Media Availability by Brig. Gen. Mark Odom in Erbil, Iraq
Brigadier General Mark Odom, Deputy Commanding General for Operations, 82nd Airborne Division
BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK ODOM: Okay, I'm guessing probably the vast majority of you in here don't know me. My name is Mark Odom. And for lack of a better title, I'm the senior coalition officer up in the Kurdish region and up here in Erbil.
So, what is that -- what does the task force up here in Erbil do? What are all the coalition forces up here doing? We principally do three things, or I put them in sort of three categories. The first is that we train the Peshmerga. And our training is primarily focused on training Peshmerga battalions. I think we've trained 11 over the last six months since I've been here, and run any number of sort of special skills training -- sniper, counter-IED, medical communications, those sorts of things.
And I think the commander of our training task force, Colonel Prill, a German, is going to come in here and talk to you a little bit later about that.
The second thing we do, and some of you are probably familiar with the map and others of you aren't, but this -- get it right -- this border or boundary, this forward line of troops is about 1,200 kilometers long. That's the Peshmerga's front line, it's boundary with Daesh or the Islamic State. And we spend the majority of our day assisting them in maintaining the integrity of that forward line of troops. And we do that principally through airstrikes.
And we conduct about 400 airstrikes a month. And if you were to compare it sort of January to June, it represents about an 85 percent increase in airstrikes a month. That's been a very important component of enabling and allowing the Peshmerga to maintain their current posture. You know, as an example, last night, we spent about 12 or 14 hours conducting airstrikes to ensure that they maintain the integrity of their forward line of troops.
The final thing we do is that we support them in offensive operations. And I think if you were to go back to last December or January, it probably totaled about eight or nine. But since I've been here, we've done -- assisted them in four, two down in this area to the south of sector four, just to the northwest of Tuskramatu, Operation Beallante 1, which took about 250 square kilometers in about six hours or so.
We did another one a couple weeks later, Bealante 2, just really a continuation of that and took another 50 square kilometers in about eight hours. Late in September, beginning of October, we conducted another operation up in sector five and took about 120 kilometers. It took us a little bit longer, about 12 hours.
And then you're probably most familiar with the recent operation in Sinjar, which we assisted the Peshmerga and they took, you know, another 250 square kilometers in really about a day-and-a-half.
So those are -- those are sort of the three principal things that we focus our advice and assistance and our efforts on up here. Why did the Peshmerga enjoyed some, you know, modicum of operational success, essentially reclaiming big chunks of land, you know, if you were to go back a year-and-a-half? And I would say -- I'd point to two principal reasons.
The first is that the Kurdish and Peshmerga leadership has assumed full responsibility for the defense of their (inaudible) and the offensive operations they conduct. And then the second thing is that we have about the best architecture one could hope for -- hope for to enable the Peshmerga and assist them in those operations.
So I guess I'll leave it at that and open up to questions.
Q: Can you tell us about the four operations last night that ISIS launched in sector seven? And what -- what and wherever else it was -- what did they do? What was their objective? What happened? You mentioned the 12 to 14 hours of airstrikes. So, what was that all about?
GEN. ODOM: So, I'm not sure where the number four comes from. But it took place in really the -- from the northern portion of sector seven down to right on the border of sectors seven and six. And --
Q: Can you show that again -- (inaudible)?
GEN. ODOM: Yeah, sure.
Q: (inaudible) -- just said.
GEN. ODOM: So they -- they conducted basically three separate, but coordinated attacks; one really to the north of Mosul; one over here to sort of the northeast; and then one due east. Geographically, the one, you know, just sort of going from left to right, (inaudible) would be the one in the northern -- just north of Mosul; (inaudible); and then (inaudible).
So three areas. And as attacks go, they were pretty significant. My assessment would be anywhere from probably 80 to 120 folks on each one of those attacks, with technical vehicles -- vehicles with machine guns on them; (inaudible). The one just due east of Mosul in (inaudible) had any number of armored bulldozers, (inaudible), suicide bombers.
And so that was sort of the makeup of each of these three attacks.
What was the purpose?
Q: (inaudible) -- objective -- (inaudible) -- attacks?
GEN. ODOM: Yeah. They were attacking the Peshmerga. I think their principal objective was probably to conduct a spoiling attack based on all the things that are going on both in and outside of Iraq. And so how do you take an offensive approach to protecting Mosul? You're losing -- (inaudible) forces are starting to advance against (inaudible). On the Syrian side of the border, Peshmerga have taken Sinjar.
There's talk of other operations in that area. You've got the Iraqi security forces in Beiji. You've got the Iraqi security forces closing in on completing the seizure of Ramadi, and now Mosul. Mosul is sort of the next logical place.
And so as those operations start to move off the never-ending horizon to the horizon, I think that the Islamic state, or Daesh, was looking to sort of counter that and inflict pain on the -- on the Peshmerga.
Q: One just quick clarification -- (inaudible) -- don't want to dominate this -- did they -- is this their largest attack since Sinjar? Did they also attack the Turkish forces in sector seven?
GEN. ODOM: I don't know whether they attacked the Turkish forces or not.
Q: Okay. Is this their largest attack in -- what? -- months, a month?
GEN. ODOM: Yeah, so that's -- that's a good point. I mean, the points that I typically make to people about the enemy up here is that the attacks, since we've been here, have generally decreased in the Kurdish region. They've increased in distance from the forward line of troops, and they've changed in type from direct fire to indirect fire, which is generally a sign or weakness. You don't want to become directly engaged with the enemy.
Q: Okay. What was the second point? You said -- (inaudible) -- they decreased -- what was the second -- (inaudible) -- you said?
GEN. ODOM: They're increased in distance from the forward line of troops. So it's -- (inaudible) -- being fairly close. So -- so to your question, is this the, you know, most significant attack you've faced? I think the short answer is yes. The last time we had a serious attack was in -- on 6 July, where they breached a (inaudible) just to the south of Kirkuk, in the town of al-Mora .
And, you know, we conducted about 30 strikes in less than 28 hours, and had the (inaudible) reestablished and al-Mora re-secured in about six. So it gives you a general idea that the Islamic state still has some capability, but, you know, if this is all they're going to do once every six months, I think it's, you know, painting a slightly different picture.
Q: General, do you have just -- (inaudible). Can you give us a sense of what you're seeing in terms of the Turkish troops in -- (inaudible) -- numbers? And are they decreasing, moving back towards the border? Can you tell us what you're seeing?
GEN. ODOM: I haven't been to sector seven and I don't really have any specific reports that would allow me to provide you any more than conjecture, and the sort of stuff I read in the media, probably like you do.
Q: So you have no --
Q: (inaudible) -- how many Turkish troops are in Kurdistan? You're just, like, tens of kilometers from -- (inaudible).
Q: So -- so you actually -- you don't know what's there? Is that what you're saying?
GEN. ODOM: I know that they have a capacity-building site up there.
Q: So the U.S. actually doesn't have any -- (inaudible) -- on the ground knowledge of what the numbers that are there?
GEN. ODOM: Yeah, I mean, my -- my, you know, recommendation would be that you ask the Turks those -- those questions. Those forces are not part of the coalition. So I can't really comment on those.
Q: Can you tell us how the Peshmerga did last night? How they fought back? Did they -- did they take any casualties, what stood out for you most in the way that they repelled these attacks?
GEN. ODOM: The first point I'd make is that leadership takes responsibility, and so they fight back. And so absolutely they took casualties. You know, if you're looking for a list of sort of casualties, I'd tell you to talk to the Ministry of Peshmerga or the Kurdish regional government.
They quickly counterattacked and in Narwan and Bashiqa they pushed back the attack in probably about two or three hours. And down in (inaudible), just to the east of Mosul, that took us to about 8 or 9 o'clock this morning. They came back in there and reestablished the forward line of troops, then pushed Daesh out.
Q: In addition to airstrikes, was there any other U.S. (inaudible), U.S. forces on the ground?
GEN. ODOM: We provided advice and assistance, just like we do every day of the week up here.
Q: Where is that from? From a rear position near the --
GEN. ODOM: It's in a position where they can provide appropriate advice to the appropriate leadership.
Q: You provided medevac support too?
GEN. ODOM: We don't medevac them but we provide medical treatment and assist them with medical treatment.
Q: Do you mind (inaudible)
GEN. ODOM: Excuse me?
Q: Do you know how many ISIS fighters were killed in -- last night?
GEN. ODOM: I can tell you that by our count, we killed, you know, somewhere over 180. And so if you
GEN. ODOM: 180, over 180.
Q: How did that take place?
GEN. ODOM: Bombing.
GEN. ODOM: Airstrikes. And that -- that's people that I can say that we killed. And I know that the Peshmerga killed a significant number themselves because of the reports we received from them, and as we start using ISR to look where the battle had taken place and could see destroyed vehicles and killed people.
So I'm just -- I'm just telling you from a -- from a coalition perspective sort of the number of people that we killed, and so that's why I say I think the numbers on the attack were probably, you know, anywhere from about 3 (hundred) to 500. Does that answer your question?
Q: They're forming -- are they -- when they -- are they, like, in a phalanx kind of set or something like that? I mean, 180 guys, that's an awful lot.
GEN. ODOM: No. They're moving like we would, in squad size. Seven, eight-man elements. Platoon size, 20-men elements. They're moving with four and five vehicles in tactical formations using the terrain to mask their movement, using the terrain to protect themselves.
Q: Hi. Can you (inaudible) the other, how long -- what -- how long of a period of time that the bombing was conducted by the coalition (inaudible)?
GEN. ODOM: You know, so we started supporting the defense at about 1600 -- excuse me, yesterday afternoon.
GEN. ODOM: And we were continuing to provide support and conduct strikes up until about 9 o'clock this morning.
Q: Okay. And that was American planes or --
GEN. ODOM: Coalition planes.
Q: But did that include non-American planes?
GEN. ODOM: Absolutely.
Q: Can you tell us which countries (inaudible)?
GEN. ODOM: I don't know. Can I tell them which countries? Yeah. French, British, Canadian.
Q: Were the advisors in Sector 7 in a position in Sector 7?
GEN. ODOM: They were in a position to advise and assist them, just like they do every day.
Q: Right. But was in the sector?
GEN. ODOM: They're in a position where they can do that.
Q: So we can say that you declined to say whether or not that Americans were in the same area as the (inaudible)
GEN. ODOM: There were -- there were no American or coalition forces that were in danger.
Q: Okay. I took that as a yes, but --
Q: And you had some U.S. service members that were medics that were out in a forward but safe position providing medical care? Or were you take -- you were providing medical care for them, meeting in some
GEN. ODOM: I would just say it's -- it's a coalition, so you're -- there are other people in the coalition besides the United States.
Q: But those coalition members -- you were talking about medical care before medevac, not here after medevac.
GEN. ODOM: Assist in first-aid stabilizing wounds. Does that answer your question or not?
Q: The Peshmerga who pushed back, what were they equipped with? What were they armed with (inaudible)?
GEN. ODOM: AK-47s, machine guns, in some cases armored vehicles. So -- in (inaudible) they re-took that with tanks. So it varies depending where you are in the forward line of troops and what Peshmerga units they had.
Q: Can you say what kind of aircraft, American aircraft were doing the (inaudible)?
GEN. ODOM: Yeah. Well, I mean, any number of aircraft. B-1 bombers, F-16s, F-15s. That's no different than any night here.
Q: (OFF-MIC) any -- nothing on that.
GEN. ODOM: Oh yeah, we had UAVs.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about, you know, some of the demographics of the area that you're talking about? I mean, to some degree, the map there looks like a map of, you know, historic Kurdish territory. Do you have any plans or expectations for Kurds to be moving much beyond that current forward line of troops?
GEN. ODOM: I mean, I think that's, you know, really a decision for the Kurdish regional government and the Iraqi government to work out and to decide how they're going to do military operations to move the Islamic State and Daesh out of Mosul, and all that area on the map that's to the west of that blue line and to the north of that green area which represents where the Iraqi security are.
Q: Which forces are in Sinjar and which types of Kurdish are using (inaudible)?
GEN. ODOM: So all of the above me. I mean, they're Yazidi forces that are part of the Peshmerga that are there. There's still Peshmerga forces from other areas that they use to conduct the operation that they're keeping there until they can fully solidify the defense build-up, the defensive positions in the berms and those sorts of things.
Q: Are there likely to be any tank forces there?
GEN. ODOM: There's nobody that is defending the forward line of troops that does not fall under the Peshmerga.
Q: What about the people in the city? And on the map (inaudible) PKK in the city or Sinjar Mountain?
GEN. ODOM: As part of the defense or are they there?
GEN. ODOM: It would only be conjecture on my part. I don't know whether they're actually there.
Q: General -- (inaudible).
STAFF: (inaudible) -- the last question.
Q: The -- can you just talk a little bit about what you've seen in terms of -- (inaudible) -- traffic in that area? You know, -- (inaudible) -- using ratlines and everything to get around that section of the highway that's been taken. But what are you seeing? Are you seeing -- (inaudible) -- and I guess their ability to move in that area?
GEN. ODOM: Yeah, I mean, so the first thing is that it doesn't eliminate or cut off the ability to resupply. But this highway is a, you know, was a modern highway. You could drive 50, 60, 70 miles an hour on it; big tractor-trailer, oil trucks and supply trucks can move on it.
So what -- what's happened is now all that traffic has to move to the south. And those roads, even the best roads, really don't support vehicle movement at more than 35 miles an hour. And increasingly, they're not going to support an increased amount of traffic, bad weather, all those sorts of things.
So, both in terms of congestion and just in terms of speed, you know, those routes to the south present some -- some real problems on the economic side in particular for the Islamic state.
Q: General, -- (inaudible) -- do you have an estimate of the number of ISIL in Mosul -- in and around Mosul, guessing the range?
GEN. ODOM: I think that's -- that's what it would be is a guess.
Q: General, just -- (inaudible) -- last night. So, there are reports from Turkish officials that the Turkish troops are co-located on the same base that was the subject of one of the attacks last night. Are you -- do you know if that's correct?
GEN. ODOM: As I said, I know that there are Turkish trainers that -- that --
Q: (inaudible) -- Peshmerga?
GEN. ODOM: You know, that -- that train Peshmerga.
Q: And so they were also under attack last night at at least one of those three sites?
GEN. ODOM: No, the attacks took place along the forward line of troops, so the camp that I'm thinking of is not on the forward line of troops where the attacks took place.
STAFF: The general has to get back with the SECDEF. We'll take followups. You can -- (inaudible).
Thank you, sir.
GEN. ODOM: Thank you.