Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook
PETER COOK: Afternoon, everybody.
I want to begin today with an update on the campaign to defeat ISIL wherever it tries to spread. Today, at the request of Libya's Government of National Accord, the United States conducted precision airstrikes against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya, to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL and its primary stronghold in Libya.
These strikes were authorized by the president, following a recommendation from Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford. They are consistent with our approach of combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local partners.
GNA aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL, and additional U.S. strike will continue to target ISIL in Sirte and enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance.
As you may have seen earlier today, Prime Minister al-Sarraj, the head of the GNA, announced that he had specifically requested these strikes as part of the GNA's campaign to defeat ISIL in Libya.
As we've said for some time, the United States supports the GNA; we would be prepared to carefully consider any request for military assistance. We have now responded to that request, and will continue to work closely with the GNA to help the government restore stability and security in Libya.
As you have heard the secretary say many times, combating ISIL's spread, along with defeating it in Iraq and Syria, and defending the homeland against external ISIL attacks are the three primary goals of our military campaign plan. That campaign is showing results.
On Thursday, President Obama will receive an update on the campaign when he holds a meeting of the National Security Council. That will take place here in the Pentagon. We look forward, of course, to his visit.
One other schedule note for you -- the secretary is meeting at this hour with Prime Minister Lee of Singapore here in the Pentagon. Singapore is a close partner on a range of security issues, and the secretary was looking forward to today's discussion.
Earlier today, they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. And again, the secretary was pleased to welcome the prime minister here to the Pentagon today.
With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: When did the GNA make the request for the U.S. help? When did the U.S. approve it?
How long will this air campaign begin? And when -- can you talk a little bit -- the targeting? Who -- who requests the targets that the U.S. strikes are going to hit, and how does the U.S. vet those targets before striking them?
MR. COOK: I can tell you that the request was submitted by the GNA recently. I'm not going to get into the specific timetable for it.
And again, this was something that was considered, after consultation with the national security team -- of course, the secretary and the chairman making their recommendation to President Obama with regard to this assistance for the GNA at this particular moment in time.
The requests will be carefully coordinated. They are specific requests from the GNA, and they will be closely coordinated with the GNA going forward. And again, this -- this all stems from their request for this assistance, and this specific area here will be the area around Sirte, where Sirte -- where ISIL has maintained its most significant presence.
Q: I'm just going to ask all of my questions again, since you didn't actually answer any of them.
But -- so when -- if you don't want to say when the GNA put in a request, when did the U.S. approve the GNA request? How long will this campaign continue? And how exactly will the U.S. vet the targets that presumably the Libyans will request that the U.S. strike?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into the specific details about the timing of the requests or the approval. But it's -- other than to say that it has been in recent days.
And this follows, again, a conversation -- an ongoing conversation with the Government of National Accord. The specific targets will be precision targets. These are targets that the GNA, as we've indicated, has already made progress on the ground -- significant progress on the ground against ISIL in the Sirte area. But they're precision targets which they've asked for our assistance with in which they have had more trouble.
These are targets -- for example, I can detail today one of the targets struck today was a tank. It is that kind of precision location, precision target, that we'll be targeting that the GNA at this point felt like that would be a helpful support for their efforts.
Q: But then how does the U.S. vet those targets? It's not what the targets, what are they, but how does the U.S. vet them? Let me ask this way --
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: Will the U.S., when the Libyans make request that the U.S. strike a target, will the U.S. vet that target before striking it?
MR. COOK: Yes it absolutely will.
Q: And so how does that process occur? Who does it? Are there Americans on the ground who are vetting the targets on the ground? Or how does that happen?
MR. COOK: There is a collaborative process. Very closely coordinated process that we've engaged with the GNA in terms of assessing and determining the precise locations to hit. And yes, the United States military will be rigorously involved in every step of this process. We will be reviewing and deciding those list of targets after, again, close consultation with the GNA.
Q: How long the campaign will last?
MR. COOK: Again this will depend on request of support from the GNA. And we're proceeding along that line. We don't have an end point at this particular moment in time. But we'll be working closely with the GNA and we certainly hope that this is something that does not require a lengthy amount of time. We've seen again great progress by the GNA on their own in the fight against ISIL. We've seen ISIL's numbers reduced in Libya. And we think that this precision airstrike capability, this unique capability that we can provide to their ongoing efforts can make a difference in this campaign. Yes?
Q: Thanks Peter. So will, going forward your statement indicated that there would be more strikes going forward to basically dislodge ISIL from Sirte.
MR. COOK: At the request of the GNA and in close coordination of the GNA, if they feel it's necessary.
Q: So each strike needs to be requested by the GNA and then approved by President Obama? Or how does that work?
MR. COOK: This will be done in close coordination with the GNA. The president has authorized these strikes --
MR. COOK: -- to move forward. Correct. And at the recommendation of Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford and it will again, you determine the pace and the frequency will be determined by our close coordination with the GNA.
Q: And is the ultimate goal to completely dislodge, is that like the endpoint at which point the strikes would stop is when ISIS has been completely driven out of Sirte?
MR. COOK: Well, again, the goal for the GNA is to eliminate ISIL from Sirte and from the country. And we'll be working closely with them. And they'll be determining the pace and the success of this campaign. Arguably they have their forces on the ground conducting their efforts and this will be in support of their efforts.
ISIL's numbers have been reduced. They have made significant progress in Sirte already on their own. And we believe this can make a difference. Hopefully in a short amount of time and we'll see. And again, we'll be working closely with the government of Prime Minister Sarraj.
Q: And then just, kind of, a broader question, the U.S. military strikes in Libya so far have been sort of one-off measures. There was a strike in February which as far as I can tell is the last one that we've been told about. Does this, kind of, herald greater U.S. involvement and a more wide-ranging air campaign in Libya than we've seen recently?
MR. COOK: I think what this heralds is, as we've said for some time, the most important thing to -- to addressing the threat of ISIL in Libya was the formation of a -- of the government. And we've seen that now. The GNA has made significant progress.
And we've seen their forces on the ground make significant progress against ISIL. And we applaud that, and we support that. They have asked for this specific assistance. And our assistance at this point will be limited to these strikes in this area.
Q: And then just one other -- so then, from what you just said, does that -- does -- do these airstrikes announced today indicate greater U.S. confidence in the GNA than you had previously?
MR. COOK: I think it indicates, yes, our support for the GNA, our support for them from a military standpoint to the extent that we can be helpful. We want to carefully consider these requests.
And -- and the president, and again, acting on the recommendation of Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford, felt that we could make a difference on the battlefield, specifically with our capabilities as they move very aggressively to eject ISIL from their territory.
Q: Peter, could you give us a sense of why now? Was it that the GNA has become more formed, that the president was more comfortable with now moving to military phase?
Or is there something critical about Sirte right now that the airstrikes could be a game changer?
MR. COOK: I think what has changed right now is the specific request we got from the GNA. We've been in contact with them. They've been making progress on their own.
But I think even -- and I'll refer you to the prime minister's comments this morning -- they felt that there were specific capabilities we could bring to bear that they were limited, in terms of their military capabilities, being able to conduct.
And one of the things that we're able to do is to conduct precision airstrikes in an urban area like this, reducing the risk of civilian casualties. And under -- clearly that was a concern on the part of the GNA. And our ability to -- to strike with precision was a capability that they sought out and -- and requested, specifically.
Q: A couple on the airstrikes themselves. As you said, it's a precision environment, you need to have kind of accurate pointing. Are U.S. forces on the ground helping spot targets to help avoid civilian casualties?
MR. COOK: We have close coordination with the GNA, but there are no U.S. boots on the ground.
Q: I mean, is the -- special forces have been rotating in and out. The Pentagon has openly talked about it throughout the spring.
MR. COOK: Yeah. Right.
Q: But there's none right now.
MR. COOK: You know, the -- the role of those forces were to establish communications and contacts in Libya. And that has not changed. So there's not a specific role for U.S. forces in Sirte as part of this operation.
Q: Peter, following on Tara's question as far as troops on the ground. It was our understanding that there had been some small teams moving in and out of Libya over the past few months.
You say that there's no troops there now, but do you expect that to continue, there to be occasionally temporary missions on the ground?
MR. COOK: Again, with regard to this particular operation in Sirte, we do not expect U.S. forces to be part of this specific operation. I'm not going to speak to other U.S. forces with regard to -- to Libya overall.
We don't talk about their -- their disposition. We have indicated in the past, we have had forces on the ground getting a picture there. And -- and that's been helpful and successful.
But that's separate and apart from this operation.
I -- I keep calling you Andrew. I don't know why. Bill, I'm really sorry. I -- I just -- I'm jumping. And apologies, it's Monday.
Q: Did -- should we expect daily airstrikes like what we see in Iraq and Syria?
MR. COOK: I -- I don't want to predict the pace, because this will be determined in large measure by the GNA and the progress that they make.
But we aim to support them as best we can, carefully assessing the circumstances and the targets. But we've conducted strikes today and we'll be prepared to conduct more if needed.
Q: So is it just -- is it just U.S. aircraft or is the coalition aircraft also part of this new campaign?
MR. COOK: Today we're referring specifically to U.S. aircraft.
Q: But it might change going forward?
MR. COOK: I'm gonna speak for the United States military, here.
Q: Okay when -- when these airstrikes are provided, are they supporting ground maneuvers of Libyan forces? Or are they deliberate -- hitting deliberate targets, you know, C2 and these sorts of things?
MR. COOK: I think again, they'll be in close coordination with the GNA and I could -- there are Libyan forces so -- supporting the GNA on the ground Sirte and I think it's fair to say that our strikes will be in -- will be supportive of their efforts to try and retake territory in Sirte.
They're had a very successful efforts thus far in doing so and this is -- again -- gonna give them an opportunity to have -- take strategic advantage to push their offensive even further.
Q: And then you said the numbers have been reduced; it was a previous intelligence estimates had ISIS at a fighting force of around six -- up to 6,000, I believe. Is that the current assessment that you guys have?
MR. COOK: The assessment numbers that I've seen and again, I would -- it's hard to gauge ISIL numbers anywhere. But I've seen that number -- at least our assessment is that it's been reduced and the number may be closer to about 1,000 now.
Q: Thousand in Libya altogether, or?
MR. COOK: In -- in Libya all together.
Q: Okay and lastly --
MR. COOK: I'm sorry, that's specific to Sirte but that's the predominant area where -- where ISIL has -- has -- in terms of geography has occupied, so.
Q: Got it. Lastly, we -- the U.N. had agreed to arm Libyan forces. Those special ops guys, they were seemingly trying to identify some potential partners on the ground. I was wondering if that's -- you know, if we've seen any progress on that front?
MR. COOK: Our military support the GNA is limited at this point to these airstrikes and -- and so you know, that's not part of what we're doing.
Q: Thank you. Were there any --
MR. COOK: And Bill I'm really sorry about the -- (inaudible) -- although Andrew's a nice guy.
Q: Two quick questions, were there any high-valued targets in any of these strikes as there were in the previous two U.S. strikes in Libya?
MR. COOK: That was not the purpose of today's strikes.
Q: And then also, since you have said in a statement this will continue by evaluating the GNA's request for strikes. Is the press going to get a readout of these strikes as we do in Syria and Iraq?
MR. COOK: We will try and provide you as much information as we can. We felt it was important obviously to highlight these first strikes and we'll continue to provide as much information as we can.
Q: Peter, was it drones or fixed wing?
MR. COOK: Not gonna discuss platforms but we have -- as you know -- a range of capabilities in the region that we'll be able to draw upon if -- as this particular operation continues.
Q: And there was a strike today, one in February that you confirmed previously. Is this the third strike now? Was there one before the one in February?
MR. COOK: Yes, there was an -- an earlier strike, I believe it was November, was the first strike against ISIL by U.S. military.
Q: Three strikes, that's it?
MR. COOK: Yes, there was the February strike, as you pointed out, there was the strike against a high-value target in November, and now these strikes in support of the GNA.
Q: Just to clarify a couple a things, Peter, I just want to make sure I understand correctly. General Dunford, about two weeks ago, said he thought there were only a few hundred ISIS still remaining inside Sirte.
Are these new numbers, what you are saying there is a thousand inside Sirte -- or you're saying there is a thousand in the country as a whole?
MR. COOK: I think -- I think it's consistent with -- with what General Dunford said. The numbers I have is that they're under a thousand, possibly several hundred still in the city itself.
Q: Under a thousand, possibly several hundred?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: And then, just -- in answer to a previous question, you said initially there no U.S. forces on the ground, and then you seem to clarify later, you meant specifically to this operation.
Are you saying that right now there are -- are you making it clear there are no U.S. teams of any kind on the ground? Or are you just specifically saying there are no U.S. on the ground related to this particular operation?
MR. COOK: I'm -- this is specific to this operation. I'm not going to get into what we've talked about previously, the small number of U.S. forces that have been on the ground in Libya. They've been in and out, and I'm not going to get into that any further.
Q: Okay, but -- so you're not saying definitively there are -- that those -- none of those teams are on the ground there? We shouldn't --
MR. COOK: Correct.
Q: We shouldn't interpret this to say there are none anywhere?
MR. COOK: Correct.
Q: Thank you.
MR. COOK: Yes, Lucas?
Q: Peter why are lending your operations just to Sirte against ISIS in Libya?
MR. COOK: Because that's been the specific request of the GNA.
Q: So, the United States has outsourced its counter-terrorism efforts to the Libya government, is that what you're saying?
MR. COOK: No, we're acting in support of the internationally recognized government of Libya helping their effort to target an enemy that poses a threat as well to the United States. And we are doing that with capable, motivated local partners, just as we are in Iraq and Syria, and -- and so, we are honoring that request and carrying out something that we think is not only in Libya's interest, but also in U.S. interest as well.
Q: Is this another example of leading from behind?
MR. COOK: This is an example of us providing support -- military support for a partner on the ground that is trying to reclaim their country and provide security, stability for their people, and targeting a group that has a hateful ideology that aims to do ill to the people of Libya and to the people of the United States.
Q: And can the -- the American public, can they expect a broader range of airstrikes instead of just three in the last eight months, going back to November, but more airstrikes? And given what we saw in Afghanistan last week, hundreds of U.S. forces battling ISIS in eastern Afghanistan, is this an overall effort by the Pentagon to ramp up operations against ISIS and its affiliates?
MR. COOK: As you know, Lucas, the -- the -- as I mentioned at the top, one of our military efforts, specific efforts, is not just -- although it's absolutely necessary to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, it is not sufficient to deal with the threat posed by ISIL, the metastasis of ISIL, as the secretary has referred to it many times.
So, I think it is fair to say that we continuing our efforts on that front as well in places like Afghanistan, in places like Libya. And we'll continue to do that, because we want to, again, strike at ISIL anywhere it rears its head and that -- Libya is one of those locations.
And we are supporting those local forces on the ground that -- that see this threat directly in their own -- in their own country, and that's what we are doing in Libya.
Q: And lastly, given the bombing in Kabul today that the Taliban claimed credit for, is there going to be more of an effort from the Pentagon to increase its operations against that group as well? Inside Afghanistan?
MR. COOK: Well, I think you know what we're -- we're doing in terms of the support for the Afghan National Security Forces, the changes with regard to authorities recently and the decision with regard to troop levels.
And so, I think we're doing a significant amount right now to try and help the Afghan National Security Forces secure their own country. And that recognition of the importance of that mission, and -- and what we believe is important right now to support the Afghan government in their own efforts to secure their country.
Q: Is this strike -- can you just characterize for us why this strike is different from the strike in February and the strike in November? Is this the beginning of a more Iraq-like operation to support local forces as opposed to the one-off strikes that we've been seeing before?
MR. COOK: Well, obviously, the biggest difference is the GNA, and this was a specific request from the internationally recognized government of Libya.
In terms of the goal of trying to take on ISIL in Libya, that is consistent with that counter-terrorism effort, but the specific difference here is being the request of the GNA and the precision kind of airstrikes that we're being asked to conduct now.
Q: One of the -- one of the things that the chairman had said in the past was that, he was waiting for, I think, the situation with the government on the ground to change before the U.S. deepened its involvement against ISIS in Libya.
What has changed? What -- what has changed that has made the U.S. confident -- confident enough now to get involved in this fight?
MR. COOK: Well, I think you can look at our confidence and the international community's confidence in the Government of National Accord.
And the other thing that's changed as we've talked about here in briefing room is -- is the successful efforts to take on ISIL by those local forces in Libya. They've been very successful on their own. And they have not, up until now, requested this kind of assistance. Now they have given that they're in Sirte, that they are taking on ISIL.
And -- and while they are having success, they do see areas of opposition, areas where ISIL has dug in, and opportunities for us and our precision capabilities to be able to assist them in ejecting ISIL from particular locations.
Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions.
One, you think -- is secretary satisfied that those nations in the Middle East, Arabs and Muslims are doing enough fighting against ISIL?
MR. COOK: Well, I think the secretary is very appreciative for those countries that are obviously a part of the coalition and contributing to the effort. And -- but as with every member of the coalition, he would welcome further support.
And I think we are looking forward to future meetings of the collation, future contributions from a range of nations, not just nations in the Middle East, towards that effort.
Q: And second question, prime minister from Singapore today meeting secretary. Is that discussion included ISIL, and also the South China Sea -- the Chinese behavior in the region?
MR. COOK: We'll wait to see. The meeting is going on right now.
But I think it is fair to say that those are likely topics to come up. But we will have a readout for you later today.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MR. COOK: Yes, June.
Q: Thanks. So, just to kind of follow up on Paul's question, to put it explicitly -- is it accurate to say in -- the November and February strikes were against individuals or targets that the U.S. saw as a direct threat, either to itself or to allies, but were these more specifically to help local forces on the ground to take out ISIS?
MR. COOK: I think that is fair to say, yes.
Q: And then secondly, can you just give a broad characterization of what kind of targets are you hitting?
Like infrastructure, you mentioned a tank, like just kind of broad categories? And then also, is the first time the GNA has requested this sort of strike?
MR. COOK: Yes, it is the first time that they've requested this kind of assistance.
And again, the specific targets that we are looking at are -- are things that need to be hit with precision, given the risk of civilian casualties, things that GNA itself and its forces -- the forces supporting the GNA have been unable to target effectively on their own.
Today, for example, the -- the strikes that were conducted did target a specific tank location, and there was also two ISIL vehicles that were targeted in a second strike.
Q: I just want to be sure, because -- because everyone keeps -- we keep comparing this to the strikes, the strikes in November and February, which were take -- going after high value individuals. They were after specific individuals, versus -- my understanding is, correct me if I'm wrong, is this is the beginning of a campaign, an air campaign in Libya, in which the U.S. military is supporting GNA militias who have pledged their loyalty to the GNA.
Is that fair? Is this -- is this -- this is the beginning of, the president has approved these strikes and they will continue until Sirte is liberated?
MR. COOK: They will continue as long as the GNA is requesting this --
Q: But they don't have to put in the request every single time. There is a -- there is now this blanket authority that exists for the U.S. military to -- to strike when the GNA puts in a request --
MR. COOK: These requests -- these requests will be carefully coordinated with the GNA. This will -- this all originates from GNA requests for assistance. And the president has given the authority for us to have -- to carefully consider those requests.
Q: Okay. But just to be clear, because I think comparing this to these two previous strikes that were going after individuals, each one, it sounds as if this is -- these were strikes that were carried out today, and that's the end of it.
But this is the beginning of an air campaign over Libya, correct?
MR. COOK: We are -- we are prepared to carry out more strikes in coordination with the GNA, if those requests are forthcoming. And so --
Q: Again the request -- the request has been granted, right? There was a -- the GNA --
MR. COOK: The authorization has been granted.
Q: So it's not more requests --
MR. COOK: The GNA has requested U.S. airstrikes -- again, precision airstrikes to help in their campaign as needed. And we -- today, we delivered on that request. After careful consideration, we're prepared to -- to carry out more strikes in careful coordination with the GNA each and every step of the way.
Q: And how exactly does that authority happen? So the GNA puts in the request to who? And who is -- how high up does -- does each strike have to be approved?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into every single aspect of our coordination with the GNA. But again, the president has approved this operation be carried out to -- under the command of AFRICOM.
And there will be, again, a process in place for the coordination on any future strikes with the GNA. It will be determined by the commanders that are overseeing this operation.
Q: So the head of AFRICOM has to approve every strike then? Is that General Waldhauser, right, is it?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into every single aspect of this.
Q: Is that -- is it because you do.
MR. COOK: The president has authorized --
Q: In Afghanistan, you do. In Afghanistan, we know that --
MR. COOK: It's under AFRICOM -- it's under AFRICOM.
Q: Okay. So, the head of the AFRICOM has to approve every strike request that comes in?
Is that correct?
MR. COOK: That's correct.
Q: Okay, thank you.
Q: Just following that, does the GNA have to request every single U.S. airstrike, or can the U.S. now, if there's a target of opportunity, act without having a new chain -- a new request up the chain?
MR. COOK: This will be coordinated with the GNA every step of the way.
Q: But does it have to be originated from GNA? Or if the U.S. sees a target of opportunity, can the U.S. then reach out to GNA and say, well this might be advantageous for your goals?
MR. COOK: It will be, as I said a careful, collaboration, coordination with the GNA in terms of specific targets. I can't get into hypotheticals right now. But right now these first strikes were conducted -- selected by the GNA working closely with us.
Q: (off-mic.) do you have any sort of ballpark figure on how many fighters were hit in today's airstrike?
MR. COOK: I don't.
Q: Under what legal authority are these strikes being conducted?
MR. COOK: The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force similar to our previous airstrikes in Libya.
Q: And I'd like to go back to previous questions because I'm not very clear. Does the GNA have to ask for each strike or is it -- I don't understand how -- how the strike authorization happens. Has the GNA -- has it asked for a blanket request or does it have to make one for each strike conducted by the U.S. military?
MR. COOK: All of the strikes will be coordinated with the GNA.
Q: Right but I -- what I don't understand is do they have to put in specific requests every time or is it one request, I still don't -- I know other people have asked it but I don't understand.
MR. COOK: There will be specific requests each time, we'll be (inaudible) each and every strike -- we'll be rigorously looking at each and every strike with the GNA.
Q: Right, I understand looking at but in terms do they have to request that strike every time for that authorization to happen?
MR. COOK: It's -- these are -- again, this is a request from the GNA for these airstrikes, they'll be carried out with each and every strike will be worked at with the GNA in coordination with our forces.
Q: It sounds like to me that there was a request for strikes, to help with this campaign in Sirte.
MR. COOK: Specific --
Q: Specific --
MR. COOK: Specific locations, specific --
Q: So they gave you the specific targets and will continue to give you specific targets?
MR. COOK: And we will continue to work with them on the appropriate targets and circumstances which we're able to assist them with those targets and circumstances when we're not able to because of the risk of civilian casualties or other factors.
Q: Now, will the United States propose targets to the GNA?
MR. COOK: We will coordinate with them, of course we have ISR that will be critical to assessing the situation in Sirte so we'll be working with the GNA in close and coordinating each and every strike as I've said.
Q: Can I finish asking the questions?
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: Thank you. Can you also clarify -- you hesitated to say that this would continue until Sirte was liberated. What is the end state for the United States? What does Sirte have to look like for these strikes to cease?
MR. COOK: Well, we'll be working with the GNA, they obviously want to see ISIL eliminated from -- from Sirte, that's the stronghold that ISIL's been occupying and so the GNA will -- has already had success -- significant success -- in removing ISIL form this area.
We hope these airstrikes can be conducted over a short amount of time and that their forces will be able to move even faster in terms of removing ISIL from that area. So that will be -- that will be the -- the limiting factor will be what's happening on the ground in Syria.
Q: Well, I understand that the GNA has a perspective in terms of how long these strikes -- (inaudible) -- what I'm asking for is what the U.S. military considers it's objective there.
Is it simply to outsource its air power to the GNA? I'm having a hard time understanding what the specific U.S. military objective is, not the GNA's objective.
MR. COOK: The U.S. military objective is to eliminate ISIL in its key stronghold in Libya and doing that in conjunction with the internationally recognized government of Libya which has asked for our assistance in this case. And so that's what we're doing.
Q: And forgive me for asking a dumb question but why would a -- the need -- why would taking out a tank and two ISIS vehicles be so critical to the liberation of Sirte that required airstrikes?
What is -- what are those specific sites that you mentioned that were struck today? Why are they so critical for the elimination or Sirte inside -- or excuse me, elimination of ISIS inside Sirte?
MR. COOK: Well, this one tank in particular had been in a location that both the GNA and we had seen for some time and as opposed to threat and directly challenging -- not only GNA forces but also indiscriminately targeting civilians in the area. And we thought the GNA and our forces agreed that this was an appropriate target to strike at this time.
It was also in a strategic position within Sirte that the GNA forces felt it would make a difference in terms of their strategic advance to eliminate that target. So that is one example.
Q: And the vehicles?
MR. COOK: The vehicles as I understand it, this is a - the vehicles themselves posed a threat to GNA forces again on the ground.
And this was a specific request from the GNA because these vehicles and the ISIL fighters there posed a threat to local forces on the ground that are trying to recapture a particular neighborhood in Sirte. And the ability to strike this target precisely without exposing civilians to risk was the reason that strike was conducted at this time.
Q: Last thing, you made many references to civilians in Sirte, what is the U.S. estimate of how many civilians remain in Sirte?
MR. COOK: I'll try and get the number for you. I don't know it off-hand.
Q: Can you give us a sense of how close the forces loyal to the GNA are to the retaking Sirte from the Islamic State? Is there any sense of where the battlefield stands at the moment?
MR. COOK: Let me see if I've got a specific number for you.
They have had - they have made significant progress obviously in the last few weeks and months. I have seen a percentage number, but I want to make sure I get this right. Obviously, in terms of the sheer numbers of ISIL forces, we think those numbers are down as I mentioned earlier and that there could be several hundred within the city itself. The number previously was higher than that.
And let me get back to you following this on the sense of how much they have. I don't know if we've got a precise number. I'll try and get that for you.
Q: There is a part of the city that is still left to be taken --
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: -- like a stronghold or something like that?
The other thing is, do you envision a greater role for your troops as the requests come in for greater air power? Because in Iraq and Afghanistan there is a similar model going on where local forces are calling for airstrikes, but they seem to be doing so in conjunction with U.S. forces that are on the ground that are aiding and assistance. We apparently don't have those forces there in Libya. So do you see a greater world for them to make sure that these are --
MR. COOK: At this time, I don't see any expectation that U.S. forces would again, be part of this operation.
Q: Peter, were leaflets dropped on that tank and those vehicles before the airstrike?
MR. COOK: I'm not aware that they were.
Q: And have any U.S. military assets been moved into the region to help conduct these strikes? In the past, the February and November strikes were conducted out of the United Kingdom. That would be an awfully long way to continue a regular pace of operations.
MR. COOK: We have a variety of assets and capabilities in the region that we feel are adequate to the task at hand.
Q: Can we go back to Afghanistan? Concerning the battle last week against ISIL in eastern Afghanistan involving hundreds of America troops, has there been now a commitment to actually raise the - are there now combat operations happening in Afghanistan?
MR. COOK: We've had a CT mission in Afghanistan for some time and we continue to carry out that CT mission. And ISIL poses a particular threat as you know in Afghanistan to the stability of that country.
And we will continue to partner with the Afghan forces in carrying out counter-terrorism mission, and at the same time conduct the train, advise, and assist missions so that Afghan Security Forces can ultimately take control of the country for themselves -- secure the country for themselves. They're making excellent progress. But we think they need more support at this particular moment in time.
Last one, Andrew?
Q: Just quickly, is there anything else part of this operation other than airstrikes? Is there any intelligence sharing, ISR support or lethal or non-lethal aid that's being provided to these forces on the ground?
MR. COOK: As I mentioned before, there is ISR support. So we have a good picture of what's happening in Sirte. And that's something of course that will be important in terms of our coordination with the GNA.
Q: Any lethal or non-lethal supplies being provided to those forces?
MR. COOK: No. Our extent of our support right now is these airstrikes. Austin?
Q: Do you have any update on whether there will be any kind of funding requests for the additional troops for Iraq and Afghanistan?
MR. COOK: I don't. There will be. As you know I just don't have the specific process --
Q: There will be a request for supplemental OCO funding?
MR. COOK: There will be a need to provide funding for these forces as we've said previously. But in terms of specific process, how that's going to be carried out, I don't have that answer for you yet.
Q: Thank you.
MR. COOK: Thanks, everyone.