Department of Defense Press Briefing by Col.Warren via Teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning, and happy holidays, everybody.
And good morning, Steve Warren. Can you hear us?
COLONEL STEVE WARREN: I can hear you loud and clear. Can you hear me, Jeff?
CAPT. DAVIS: I can hear you loud and clear. Without further ado, over to you, sir.
COL. WARREN: Great. Thank you very much.
And good morning, Pentagon press corps. It's great to see you all again. I hope you had a nice holiday weekend. A lot of us here were able to talk to our families, and some even got to see the new Star Wars movie.
This morning, I've got a lot of news for you. I'd like to talk about Ramadi briefly, before giving you an overview of the rest of the battlefield. I assume we have our opening map up, number one. As you saw yesterday, the Iraqi security forces have achieved considerable success in Ramadi. They've raised the Iraqi flag over the provincial government center in the downtown area. The clearance of the government center is a significant milestone and is the result of many months' hard work.
The coalition conducted more than 630 airstrikes since July, with more than 150 occurring in the last month alone. We trained several of the Iraqi army brigades, CTS units and police forces who fought there. We provided specialized engineering equipment to clear IEDs, a floating bridge to help get combat power into downtown Ramadi, and we partnered with the Iraqis to give advice and assistance at multiple Iraqi army headquarters.
COL. WARREN: I'd like to show you our video of the CTS raising the flag -- raising the Iraqi flag over the Anbar provincial government headquarters yesterday. So DVIDS, please roll that first video.
DVIDS, do we have the video?
Okay. We don't have a video, so I'll keep pressing. The video is coming up. This falls into the awkward silence category. Okay, Tom, if you could bring up the Ramadi map next.
Here is…in green here on the Ramadi map, are areas that the ISF have cleared, the unshaded areas have not yet been cleared. Now we can go back to the opening map. We have several close fights ongoing that I will highlight for you today.
In Sinjar, which is star number three on your opening map, we continue to keep relentless pressure on ISIL. As you may remember when ISIL lost Sinjar last month, they also lost the ability to use Highway 47 between Raqqa and Mosul.
They were forced onto much slower secondary roads through the desert south of Sinjar and Tal Afar. On December 25th and 26th, we conducted a series of strikes on the secondary roads in order to further degrade ISIL's ability to move fighters and supplies the between Iraq and Syria.
Let's take a look at one of the air strike videos that so you can see what I'm talking about. So let's try this second video. DVIDS and Tom, go ahead and roll the second video.
Moving to Syria, in Tishrin, which is a new star on your map, it's star number eight to the northwest of Raqqa. Syrian defense forces successfully captured the Tishrin Dam late Saturday evening. Let's take a quick look at that area. So, pull up the Tishrin map now.
This is the first time you've seen this map so let me quickly orient you to it. Aleppo is to the left, number one. Two is the town of Manbij which is at the center of the Manbij pocket that we've sometimes spoken about. The Tishrin Dam is number three and of course, number four is Raqqa there in the far lower right-hand corner of your screen.
So the Tishrin Dam is a hydro-electric dam on the Euphrates River. It sits about 56 miles east of Aleppo. The SPF enabled by nearly 26 airstrikes over the last several days, rapidly advanced to seize the dam, which ISIL had held since November of 2012.
Losing this dam is significant because it denies ISIL an important logistics route between the Manbij pocket and Raqqa. During the four-day offensive to capture the dam, the SPF liberated more than 10 villages and 235 square kilometers while coordinating strikes that killed over 100 enemy combatants.
As I have briefly highlighted, this has been a busy week. As I mentioned before, in addition to our tactical operation, we are also striking at the head of this snake by hunting down and killing ISIL leaders. Over the past month, we have killed 10 leadership figures with targeted airstrikes, including several external attack planners, some of whom are linked to the Paris attacks, others had designs on further attacking the West.
This is a long list. I'll quickly run through it. On December 7th, we killed Rawand Dilsher Tahir, an external operations facilitator killed near Raqqa, Syria. Tahir was a trusted ISIL member who associated with command and control as well as the handling and transferring of money and equipment.
Also on 7 December Khalil Ahmad Ali al-Wais, also known as Abu Wadhah, he was the ISIL emir of Kirkuk Province, killed near Hawija, Iraq. He had a long history of terrorist activities against the U.S. -- against U.S. and Iraqi forces here in Iraq.
On December 8th, Abu Anas, an ISIL IED cell facilitator, was killed near Kirkuk. His death will disrupt ISIL's ability to conduct IED attacks near Kirkuk.
On December 9th, the coalition killed Yunis Khalash, also known as Abu Jawdat, who was ISIL's deputy financial emir in Mosul. His death will burden senior cadre to find a technically skilled and trustworthy replacement.
Also on December 9th, the coalition killed Mithaq Najim who was ISIL's deputy emir in Kirkuk Province. He was killed near Hawija, Iraq. Najim's removal disrupts ISIL's ability to train, command and maintain fighters in Kirkuk Province.
The next day, on December 10th, a Syria-based Bangladeshi named Siful Haque Sujan was killed near Raqqa, Syria. Sujan was an external operations planner who was educated as a computer systems engineer in the United Kingdom. He supported ISIL's hacking efforts, their anti-surveillance technology and their weapons development. Now that he's dead, ISIL has lost a key link between their networks.
On December 10th, Akram Muhammad Sa'ad Faris, also known as Akram Aabu. He was an ISIL commander and executioner, killed near his base operations in Tal Afar.
On December 26th, Abdel Kader Hakim, another ISIL external operations facilitator. He was killed in Mosul. Hakim was a veteran fighter, a forgery specialist and had links to the Paris attack network. He was part of ISIL's external operations group who enabled attacks against Western targets. His death removes an important facilitator with many connections in Europe.
On December 27th, Tishin al-Hayali, who was another external operations facilitator, was killed near Mosul.
And last but certainly not least -- and this is your headline -- Charaffe al Mouadan, he was a Syrian-based ISIL member with a direct link to Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, the Paris attack cell leader. We killed him on December 24th in Syria. Al Mouadan was actively planning additional attacks against the West.
So my point is this. We will continue to hunt ISIL leaders who are working to recruit, plan and inspire attacks against the United States of America and our allies. That said, I'll now take your questions. I guess Bob or Lita, whoever's manning the shop for the Associated Press, I'll start with you.
Q: Hi Steve, thanks for doing this. Can you give us just a few more details on two things. One, do you have any additional details on the death of this ISIL leader who had a direct link to the Paris attacker, the one who was killed on the 24th? And then just on Ramadi, can you give us some better granularity on any casualties, the number of casualties that the Iraqis suffered, any casualties on enemy side and how many you believe may still remain in and around Ramadi as they move to clear it out.
COL. WARREN: Not too many additional details to present. He was killed by an air strike in Syria, and that's really as far as we're going to go on him for now. Hopefully as time goes on and we're able to develop some other things, we'll be able to get some more information out.
On Ramadi -- and Tom or Jeff, go ahead and pull up the Ramadi map and I'll get it here in front of me so I can speak off of it. Casualty counts are generally low. We don't have exact numbers of casualties for the Iraqi security forces. They keep those numbers. But generally speaking, our sense is that the numbers have been low, really in the low double digits, if that, you know, 10s, 20s. But I don't have a good -- I don't have a good account of that.
Numbers remaining. I'll tell you, the numbers are small. We don't have a good count -- a good head count of the enemy in Ramadi. What we do believe is that their capability is reduced, right? So often, we think less about numbers and more about what can they do. We don't think that the remaining enemy has the -- has the umpf to push the Iraqi security forces off of their positions.
Now, that said, there have been counterattacks today. There were several counterattacks today, small. Generally, these take the form of a team, maybe with a heavy machine gun or maybe with an RPG, so a team three to five conducting harassing attacks.
We have not seen this enemy able to mass any type of combat, any type of real combat power in any type of effort to really conduct a conservative counterattack. It doesn't mean it's impossible, it just means we haven't seen it yet. We believe the majority of this enemy has been dispersed into smaller pockets. Many have moved kind of north and east.
In fact, you can see on the -- on the map there, this area that we refer to as the shark's fin, where you can see kind of where the Euphrates River there goes north and then turns quickly south. We're seeing a lot of them flow that way. They -- we saw them actually loading up families into their cars. We don't know if it was their own families or -- or if these were others. We think it was their families. They load them up into cars and move them into that -- into that shark's fin area.
So we'll continue to track on them, eventually get them rooted out of there as well. But as far as the downtown Ramadi area, we have not seen significant combat power.
Steve, a couple of quick things. One is I hope you'll provide us with the list that you read from because I didn't get all of the spellings of the names that you pronounced. But two questions about that, you mention that one of the leaders was killed in an air strike. Were any of these ISIL leaders killed by direct action on the ground by U.S. or other forces?
And two, the broader question, every time we hear about leadership being killed, whether it's ISIL or the Taliban or Al Qaida, it's always unclear what actual effect that has on the ability of the group to operate. You know, you mentioned all of these killings and you mentioned that they were important for whatever reason. But can you quantify at all this -- these -- this continued erosion of the ISIL leadership? What real affect is that having on the ground in terms of defeating ISIL?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, fair question. So all of the 10 names that I read were all killed by airstrikes. I don't have a listing of what platform conducted each strike. Many of these are conducted with predators or other unmanned vehicles, but not exclusively. So I don't have the breakout, but they were all done from the air.
How do these leadership strikes affect this enemy? They affect them in several ways. First and foremost, I think any organization that sees its middle and upper management degraded in this way is going to lose some of their synergy, right? It's difficult to command and control an organization without the command and control personnel. That leader needs to be able to facilitate the activities, your ability to conduct activities goes down.
COL. WARREN: And I think we've seen some of that on the battlefield, right? We've seen these -- the string of -- these successes begin to pile up, right? We saw Tikrit and in Baiji and in Sinjar. We saw the Kurdish FLOT pushed towards Kirkuk significantly through the fall. Now we see Ramadi across the border in Syria. We saw Al-Hawl, we saw strikes in the tri-border area of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. We've seen the Mara line operations and now we've seen now the Tishrin Dam.
So part of those successes is attributable to the fact that this organization is losing its leadership. So we're striking at the head of this snake, like I said. We have not severed behead of this snake yet, and it has still got has fangs. We have to be clear about that. There's much more fighting to do.
But our ability to dismantle the facilitation networks, our ability to dismantle their command ground and control, our ability to take away some of their enforcers, these executioners, and these extortionist -- that eats away at their ability to instill fear in the population they control, it eats away at their ability to extort money from the population, which of course, reduces their funding.
So, all of these various factors add up to a cumulative effect. And I think we've seen that effect with our battlefield successes. And I think the other piece, if I could go on for just another moment, Jamie, the other piece is that several of these HVI strikes were external attack planners. Right? These are individuals who are specifically working to strike the West.
They want to strike in Europe. They want to strike in our very own homeland. And it is important that people understand that as long as those external attack planners are operating, the United States military will hunt them and we will kill them.
CAPT. DAVIS: Tom Bowman.
Q: Hey, Steve, I wonder if you can give an estimate when Ramadi will be completely cleared? General Milley, the Army chief, was over there last week. He was told by Iraqi generals, they expected it to be completely cleared by mid-January. I wonder if you agree with that assessment.
And also, talk a bit about the importance of U.S. airstrikes here in Ramadi. There was an Iraqi officer quoted as saying, 80 percent of the effort in Ramadi was due to American airstrikes.
COL. WARREN: Well, I would agree that probably 80 percent of the effort -- I would agree with that Iraqi officer who said that 80 percent of the effort in Ramadi was due to coalition airstrikes. I think that is a fair assessment.
We don't kind of keep those numbers. That is really just more instinct and feel. But I would not argue with that.
The airstrikes have been significant. We believe that over the last six months, in the over 600 strikes, which translates to over 2,500 kinetic events, 2,500 different targets that destroyed, you know, 70 VBIED truck bombs, almost 300 other enemy vehicles, nearly 800 structures, 400 various types of weapons. This is significant. And this is what really facilitated or enabled the Iraqi forces to move in.
And this is how modern warfare is, by the way. This is no different than the way any army should fight. It's using that air power as the force multiplier that it is.
How long will it take them to clear the rest of Ramadi? Too soon to tell, Tom. There are still -- so clearing is -- there is really -- there are two steps, right? Number one, eliminate the remaining enemy. Number two, reduce the obstacles, right, these IEDs, the booby-traps, you know, the entire houses that have been rigged to blow. This is going to take a while, because any house could be rigged to blow.
So as the Iraqi forces are trying to dismantle these various booby-traps, they still have to be on the lookout for the remaining bands of ISIL fighters who are out to harass them. So, it will be a process. I'm not going to put a time on it, Tom, because it will be wrong.
But it will take some time, I will tell you that much.
CAPT. DAVIS: Patrick?
Q: Thanks for doing this -- there are reports that the U.S. landed forces in the vicinity of Kirkuk in an airborne aggression. Do you confirm or deny these reports, Colonel?
COL. WARREN: These reports are fantasy. I don't know where they come from, presumably, they come from individuals who want to try to drive a wedge between the U.S. coalition and the government of Iraq.
Yeah, it is ludicrous. If we are going to put some forces somewhere, if we're going to conduct a raid somewhere, we're going to do that in complete coordination with the Iraqi government. Period.
CAPT. DAVIS: The gentleman in the glasses, I'm trying to remember your name.
Q: My name is John Heinz with One America News. And thank you, Steve, for the information. Great stuff. I was wondering if you could comment on the willingness of the I.A. soldiers to stand and fight, and the corporation of the Golden Brigade and the I.A. a little bit?
COL. WARREN: Well, I think the Iraqi army's willingness to fight is pretty well displayed on this Ramadi map, right? I mean, having seized Camp Warrar, having cleared Tamim -- al-Tamim neighborhood; having seized the Palestine bridge; seized the Anbar Operations Center, the Zangora checkpoint, and now moving into downtown Ramadi.
So I think their actions speak louder than any words that I could produce here. But keep in mind, all of this is done in conjunction with -- with this devastating air power that we're able to deliver, you know, across the breadth and depth of this battlefield.
Iraqi forces have worked well together. The CTS, the Counter-Terror Service, have been in the lead in most of -- in fact, most of these fights. The 10th Iraqi Division has the northern sector up there by the Anbar operations command -- the yellow circle on your Ramadi map. That was all 10th Division. The rest of it was kind of a mix of counterterror service and Iraqi army conventional forces.
Yeah, there's been no notable issues of these forces working together.
Q: Hey, Steve. Tony Capaccio.
On the strikes -- the -- (inaudible) -- strikes, did the French have any -- did they do any -- have any direct involvement in the strike that killed the Paris facilitator? And then I had a Ramadi follow-up.
COL. WARREN: Tony, I'm not going to get into that level of detail. The French certainly are -- are free to speak for themselves. What I'll tell you is it's a coalition effort in everything that we do here. I'm going to leave it at that.
What's your Ramadi question?
Q: What -- what is the role of the Sunni militia? There's been a lot -- what is the role -- has been the role? Have they been attacking or basically holding ground? And can you give a sense of how American training has played out in terms of what you and the Army would call combined arms operations in this offensive?
COL. WARREN: Right. Important question. And there's been a lot of discussion I've seen in the news about the -- the Sunni fighters and their role here. So let me -- I'll tell you a little bit about that.
We've enrolled about 8,000 Sunni tribal fighters in the TMF program. Of those, we've trained about 5,000 of them. The way this training works is that they come into a training location where Iraqi security forces provide the direct training. And those Iraqi security forces are overseen by American forces. So it's American forces providing guidance, advice and assistance to Iraqi army trainers who are training Sunni tribal fighters.
The training consists of some training in a garrison environment. The Sunni tribal fighters are then moved to the front line, if you well, where they cycle through the battlefield for a period of time, usually one to two weeks. They then come off the front lines, return back to the training site, to finalize their training, to figure out what they learned while they were on the front line.
When that's complete, we now have a trained Sunni tribal fighter who will be used primarily as part of the holding and stabilization force. So they are beginning to cycle through -- well, they're really at the planning phase now -- of getting these tribal fighters cycled into downtown Ramadi where they will -- they will form the bedrock of the holding force in Ramadi.
Does that answer your question, Tony?
Q: There's been a number of commentators saying the main reason this has succeeded is because Sunni tribal fighters have gone in to -- basically to the fight. We get a lot of TV commentators saying that, but that's not what I get from you. They're basically going in, holding, after the Iraqis have taken -- the Iraqi military has taken the territory.
COL. WARREN: Right. The Sunni tribal fighters, they cycle through, you know, small groups for shorter periods of time. They were not, frankly, a significant player in the seizure of Ramadi. They will be significant players in the stabilization and the holding of Ramadi, but up until now, their -- their presence while, you know, every man counts, every rifle matter, they have not had a large -- simply not a large enough presence to really to make much of a difference.
Q: Combined arms aspect of the attack? I mean, how would you view as training played out here?
COL. WARREN: Thank you, I forgot. I think that it is been very important. What we've seen, I believe, is something of a validation that training works. You know, it's something we say in the army all the time, and we've seen it once again on the ground.
Remember, the Iraqi army that we left in 2011 was an army that had been trained for counterinsurgency. That means route clearance, checkpoint operations, IED reduction, that type of work.
What the Iraqi army that collapsed in 2014 was a counterinsurgency army. They were not prepared and they were not trained and they were not ready for a conventional fight, the conventional assault that ISIL brought to Mosul and beyond.
So, the last year has been a process every constructing, rebuilding, and refitting the Iraqi army. So now, they are outfitted with modern American equipment, modern conventional training, and of course, supported by devastating air power.
But what are some exact examples of this combined arms training? Well, number one and I think, probably the most notable, is the river crossing. You know, the Interim 14th Combat Bridging Company came here to Iraq to train the Iraqi Bridging Battalion of how to do bridging operations. This is a complex operation. This is grown-up work here. This is advanced warfare.
I don't know that we have seen a bridging operation in the Middle East conducted by Middle East armies since the 1970s. So this is advanced warfare. This is an advanced technique at any rate. And so they use those techniques to bridge the Tharthar canal, which is a canal off the Euphrates river, gain a foothold in southern Ramadi, and then begin to push into the center of town.
Additionally, we have seen some good work in the combined arms breaching side. The Iraqis fired a MICLIC just the other day, in an effort to breach the IED minefields that ISIL has set up along the southern approaches into downtown Ramadi.
Again, this is advanced work. This is using the principles of (inaudible) secure, obscure, reduce obstacles. So, all of this has come into the play. And I think the last piece is probably the integration of air and ground, right?
The Iraqis now have functioning air force, which includes some F- 16s, that we've seen the Iraqis able to integrate their air with their ground. In addition to the integration of coalition air on their ground, which is really -- we have a much larger role in that.
So all of these pieces, I think, you know, the bridging, obstacle reduction, training, equipment has all come together here in Ramadi. But again, I think it is really important to keep in mind that we still have a fight ahead of us. Mosul is different than Ramadi, it's a big, big, big city and it is going to take a lot of effort. It's going to take more training, it's going to take more equipment and it's going to take patience.
Q: Hi Colonel Warren, Tara Copp with Stars and Stripes. Two on Ramadi. On the attack phase, were U.S. Apaches used? I know they have been offered for the Ramadi campaign. Are any particular commandos or U.S. ground forces assisting in the attack on Ramadi?
And then, for the hold phase, could you describe the state of Ramadi right now. Can it function as a city, its infrastructure, water, sewer? And then as the Sunni forces move in, will they be mostly in a policing role? Will there be like a ring of ISF up around that to ensure that ISIS doesn't end up moving back into Ramadi after the fact?
COL. WARREN: So there were no U.S. ground forces involved in any way, shape, or form in the fight for Ramadi. There were no Apache helicopters, there were no attack helicopters of any type.
The only coalition, the only U.S. involvement in the fight for Ramadi has been the delivery of air power and the training of Iraqi soldiers and advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces from their headquarters in Al Taqaddum. That's it.
The status of Ramadi now, a little early to tell. There's been significant damage done to that city, I will tell you right now. Between the damage done to it when ISIL seized the city initially, the damage that continued while ISIL held it and, of course, some of the damage that is just the natural result of modern urban combat, there is significant damage to the city and it's going to take time to rebuild it.
Now, you know, we do know that both the United States of America and the coalition have pledged millions of dollars for the reconstruction, the rebuilding and the stabilization of Ramadi. We expect soon we will begin to see, once the security situation is stabilized enough, the international community come in with humanitarian relief efforts.
And this is all part of the stabilization and reconstruction plan that the government of Anbar is now working very closely with the Iraqi central government to finalize, to coordinate with the United Nations and other aid agencies so that we can, the moment that city is secure, get the needed help, get the money flowing and get the -- get the reconstruction going.
Q: And then just to follow up on that, where the Sunni -- will be Sunni forces be inside the interior of the city as, like, a policing role? Will there still be a protective ring of ISF around Ramadi to prevent ISIS returning?
COL. WARREN: So it will -- it will be the Sunni tribal fighters along with police, right, both federal and local police who will provide the security and the stabilization for Ramadi. You know, it's up to the Iraqi security forces how they will further deploy and further use their forces. Right now, we envision the Iraqi security forces moving to other battlefields.
CAPT. DAVIS: Courtney?
Q: Hey Steve. Tara actually just covered most of my questions, but on the U.S. and -- sorry, I have a cold -- on the U.S. and Ramadi, are there any advisers in there now in any place -- are they anywhere closer than Taqaddum helping the Iraqi security forces?
And there were some reports yesterday that ISIS was leaving Ramadi as the Iraqi secured he forces started moving into the government center. Do you know where they're going? You mention the shark fin or whatever area near the river, but are they actually leaving the city and going to other cities like Fallujah or moving west or -- do you have any insight into that? And then I have one question on the HVTs after that.
COL. WARREN: There are no U.S. forces located anywhere other than Taqaddum. No U.S. ground forces located anywhere other than Taqaddum. Taqaddum is where all the ground forces were that were -- that were advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces as they conducted this fight. No one moved forward from there.
The enemy disposition. So we -- I think the few that remain alive, and I think those numbers are relatively small, are moving mostly into that shark's fin area there to the north and east. Surely, some onesies and twosies probably managed to slip through and into Fallujah; that's probable. The rest -- the rest are dead.
Q: Just to be clear -- and I don't mean to belabor the point -- but there are still no U.S. anywhere outside of Taqaddum and near Ramadi at this point, right? Not just for the clearing phase in the past couple of days, but even today?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, the -- U.S. forces are only in Taqaddum.
Q: (off mic) about the guy who was killed on the 24th in the airstrike, you said that he was actively planning attacks against the West. Did any of those include attacks against the U.S. homeland? Can you give us any specifics on that? Or were they broader against Europe?
COL. WARREN: I don't have that level of detail for release, Courtney. We're just going to say the West. But, you know, it's important to note that all of these terrorists had eventual designs on attacking the United States. Let's be clear about that. That's what they want to do.
As far as the stage of their attack planning, we're not going to go into those details yet because, you know, we want to preserve some of our options to continue striking these terrorists.
Q: Thank you.
STAFF: Gentleman from the BBC, Paul.
Q: Hi, Colonel Warren. There's some reports that 400 people are in the Ramadi government complex with the Iraqi forces. Do you have any information on that? And in the lead up to this assault, you talked a lot about civilians within the city, where are they now? Are they secure? Have they fled? Where have they gone?
COL. WARREN: There are 400 civilian citizens that have come to the Ramadi city center to seek shelter. The Iraqi security forces have received them and are -- are doing all the right things as far as settling them down and administering to their needs. And I'm just -- you broke up there on the second part of your question.
Q: I said in the -- in the lead up to this assault, you talked a lot about the civilians inside the city. Where are they now? Presumably, you were talking about a lot more than 400. Had they fled? Are they somewhere secure? Where are they now that the city has been largely taken back by ISF?
COL. WARREN: So too soon to tell. Presumably, some left and others went into hiding. So again, keep in mind, and you see on your Ramadi map there, there is still bits of Ramadi that the Iraqi security forces have not yet had a chance to clear. That's the area that's not shaded. The point there south of the Anbar ops center and then moving east.
So this area all has to be still cleared. As the Iraqi security forces move into these neighborhoods, they will likely meet some resistance, ambushes, IEDs and the like. And as they're doing that, they will be looking for civilians who are in hiding or who are being held and administer to their needs as well. We don't really have a good count though at this point of how many remain in the city.
Q: How many of the -- the sort of booby traps that the ISF are running into are the -- the sort of IEDs in rigged houses? And then, second question is the drone video of the flag being raised, do you think that will be released today? I think that's what you were trying to show us earlier.
COL. WARREN: Right. Maybe we can reset it and try to show it at the end. Maybe we'll close out with the flag being raised. And yes, they'll all posted on the -- on the CJTF-4, our website.
The booby-traps that we see the ISIL forces setting, a lot of them are homemade explosives so they will -- they will get their hands on fertilizer and other types of chemicals that are able to be combined into making explosive charge. Some are with captured military equipment that they've captured over the years, whether it's in Syria or in -- in Mosul, and they'll fashion this captured military equipment into improvised explosive devices, we call them IEDs.
So they'll use these in various ways, it's often tripwire, sometimes it's pressure plates. They'll use these improvised explosive devices often buried underground so that forces can't see them as they approach, often inside of a house, and they'll be either be a tripwire or a pressure plate somewhere in the vicinity of that house, which when triggered will cause the entire house to detonate. So these are some of the -- some of the -- kind of what we're seeing here in Ramadi.
Q: Colonel, at their peak, how many ISIS fighters occupied Ramadi?
COL. WARREN: Difficult to know the max peak. You know, we think at points it probably was as high as 800 to 1000. You know, again, as any force does, they will reposition. So, you know, when -- as of -- when the Iraqi security forces crossed the river into -- to enter southern Ramadi, we believed at that point there was maybe 250 to 350 left in the center of town. Since then, we've killed at least 100 of them from the air.
So the numbers continue to -- to be reduced and you're going to continue to see that as the Iraqis learn how to conduct offensive operations. What happens is, as offensive operations place pressure on an enemy, a dug-in enemy or an enemy in the defense, they will cause that enemy to have to move, and as soon as they move, they then -- they then make themselves a target for American and coalition air power.
So we put this in -- you know, we put ISIL in this spot where he can stay where he is and get shot, or he can get up and move and be bombed -- which is a tough choice to make, but always ends up with the same result.
Q: Did any Shia militias take part in any of this operation to clear Ramadi?
COL. WARREN: There were no Shia militias involved in this operation for Ramadi. Primarily, we see the Shia militia really operate more in the Tigris River Valley. There were some in the Euphrates River Valley as well. But primarily, their focus has been in the Tigris River Valley.
And the Ramadi fight in particular, has been an exclusively an Iraqi army and a CTS fight. In Fallujah, it's primarily Iraqi army -- primarily Iraqi army. The vast majority, Iraqi army, but maybe not completely. But it is in the Tigris River Valley where we see the PMF operating.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next -- Andrew?
Q: Steve, I'm wondering if you could tell me if you see or have heard reports of any type of follow-on insurgency style campaign from ISIS and its sympathizers in the green-shaded areas the IA has cleared?
Are you seeing any evidence of that, or do you have any expectation or concerns about that? Or do you think this is going to be a pretty clear win and you will clear these guys out entirely?
COL. WARREN: It is a little early to tell right now. We can -- we certainly need -- have to and should expect to see some type of guerrilla insurgency operations. But frankly, there aren't many left even to conduct those operations.
You got to remember, the approach that we have taken here has really put ISIL in a tough spot. Right? It is this operationalizing in the battlefield. So, as we have pressured Ramadi, as we have rooted out the entrenched enemy there, there simultaneously is pressure being put against this enemy everywhere.
So, for them to be able to move forces around and conduct these operations, becomes more difficult. You know, it is like a fighter. The way you win a fight is through combination punches, right? You throw multiple punches, you know, two jabs across, two hooks. And that is what you are seeing us do against this enemy, right?
Whether it is the Tishrin Dam, whether it's the Mara line, whether it's Al-Hawl, Sinjar, Baiji, Ramadi, bombs in Mosul, whether it is striking their HVIs, their leadership targets, or taking away their ability to make money through Operation Tidal Wave, it is this smothering pressure that is beginning to build on this enemy that is causing them -- that is causing them real trouble.
Again, I don't want to be giving a bad impression. This is a big enemy. He has still got capability. He is still spread out throughout this operating area, but these combination punches we are throwing are beginning to take effect.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, Jeff.
Q: Colonel Warren, you said that the Iraqi casualties were in the low double digits. You had talked about this being a very ferocious fight. In the end, did the Islamic State fighters not put up the type of fight that was expected? Did they kind of just try to run and get cut down?And also, you talked about the leadership, but overall, what has the U.S. air campaign, including -- and then actions by the ground forces in Iraq, and the Syrian ground forces, done since the overall strength of the Islamic State fighting force?
COL. WARREN: Yeah, so, you know, the overall strength of the fighting force, we still estimate somewhere to be between 20 and 30,000. They have a robust recruiting program -- that has been acknowledged. And so, this is something that we have to deal with.
And I forgot the first part of your question.
Q: In Ramadi itself, you said that the casualties for the Iraqi army was in low double digits. Did the Islamic State militants inside Ramadi in the end not put up the type of ferocious fight that you had been expecting?
COL. WARREN: No, there was tough fighting. There was tough fighting, particularly in the last week when the Iraqi Security Forces crossed the bridge and moved north into the city center.
We saw -- we saw real hard fighting, but it was ineffective, right? I mean, the Iraqi security forces had, you know, the unparalleled ability of the coalition air to place pressure on this enemy and to suppress them. The CTS in this case, they're becoming much more well trained and they're experienced now. So they know how to fight. So really, this was -- in this case, frankly, it was overmatch. And -- and the ISIL forces simply couldn't -- couldn't withstand the pressure.
Q: Hi, David Smith -- oh, is he still speaking?
Q: No, he's talking.
COL. WARREN: (inaudible) -- when we had -- (inaudible) -- Sinjar, when we had overwhelming combat power amongst the Peshmerga on Sinjar mountain, pushed south off that mount into Sinjar, we saw the same thing. In effect, you asked me the exact same question: Why didn't ISIL put up as big of a fight?
I'll tell you why, because they're not 10 feet tall. These guys are not that tough. They're not any tougher than any other -- any other fighter out there. And when -- when -- when -- when Iraqi security forces or any other force is able to mass combat power, using the fundamentals of warfare to bring pressure to bear on this enemy, they will crack and they will collapse.
So, next question.
Q: David Smith of the Guardian; just a couple of things.
Are there any estimates of civilian casualties in the battle for Ramadi? And also, any ISIL prisoners taken? And do you have a number for that? And do we know what will happen to them? And one last question, just going back to your list of ISIL people who've been killed, you mentioned one man who is from Bangladesh and educated in the U.K. Do you have any more details on -- on him, particularly his age or how long he spent in the U.K.?
COL. WARREN: All -- all good questions. Unfortunately, I'm going to disappoint you. We do not have an estimate on civilian casualties yet. I have not received a report on ISIL prisoners. That's -- that's a fair question. I have not seen much reporting of ISIL prisoners being taken. Some have surrendered earlier on, and kind of crossed the lines as they got scared. As they realized that the inevitable was coming, they would, frankly, desert or just quit. They moved into Iraqi security force control and were processed accordingly.
On -- on our one high-value target who was killed, and been educated in the U.K., I don't have any more info on him, you know, other than what I put out. This guy was a hacker. He kind of led some of their hacking programs. He also facilitated development of weapons and some of their surveillance techniques.
Q: Yeah, hi, colonel. Richard Sisk.
You talked about some of the specialized equipment that was used by the Iraqis. They were trained by the U.S. Could you talk about that in -- as it was used to try to get at the IEDs? And was it the same -- was it the same U.S. unit? I think it's the 814th that helped them with that portable bridge across the canal?
Also colonel, was -- were you running into -- in Ramadi, the tunnel complexes that have been evident in -- in other locations? And lastly, part of the specialized equipment -- did they -- did they have use of line charges to get rid of some of the IEDs?
COL. WARREN: Yeah. So, of the specialized equipment, two are most notable. Number one is the line charges. The Iraqi security forces did fire a MICLIC flying charge several days ago as they tried to breach the southern defensive belt that ISIL had set up. So it was a successful execution of the MICLIC.
And the other I think notable piece of unusual equipment are armored bulldozers. We sent about 21 armored bulldozers forward for the Iraqi security forces to use. They use these armored bulldozers to do two things: one, often to push -- to try to push minefields or improvised explosive devices out of the way.
But much more importantly though, they use them to rapidly built up berms on the sides of an advancing unit. Because this enemy likes to try and bring truck bombs or we call them VBIEDs, around and into the flanks of attacking forces. So what -- in a great combined arms maneuver, using mobility, using engineering assets to generate mobility, tanks will provide security.
So they will look down the streets and shoot at anything that moves while the armored bulldozers build up berms on either side of the road which will prevent these truck bombs from coming in and striking flanks. And they will advance that way with armor -- you know, tanks, M1s and others, bringing protection and then the armored bulldozers providing the mobility.
In this case, counter mobility, by erecting berms, constructing berms on either side of the road to prevent VBIEDs from attacking into the flanks. We did see some tunnels. We destroyed many of them. Again, used to not really significant effect, obviously, because the Iraqis were able to come in and seize the government complex.
The tunnel will continue to be a problem as the Iraqis will go through the process of patrolling and clearing these neighborhoods. They will have to be on the lookout for these tunnels. These are areas where the enemy can hide and like ambushes.
These are area where the enemy can move around and reposition if there is a confrontation or small firefight. So the tunnels continue to be something that the Iraqis need to keep their eye on. Our pilots and our targeters have done -- they've learned a lot about tunnels and how to identify them from the air. And so we strike them whenever we see them as well.
You had about seven questions there. I only got to -- was there anything else?
Q: Just the unit, the U.S. engineering unit that helped with this?
COL. WARREN: Right. The 814th out of Louisiana is who trained the Iraqi bridging battalion on how to employ and construct what we call an improved ribbon bridge. It's a ribbon bridge. I have got a video of that bridge in employment on my twitter feed, @OIRSpox, so check it out.
And so, again, the Iraqis used that to good effect it allowed them to move combat power from the south to the north, gain a foothold in the southern portion of the city, and then eventually move forward into the city.
STAFF: We have a time limit.
Q: Okay. Thanks. Hi Colonel Warren. There is a lot of talk, especially from the Iraqis, about that retaking Mosul. But I'm wondering if the ISF will first tackle Fallujah, and Colonel Garrett says the ISF are in the isolation phase in Fallujah. I'm wondering if you could explain what that means?
And then second, what is, how many Sunni forces actually participated in Ramadi and whether there are actually, there are enough to, you know, in this fight to retake Fallujah or Anbar or other Sunni areas in Iraq?
COL. WARREN: Right. Those are good questions. So on Mosul, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that the fight for Mosul started a year ago when we began shaping fires, and those shaping fires continue.
And the fight for Mosul continues as we attacked south from Mount Sinjar to seize Sinjar mountain, it cut Highway 47. That contributed to isolation of Mosul.
As we attack the road networks south of Tal Afar, which I showed you a video of earlier, that further isolates Mosul, right? It further restricts this enemy's ability to resupply themselves in Mosul.
So the fight for Mosul is ongoing. Right now we are in the shaping phase. We continue to cut off the various supply lines and capabilities. The fight for Fallujah is ongoing. Right now the Iraqi Security Forces are approaching Fallujah from three directions.
There are in the isolation phase of that operation, which if you recall, we were in the isolation phase of Ramadi for several months. What is the isolation phase? That is where the attacking force positions itself all the way around the city in various locations along the primary avenues in and out of the city.
And they build a fire and then they begin -- essentially they encircle the city, almost like a boa constrictor, and they will then squeeze in closer and closer into that city until eventually they are able to finally clear it, as we saw in Ramadi.
So many of the same tactics applied in Ramadi are being applied in Fallujah. We don't have a timeline yet. As I've said before, the enemy does get a vote here, so we'll have to see how the -- how the fight progresses.
Did that answer all your questions? I think there might have been one more that I -- that I didn't write down.
Q: (off mic) Sunni tribal forces? I mean, even if 8,000 are trained, is that really enough, you know, considering in the mid- 2000s there were like 90,000. So I'm wondering if there are just enough Sunni tribal forces now to be effective.
COL. WARREN: Well, there's been enough to be effective in Ramadi, so that's proof of the principle. I think off of what we see is that success builds on itself, so I expect maybe we'll see some more of these tribal forces now being to come together. So we think that there's enough combat power out there to get the job done, yes.
CAPT. DAVIS: We're about out of time, but quick speed round here from Dan, Jamie and Courtney.
Q: Colonel Warren, Dan Lamothe with the Post here. There's been a number of photographs released in recent days out of Taqaddum of U.S. corpsmen and things of that sort providing medical support for Iraqi casualties as they're coming back from Ramadi. Can you provide any kind of clarity on, I guess, what kind of medical support the U.S. and the coalition is providing to the ISF at Taqaddum, I guess more broadly, as the casualties add up in battles like this?
COL. WARREN: Right. So two things. First off, before I answer that, hey Jeff, it turns out we've got the -- we have the flag-waving video now queued up. So before we close out we'll play that, but not yet.
On the -- on the corpsmen, so there's a forward surgical team at Taqaddum that provides level 1, you know, stabilization care, that gold -- the so-called golden hour before the casualties are able to be evacuated by Iraqis back to level 2 and higher care facilities.
CAPT. DAVIS: Jamie?
Q: Colonel, thanks for doing this. Just a quick question about Manbij in northern Syria. There seem to have been a significant number of strikes there in the last couple of days. I'm just wondering if you could expand a little bit about the strategic significance of Manbij? Is it looking to -- are those strikes designed to clear a way to impede, further impede ISIS' move into Turkey or near the Turkish border or further south towards Raqqa? And have any of the 50 U.S. special operations forces been involved in the operations near Manbij?
COL. WARREN: Most of the strikes that you're reading about in Manbij were in support of the Tishrin Dam operation. I had mentioned 26 strikes in the previous week killing over 100 enemy as the Syrian democratic forces were able to seize that dam. So that's where the focus has been, and I'm not going to talk about our special forces guys.
Q: Just a quick -- one follow-up on Ramadi. Have you seen any numbers on how many ISIS fighters may have melted back into the population at this point and maybe they're like, I don't know, forming any kind of cells? Do have any numbers at all on that?
COL. WARREN: Unfortunately, we don't have good numbers on that right now, Courtney. It certainly something that we're keeping an eye on, though. It -- you know, as this enemy begins to, you know, feel pressure, as I said earlier, it stands to reason that they may attempt to adopt and surge in a guerrilla tactic. So it's something that we've got to keep an eye on.
We don't -- I don't have good numbers for you on that. I think the numbers right now at this point are fairly low. Again, we've had a very significant effectiveness of our air power, and it's -- we really killed a lot of bad guys here.
That said, it doesn't mean that we won't see some sort of an insurgent cell develop. So it's something that's got to be kept an eye on. That's part of the reason why we want Sunni tribal fighters who are from this area, that's your best defense against this type of thing is competent locals who understand their neighborhoods and their towns and are much, much more able to counter these type of insurgent or guerrilla campaigns.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. That's it for here. Let's roll the video.
COL. WARREN: (off mic) video DVIDS. We've got to watch this one. We spent a lot of time...
So -- so there you have the first Iraqi flag to fly on top of the Iraqi government center building since May. So there's a -- this was a proud day for the Iraqis. We're proud of them for their efforts and we're going to continue this partnership.
With that, I'll see everyone next week.
Q: Was that -- was that video taken by a U.S. -- UAS?
COL. WARREN: Yes, that was taken by an American -- an American drone -- UAS, sorry. Air Force.
CAPT. DAVIS: Thanks, everybody.