hawija was bypassed in the pushed to Mosul and then their counterattack was launched out of there into Kirkuk. How are you doing with Hawija as a potential problem at this -- at this stage? Is it isolated or what is -- how is that -- how are you dealing with that ISIS-controlled area?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, I don't want to comment exactly on how the Iraqis are dealing with that particular problem set. But we're executing what would -- what essentially is the government of Iraq's plan to defeat Daesh in Iraq. And so we're currently in Mosul and we've had significant success on the east side of Mosul, looking to go to hold on that side and then we're going to move over to the west side of Mosul based on -- based on current plan.
The Iraqi security forces is mindful of, aware of and addressing the threats that are emanating in Hawija. But what's really important for you to understand is what's emanating out of Hawija into different areas in the country is the actions of an adversary who is desperate to draw the attention of the government of Iraq away from their focus in Mosul, and the government of Iraq is staying galvanized and focused on their goal.
Q: Last is just a clarification of the previous question. What is the hold force for eastern Mosul? Since you've told us it's been liberated, presumably the hold force has been identified. So what is this hold force? Who is it?
GEN. MARTIN: I can't give you -- I don't have in front of me specifically the brigades involved, but it's a multiple brigade and multiple battalion, multiple cohort force that the Iraqi security force commander has picked himself to go in there.
And it will be under the control of one of the division commanders, the 16th division commander, and the 16th division commander will command and control the east side of the river with that hold force in place once it has been transitioned from the clearing forces over to the hold force.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Paul Shinkman with U.S. News and World Report.
Q: Just a couple clarifying questions. Are there any Kurdish forces currently operating in east Mosul? As I understood, the plan was for them to advance from the east but then to hold and let the ISF do clearing. Is that still the case? Are there Kurdish forces there?
GEN. MARTIN: The Kurdish forces executed their operations before my time began here in Iraq, but they did a magnificent job setting conditions for the Iraqi security forces to continue the attack in Mosul and they remain at that limit of advance that you spoke of in your question.
Q: Great, thank you. And can you give us an estimate -- do you have any estimates on the number of ISIS fighters remaining in east Mosul and then perhaps the number of fighters remaining in Mosul writ large?
GEN. MARTIN: At this time, I can't. What I can tell you is their numbers are getting less every day. The Iraqi security forces have ousted them from east Mosul to west Mosul. What we've seen over the past couple of days is the enemy withdrawing across the Tigris River in boats, which we've struck multiple times.
We see the enemy's -- we see the enemy's capacity continue to wane. The sophistication of its weaponry continues to become lower and lower. These are all indicators of an enemy that's on the run, and with that, we take every opportunity we can to relentlessly pursue them with air strikes, to continue to shape conditions while the Iraqi security forces conduct their transition from one side of the city to the other.
Q: And then lastly, sir, do you expect that the fighting in west Mosul is going to be any different than what you've seen so far? Can you anticipate whether there are any unique challenges that are present on that side of the city? And is crossing the river, for example, going to be a specific challenge?
GEN. MARTIN: What I can't do is tell you exactly what it's going to be like, other than it's going to be challenging. And the reason it's going to be challenging is because what remains is a city about half the size of Philadelphia. And so about 100,000 buildings, with an enemy that's had over two-and-a-half years to prepare this defense.
And this defense, they'll be much more desperate than they were on the east side. Their confidence will be down. But I think that they'll continue to demonstrate that there's no limitation to their despicability as they use the population as human shields. I can tell you they are occupying schools and hospitals right now. And we are -- we are, where we can, striking them exactly where we need to further degrade their capability as they continue to prepare this defense.
I will also add that there's -- there's -- what you typically see in a withering enemy, you start to see the leadership start to fall apart. And you start to see people questioning whether or not they want to continue with this cause. And we're seeing indicators of that as well.
And so these are all good indicators that the enemy is losing capacity and understands that the outcome of the fight in west Mosul is predictable. It's their defeat and Iraqi victory.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Thank you.
We'll move to Carlo Munoz from the Washington Times.
Q: Thanks for doing this.
I wanted to follow up on your comments about the upcoming siege of west Mosul. Looking at what had happened, can you -- I guess, can you give me your assessment of what the threat is of civilian casualties in west Mosul, compared to what you saw in the advance through the eastern part of the city?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, what I've got to tell you is one of the many things that's impressed me about the Iraqi security forces and our strikes, as we've done them, is how much care they take in protecting the civilian population. They've taken great effort to do that.
And so I haven't heard about a lot of stories about that being a problem as the Iraqi security forces were conducting operations. Now, it makes it much harder on the Iraqi security forces because they've got to discriminate between the enemy and the civilians of the population. And oh by the way, with an enemy that has no problem using the population to shield and cover their moves. I've got many examples of that.
Then you contrast that with what Daesh has done. You know, they're still taxing people on the west side of the city and any other area that they're occupying in the country. I don't know if you know it, but they're enlisting adolescents and handicapped people to do their bidding, with suicide vehicle-borne IEDs and even arming adolescents and having them stay and remain in the vicinity of indirect fire -- firing platforms. I've even had one report of one -- a child being chained to an artillery piece.
And then, of course, to make sure that they maintain control, they're still conducting public executions and other methods to control the population. And so when you think about what the Iraqi security forces have done to be very mindful of protecting the civilian population in this very tough conflict, and what Daesh -- what Daesh has done, I think the Iraqi security forces have done an amazing job.
Q: Understood, sir, but I guess my question is, if the threat of civilian casualties in west Mosul is the same as it was in the push through the east part of the city, considering how dug-in Daesh is in west Mosul, is there any consideration at all as the fight progresses on changing or loosening the rules of engagement for coalition airstrikes in support of the offensive?
GEN. MARTIN: We will conduct the fight the same way we've conducted the fight from the beginning, and that will be by assisting the Iraqis in any way that we can to ensure that they're successful in their mission.
Q: So, the rules have been changing or loosening the ROEs for air strikes is something that could be considered? I mean, is that -- is it off the table or is it just something that you'll sort of keep on your list of options as the offensive progresses?
GEN. MARTIN: Yeah, I'm not going to be able to speculate on what the future will hold. What I'll tell you right now is that we're going to continue this mission and our focus is the defeat of Daesh.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Now to Corey Dickstein with Stars and Stripes.
Q: Thanks, General. I wanted to see -- you talked about indicators of the -- you know, of the enemy kind of falling apart. Are you seeing then in that case mass desertions or, you know, people giving up and turning themselves in or can you expand on -- on that at all?
GEN. MARTIN: We are seeing indicators of desertions and other activities that would indicate that the structure and the -- the cohesive organization of Daesh starting to -- starting to crumble.
Q: And then, just real quick, is western Mosul now -- is it isolated specifically on the west side of it from Syria? Can -- is there any freedom of movement for -- for ISIL?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, as I stated before, the government of Iraq has asked the PMF to be on the west, and that's where they are and that's who's out there securing the west side of Mosul at this time.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: To Carla Babb with Voice of America.
Q: Thanks, General. A few quick questions. First, you mentioned that some of the -- they were losing some of the leaders. What types of leaders are left in west Mosul? Can you talk about that? I.S. leaders?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, they're leaders that are facing a very formidable opponent in the Iraqi security forces. They're leaders that are -- that are less capable than the leaders that started out the defense of Mosul as a whole because we're targeting their supply resources, we're targeting their mission command structures, we're targeting every resource that they reveal to us, maintaining continuous pressure on them in preparation for the future offensive that the Iraqis will execute on the west side.
And so, those leaders have a significant -- significantly less amount of resources available to them that their counterparts had in the east in terms of command and control structure. You know, good subordinate leaders, full ranks below them. These leaders are leading formations that are less -- less in number, less in capability, and with that, clearly, given human nature, probably less confident.
And so, the Iraqi security forces will continue to prepare for offensive operations and while -- while they're doing that, we'll continue to shape those enemy resources on the west side of the river to support that.
Q: Thanks, general.
Are we talking about Islamic State that are kind of part of the council? I mean, how -- how low down the totem pole are these leaders that are still left in Mosul? Are there any high-value targets still left in Mosul?
GEN. MARTIN: I couldn't tell you which high-value targets, as you would say, are in western Mosul. But there's leaders leading military formations and we're looking for each and every one of them, and will strike them when we find them.
Q: And I also want to ask about the training. Is the coalition training complete for Iraqi forces and hold forces and Kurdish forces?
GEN. MARTIN: Absolutely not. It's a great question. It -- the training continues. In fact, this week we're almost at capacity in all of our training centers, training -- training thousands of Iraqis in collective and individual skills to continue to build upon their proficiency -- either build upon or -- excuse me -- or sustain proficiency.
Q: When do you expect training to be complete? Do you have an estimate?
GEN. MARTIN: I don't, but as a professional with about three decades of service, I'll tell you that we place a premium on training at all times. So training, I think, is an enduring mission for Iraq.
Q: And final question, since we're going into west Mosul, I know you've explained very thoroughly some of the capabilities lost by Islamic state. What have they done well? And what's the biggest challenge that you guys will have to face, that the Iraqis will have to face going into west Mosul?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, considering all the things that I talked to about, you know, you can't place a premium on their acts of despicability; the fact that they want to dominate the population. I find it hard to -- to say they've done this well. That being said, they're innovative, but so are we. And they're tenacious, but the Iraqis are more tenacious.
Two years, they were on the gates of Baghdad, and the Iraqi security forces have fought back over the course of that time; 2.4 million people liberated; 32,000 square kilometers of liberated terrain. It's admirable and the results are undeniable.
And so despite the fact that Daesh has some ability to adapt to the environment, they can't do it quick enough. And the Iraqi security forces are going to prevail.
Q: Thank you, General.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Kristina Wong (inaudible).
Q: (Inaudible) Thank you.
Thanks for doing this, general. Two questions.
You mentioned that ISIS is getting increasingly desperate as they're pushed into western Mosul. How do you expect that will manifest itself? Will they possibly deploy chemical weapons? Begin destroying buildings? Increasingly use civilians or target civilians?
GEN. MARTIN: I can't comment on the chemical weapons, but I can tell you the east side of the river tells us that they'll burn and destroy infrastructure as they leave it; the fact that they blew up the bridges as they completed their operations on the -- they had to withdraw from the east side.
The fact that they're occupying what we would consider to be sacred municipal infrastructure right now indicates that they will become more desperate and they'll do the same.
You know, I refer to them as a parasite. If you think about a locust does when it comes into a crop and strips it -- strips it of everything that's worth anything on that crop. That's what they're doing to the infrastructure in Mosul.
And so, the Iraqis wanna get -- wanna -- wanna get into Western Mosul and they want to wrest control from Daesh and stop this oppression and tyranny that's been there since -- for the past two years.
Q: Just to follow up on that, as they target sacred -- sorry -- infrastructure, do -- will we change our tactics as well?
GEN. MARTIN: If they -- if they defend from a school, we will strike them where they defend.
Q: And then just another question. Can you describe what the current policy is in regards to ISIS fighters captured on the battlefield?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, this is a sovereign nation and the government of Iraq can best describe that to you. They're the ones that detain them and they -- they had detained some -- some ISIL fighters. But they've done that, that's -- that's, you know, as a sovereign nation, that's -- that's their -- that's their call. And it's -- that's their prerogative.
Q: And then -- sorry, just to go back, I -- I'd be remiss if I didn't follow up. If we strike a school that ISIS is using, how do we ensure that there are no civilians also being targeted?
GEN. MARTIN: I'm sorry, you broke up with a beep. Can you say that again, please?
Q: Yes. If we begin striking targets like schools, how do we ensure that we won't -- the U.S. will not -- the coalition will not target civilians as well?
GEN. MARTIN: Because we use -- we use a process that's really deliberate in targeting to validate targets so that we can protect civilian life.
What I can tell you, based on my experience, is the infrastructure that I've seen them use as a -- as a command and control structure, Al Salam Hospital comes to mind, several mosques that they've used, they've kicked out the people or the -- the service that was -- was in that particular structure out.
In other words, it was formally known as a school, formally known as a hospital, but no longer it's functioning as such and they've turned that into a facility that they conduct supply operations, command and control operations. And so we have a very deliberate and thorough process using several different forms of intelligence to make these determinations. And of course, each and every one of these strikes that we do is at the request of the government of Iraq.
But that's how we arrive at the conclusion that we are not impacting the civilian populace. And in the after-effects of some of these strikes, as we've been able to go into Mosul University and look at the library and see that there was -- that -- that building had not been a library for two years. It had been a Daesh repository of records and other artifacts that they chose to keep there.
Q: Thank you.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Now to Ryan Browne with CNN.
Q: Yes. Thank you, General, for doing this. I had a couple follow-ups on some of the statements you made earlier.
One, you said that the training was almost at capacity for the Iraqi coalition efforts to train the Iraqi military. What is the constraint on the capacity? Is that the number of coalition trainers or kind of the size of the facilities?
GEN. MARTIN: It's -- it's a function of facilities, it's a function of trainers available. When I say at capacity, it's just at any given time. I mean, some weeks we've got more, some weeks we've got less. But we understand the capacity of our sites and we can expand that capacity if we need to.
But when I say we're at -- we're almost at capacity, it's based on our prediction of what we can fill with the people we have and the sites we have.
Q: OK. And you talked a little bit about some of the challenges going into western Mosul, the hundred thousand buildings. Have the Iraqis requested any additional support or capabilities to kind of enable this more challenging objective?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, I didn't characterize it as more challenging, I just said it would be challenging. But what I would tell you is they've asked for us to be by their side as they continue on. In fact, I got a note about that this morning, and of course, we're going to be there right beside their side, advising, enabling and assisting them as they conduct operations.
Q: OK. And finally, I know we have -- you said we're primarily at the brigade level advisory, but we've gone down to the battalion level on a case-by-case basis in the past. I think one of that was a bridging operation to assist the Iraqis do that. Obviously, all the bridges have either been destroyed or disabled, so I imagine -- do the Iraqis have the ability to conduct bridging operations independent of coalition advisory?
GEN. MARTIN: That was all before my time, but I've -- I've -- I've talked to enough folks to tell you they absolutely can do that on their own now, and that's -- that's one of many great examples of where in the past they needed a little bit of assistance, a little bit of advisory skills, a little bit of help and the coalition was there to provide that advisory capacity.
But their most recent bridge that they laid a month and a half, two months ago, they did all by themselves. The engineering regiment did it all by themselves, and so they have the capacity and the capability to do that all by themselves now.
Q: OK. Thank you.
RANKING-GALLOWAY: Next to Luis Martinez with ABC.
Q: Hi, sir. Can you -- in your opening statement, you talked about how this is some of the most intense urban fighting in recent memory. Can you give us a sense of the level of causalities that the Iraqi forces suffered during that fighting? And also, do you have a sense for the -- an estimate of how many ISIS fighters may have been killed in the fighting?
GEN. MARTIN: I -- I -- I can't give you -- for two different reasons, I can't give you the exact number of casualties. It's a matter of policy. We don't talk about any of our friendly casualties. But as far -- as far the enemy casualties goes, it would be impossible for me to give you exactly what the number is.
Q: And if I could follow up on -- there have been reports this week that some schools have reopened in east Mosul. Is there like a fluctuating security environment in east Mosul? Is that what that indicates? I mean, where some areas are hotter than others?
GEN. MARTIN: Well, in a challenging fight like this, it's going to be -- it's gonna be a -- a security environment that's going to change with each day, but what I can tell you is post-liberation, the Iraqis are doing everything they can to ensure that they didn't miss anything in their clearance and the hold forces take over areas that are secure. You know, that's a foundation -- that's a foundation of every measure of stability beyond that. You've got to have that foundation and security.
The Iraqis are mindful of that and they're doing everything they can to ensure that they maintain that foundation of security which leads to stability. And you know, they're -- they're very mindful of the fact that those essential services need to -- (inaudible) -- security that leads to stability because those essential services follow stability.
And the opening of schools is a good indicator of, number one, their attention and mindfulness of normalizing what has been two years of tyranny and oppression in eastern Mosul as quickly as possible, but doing it in a way that's safe so that the children are protected when they go into schools in their neighborhoods, that they've absolutely gone back through and cleared and ensure that there's no other remnants of war or -- or enemy forces.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Now to Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg.
Q: Hi, sir. I have a couple of tactical questions.
To what extent is the A-10 and the AC-130 gun ships being used in urban areas in Mosul? I have a follow-up.
GEN. MARTIN: So, we're using both of those. And that's with a suite of highly sophisticated, incredible coalition aircraft that we have available to strike Daesh at any time and place of our choosing.
But we also complement those aircraft with some surface-to-surface capability that is also equally sophisticated, allowing us to do precision strikes at a time and place of our choosing, against Daesh to keep them on the run and continue to erode away his capacity.
Q: There's a lot of interest in Washington, as you know, about the A-10. Can you give a couple of examples of how it's been able to surgically strike urban -- urban sections of Mosul?
GEN. MARTIN: I can't. I'm not an Air Force pilot. I'm just a CJFLCC commander. But what I can tell you is that the coalition air capacity that we have and the capability that we have is incredible. You know, 19 countries are -- several countries committed to the same cause of eliminating Daesh from the country of Iraq.
Q: To what extent has offensive cyber been used in this operation to disrupt Daesh command and control?
GEN. MARTIN: I can't comment on tactics, techniques and procedures that we use to degrade the enemy's mission command systems or degrade its capability.
Q: General, though, Secretary Carter has talked about the use of offensive cyber. I mean, but this is a good example. You might be able to give us a good -- at least a broad overview of how it's being used in this tactical situation.
GEN. MARTIN: I can't talk about the tactics, techniques and procedures that we use against the enemy here.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: To Lucas Tomlinson with Fox News.
Q: General Martin, is the U.S. military still operating under the authorities from the prior administration?
GEN. MARTIN: Our mission has not changed and we're operating under the exact same set of authorities.
Q: And just to be very direct here, so since President Trump took office, there's not been any change of orders -- or orders to ramp-up airstrikes against ISIS?
GEN. MARTIN: Our orders here have not changed since the 20th of January.
Q: And finally, the prime minister of Iraq has initiated an investigation into some of these Shia militias accused of some retribution of Sunnis outside Mosul, in and around the city. Has the U.S. military seen any evidence of this retribution?
GEN. MARTIN: I can't recall any evidence of this retribution. But what I can tell you is, you know, the P.M. has a zero-tolerance policy. And it's because any retribution from anybody is unacceptable behavior and it is not conducive to further stabilizing the country beyond this conflict and the tyranny of Daesh. And so, as you've heard, the Iraqis will make an investigation, they'll do their investigation, and I'm sure we'll hear from them after they -- after they complete their investigation.
Q: Thank you.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Carla Babb with Voice of America.
Q: Thank you, general, for indulging me on one last question.
There have been reports out of Syria that there's infighting in the -- among the jihadist groups there as more and more strikes have been occurring and as territory is being lost by Islamic State. Have you seen anything similar in Iraq?
GEN. MARTIN: So, we have. I can't get into detail exactly as to -- to how I've arrived at that conclusion, but I would -- I would assert to you that there has been infighting amongst the ranks and amongst the different cohorts of Daesh. And this is -- these are typical indicators of an enemy that's becoming desperate and whose structure and whose capability is crumbling below him.
And so, you'll see some of this infighting. It's -- it's something that is somewhat expected.
Q: Have you seen al-Qaida or other groups try to move in on Daesh territory?
GEN. MARTIN: I have not.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, could you give your name and affiliation?
Q: Yeah -- (inaudible) -- Today.
My question is that now we have a new administration, a new president. What do you think the future will be as far as going after all these terrorists? And how much role and what role do you think India can or is playing? Thank you, sir.
GEN. MARTIN: I'm sorry, sir. I could not understand you.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: The question was now with the new administration, what role -- what do you see for the future of operations against terrorist groups? And what role do you see India playing in those operations? Over.
GEN. MARTIN: I can't speculate on what the future's going to hold. What I can tell you is that we're going to stay here with this 19 country coalition and the CJFLCC in Iraq and we're going to stay right beside the Iraqis and continue to the finish line in defeating Daesh in Iraq.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, go ahead.
Q: (Off mic)
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Oh, one follow-up.
Q: One more. Since 19 coalition countries are here and there are 67 countries fighting in Syria, do you have any connection with these 67 countries fighting in Syria and other places?
GEN. MARTIN: As the commander of Iraq, I really can't answer any questions authoritatively on Syria.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, could we get your name and affiliation please?
Q: Jeremy Herb with Politico.
General, just a quick follow-up. Have you been asked -- you said you haven't had any new authorities, but have you been asked for any recommendations? Have you offered any on changes to say rules of engagement or the tempo?
GEN. MARTIN: No. And look, you know, I know some -- some folks come in the room a little bit later, but just let me reiterate this point because I think it's a good one to drive home.
So, around the end of one administration, beginning of a new one, you saw that there was a change in operations here, but it was a function of the Iraqis taking an operational opportunity to reflect on what had happened in the first 60 days. They changed a couple things up, they moved a couple units around and they synchronized their actions. And so, you've seen an increased tempo as a result of unadulterated Iraqi decision-making on the way they want to conduct operations.
And we, as a result of that, with our advisory capacity, have been able to help them with our strikes, because of the activities that they -- they -- they've forced the enemy to do while attacking in the way they're attacking.
And so that's really the reason that there's been in an increased tempo. And you can go back statistically to the 29th of December, and that was the day -- that was the day that that began. And maybe not statistically, but that's when the tempo really increased, and it was a result of those operations.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: I think we have time for one more question. Going once, going twice. Thank you very much.
General, do you have any closing words for us?
GEN. MARTIN: I just -- I just want to thank you all for being there and as I started off with listening to me. Please tell our story. Tell the story of what -- what's going on over here in Iraq. This country has done an incredible job fighting a very resilient and adaptive foe, but Iraq is committed and -- as we are in the coalition to defeating Daesh here. That's all I've got.
MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY: Sir, thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Goodbye.