Department of Defense Press Briefing by Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commander, Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve, and commander, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: Good morning.
General Volesky, I just want to make sure you can hear us, and we can hear you.
MAJOR GENERAL GARY J. VOLESKY: Yeah, I've got you loud and clear.
CAPT. DAVIS: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We're pleased to be joined today, coming to us live from Baghdad, Major General Gary Volesky. He's the commander of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault). He's also the CFLCC, the Combined Force Land Component commander for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
General, we'll turn it over to you.
GEN. VOLESKY: Hey, thanks. And it's great seeing you all again.
I just want to give you just a quick update on what's transpired over the last 72 hours and then I'll be happy to take your questions. I would just tell you up-front, as you know, the -- the operation's pretty dynamic. We've got a lot of moving parts, so I will practice good operational security. So if you ask me a lot of micro-tactical questions and locations and numbers, I may not tell you those. So just a warning up front.
As you know, the -- the attack started a few months ago. Just to give a -- kind of a background, as -- as you recall, the last I did this I think was in May. Ramadi had -- had fallen. That's when we got here and the liberation of Ramadi had just commenced.
And so since that time, over the last eight months, if you look what the Iraqi security forces have accomplished, you know, the Euphrates River Valley is clear all the way up to Haditha and the Seventh Iraqi Army Division just cleared the northern part of the Euphrates. And we haven't had an attack in the Euphrates for a number of days.
If you look in the -- a little bit to the east of that, Fallujah is cleared. They did that pretty rapidly, as you all remember. In the Tigris River Valley, they attacked -- (inaudible). We seized -- they seized Qayyarah West Air Field, put a bridge in, seized Qayyarah, Sharqat and have now commenced the operation to liberate Mosul.
When I got here, a lot of thought was that would not happen until January. And you know, I'm happy to say that the Iraqi security forces are on their way now.
To -- to start, we've -- as you know, we have three real lines of operations, here. We provide the training for these 12 counter-attack brigades who were involved in the fight. That's a coalition effort of the 19 coalition countries that are part of CJFLCC. We also provide lethal fires by both air and ground and then we advise and assist. Those are the three things that CJFLCC does to enable the Iraqis.
So for the -- the liberation of Mosul, as you know, we have been supporting the Iraqis for the eight months we have been here, but it wasn't just something that we did in the 101st. As you recall, First Infantry Division -- ARCENT -- followed by the 82nd and III Corps and now the 101st and 18th Airborne Corps.
This has been something that has building from all of our predecessors, and they all should be happy today because they had a big role in enabling us to help the Iraqis get to Mosul are on their way today.
Now, we've been shaping Mosul, as you know, for about six or seven months, been doing a lot of strikes on a wide range of capability that the enemy has. You know, their financial, their oil revenue streams, key leaders, a real holistic targeting effort.
Prior to the engagement starting -- the operation starting, we continue to shape in Mosul with those lethal fires as well as conducting some fires in the access that the Iraqis are taking to go up along -- their access to attack Mosul. This is really a joint effort between the -- the Kurds and the Iraqis. As you've seen on the news, a lot of great coordination between both of them.
This is the first time in five rotations here in Iraq that I've seen the Kurds and the Iraqis cooperate, the tactical assembly area, occupations and then conducting these attacks with the Kurds, Peshmerga and the Iraqis really conducting joint planning and enabling this operation to commence.
So as the operation started, we provided some good lethal fires to degrade primarily command and control with our first real series of targets, to get after that leadership's ability to communicate. We had done that for the Sharqat clearance, as well as the Qayyarah clearance. It had some really good effects for that, limiting their ability to pass information or orders to the fighters on the ground.
Then we attacked their military capability, really VBIED production sites, some of their weapons caches, and their key headquarters for the things that we started this strike, you know, a number of weeks ago, to set the conditions.
As the -- the operations started, as you've heard, the Peshmerga started to clear some of the areas to the north and really east, and then the Iraqis began their attack on multiple axes. The enemy, as we've seen over the last few months, they're unable to seize any terrain. Their attacks have been an attempt to spoil Iraqi security force maneuver, which they have been very unsuccessful in doing.
The initial operation, as you've seen, the movement has gone pretty well. The Iraqis are ahead of where I thought they would be when this operation started. They continue to move and continue to liberate villages. I think the last count yesterday was 13, and they continue to move towards Mosul.
The enemy's primary response has been indirect fire. We saw the first day of the operation a lot of VBIEDs, vehicle-borne-IEDs, along the axes -- (inaudible). Yesterday, we did some great strikes, defeating them, destroying them before they could get into the Iraqi positions.
Saw a little bit on the eastern axis today, but primarily we see in areas like Qaraqosh, they're burning buildings, which we assess to be their headquarters, and a lot of them are moving back into Mosul proper. We've defined this battle space really as a disruption zone that the enemy is in that really goes really north of Qayyarah and probably, you know, just to the west of where the Kurdish defensive line started.
Expecting the enemy to continue to delay, and then try to preserve their combat power so they can get into Mosul and potentially to make a defense. But they've been fairly unsuccessful at this point.
Displaced people we were worried about initially. We've not seen large numbers of displaced persons leaving these villages. In fact, a lot of the villages, as the Iraqi security forces have come in, have helped the Iraqis. There was some villages where the people came out and showed where Daesh was, which was really encouraging for the Iraqi security forces.
Based on the information operations, telling Daesh to leave, tell people to stay at home, stay under cover -- that would be the best protect -- protects they could get. And so they've been fairly successful in liberating and keeping the displaced persons located, and then continuing to move.
The -- the next 24 -- really, I'd say the next 72 hours, we expect the Iraqis will continue their push, continue some more operations from the Kurds to clear some more of that really defensive line, that limit of advance, and the Iraqis continue in their push to Mosul.
There's been a lot of questions about how long the operation would take. You know, my -- my assessment is the enemy always has a vote. They've been there for two years, digging in. We have got indications of obstacles -- you know, these T-walls, concrete walls, a lot of trenches and a lot of berms.
So they've been preparing for this fight for two years. So as we saw, the closer they get to Mosul, the harder it will be. But make no doubt, the Iraqi security forces have the momentum and they know it. And so they are as motivated to get to Mosul as we are to help them get there.
As far as the enemy inside Mosul, you've heard numbers of about 3,000 to 5,000. You know, the numbers I -- I don't pay a lot of attention to. We've seen moving out of Mosul, we've got indications that leaders have left. A lot of foreign fighters we expect will stay because they're not gonna be able to exfiltrate as easily as some of the local fighters or the -- the local leadership.
So we expect there will be a fight. But you know, all I can tell you is there are fewer fight -- Daesh fighters today than there were yesterday and there'll be fewer tomorrow than there are today.
I am confident that the Iraqis are up to this task. They've rehearsed it, but clearly not at the scale that Mosul is. Fallujah was a great example of what they had to do. They learned a lot of lessons, specifically how to isolate, how to screen displaced persons, how to do that fight.
I expect the enemy is gonna give up terrain until they can get into the complex urban areas of Mosul because that's where they can offset some of the technological advantages we have. But we've been successful in striking them.
I just wanna highlight, this is an operation that consistency -- JFLCC-- of 19 nations, the United States is one nation. There's 19 other nations, you know, the coalition has been -- minus the U.S. has been the primary lead for the training effort.
The advise and assist effort has been a large part ours. In keeping with that, we've got advisers at the -- really the division level and the operational command level in the tactical assembly areas.
We have got some advisers that will go out to the brigade level if -- if required. And we have the authority to go there at the time but we don't expect we're gonna need to use that. The -- the primary way this operation has been run and will be run as we've seen in the past is really from that division level.
And a lot of people asked me, you know, how close do you need to be? How come you're not farther forward? And what I tell them is, you know, when you look at our tactical operation centers, all of our feeds for our unmanned aerial systems, all of the targeting the strikes, that pulls situational awareness suite is in all of our operation commands.
And what we saw is those operational communities and division commanders from the Iraqi army, as soon as they saw all the awareness they got, they could see their soldiers on the ground, they could see the strikes, they -- they started to gravitate more towards those operation command center locations. And so that's -- that's where we expect the majority of our advise and assist will -- will occur.
I've -- I've read some discussions about JTACs. I think there's a misconception. I've read in some of the news people thing that the JTACs are on the front line of troops. That's not -- not where they are. They're primarily at the brigade level and controlling some of the -- the air and the strikes, there. But they're not forward at the -- the front line of troops are at the tip of the spear.
Again, this is an Iraqi-led operation, the Iraqis are in the lead and they're the ones fighting it. We are here enabling, we're providing capabilities. As you know, we brought some Apaches in a while ago; they've been flying at night supporting any nighttime operations that -- that the Iraqi security forces are doing. And so my assessment is the Iraqis have the momentum and they're -- they're gonna continue to move.
Finally, I would just say -- you know, again, I just wanna highlight all the great work that everybody else has done before we got here. Again, this has been, you know, a number of months -- long months in the making. And we couldn't have done what we're doing now without our higher headquarters in CENTCOM, without all of those great folks I mentioned earlier that came to -- to Iraq to really set the conditions to allow this.
I'm just proud that the Screaming Eagles are here. As you know, in 2003, the Screaming Eagles played a large part in liberating Mosul and I'm just glad I'm able to be Eagle 6 and watch the Screaming Eagles participate in this liberation today.
That's all I've for an opening statement. I'm -- I'm happy to take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: Yes, sir.
Before we get started, just for the sake of some of our TV folks here for Baghdad, can I ask you to just try to re-center the camera on General Volesky? I think you need to come down and to the right a little bit, there. There they go. They're working on it. Perfect. Okay. Much better. Thank you.
And we'll start with Bob Burns from the Associated Press.
Q: General Volesky, I have a broader question, but when you mentioned the Apache -- the use of Apache helicopters, I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on that point first? I think you said they're being used in nighttime operations. I wonder if you could elaborate exactly what -- how they're being used?
And my broader question is when you were describing what the Islamic state resistance has been doing, part of your description was actually interrupted -- the audio was interrupted a little bit. But if I understood you correctly, I think you were saying that to some extent, they're falling back into the center of the city.
And I'm wondering what -- if that continues, what is the implication of that for the U.S. role, both in terms of air power -- use of air power and also the use of JTACs, as you mentioned? They're -- they're not at the front line now, but would that change if the fight centered in the -- in the urban area? Thank you.
GEN. VOLESKY: (inaudible) -- again. Yeah, for Apaches, I'm not going to get into the -- the standard TTPs.
As you know, the -- that -- that platform has a lot of capability to see a long range at night and use its weapons systems in a -- a stand-off capacity to strike targets, and that's what they're doing. We -- we get into occasions where we expect enemy activity to be, and that's what we call -- they're named area of interest, they're NAI, and that's what we focus them on.
Now, what we've seen is the Iraqis -- it's also a confidence-building measure as they -- they hear those Apaches in the -- in the general area. And so that's really how we're -- we're using them.
As far as ISIL, they are, in fact, you know, delaying -- trying to buy space or time and really preserve the force. So you know, when they -- they have found that when they stand and fight, they die pretty quickly through a combination of strikes from us and then the Iraqis continuing to mass on them at that point.
We've seen them, as you said, move into Mosul. I wouldn't say they're moving to the center of the city. I expect they're not going to let -- want to let the Iraqis just walk into the city and establish a foothold. So I expect there will be some level of defense there.
But you know, the -- the Iraqis had to deal with the same thing in Fallujah. You know, the enemy, as you know, they -- they got the civilian population in the middle of the city and then started to move them to the north. And we were able to conduct strikes because we -- we are very deliberate, precise and proportional when we do it. That's the -- the beauty of having JTACs in an operation center where they can see everything.
And again, all of our strikes were approved by the government of Iraq. And so, you know, we work together collaboratively. And you know, as I said before, I worry that, you know, to tell our guys look, we don't need to get too far ahead because you lose that situational awareness. You know, if you -- as I go out -- you know, back when I was here in 2004, 2008, if I went out on a observation post or I was, you know, in my vehicle at (he lead edge of the column, I had no good awareness of what was going on with the rest of the formation and what -- how to help them accomplish their mission.
And so, I -- that's how I expect that we'll work. And the way we did in Fallujah -- you know, there were no JTACs in Fallujah, you know, we were able to continue to strike very deliberately, very precisely, and that's what I expect we'll do at this time.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, we go to Tom Bowman from National Public Radio.
Q: General, you say the Iraqis have a momentum. We've been told that they're on schedule. There are no delays. I know you can't get into specifics, but give us a ballpark estimate of when you hope they'll be in Mosul. Is it several weeks? Is it a month? Just your assessment of that.
And also, apparently there are -- there's been footage of some ISIS people surrendering to the Pesh and wearing suicide vests, and then blowing themselves up. Talk a little bit about that. Is that what you're seeing, too? And will the resulting be special care for POWs?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yes. Thanks, Tom. It's good talking to you. And I hear I might have the opportunity to talk to you here up close.
I'll just address your second -- your second question. I've not heard that report about, you know, ISIL having fighters surrendering and detonating themselves. You know, as we talk about the training that we've given all the Iraqi security forces, I mean, that's part of it. You know, treating POWs, if you will, or EPWs or just detainees with respect, that's part of, you know, all of the instruction that we've given.
I mean, as you know, the -- and related to Fallujah, we told them the way you go into Fallujah is going to get transmitted directly to Mosul. And that's the population that you're trying to influence there. So, you know, you've got to be on -- you've got to treat people with dignity and respect or the fight becomes much, much harder in Mosul if they see that. And so they're clearly aware of that.
But this is -- if what you said is true, this is the type of enemy we're dealing with. I mean, these are the ones that are beheading people in Fallujah or, I'm sorry -- in Fallujah, they were beheading them. They're killing and murdering people in Mosul that want to leave. I mean, just the atrocities they're committing on a daily basis that they frankly put out on open source networks to let people know what they're doing.
This is the type of enemy you're dealing with. And so, you know, the Iraqis have fought this Daesh for the entire time I've been here. So they're well aware of the enemy threat. And they'll take prudent measures. But again, we -- we constantly in our advise and assist role talk to them about, you know, making sure you treat people with dignity and respect, as well as the populations.
Because, you know, this idea, you know, how did Daesh get in so quickly -- you know, we've got to treat the population -- (inaudible) -- very receptive of it. And so, I'm -- we're confident they'll do the right thing.
Could you repeat your first question again?
Q: I know you can't get specific about when you're going to get into Mosul, but could you give us at least a ballpark assessment? Is it multiple weeks, a month? Just a sense of that.
GEN. VOLESKY: Well, you know, I'd like them to be to Mosul tomorrow. I think they'd like to be at Mosul tomorrow. They -- they want to get there quickly. But again, it's a hard fight. And, you know, Tom, I'm not going to give you a timeframe because, you know, I want it to go earlier. So, you know, I want to under-promise and over-deliver.
So, you've heard all of the different pundits out there saying how long they thought it would be. I would just say tomorrow we'll be a lot closer to Mosul than we are today. My concern is making sure that they've got the combat power, they sustain that combat power, and don't go -- don't go so fast that they start to, you know, give opportunity to the enemy.
And so that's kind of what we're advising them on, to continue to, you know, maneuver in a way that they've got the security they need and they can fight the enemy. And frankly, not to have to turn around and go back and fight an enemy that's, you know, that has gone to ground and stayed behind.
Because that's what we expect the enemy is going to do. I mean, we're seeing it already in the Euphrates River valley. The enemy knows they're losing. I mean, Baghdadi has said as much, you know, "We'll go back out to the desert where we've traditionally been and wait. Well, he'll get the opportunity to do that here in the next period of time.
But I expect that they're going to go into an insurgency mode and they'll try to do these high profile, spectacular attacks to draw attention away from the losses that they're suffering. I mean, we've seen them do that before. When they lose terrain in Iraq, there's -- they try to do a spectacular attack to tell everybody, you know, they're still a relevant organization.
So I'm not telling the Iraqis to rush to Mosul. I'm telling them, you know, you've got the momentum, sustain the momentum, continue to put unrelenting pressure on the enemy and then the enemy's going to break. And so that's really what I'd offer on that question, Tom.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next, we're going to Carla Babb with Voice of America.
Q: Hi, general. Thank you for doing this.
With the momentum, when you were talking about going into insurgency mode, my question is what does that do for the U.S. advisers on the ground? Because they're supposed to be staying behind in the division level and advising, but if there's an insurgency mode, that gets into a complication where forces are moving forward, they're advancing forward with the division, and yet -- then they get stuck in this insurgent territory.
So, first I'd like you to address that.
And then secondly, I'd like to get a little better picture of what's going on in Mosul. I know that we have more than 100 with the Kurdish Peshmerga and the U.S. has more than 100 with the Iraqis. There's a couple hundred, we've heard, at Q-West. Where is everybody else?
GEN. VOLESKY: Okay. Yeah, the first part about insurgency, I would say that we've been dealing with that -- that level in the Euphrates River valley and so I don't -- you know, I'm not -- I am not concerned that our forces are going to be engaged that way. You know, we take all -- force protection is my number one priority, so we're going to mitigate all the risk we can to do that. So, as far as saying, you know, we're going to roll up into this attack, I don't see that happening.
What we do see is continuing to advise and assist the Iraqis as they go. And you know, I expect the enemy is going to fight a full-fledged conventional defense in Mosul. I don't think they'll be in insurgency until they -- they frankly lose Mosul and they'll try to do what they've said they will and have stay-behinds and the rest of that. But that will be a much smaller presence than the 3,000 to 5,000 that are there now.
When you talk about the numbers of where we're at, we have a good sizable portion out of Qayyarah Air Field.
As you recall, the force manning level increase. We sent a number -- hundreds of folks out there to really work mission command, the sustainment, the logistics component. You know, we've got a good number of our soldiers up in the tactical assembly areas that are there doing the advise and assist. You've got people here at Union Three, you know, a large body of that that's working directly with the Combined Joint Operations Command here that's running the operation.
So, you know, we've got -- we've got the force arrayed where we need it to make that difference. But you know, our primary focus right now is on that advise and assist mission up in Iraq.
But you know, having said that, I'm not just commanding the operation in Mosul, I'm commanding all the operations in Iraq. And so we still have operations and advise and assist going on in the Euphrates River Valley, still in Baghdad. I mean, one of the things that I'm worried about as well is, you know, the enemy tries a spectacular attack, tries to figure out how to retain some ground in the Euphrates River Valley and causes the attention of the government of Iraq to come back south and that delays or stalls the momentum going forward.
And so, you know, we have our advise and assist teams with those units that are back in the Euphrates River Valley, those key hold areas, to make sure that the enemy can't come back and do something that will -- will, you know, prevent the Iraqis from focusing on Mosul.
Similarly, you know, we've got a good advise and assist role going on in Baghdad to help them harden Baghdad to prevent these large VBIEDs from coming in. And so that's -- that's where a lot -- a number of our other soldiers are.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next we go to Tara Copp with Stars and Stripes.
Q: Hi, general. Thanks for doing this.
I wanted to get back to your point on the ISIS fighters potentially, or actually Tom's questions. If ISIS fighters are captured, is there a plan for detaining them in Iraq?
GEN. VOLESKY: We're not doing any detainee operations. So, you know, that's not something we're doing. This is an Iraqi-led operation, and they -- they are responsible for all of that. And, you know, they've had some folks out of Fallujah that they've done in other areas. So, you know, they have got that operation. We're not involved in any of that.
Q: So any captures or detention would be done by Iraqi security forces?
GEN. VOLESKY: Exactly -- (inaudible).
Q: And just a topic that had come up last week -- I was just wondering if you were seeing any more flying drones? If your forces have had to take any force protection measures against them?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, the enemy has used -- you heard about that last week. They have these drones. Really, a lot of commercial, off-the-shelf kind of things we've seen. You know, clearly not the capacity or capability that -- that we have, but they are using them. And we have seen them. And we're taking measures to, you know, mitigate that.
I won't go into the measures we're taking, but we are. But that's just another capability that the enemy has put on the battlefield.
The other thing that we've seen that's been a little bit different is the way they're using their vehicle-borne IEDs. You know, we saw for the first time really yesterday where they used it to delay Iraqi security forces so they could withdraw. We hadn't -- we hadn't really seen that before. Normally, that's been an offensive, you know, tactic -- technique they've used to run VBIEDs in and make an impact.
But -- so we're starting to see them, you know, use that more in defensive ways, which really kind of reinforces the point that they are completely on the defensive and are just trying to hold on.
The other -- other thing we've seen a lot recently is their use of indirect fire. Yesterday and the day prior, a lot more mortars, more rockets. We've been able to counter-fire pretty effectively. As you know, we've got artillery here, as well as HIMARS rockets, as well as our combat aviation and our close-air support folks are doing that.
We destroyed artillery pieces yesterday, so that full -- a full piece of that.
So again, I think indirect fire, vehicle-borne IEDs, these car bombs -- that's really what we're seeing so far. And, you know, we're -- we're mitigating that risk to our force just like the Iraqis are.
Q: One more, and then I just want to clarify here. I know that the 1st Infantry Division announced that it was rotating in last week. Are they already there? And I guess they'll be coming in to replace some of you all?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, "duty first," coming to replace us here in a little bit. And we do have some of their great teammates on the ground. You know, as we talk about how do you maintain momentum with the Iraqis, we want to make sure that we maintain our -- our momentum. And we're really excited to get Big Red One over here and get them into the fight and give them a great transition.
But, you know, that's still weeks away. We're focused, you know, if I have my way, I'll tell -- tell the commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, "Hey, Mosul is done." That would be my gift to him. So that's what we're rushing to do.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay -- to Carlo Munoz with the Washington Times.
Q: Thank you, sir. Two quick questions.
One, there have been reports coming out of Turkey that there's now an agreement to allow Turkish fighters to begin providing air support for Iraqi and Kurdish troops moving to Mosul.
Wanted to ask you, one, how is that sort of changing your calculations in terms of forces advancing into the city? And also wanted to get your take on how you're seeing the popular mobilization units that are participating in the offensive. How are they conducting themselves? What is -- what has their role been, and what will it be as forces move closer to the city center?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, thanks. As far as Turkey, I'm not aware that there's -- you know, that they're on our -- our air tasking order flying here as part of the coalition. I'll leave that up to CENTCOM. They'd know that better than I would, but I don't have any indications of that now.
The -- the PMF, you know, we've got to be careful when we talk about PMF. When people say PMF, they automatically think Shia. But there are Sunni PMF, these tribal forces that are out there.
And they're -- they've been supporting operations for months. I mean as we went up to Qayyarah and the bridge crossing there, you know, they were part of the whole force as they came in and enabled the Iraqi army to continue to clear villages on the east side of the Tigris.
That really established that line of communication to build up Qayyarah airfield. And so -- and we've got tribal forces that are down in the Euphrates River valley and have been supporting those.
As far as the Shia PMF, you know, we only -- the coalition only supports those -- those elements that are under the direct command and control of the Iraqi security forces and the Shia PMF are not. So we don't support them. And the Iraqis are clearly -- they clearly understand that.
As I talk to my counterpart, he says, "Hey, and here's where the Shia PMF are -- are going to operate. We know you're not going to support them so here's where the Iraqi Army is, and this is where we need your support."
So they've been very up front about it. As you've heard the prime minister say, there won't be a Shia PMF in Mosul. And, you know, so far, that's exactly what we've seen, is there aren't any Shia PMF that are part of this formation that we're supporting right now.
And the other challenge of the Shia PMF is people treat it like it's a homogeneous group. It is not. It is made up of multiple, multiple groups. Some of which are -- are terrorist, you know, recognized terrorist organizations.
And so from our perspective, that's why it's important that we -- we support those that are in direct command and control of the Iraqi security forces. And again, the Shia PMF aren't.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to the gentleman back there. Sorry, I don't know your name.
Q: Thank you. (inaudible).
Sir, could you walk us through some of the equipment or training for that equipment specific to this operation? Be that mine-clearing systems or bridging systems or we have seen some self-propelled howitzers, things like that.
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, sure. Thanks. I won't hit all of them, but you know M-one tanks are in the fight. So clearly we've done --
GEN. VOLESKY: -- a piece of equipment -- (inaudible). But there's C-72 -- there are C-72s, you know, that they bring BMPs as well, really the best -- (inaudible) -- are coalition partners to help train that.
Up in Taji is really what we call our Infantry Center of Excellence, and, you know, the Australians and New Zealanders are there. And that's really where we talk about the infantry tactics. They've got some M-4s. They've got AKs. So the Australians and the New Zealanders, they take them through that, as well as some of the --
CAPT. DAVIS: I think we may need to switch to phone. We do have a line standing by, so this should just very quick. Phone. Testing 1, 2, 3. Yes, we should have the -- the phone line is already hot, so it should take just a couple seconds -- okay.
General, can you hear us? Hello, Baghdad, can you hear us?
GEN. VOLESKY: (inaudible) -- backup on Skype, standby.
STAFF: Sir, the CG would like to try Skype one more time and then we'll go to the phone. Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Hey, general, we're getting you back here again. I just want to make sure you can hear us.
All right, let's do phone, guys. Phone, phone.
GEN. VOLESKY: (inaudible) -- okay, I got you on the phone. Go ahead, guys.
CAPT. DAVIS: General, sorry. Hey, we lost you after you -- you -- we heard M1 -- it was a question from Dan Wassoaby at Jane’s asked you about equipment, and we heard -- we lost you after M1 tanks.
GEN. VOLESKY: Okay.
Yes, the -- as you know, the Iraqis have M1 tanks. And so we train them on those. That's a U.S. piece of equipment, so that's one of the things that our U.S. team -- my soldiers do for them.
And they also, you know, have their full array of BMPs, and so they go to Besmayah in what we call our Armor Center of Excellence. And our Spanish teammates run that training area. And so we train them on BMPs, we train them on combined arms maneuver.
At Taji, you know, we've -- (inaudible) -- M-4 rifles, as well as their own -- some of their own equipment. The Australians and New Zealand -- New Zealander, our teammates there at the Infantry Center of Excellence, they train them on those pieces of equipment, as well as fighting tactics in the urban area.
You've got some of our friends from Belgium that are up in Al-Asad to train the border and the federal police. They're on -- really what they're doing now up in, you know, north of Qayyarah. And they're training them as well on their weapons system, as well.
So, for this -- for this fight, you've got multiple locations and multiple organizations to train. As I've said before, most of that training is done by -- by our non-U.S. coalition teammates, who have got the preponderance of it.
Up in Erbil, you've got the Italians, lead a number of countries that train the Peshmerga. Recently, we talked about, you know, NBC training, so we issued thousands of masks to them based on some of the threats that are here. And so it's really been a great coalition effort to train these units to get them ready to go to Mosul, over.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. And I'm sorry. Right here.
Q: Trey Yingst -- with One American News.
Thank you, General. You talked a bit about advise and assist in places like Fallujah and other areas of the country once they've been taken or liberated. What sort of advise and assist role do you anticipate once Mosul falls? And I guess -- I know you can't go into specifics, but how long do you anticipate U.S. forces staying in the region to help with that stability?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, I -- again, the decision of how U.S. stays is clearly made well above my pay grade, and that'll be done between the U.S. and the government of Iraq.
I was in Mosul and as a brigade commander in 2009 for a year, was responsible for all of Nineveh Province. And so, you know, I saw how Mosul looked, you know, before 2014. Now, what we -- what we saw is in 2014, a lot of people asked me, this Iraqi army just broke and ran, what makes you think they'll stay here? And my comment to them is, you know, the Iraqi army isn't the same Iraqi army of 2014. We've taught them for years on counter insurgency, we didn't teach them on -- on the big fight. And so -- in a conventional way. So that's what we train them on.
And we've had to modify our program of instruction base on what the enemy is doing. So, for this insurgency that we expect them to go to, for – you to say that are those hold portions that are going into -- into the Euphrates River Valley right now, you know, they don't need to get their training on how to do a conventional attack into Mosul. What they really need is some of this counter-insurgency training. So what we've done is modified the -- the program of instruction to help train them for that -- that problem set that they'll get introduced to when they get into the Euphrates River Valley.
The advise and assist method is -- is almost -- it's the same as we're doing for the conventional piece. It still is hey, you've got to conduct operations, we worked with the leaders. Even though the mission is different and some of the tactic and techniques are different, that advise piece is still critical and it's still effective at that level that we're at now, which is the division and the operations command, because we bring them all together, we enable them to synchronize their operations and we can get these enablers that we provide into the fight for them.
So, do I think that the advise and assist mission for a counter-insurgency model might be a little bit different? It might be nuanced a little bit, but you know, we're doing that today down in the Euphrates River Valley. Over.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. And the gentleman in the front row.
Q: (inaudible)from the Guardian.
You mentioned you don't support Bashir of EMF, but you said you knew where they were. I saw yesterday al-Muhanda saying they're operating to the west of Mosul around Tal Afar. Is that true? And connected to that, some of the human rights organizations have been asking for some kind of international presence on the checkpoints through which civilians will be may be coming out of Mosul, because in past operations, there have been sectarian killings, reprisal killings at those checkpoints. Is anything being done about that?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, I'll answer that one first. It kind of gets through this whole humanitarian assistance piece.
The Iraqis have been in planning with the United Nations and other stakeholders to talk to us about that. You know, there have been a number of planning meetings with those organizations. We attend those to provide, you know, some recommendations.
As you know, that's clearly not my mission set. That's, you know, I think the lead federal agency for the United States is the United States Agency for International Development, with the U.N. And so the Iraqis have laid out their plan to the U.N. and they're working that jointly.
As you mentioned, there were some issues -- incidents around Fallujah. The Iraqi government recognized that. I mean, the prime minister, as you heard, announced an investigation. As they look to go to Mosul, we have a lot of discussions about those forces that are going to Mosul; demographically have to be acceptable to the people of Mosul.
That's why the Shia PMF are not anywhere near the operations that I've seen. Whether Mohandas says they're in Tal Afar or not, I'm not -- I'm not -- I don't see that.
So I would just say that, you know, we are -- we are focused on Mosul. We are advising the government of Iraq on how to make sure that their actions are going to be acceptable to people in Mosul. And that they do that in the way that we would expect them to do it. And they have been doing that so far to this point.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Kasim Ileri with Anadolu.
Q: I will follow up this Shia PMF question, and then I will have a different topic.
General, we know that this Shia militia caused a lot of sectarian strife in 2005 and 2006 around Tal Afar. And these guys are -- in open sources, they are saying that they are coming to this region back.
What -- what gives you the comfort to feel that, well, they won't somehow cause another sectarian conflict in that part of the country? To what extent you are confident about the Iraqi government's effort to overcome this issue?
GEN. VOLESKY: Well, again, you know, the -- the -- what the Shia PMF do is up to the government of Iraq. I mean, that's up to the government to consider. We told them we don't support the Shia PMF, and we won't support them. And we engage with our counterparts. And it's not just me. I mean, everybody above me engages with all of the government of Iraq on, you know, on these issues.
You know, you talk about post-Mosul and what the role will be. That, you know, that's a clear talking point that we've had to bring all the stakeholders together to really determine how that whole post-Mosul environment is shaped. The Iraqi government has been very open to all of that and, you know, we've heard these discussions.
And, you know, they -- they saw what happened in 2014, and I don't think anybody wants a return of that. My assessment is people recognize that, you know, Daesh and ISIL got its start and was really enabled because of the -- that discontent of the population up there. And so, the Iraqi government in my dealings, you know, with my counterparts here in the Iraqi army, they recognize that. And, you know, I'm confident they'll address those issues.
Q: Tell me about this corridor left open for Daesh fighters to leave Mosul city, Russia has reacted to the report that the coalition leaves a corridor open for Daesh fighters to flee to Syria, and said it would open -- it would take military measures to stop this flow of fighters into Syria.
To what extent a plan that allowing these Shia -- these, sorry, Daesh fighters to leave Mosul city and to flee into Syria would contribute to your overall fight against Daesh? And if Russia takes some kind of military precautions to stop these guys entering Syria, what will you do?
GEN. VOLESKY: Now, I'm not going to talk about what the Iraqi plan is for clearance in Mosul and dealing with Daesh. You know, this is a government of Iraq plan, we're enabling that plan. Do they realize that Daesh is not going to be defeated after Mosul? I mean, that's what we talk about. There's still a lot of work to do out in Tal Afar , out in Al Kin , out in Rawa, along the borders and out in the desert of – Ba’aj and Boulej.
So they -- they recognize that -- that -- that post-Mosul, they're going to have to maintain the pressure and secure their borders. And so, you know, we work with them on that. But as far as what goes on with Russia and the rest, that's a -- that's a decision that will be made well
CAPT. DAVIS: Phil Stewart with Reuters.
Q: Hey, general. So just to clarify then, you've -- you've engaged the Iraqis and your understanding is that the -- the Iranian-trained Popular Mobilization Force, Shia militia, are not going to be heading with the government toward Tal Afar. Is that correct?
GEN. VOLESKY: What I said was is that the Shia PMF are not going into Mosul. And then, what -- what I also said is what the Shia -- and that's -- the prime minister said the Shia PMF won't go into Mosul.
As far as what the Shia PMF's role is, again, that's up to the government of Iraq. And we advise them on our recommendations, but at the end of the day, that's the government of Iraq's decision.
Q: So, you're not going to comment directly on Tal Afar then, correct?
GEN. VOLESKY: No, I'm not going to comment on Tal Afar because today we're focused on Mosul.
Q: Just double checking, on the issue of intelligence collection inside Mosul, I know that the capture of -- of -- of any kind of Islamic State figures would be up to the Iraqis, but obviously you're probably looking at Raqqah as well and intelligence you could glean from the operation to help enable an eventual push on Raqqah.
How are you thinking through that right now, seeing as the U.S. is not in the lead on this operation?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, no, that's great. There's -- you know, there's -- as we go to Mosul -- they've been there two years. It's their -- their -- you know, crown jewel of Iraq. Clearly, there's going to be intelligence that will be able to be exploited once the -- Daesh is defeated there, just as there's been intelligence opportunities on the way up there.
You know, we work with the Iraqis to help share intelligence and whatever intelligence we find, you know, we -- you know, we analyze it and look for any indicator of things that would assist future operations.
CAPT. DAVIS: Nancy Youssef with the Daily Beast.
Q: General, I wanted to return to something you said early on, that some of the ISIL leadership had left Mosul. Can you give us more specifics on that? How many left? How did they leave? Did they go to Hawija? And if that leadership, however far down it goes, has left, who then is commanding the ISIS forces inside Mosul? Is it -- does each unit have its own discretion in terms of how to counter the Iraqi campaign?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, as far as the number of leaders and the specifics, you know, I won't get into those numbers. But as you know, they've got their chain of command. And so, what -- what you -- so they got leaders that are in charge of units that are commanding those elements.
But you know, what we saw in -- when I was here in, you know, 2004, '07 and '09 was, you know, when Al Qaida had that, we struck their leadership. You know, pretty soon their leaders started leaving and that -- that -- that exodus of leaders started to break the confidence of the fighters that were remaining in Iraq.
And so, you know, we tell -- we are telling Daesh that their leaders are abandoning them. And we've seen a movement out of Mosul. Where they're going, I mean, you know, I'll leave that to our targeteers to take care of. But that -- so that -- that inner piece -- and that's why I think as you see people leaving Mosul, I think that foreigner fighter contingent will be one that can't leave because they're not going to be able to do that. And how do they leave? They leave through various means that we'll target.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Kristina Wong with The Hill.
Q: Thanks, general.
Do you expect that the Apaches will be used as Iraqi forces push into Mosul?
GEN. VOLESKY: Well, we'll use -- we'll use our -- you know, we're going to use every capability to enable the Iraqis' fight into Mosul. Where the Apaches will go, you know, we're going to make sure that we mitigate the risk, like we are right now. I mean, they're supporting the Iraqis.
As far as them flying into Mosul, you know, I'm not -- I'm not going to tell how we're going to employ the Apaches. All I'll say is that we look for opportunities to utilize all of our capabilities to enable the Iraqis to go faster and more efficiently into Mosul.
So, you know, again, in two weeks, three weeks, you know, that situation will change. Right now, as you know, they've been supporting the operations as they moved up for the last number of weeks, frankly, as well as the condition-setting.
So, you know, we'll use them -- we'll use them where we think we can get the best effect for the Iraqis.
Q: Secondly, you mentioned you expect foreign fighters to be more likely to stay in Mosul versus local fighters. Can you explain why and what the Iraqis or the coalition is doing to prevent those foreign fighters from getting out of Mosul and possibly back to their home countries?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yeah, well, what we've seen is, you know, that when foreign fighters try to, you know, move with displaced people, you know, the Iraqis through their screening process, they see them. You know, foreign fighters are -- it's difficult for them to blend into the local population, based on the number of different types of foreign fighters there are.
So, we don't expect that they're going to be able just to come out through a screening area and move out. They weren't able to do that in Fallujah. You know, there were a number that dressed up as women to try to get through that piece. That didn't work for them.
So, you know, our assessment is that, you know, they'll be the ones that -- the people want to stay and fight. We expect that they'll -- they'll be the ones because they really don't have any other place to go.
CAPT. DAVIS: We'll go to Barbara Starr with CNN.
Q: General Volesky, you had mentioned a few minutes back about you didn't want to see ISIS sort of coming up behind you -- behind you and the Iraqi forces as you move forward. You didn't want to go so fast that they would come up behind you and retake areas.
Noticing that in recent weeks, you still have the occasional airstrike back down through the Euphrates River valley, let me ask you, what are you seeing back down the line in terms of ISIS? Are these targets organized ISIS units? Or are you seeing the beginning already of sort of the post-conflict insurgency that you were talking about? And what -- can you give us your assessment more about that ISIS insurgency that you believe will develop?
GEN. VOLESKY: Hey, Barbara, it's great talking to you again.
I would just say that, you know, what we've seen in the Euphrates River valley are really a three-man team -- three to five, maybe. And it's, you know, a mortar team, maybe shooting indirect fire, trying -- just really harassing fire. We'll see some two-men, one with a machine gun and another with a rifle, you know, harassing fires on -- on an Iraqi unit.
So it's not this organized, you know, insurgency that people think. But, you know, it's -- if you look at where the leadership for ISIL came, they came right out of Al Qaida in Iraq. And so, you know, the -- we would -- we expect that as they are losing the terrain and they're losing their ability to dominate and -- that's where they're going to return to and Baghdadi has said the same thing.
And so, you know, we haven't seen the big, the network insurgency, but we see these indicators. And so that's why what we don't want to do, as you know, is wait until the Iraqis are having to deal with it to prepare them for it.
And so, you know, that's why we -- in our training centers, why we're starting to give them more counterinsurgency so that they can be ready for it when the enemy transitions to that.
Q: And just a little bit more is that even with a so-called military defeat of ISIS on the battlefield, ISIS already is planning to evolve into a counter -- into an insurgency movement in Iraq?
GEN. VOLESKY: That's my assessment. If you go out to the desert and you don't have the capability to sustain yourselves, like they have since 2014, and you want to remain in Iraq, it would be hard to do without an insurgency, doing an insurgency. So that's what my assessment is. And so that's what we're preparing the Iraqis for.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, General, I know you're running short on time. We do still have a long list. We'll do one more, if you can, and then we'd certainly be happy if you're able to do beyond that, but I understand you have a war to fight.
We'll go to Kevin Baron with Defense One.
Q: General, thanks for the time here today. This has been very helpful and detailed.
I want to ask you just to take a quick step back and speak to all of our readerships and our audiences that have heard for a long time that the U.S. should have done this sooner. The coalition should have got to Mosul sooner, should be fighting in Aleppo sooner. There should be more Americans, a greater military intervention.
Tell us why, or tell them why, this is the right way; that this -- it took this long; that by, with and through should be believed, and will sustain itself for regional security and for American interests.
GEN. VOLESKY: Well, I will tell you that sounds like -- I'll just be honest -- that sounds like a loaded question to me.
What I would say is the -- your United States military is very adaptable and flexible and it adapts to the mission it’s given and it leverages every resource it can to be successful. I've heard -- I've heard a lot about, you know, how you go advise and assist. We've been advise and assistance -- this isn't new. I mean we've done this in Afghanistan.
You know, when I was in Afghanistan, we had advise and assist. You had MTT teams doing this. So, you know, this isn't a new way of war, in my mind, because we've got repetition, to do that.
I would just say that, you know, the Iraqi army, the reason it took a while is, you know, they got caught with an enemy that was, frankly, at that time more capable than they were. The other piece was they weren't prepared for it. The training they got was counterinsurgency focused. And so it took them time.
The other piece is their ability to generate forces has been their biggest challenge. I mean, if I want a new unit to come up from Fort Campbell, I just ask my boss: Could you send 1st Brigade here? Because they're at Fort Campbell. Every unit in the Iraqi army pretty much is in the fight.
So if you want to put and get 10 brigades or 12 brigades ready to go liberate Mosul, you've got to figure out where those 10 are coming and how you pull them out of the fight they're currently in to train them to get them ready to go to Mosul. That's not easy to do.
The other piece is, you know, when you are fighting to protect Baghdad, and then you finally get Ramadi done, there is a lot of threats. And so, you know, their prioritization of the threat -- they -- they've got their own campaign plan. And what we're doing is we're enabling campaign plan.
I -- I smile when people tell me that the U.S. is telling them what to do, and then where to do it and when to do it. When I got here, I got handed a slide that said, "this is the Iraqi security force plan to seize -- to liberate Iraq." And if you look at what they're doing, based on that slide I got, and the sequencing, they're right on plan. They're right on schedule.
And so I would just say that, you know, would we like it to have gone faster? Sure. But there was a lot of hard work they had to do to train their forces to do it, to get the forces capable and equipped, and then just get them ready.
I think the other piece is, you know, they needed some confidence. They had no confidence. Ramadi started it. And then you've see this drumbeat go. Every time they take a piece of terrain away from ISIL, that's a drumbeat. And that drumbeat is getting louder and louder every step they get closer to Mosul.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. General, I know we have exceeded your time here. Any final words for us?
GEN. VOLESKY: Yes. Hey, I just want to thank you all for taking the time to do what you're doing. You know, the -- it's not lost on me the -- what's going on in the United States news -- what's going on there. But you know, you telling our story over here is important, because you've got a lot of U.S. servicemen and -women in CJFLCC that are really getting after it every day.
And I will tell you -- I'll finish what I always start with. You know, in the 101st, you know, we have been going -- we just left Liberia, as you know, for the Ebola piece, and we're now in Iraq. And that's what this division has done, you know, every other year almost since this thing started. And what I would say is we can't do what we do without our families, and all those great military communities that support us.
And so you telling this story just reinforces the commitment that our families make and the great support we get from our communities. And so I want to thank all you do for help telling our story.
CAPT. DAVIS: All right. Thank you very much for your time, General. We look forward to hearing again from you soon.
GEN. VOLESKY: All right. Take care. Thanks. Bye.