Department of Defense Press Briefing by Maj. Gen. Chalmers via teleconference in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room
U.K. Major General Doug Chalmers, deputy commander, Strategy and Sustainment, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: (off-mic.) coming today. Today, we are pleased to welcome Major General Doug Chalmers. He's the deputy commander for strategy and sustainment at the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve briefing us today from Southwest Asia.
Major General Chalmers will take -- make a few opening questions and then -- comments, excuse me, and then take your questions. We'll have about 30 minutes for this briefing, a little shorter than I know what you're used to with Steve. I will call on you for questions.
While you're able to see him, he may not be able to see you, so we'll be sure to state your name and outlet as we call on you. Without any further ado, General Chalmers, we'll pass it off to you for opening remarks.
U.K. MAJOR GENERAL DOUG CHALMERS: Jeff, thank you.
Good morning. My name is Major General Doug Chalmers. I'm currently serving as one of the two deputy commanders of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. I deployed here to the Middle East with the staff of the U.S. 3rd Armored Corps from Fort Hood, Texas back in September, and I've been serving as one of the CJTF deputy commanders for about the last six months.
Some of you by now would have recognized that my accent means that I'm not actually originally from Texas. I'm on an exchange tour from the British army with the U.S. 3rd Corps until after our deployment. I'll return back to Fort Hood with the Corps to complete my secondment to the Corps headquarters.
I've got some prepared remarks for you today, and then I'll gladly take your questions in the time that we have. First and foremost, on behalf of the entire CJTF, I'd like to extend our thoughts and prayers to the people of Brussels and all of those impacted by the cowardly terror attacks here in Baghdad over the last couple of weeks. Attacks like these remind us of the importance of our mission. We remain steadfast in our resolve to defeat Daesh. Daesh's violent, extremist ideology and ambition to expand must be stopped.
As you know, the mission of the Combined Joint Task Force is to defeat Daesh in both Iraq and Syria by synchronizing combat operations and supporting effects with our partners in both Iraq and Syria. Every day, our partners, enabled by the CJTF, are achieving visible effects against Daesh. This is a tough fight, however, it is one that is necessary and one which I'm confident that we as a coalition will win.
Our strategy to defeat Daesh has not changed. We continue attacking the enemy with strikes across the breadth and depth of their so-called caliphate to weaken them whilst we enhance the lethality of our partner forces on the ground in both countries through close coordination of our fires with their movement.
Concurrently, we work with our partners to better prepare them for the type of fighting that they are experiencing by enhancing their training, equipping and through our advice. Leveraging the unique capabilities of the different nations of the coalition that are directly contributing to the military campaign here gives us real strength as a mission of many nations in achieving these tasks.
One of my roles as a deputy commander is to ensure that the Iraqi Security Forces have the necessary forces and right equipment to defeat Daesh.
Now, this can range with meetings with senior Iraqi officers to discuss their current and future force generation requirements, down to coordinating with our own logisticians to ensure that the ammunition and vehicles are resourced and delivered to the right Iraqi bases.
To date, as you know, we've trained nearly 20,000 Iraqi Security Forces, many of which have already participated in the fight, such as the successful liberation of Ramadi. And today, many of those forces are committed to the counter-attack operations that are ongoing either in the Euphrates River Valley, or up in the Tigris River Valley.
This training includes both army and police, as the police units, which will enable the government of Iraq to hold the ground once it has been liberated from Daesh.
While the Iraqi Security Forces continue to conduct shaping operations in preparation for the isolation of Mosul, we, the coalition, continue to put pressure on Daesh inside the city through strikes against all facets of their operations.
This includes their headquarters, finances, weapons manufacturing sites and propaganda sites.
All of this, when synchronized with the operations on the ground in both Iraq and Syria, by the Iraqis and our Syrian Democratic Forces and other opposition forces are isolating Mosul from Raqqa, and will make it harder for Daesh to freely move and resupply all reinforcements between those two cities.
We firmly believe the momentum is now on our side, and we will do all that we can to enhance counter-Daesh operations where we can.
We are working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces to identify opportunities, such as specialized training for things like river crossings with mobile bridges, police training, logistics support and the provision of fire support.
But I'll reiterate what has been said by many of the briefers before you and indeed, senior leaders -- all of these capabilities are in support of and in coordination with the government of Iraq. Ultimately, these capabilities are agreed upon and approved by the Iraqis.
The resolve of the coalition continues to grow as we all share the same objective of defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria. And the importance of that objective has only become clearer in the time that I've served here in the CJTF.
As a deputy commander, I interact, on a frequent basis, with all our contributing nations, reviewing both their current and future personnel and capability assignments, equipment donations and contributions to the overall effort.
The contributing nations of the coalition are deeply invested and across the spectrum of our efforts, and we'll continue to support the building of our partners in both Iraq and Syria, as their capacity to defeat this enemy continues.
My very last parting comment before I take your questions is I'd like to take a few seconds to inform you of our new CJTF-OIR website. After much hard work, we are happy to announce our website is now operational and active at www.inherentresolve.mil, Inherent Resolve being all one word. A big thanks to all of the people who made this a reality, from the Defense Media Advisory Activity Group to CENTCOM.
Our site is very -- is collaborative with the new global counter-ISIL site, globalcoalition.org, and we'll continue to improve the website as we go along with the intent of giving you a better insight as to what the contributing nations and our partners are doing on a daily basis.
I understand the standard routine is that the Associated Press traditionally gets the first question. So back over to you in Washington.
CAPT. DAVIS: That would be Lita Baldor. Lita?
Q: Hi, General. It's Lita Baldor with AP. Thanks for doing this.
On the Iraq operations, General Dunford the other day said that we should expect to see addition U.S. forces going to Iraq in the coming weeks. First, do you have any sense how many more, and do you have any thoughts at this point about where they may go? Are they likely to go up in the north where they can help with the Mosul shaping operations, and are they likely to include either more movements by Marines with the -- with the Iraqi forces? Thank you.
GEN. CHALMERS: No, thank you for that question. And I saw the comments by the chairman the other day. As you'd expect for us as a -- as a headquarters, we have been working very much with our Iraqi partners as they have expanded their operations and gone into the counterattack, and we've effectively, through that planning, worked at what could be described as a menu of capabilities to continue to enable or enhance them as their operations have expanded.
In terms of exactly when from that menu we'll see movements for, I am not measuring it necessarily in terms of weeks, I know we're waiting for some decisions to be made both outside of here and back in Iraq itself. In terms of the where, it very much, let's say, work with Iraqis as they have expanded their operations both in Anbar and up into Ninawa Province. That will come as their plan confirms where the additional enablement by us is required.
And I would just put one part just to sort of add a piece to your question there. You mentioned movement at the end. Everything I've described there is to continue really to enable and expand our support to our Iraqi partners in that way. So we -- we're not looking at changing what you've see us do so far, we're going to work in support of our Iraqi partners, particularly in the provision of advice and fire, but not actually move with them as you -- you might have just mentioned by accident there.
Hopefully, that answers the question, but I'll take a follow-up if you want me to.
Q: I -- yes, on the Marines, I think that was the part of the question. I'm wondering if we'll see more fires by the Marines in support of the Iraqis as they advance, and will you beef up that type of support?
GEN. CHALMERS: That's one of the aspects inside the menu. I'm very much, as you will have seen, you know, the Marines were put in there with those -- with the artillery in order to provide either self-defense fires or supporting fires as they were advancing.
And as they have been advancing, you'll be aware that those U.S. Marines with those guns have been supporting our Iraqi partners. I'm doing more of that, and we've doing a similar type of activity down in Anbar with Army artillery units as well in support of our Iraqi partners there.
And expanding that sort of capability is on the menu, but I'm not sure exactly who it might provide -- it may even be other coalition members as well.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Barbara Starr from CNN.
Q: General, being as you are from Texas, at least temporarily, I would ask -- I want -- I'm sure you're aware of the conversation across the United States about military -- about what the military is doing in the counter-ISIL campaign, and a lot of suggestions from national level -- level figures about what they think needs to be done.
Because you talk to the coalition members so often, I wanted to ask you two things. Do you hear anything from any -- first, do you hear anything from any coalition members about the notion that one hears in the United States on a national level that using nuclear weapons against ISIS should be on the table?
Does anybody in the coalition you've ever talked to think that's a good idea?
GEN. CHALMERS: No. I -- that's -- that's a conversation, I've never heard discussed amongst any of our coalition members at any stage. I have to admit, that one has taken me completely by surprise.
The simple answer to that is no.
Q: Could I ask you another follow up? Here in the United States, from national level figures, or at least one of them, there has been a discussion that troops these days are afraid to fight -- those are the words used -- that they are afraid to fight, because they are worried about the Geneva Convention implications of their actions.
On a level of the working military out there fighting ISIL, have you ever heard that anybody is afraid to fight, because they could be held accountable under the Geneva conventions?
And I suppose that applies to your own government as well, your own British troops. Is -- are they afraid to fight because of the Geneva Convention? That is something that has been brought up here.
GEN. CHALMERS: No. I've seen over the last couple of years similar sort of articles sort of raising that as a question. As a -- as an infantry officer who has been involved in sort of combat over pretty much the last decade, all of the troops I've had the privilege of commanding very much understand the underpinning context of the Geneva Convention, the reason that it is established.
And we are never -- I've never heard of -- of soldiers afraid to fight because of the Geneva Convention in that regard. We regard it very much as a sense of basic principles which guide our behavior in battle and very much enable us to deal with which is a very unusual human experience.
And to live within those rules, I think is good for both our soldiers and indeed, the very population that we fight on behalf of.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next is -- I believe it's John.
Is that right? Yeah.
Q: Yes. John Hines, One America News.
And I just wanted to follow up on the -- there was a bit of a controversy surrounding the British in Basra, and there was a withdrawal there and the reluctance of forces to support the Charge of the Knights.
And I wondered if the British military is feeling a sense of needing to redeem itself at this point.
GEN. CHALMERS: I did serve in Basra, but not at that period of time. I don't think the British military -- I'll speak here now -- I remember that, I remember it's a story, it's something that has come up in discussion over time and the lessons that we've learned from it, but that was quite some time ago.
And I think for most of our military now who have served multiple tours in Afghanistan since, there was absolutely, I definitely feel, no sense to redeem myself. I'm a professional military soldier and I think the reputation for the British army still stands strong in that regard.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, great. Next to Courtney from NBC News.
Q: Hi, General.
So, going back to Lita's first question, we've asked several times in the past weeks about the shaping operations in Mosul. What is the most up-to-date, the most recent estimate for how many Iraqi troops it will take to actually begin the offensive operations, not the shaping operations, but to actually begin the operations in Mosul? And what's the most up-to-date estimate for when they will -- those troops will be prepared to begin that? And then I also -- I have a question on Syria afterwards, please.
GEN. CHALMERS: Well on the Mosul question, you're going to think I'm being slightly evasive, and I don't mean to be, but you'll be -- (inaudible) -- the fact that the details of such sort of operational planning, and we work with our Iraqi partners on that on a regular basis. It is definitely one of those areas that they are retaining operational security of.
You rightly touched that the isolation of Mosul has very much moved on with the Iraqi army now operations starting, and we talked about the U.S. Marine Corps artillery that's in support of those operations.
But the next steps after that for good, sound sort of military security reasons, the Iraqis are looking to sort of keep discreet at this time. But I worked very hard trying to understand their plans in order to ensure that we can properly sustain and support their scheme of maneuver as it develops. I know that's slightly evasive, but you'll understand that military planning, particularly for something of this complexity, is something that they are -- they're keen to keep reasonably tight control of.
Q: And then if I could ask you one question on Syria -- I'm not sure if this falls completely in your lane or not. But on the Russian activity in Syria, can you give us an update on what you're seeing? We know -- there were reports that they took about 20 aircraft about two weeks ago, I think it was, two or three weeks ago. Are you seeing a with -- oh, did you -- did you lose me?
GEN. CHALMERS: No, still here.
Q: Okay, good. I can be louder if that helps.
GEN. CHALMERS: (off-mic.) that. I'm sorry.
Q: That's okay. I'll start over. It's Courtney Kube from NBC News still. On Syria, could you give us a sense of what you're seeing about Russian activity in Syria? There were reports --
CAPT. DAVIS: He's listening. He's just --
GEN. CHALMERS: I'm really sorry. I'm -- I didn't hear a word of the question. I apologize.
STAFF: 3, 2, 1. Can you hear us, general?
Q: Can you hear me now, general?
(AUDIO CONNECTION LOST)
CAPT. DAVIS: General, we're testing again. 1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1.
GEN. CHALMERS: All right, that sounds better. I can -- I could hear some of that.
CAPT. DAVIS: We have a question about Russia -- (inaudible) -- Syria.
Q: Thank you. I don't know if I should use this, or --
CAPT. DAVIS: Yeah, keep for -- yeah, try it without.
Q: Okay. Hi, general. It -- so, on Russian presence in Syria, can you give us a sense of what you're seeing there?
There were reports a couple of weeks ago that the Russians took about 20 aircraft out. Have they moved any more aircraft out since then? I think it was May -- or March 17th.
And are -- what kind of operations are you still seeing them conduct in Syria? Is it helicopters, fixed-wing? What sort of strikes are they taking?
GEN. CHALMERS: Good question. I apologize for not being able to hear earlier on. I've been slightly late with my response back to you.
I think what we saw -- the cessation of violence after the announcements was a number of Russian aircraft, as you've described, withdraw. They've retained a presence inside of the country, and they are still supporting the regime in some of those operations that are being conducted.
What we have seen a change of since the cessation of violence, and you're seeing this in open sources that their operations, now are mostly focused against advances towards Daesh-held areas, Palmyra being the most recent objective.
And they're supporting the regime through a number of range, and you've described some of them yourself there, from our observation of what we've seen so far.
And that's -- that's probably about the best picture that I've got at the moment. As you know, we don't do detailed coordination with the ground elements on that side with the regime.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Richard Sisk.
Q: Hi, general. Thanks for doing this.
In the way of sustainment, can you give us any sense, any idea of the -- the scope of the coalition effort in -- in supplying equipment to the ISF?
Do you have any figures on that, how much?
GEN. CHALMERS: That's a very good question. And I -- I don't have the figures directly to hand. But actually, you would be able to find them fairly easy to hand.
We used the Iraqi train and equip fund, which has procured, as you know, a lot of equipment sets and has also provided us the freedom in order, sometimes, to increase things like training sites to enable the trainees to sort of operate through.
Those -- those figures are held -- they're public out there. I can't remember exactly what the figure is. It was one, something, but I wouldn't like to -- billion wise -- that was used through.
But that work has gone on through, and over time, we've used that fund, particularly focused on the counter attack brigades to sort of equip them and train them, and re-equip them to move forward.
And as that has -- as they've deployed forward, and then, I've actually got some on -- (inaudible) -- in detail now. I think the original tranche of ITEF was $1.6 billion, and that allowed us to sort of roll out the first series of counter-offensive brigades. And there have been subsequent tranches added to that.
And those subsequent tranches, we are very much using to do extra niche bits of battle damaged replacement vehicles that have been lost in combat. And then sustainment, either through spare parts or ammunition, to sustain those units in what is quite a high-intensity fighting at the moment, therefore is outstripping what is there routinely budgeted forecast.
What we're also doing, though, is working with our local police forces. And this is an area where other nations' donations have proven extremely useful, things like body armor for the police, and some of the non-standard ammunitions for things like the AK-47, et cetera -- which have also received quite a lot of donations from a number of countries that have helped us meet that demand.
Q: If I could follow, General, please. In the way of the -- setting the conditions for the shaping operations up around Mosul, is there thought to delivering more to the ISF, to the Peshmerga, in the way of AT4s, or perhaps MILANS?
GEN. CHALMERS: I think what we have done is I've been in a number of meetings where the Iraqis have -- and the Peshmerga very much gone through their experiences of fighting Daesh over the period of time, and worked out -- and identified what works and what can be improved.
And as they go through that period, we tune our training, and as you've described, we tune some of the equipments that we provide. We get a better idea of what they use in higher ratios than not. And some of the items you've mentioned there are the sort of bits on the list.
Along with that, also, clearly, is a lot of engineering equipment, given the level of the improvised explosive devices that Daesh are using very much as obstacles to try and limit the advance of some of our partners.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, next to Lucas Tomlinson, with Fox News.
Q: Thank you, general.
Just a follow up to Courtney's question. Have the Russians put in more equipment to Syria than they have taken out?
GEN. CHALMERS: No, not that I've seen. All I've seen is the -- is the withdrawal of the aircraft. There was equipment in there, as you know, they've had equipment in there for, you know, many, many years. Some of that was withdrawn, some of that was returned.
What I've seen is a withdrawal of aircraft, but I haven't seen, as you've just described there, the reverse flow as inferred.
Q: But overall, general, are you seeing a Russian pull out of Syria?
GEN. CHALMERS: No, I've seen a partial withdrawal of some capabilities, is how I'd describe it.
Q: Seeing the Russian forces overall pulling out?
GEN. CHALMERS: No, I think it might have been a crossover there. I think -- I wouldn't describe it as that. I would describe it as a partial withdrawal of some capabilities.
Q: And then going over to Iraq. Are you seeing any Iranian-backed forces in and around Mosul?
GEN. CHALMERS: No. No, we're not.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next, we'll go to Luis Martinez, with ABC News.
Q: Thank you, general. Going back to the lessons learned from Ramadi, how well did the Iraqi forces do with the -- maintaining their supply lines for this -- for the -- what turned out to be a very long operation?
And what lessons can be learned for what can be transferred to Mosul, given that the larger scope of that -- that potential operation?
GEN. CHALMERS: Well, that's a very good question.
I think the Iraqis did learn a lot of lessons, and I think they've learned the lessons, if you could move from sort of Tikrit onwards and the initial part. And Ramadi, we saw sort of an example of that.
The first bit, I think, is they -- I've seen much better cooperation between the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police and the counterterrorism service, and actually them sort of ensuring that they can support each other's sustainment pieces. And I have seen them work out how ammunitions should flow, and particularly how vehicles can be recovered and replaced back. And that has enabled us to try and better understand what they need more of in -- at time and space.
But the -- what we call the burn rate, i.e., the rate at which items are being used, I think that is one of the key lessons that we took out both for us and the Iraqis, because as you rightly say, you know, Mosul is different. It is also further away from the main Iraqi logistics base, and therefore, they are working pretty hard at trying to understand exactly what they need to pre-position in order to sustain some of those lessons learned from Ramadi.
Q: If I could follow up on what you were discussing as the burn rate, are you talking about ammunition, are you talking about equipment that was specifically needed for that operation that they didn't have in larger numbers?
GEN. CHALMERS: Yeah, I'm talking -- you're quite right to describe it as both. So the ammunition bit and the burn rate we use is a -- it's a phrase to describe the average usage rates every single day, which allows us to sort of map out over that period of time.
But the other thing we've noted is the damage to vehicles or the spare parts that we used. For example, Humvees got their radiators shot out more than normal, and therefore, working out which bits of spares we need to have available in the workshops to put vehicles back into -- into effect sooner rather than later.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next, we'll go to Corey Dickstein with Stars and Stripes.
Q: Hi, general. Thanks for doing this.
I want to go back to -- you mentioned the menu of capabilities you guys have given to the Iraqis. I wanted to see, could you give us any insight into what kind of capabilities we're talking about? I think you had offered at one point Apaches before Ramadi. And can you tell us how open the Iraqis have been to such a menu.
GEN. CHALMERS: I think, you know, the menu would, as I mentioned earlier on to one of the earlier questions, we are looking really at still continuing within the approach that we've adopted at the moment. The Apaches which we've talked on before has been mentioned by Secretary Carter, and it's been an open discussion, that is part of that sort of package. But the other sort of capabilities very much are within what we have been doing and proven to have been doing, as we learned before.
And the real reason for this -- (inaudible) -- mentioned is as the Iraqis expand and continue their counteroffensive both in Anbar and Ninawa, they're simply doing more and they're expanding into that area. So trying to work out exactly how we'll better enable them as they sustain momentum in that counterattack is the piece that we're working at.
CAPT. DAVIS: Anybody else? So yeah, Richard.
Q: General, can you tell us anything about the situation right now in Makhmur where the -- where the Marines set up the firebase? A number of reports that the Iraqis had to abandon some positions that they tried to take and then fell back. What's the status up there right now? Are they advancing?
GEN. CHALMERS: The -- I read, I think, one of those reports a couple of days ago, actually, and it caused us to sort of go back and sort of have a quick look. And I think in many areas like this, a battle as you know, comes in ebbs and flows, and it's at the end of the day to see whether you have held land or moved land forward really is the only judgment.
And what we've seen over the day, since the Iraqis have moved out of Makhmur forward, has been a steady and pretty confident progress. Some areas are harder than others, but over the piece, roughly there in line with their objectives that they've set. And there are some areas that are just tougher and take a bit longer, and they have to sort of move a bit more focus and effort on.
Btu what I've seen a pretty confident advance along the line of their objectives over the period of time since they've stepped off.
CAPT. DAVIS: And a quick follow up from Lita and then from Luis.
Q: General, a quick follow up on that. Can you also tell us how much the Marines are doing there, as far as fires from their fire base?
Is increasing, is it steady? And what is the level of attacks they are taking there at the fire base?
GEN. CHALMERS: I'll work from the back sort of forwards.
In terms of attacks on the base, I would since -- since sadly, we lost Staff Sergeant Cardin, we have -- have sort of dropped down. Because as the Iraqis have moved forward and advanced forward, that clearly has distracted any local attacks.
There is still the occasional, indirect fire attack, but even that seems to have dropped down from where it was earlier on. It's now more concentrated actually on the Iraqis who have advanced forward of the Peshmerga lines, in line with what the objectives we have just described.
In terms of what the Marines are therefore doing, there is the occasional piece of self-defense fire responding to those indirect attacks that I've just touched on, but that has dropped down. A lot of their fire missions now are in support of those advancing troops, and is either in support using high explosive, or sometimes using illumination rounds at night to help the Iraqi forces during some of the nighttime activity
CAPT. DAVIS: And Luis Martinez.
Q: Another follow up on that, sir. As the Iraqi military moves forward, let's say, does that -- I know the artillery is long-range, but is it a possibility that this fire base could move forward as well, or that you would need additional artillery further up as the Iraqi military progresses up the line?
GEN. CHALMERS: You wouldn't be surprised to know that, you know, how long it stays there, and as you know, the U.S. Marine guns were put in their to support a particular piece of activity. We will keep that under review and at times, we will adjust it as required.
But where we make that adjustment to, that stuff, we simply haven't quite closed with yet. Because just don't forget the artillery is part of our sort of other fires, particularly the air-delivered fires. And it's that combination of coalition fires and support that we sort of try and work through all the time.
CAPT. DAVIS: And one last quick follow up from Lucas, here.
Q: Just one more follow-up, general. There's some reports that some Iraqi forces have, once again, retreated. Can you comment on those?
GEN. CHALMERS: Do you know whereabouts we're talking about?
Q: I heard very general, just as this Mosul advance has gone underway, there has been some reports that some Iraqi forces have retreated, cut and run and just wanted -- for the record, wanted you to talk about those.
Are they true? Are they not true?
GEN. CHALMERS: Yeah, I -- again, I think -- I read an article that described exactly that, I think, a couple of days ago now, or maybe yesterday.
And the simple answer is, they go back into battles do ebb and flow. So, when they come across sometimes, sometimes they withdraw to reposition and re-attack and to counterattack before it's normal.
And what I have seen, as I say, is at the end of each day is a steady, incremental increase and advance by the Iraqi forces.
So I think what we have seen -- we have seen sort of re-positioning, but the advance very much has been continued.
And I compare and contrast that, for example, to this time last year where we probably might well as have seen the Iraqi forces withdraw. What we've seen them this -- over this advance is when they come across Daesh resistance, they re-position, consolidate, and then re-attack. And that's a significant advance as they've got to better understand the enemy that they're dealing with at the moment.
CAPT. DAVIS: And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we're out of time. General Chalmers, thank you very much for your time and coming live to us as you are. We appreciate the information and the update. Have a good day, sir.
GEN. CHALMERS: Thank you.