Col John Dorrian Press Briefing Transcript 03.05.17
Read a press briefing given by Col John Dorrian, Spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, on defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria
CAPTAIN JEFF DAVIS: All right, good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
We are pleased to be joined today by Colonel John Dorrian, coming to us live from Baghdad.
J.D., want to make sure we can hear you and you can hear us.
COLONEL JOHN DORRIAN: I’ve got you loud and clear, Jeff. Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Great. We’ll turn it over to you to give us an update on Operation Inherent Resolve.
COL. DORRIAN: Very good.
Good morning. We’ll start in Syria and move on to Iraq.
The Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Coalition are dominating ISIS in Tabqa City, advancing deeply into the city on multiples avenues of approach. They’ve retaken Tabqa hospital, which is — the enemy was using as a staging area for foreign fighters, and a storage area for their weapons and resources, a tactic that we have seen from them elsewhere.
The city center is also in the hands of our partner force. Many of you have probably observed the video footage of ISIS’ flag being lowered, which is a signal to all the people in the city that ISIS’ brutal control of the city is coming to an end.
The coalition has continued conducting precision strikes to support the SDF advance in Tabqa, most recently engaging ISIS fighters and fighting positions that would otherwise have threatened our partners as they liberate long-held neighborhoods.
Coalition strikes have also taken out ISIS command and control nodes and the result has been to cause disarray, reducing the enemy’s ability to maintain and organize defense of Tabqa City. The SDF also continues clearing operations in the countryside north of Raqqa, liberating more than 70 square kilometers this week. As the SDF progresses further in clearing these areas and completes the liberation of Tabqa, the coalition continues shaping operations to isolate Raqqa and increase the ever-mounting pressure on ISIS.
The coalition has disrupted or destroyed ISIS supply routes in and around the city, and has also destroyed more than 40 barges ISIS has used to move fighters and supplies along the Euphrates River.
In southern Syria, as we continue to apply pressure on ISIS, we’ve reduced their freedom of movement. The U.S. and coalition special operations forces continue to advise, assist and accompany vetted Syrian opposition partner forces through the Hamad Desert. Vetted Syrian opposition groups continue to clear ISIS from the towns and villages around the An Tanf border crossing between Iraq and Syria. This secure border facilitates the passage of 500 to 900 people each day, opening up opportunities for local goods to flow in and out of Syria, stimulating the economy for the people.
Moving on to Iraq. ISIS continues probing attacks along the Iraqi security forces’ perimeter around Mosul, using small arms and indirect fire and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices to conduct the attacks. What ISIS is finding is that this force, the Iraqi security forces, are more than capable of stopping attempts for them to escape as the ISF have built up the perimeter in a manner that makes a breakout very difficult.
Coalition forces continue using strikes to eliminate enemy fighters and resources, including three strikes this week that damaged or completely destroyed vehicle-borne improvised explosive device factories, as well as several VBIEDs. Coalition air and artillery strikes have also been used to strike ISIS snipers, rocket and mortar teams with precision.
ISIS fighters continue to fire their weapons not just at Iraqi security forces, but also at civilians trying to escape the city. ISIS continues firing their rockets and mortars randomly into civilian areas. The removal of these ISIS fighters and resources from the battlefield protects our partnered forces and the civilians who would otherwise be harmed by ISIS.
And now I’ll be happy to take your questions.
CAPT. DAVIS: Sure. We’ll start with Bob Burns from the Associated Press.
Q: Colonel Dorrian, on that last point about what’s happening in Mosul, they didn’t — you don’t describe, but it sounds like there hasn’t been much progress lately in west Mosul. Has it come to kind of a stalemated situation there?
And also can you give us an update on what’s going on in Syria on the Turkey border, with the presence of U.S. forces up there?
COL. DORRIAN: Sure, Bob. With regard to the progress in Mosul, the Iraqi security forces reduce the number of ISIS fighters with each passing day. They reduce the number of ISIS resources, so vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, weapons, fighting positions, all the things that have caused such mayhem in the city.
So I would say that it’s not stalemated. The Iraqi security forces continue their maneuver around the city and they’ll position themselves for these last few neighborhoods. It will be very dangerous, difficult fighting. It — it will certainly be dangerous as they move into these very dense urban areas, the ancient part of the city with the very narrow roads. But they do make progress toward that end every day. And I know that the Iraqi security forces are confident of their ability to finish the enemy in place in Mosul very soon.
With regard to the border with Turkey, in Iraq we have seen, you know, some instances of firing across the border in both directions. This is something that has continued intermittently since — you know, for the last week or so.
Q: And just to follow up, then. Could you talk about the presence of U.S. forces there? How many and what they’re doing?
COL. DORRIAN: With regard to U.S. forces, we do have forces in northern Syria. We don’t have a lot of forces in the very northern part of Iraq. So, we have conducted some patrols. You’ve seen those widely reported. Our presence there is very overt in Syria. And those operations continue. The purpose of them is to observe and report on any security incidents and then reassure our allies on both sides of the border — our ally Turkey and our partner force — of our commitment to their security.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next we go to Tom Bowman, National Public Radio.
Q: Colonel, if I could quickly follow up on that. Roughly how many troops are patrolling? Dozens? More than that in armored vehicles, presumably?
COL. DORRIAN: Tom, I’m not going to get into numbers. We don’t have a tremendous number of forces in Iraq, so the number of forces in any given area is not something that we really like to get into great detail on. What I would say is that this is — these are very capable forces, forces that are capable of defending themselves. And certainly they’re capable of observing what’s going on in the area. And their presence seems to be a stabilizing presence.
Q: Again to Raqqa, you talked about shaping operations for Raqqa. Talk a little bit about preparations for the final assault on the city. We keep hearing that the Syrian Arabs, Syrian Kurds will need more weapons and equipment before that happens. Talk about the kinds of weapons and assistance they’ll need. And is that imminent?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I’ll give you a little bit of detail about the types of defenses that the enemy is building up in Mosul — or, excuse me, in Raqqa. They’re very similar to what we saw in Mosul, so that’s elaborate berms, that’s tunneling, booby traps, all the types of things — vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. We think that that’ll be a very dangerous and difficult battle when it does begin.
With regard to the types of capabilities that our partnered forces’ll need, I think we need to back up on that and — you — you know, because there is still a matter — you know, policy matters that need to be worked through with regard to what force will go into Raqqa.
Right now, we’re focused on the isolation effort, so the operations are largely in Tabqa and then in the area north of Raqqa. And those operations are proceeding at pace.
The Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition are a partnered force, which is made up largely of Syrian Arabs. Have been able to take territory away from ISIS. And ISIS has not been able to either retain or recapture any territory from our partnered forces in Iraq, or Syria for that matter.
Q: And just quickly, we keep hearing that the Syrian Kurds and Arabs will be offered small arms, (inaudible). Is that not the case or you just can’t say at this point?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I — I don’t have any information to share on this with regard to what weapons that we provide currently. What we do is we provide light arms to the Syrian Arab Coalition. That’s the policy that we have in place now.
What you’re describing is something that really I — I don’t have any detail to offer on.
CAPT. DAVIS: Laurie Mylroie of Kurdistan 24?
Q: Thank you, Colonel Dorrian.
I have a question about the Turkish attitude to the YPG.
President Erdogan is in Moscow today and reiterated his strong opposition to countries working with the YPG. Are you concerned about future Turkish attacks on the YPG? Or do you think the U.S. message has gotten through?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, one of the things that’s very important to understand here is we have longstanding ties with Turkey. They’re a critical NATO ally and they’ve been very effective in fighting ISIS in northern Syria.
Their contribution speaks for itself. It’s been very important. Some of the areas that they’ve recaptured from ISIS are areas that ISIS valued very much, areas like Dabiq, which held a special significance for them.
So, this has been very effective.
But with regard to the PKK (sic YPG), they are a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Syrian Arab Coalition is a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces as well. The forces that are isolating Raqqa now are largely made up of Syrian Arabs, but they are a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
They’ve recaptured more than 8,000 square kilometers of territory from the enemy. And they’ve been very effective, more recently in Tabqa, where they control somewhere on the order of 80 to 90 percent of the city after some very good advances in the last several days.
So we have continued our — our partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces, and they’ve proven very reliable in keeping their guns trained on ISIS. And that’s something that we expect to continue.
Q: Just to be clear, I — I believe I heard you say that the PKK is part of the Syrian Arab Coalition?
COL. DORRIAN: Did I say that? I said the YPG.
CAPT. DAVIS: With that, Ragip from the Daily Sabah.
Q: (Off mic) also contain the Syrian Arab Coalition?
CAPT. DAVIS: J.D., can we ask you to repeat that last question? You were cut off.
Q: (Off mic)
COL. DORRIAN: Yep. What I was saying is that the YPG is a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Syrian Democratic Forces also contain a group called the Syrian Arab Coalition. The majority of the forces that are fighting in Tabqa, in northern — in the area north of Raqqa are Syrian Arabs that are from the Syrian Arab Coalition and other Arab elements from the region.
CAPT. DAVIS: Yes, sir. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you, colonel, for doing this.
Syrian Democratic Forces established a civilian city council for Raqqa to administer the city after completion of the operation in Raqqa. Did you decide who will run the city after the operation?
COL. DORRIAN: I didn’t — I didn’t hear the last part of your question. I apologize.
Q: Did you decide who will run Raqqa after the operation?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, the — the Raqqa Council is a group of people that live in and around Raqqa. They are going to establish essential services once Raqqa has been liberated.
Q: They are affiliated with SDF, right?
COL. DORRIAN: I’m sorry. I’m just unable to hear what you’re saying.
Q: Are they with — or are they working with Syrian Democratic Forces, this Raqqa Council?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, at this point, the Raqqa Council — essentially, the formation of the group is about what’s been accomplished. So as far as who’s involved and what their actions are, I don’t have a lot of detail for you on that.
Q: Second question — U.S. soldiers visited Syria’s Derik last week to attend the funerals of YPG fighters who were killed by Turkish air strikes. And some pictures show the American flags next to PKK flags during this funeral. Do you have any comment on these pictures?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes. Our forces went up into that area to prevent security incidents from occurring, to observe and report whatever security situation that they saw and to reassure our ally, Turkey, and our partner, the Syrian Democratic Forces, who were struck in those Turkish air strikes last week — the ones that were not especially well coordinated and left — were conducted with less warning than would allow our forces to safely leave, or to properly coordinate what should have been done.
So our partner forces were attacked in Syria, as well as in Iraq. The result in Iraq was seven Peshmerga fighters were killed. So the coordination was not done well. Of course, we’ve expressed our condolences to our partners on that.
Q: Aren’t you bothered by the fact that PKK flags were present in the fight?
COL. DORRIAN: I have not seen the images that you’re talking about. So I’m not going to comment on those. What I would say is that the force that was attacked was the Syrian Democratic Forces, and those are our partner forces. We were up there to check on them, and then subsequently started patrols to observe any security incidents in the area.
So that’s really about all I have for you on that.
CAPT. DAVIS: And next to Courtney Kube, NBC News.
Q: Hey, J.D. One follow up on that, because I have — I wasn’t aware of these photos. What — I don’t understand what security incidents the U.S. presence was concerned about. Were they — were you worried that there would be attacks on these funerals? And if so, by who? Can you explain that?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, we had observed or heard reports of firing across the border and what we’re doing is putting forces in position to observe for themselves what is happening and to reassure our allies on both sides of the border.
Q: So the U.S. presence at these funerals was the same presence that exists on these patrols along the border between Turkey and Syria right now. Is that what you’re saying?
COL. DORRIAN: You know, with regard to patrols, patrols are going to encounter people. Sometimes they’re going to encounter people that are massed. So, they were just patrolling and performing their mission. There’s nothing more to it than that.
Q: They weren’t actually there to be present at the funerals, then. Is that what you’re saying?
COL. DORRIAN: That’s exactly what I’m saying. They’re performing their mission to patrol the area.
Q: And I’d like to back to Raqqa. What’s your — what’s your current estimate — the — the coalition’s current estimate for how many ISIS fighters are still inside of Raqqa? And can you characterize the level? Is there still believed to be leadership there? Is it — have any of them been fleeing? And if so, where — where to?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, we believe there are 3,000 to 4,000 ISIS fighters in Raqqa, including foreign fighters and various leadership figures. This is a city that holds special significance for the enemy. They consider if their capital in Syria. So it’s not an area that they’re just going to give up very easily. So it remains a priority target for the coalition to liberate. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
With regard to enemy freedom of movement, the city is being isolated. Each day, it gets more isolated as the Syrian Arab Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces seize more territory from the enemy. At some point, you know, the city will be very difficult for enemy fighters or leaders to leave.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next to Carlo Munoz from the Washington Times.
Q: Hey, sir, thanks for doing this.
One quick question — I was wondering if I could get an update on the situation around Deir ez-Zor? Shaping operations continue around Raqqa. Are you still seeing a flow of I.S. fighters to that area? And if so, how is the coalition sort of addressing that? Are there any efforts underway to kind of prevent them from getting to Deir ez-Zor? Or is all the focus still on shaping operations for Raqqa?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, our priority is to continue isolating Raqqa. That’s something that we work on every day; very heavy fighting in Tabqa and then in the northern countryside above Raqqa. As far as Deir ez-Zor, there is a significant enemy presence there. And, you know, at different times we’ve seen fighters move in and move out of there.
The regime — Syrian regime also has forces in that area. And I understand there’s a significant amount of fighting between Syrian regime forces and ISIS in that area as well. And in addition to that, the coalition continues conducting airstrikes in Syria. So any time that we see an opportunity where ISIS fighters or resources are in a position where they can be struck with precision, we will do so.
We’ve conducted a very significant number of strikes in that area, many of them against petroleum infrastructure that was under ISIS control. And this has reduced the amount of money that they have available to finance their operations. There have been very successful strikes in those — in those areas.
Q: And a second quick question. Has the dialogue between coalition and their Turkish counterparts regarding the possible involvement in the Raqqa operation — has that ceased? Or are those talks still continuing?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, our — yes, at diplomatic and leadership levels, conversations with Turkey continue every day. So those types of discussions continue.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Thomas Watkins with Agence France-Presse.
Q: Hello, colonel.
Just to follow up on what you were saying earlier. I think you were telling Bob about the — that you’ve seen the firing in both directions across the border in northern Syria. Can you — I just want to be clear. You’re talking about when you say the firing going into Turkey, have you identified the group that’s doing this? This presumably is just the YPG components of the SDF.
And have you seen any casualties on either side?
COL. DORRIAN: Thank you. I — what I said is we had heard reports of this. So we have not seen, you know, a tremendous amount of that. I think there is sporadic fire going in both directions. We continue to hear these reports. With regard to what casualties are occurring, we’re — we don’t have any information to offer you on that.
Q: Say — when you say you’ve — you hear reports, you’re talking about reports from the field, or — you’re saying stuff in the media?
COL. DORRIAN: Both.
Q: Also, I know that your focus, obviously, is Islamic State, but yesterday there was talk of de-escalation zones that potentially are — I mean, can you — can you explain to me what — what de-escalation zones mean? And are there — is there any possibility that these potential zones could be in areas that are currently covered by OIR?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, I’m not going to go into a tremendous amount of detail about what de-escalation means. What I would say is the very presence of the forces there is reassuring to our allies and our partners.
Generally, what we find is that, if our forces are there, that — there’s no firing, because the forces that are there are not really forces that anyone would want to get into an exchange of fire with or around.
Q: (Off mic) you could foresee an expanded footprint of U.S. troops to reassure these local populations?
COL. DORRIAN: You broke up just a little bit there. Can you repeat the question please?
Q: Does that mean you could foresee an expanded footprint of U.S. troops to reassure these local populations?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I’m not going to speculate about what we might do. I think, for now, what we’ll do is we’ll continue to observe and report what’s happening in the area. Largely, you know, the presence of the force there seems to be a stabilizing presence.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Tara Copp from Stars and Stripes.
Q: Hi, Colonel Dorrian. A couple more on the U.S. presence in Northern Syria. It seems like the special forces that are there are now conducting a peacekeeping role, and pretty — monitoring fires and monitoring potential escalation. Is that the case?
COL. DORRIAN: No. They’re there to observe and report what they see, and to reassure our allies. That’s it.
Q: (Off mic) from a peacekeeping role?
COL. DORRIAN: You broke up, Tara. Help me.
Q: Well, you had mentioned that they’re also there to prevent future incidents. So how is that different from a peacekeeping role?
COL. DORRIAN: You know what, with regard to a peacekeeping role, you know, I think that’s an expanded mission. I’m really not going to get into it. They’re there for those specific purposes: to observe and report and, you know, to reassure our allies. That’s it.
Q: And then, since last week’s air strikes, have there been further discussions with the Turkish ministry on air operations, or understanding of what sort of notice will be given?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, there are already agreed upon procedures for what — what should occur. Those things didn’t occur in those strikes, and the results were a problem.
So, that’s been communicated at leadership and diplomatic levels. And those efforts and those discussions continue.
Q: One last on Mosul.
I apologize if you said this at the top, but how many ISIS fighters are remaining in West Mosul? And are you close to a stage where the U.S. presence there would be assisting more of a stabilization — a post-conflict stabilization role?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, we think that there are fewer than a thousand fighters left in the city — probably well short of a thousand fighters. But they are in the densest urban terrain of Mosul, and they’re going to be very difficult to get out and to — to attack. Because when in that type of dense urban terrain, a small number of fighters can control that territory because the canalized advance that the attacking force would need to take. So, it’ll be very difficult and dangerous fighting.
With regard to stabilization roles, that is a job for the government of Iraq, supported by the international community. It’s being done by the international community led by the U.N., with a lot of non-government organizations supporting in that effort as well.
So, that’s not going to be a primarily military task. We do have planners that work closely with the NGOs and the — the U.N. to make sure that we understand, you know, what they are doing, and they understand the security situation in areas where they operate.
But this is a job for the government of Iraq, supported by the U.N. and the international community.
Q: (Off mic) follow up on that?
CAPT. DAVIS: Sure, go ahead.
Q: Colonel Dorrian, Bob Burns.
I just want to follow up on your answer to Tara’s question about what she called the post-conflict U.S. military presence in Mosul.
Are you saying there won’t be any? Or there’s been no — no — there’s no planning for a post-conflict U.S. military presence in the Mosul area?
COL. DORRIAN: Bob, our support to the government of Iraq is going to remain the same type of relationship that we continued with them throughout the campaign. So, the — there will be an advise-and-assist mission for our forces as they advise and assist the security elements that are maintaining control of the city.
But as far as bringing in humanitarian aid and all that sort of thing, that — the — the military is not set up to do that. That’s going to be the international community and the U.N. supporting the government of Iraq as they do that.
CAPT. DAVIS: We’ll go to Phil Stewart from Reuters.
Q: I — just a couple of housekeeping questions.
First, going back to the — your comments before on the PKK, just to be totally clear – you’re the spokesman. There is no — to your knowledge — you — you can — you can state that none of the YPG that are being supported by the coalition are also dual-hatted as PKK? You can say that confidently?
COL. DORRIAN: I — I can say that we’ve observed no evidence that that’s the case. What we have observed is that the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated 8,000 square kilometers of terrain, much of it denser than terrain in places like Manbij and Tabqa. They’ve fought bravely and taken back a tremendous amount of territory from the enemy, and they’ve proven to be a very reliable force for defeating ISIS.
Q: And secondly, on Turkey, to what extent is Turkey actually part of the coalition right now, and what extent is it just acting independently in Syria? So if you’d just kind of walk us through — originally they were part of the coalition, they were on the tasking order. You know, a lot of time has passed. You know, are they — bring us up to speed. How are they actually part of the coalition now?
COL. DORRIAN: Turkey remains a part of the international coalition to defeat Daesh. They’re an important part of the international coalition to defeat Daesh. They’ve made a tremendous contribution by partnering with a force in Syria to take back a tremendous amount of territory in the northern part of Syria, along their border.
This has closed off the border, largely sealed it, so that ISIS will have much more difficulty infiltrating into Europe and other points beyond to conduct international acts of terror. So, their role is — speaks for itself. It’s been very, very important.
Q: (inaudible) — I’m asking, are they in any way being coordinated by the coalition, or are they acting independently in — you know, in a — in a supporting role? You know, are they being — to what extent is anything that Turkey’s doing, you know, being directed by — by General Townsend?
COL. DORRIAN: They have officers that are a part of the — the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve staff performing various functions. They continue all of that. We continue our coordination with them and sharing information and intelligence — all those things have continued. That’s it.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next, to Lucas Tomlinson from Fox News.
Q: Colonel, any reaction to the story from Bob Burns’ colleagues at the Associated Press, who said that a — a firm outside Washington, D.C. has misspent hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq, and there’s been a number of accusations of corruption and, I think, sexual trafficking — all kinds of bad stuff — at the base where the F-16s are?
COL. DORRIAN: Yep, I’m aware of those reports. The organization that’s alleged to have done that is not a part of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. So I think you’ll probably have to work with my OSD colleagues to pursue further comment on that. It’s not a part of our organization. It’s not within my purview to discuss that.
Q: General Townsend have any reaction to this story?
COL. DORRIAN: It’s not a part of what Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve is here to do. We remain focused on fighting ISIS.
Q: Can you say did he read the story? Is he aware of the report?
COL. DORRIAN: I don’t know if he’s read it or not.
CAPT. DAVIS: Joe Tabet from Al Hurra.
Q: Thank you very much.
Colonel Dorrian, based on what you said, and given the tensions between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria, if you can — if you can remind us, is it safe to say that Turkey will not play a role in the final Raqqa operation?
COL. DORRIAN: Yes, it would be inappropriate to speculate about what their future role would be. Diplomatic discussions continue to happen at leadership level between the coalition nations and Turkey. So, I’m not going to get ahead of any of those discussions.
Q: A quick follow up. You’ve been telling us that the ongoing diplomatic discussions are still on track with Turkey. Could you give us a sense when these discussions could end?
COL. DORRIAN: That discussion is happening at a level that’s many, many, many layers higher than me. So I’m afraid that I cannot do that.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next, Kim Dozier from the Daily Beast.
Q: Colonel Dorrian, you gave us a figure of 3,000 to 4,000 estimated fighters inside of Raqqa. Could I ask what is the next largest concentration of fighters? Is it in (inaudible) or another town? And how many ISIS fighters do you estimate are in all of Syria?
COL. DORRIAN: I think we’ll have to get back to you on that one, Kim. I’ll take that question.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay. Next to Dion Nissenbaum, Wall Street Journal.
Q: Hey, colonel. I’d like to get some more clarifying information on the Turkey-Syria border. You have said a couple of times that the U.S. forces are there to prevent future incidents — crossfire incidents. Is that one of the roles that these forces are playing there?
COL. DORRIAN: I would say that their presence certainly is reassuring to our allies and our partners. I’d leave it at that.
Q: But you’ve said a couple of times today and before that they are there to prevent future incidents. Is that accurate?
COL. DORRIAN: Well, what I would tell you is that their presence there, since they’ve been there, we’ve not seen any really significant security incidents. So, their presence there is a calming force. It is helpful to what’s going on in Syria and it keeps people, all of our partners, focused on defeating ISIS, which is the biggest threat to security in Syria and the region. And indeed, ISIS poses a threat beyond the region.
Q: Okay. And just one quick clarifying question. From your understanding now, what is the total size of the SDF? And how many — what percentage of them is YPG-Kurdish at this point?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I believe that the size of the SDF is approximately 50,000. And right about half of them are Syrian Kurds. The rest are Syrian Arabs, Christians, and others from in and around the countryside of northern Syria and around Raqqa.
CAPT. DAVIS: Next to Jim Michaels, USA Today.
Q: Colonel Dorrian, you mentioned in regards to the coalition role as the Iraqi forces push ISIS out of Mosul, that the advise and assist relationship continues. I’m wondering also if you could characterize the training mission, though, now and in the future? In other words, are coalition forces continuing to train Iraqi combat formations? Or has it shifted to police and other security forces?
COL. DORRIAN: Sure. The coalition since the beginning of 2015 has trained more than 96,000 Iraqi security forces. So that includes the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service, Iraqi army, Iraqi federal police, Iraqi local police, Iraqi border police, and then tribal forces that are used as hold forces.
We continue training all of those types of forces even today. We’ve got right about 6,500 troops of various types in training right now. And this is something that we expect to continue. Certainly, the Iraqi security forces have, you know, taken some casualties in the fight against ISIS. It’s very difficult and dangerous fighting. And they will want to replenish some of the units that have been involved in this very difficult and dangerous fighting.
So we will help them with that as long as the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq would like our help. A lot of the training is conducted by coalition forces that are not U.S. forces. And this training effort, as ISIS is dislodged from the remaining territory that they control in Iraqi, we believe that this is, when we talk about dealing ISIS a lasting defeat, it’s this role, the training role, that makes that lasting defeat possible because these additional forces, particularly the police forces that will be trained in the months ahead, they will be responsible for maintaining security once ISIS no longer controls territory and they devolve back into more of a — just a terror threat.
Q: Does that mean the balance of the training is shifting from conventional combat formations to more police and other local security-type forces?
COL. DORRIAN: I don’t think that I would characterize it quite that strongly, because we do continue to train Iraqi Army and Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service Forces as well. So we’ll work on all that. All of that’s going to continue.
CAPT. DAVIS: Okay, next to Carla Babb, Voice of America.
Q: Hi, colonel. Thanks for doing this.
You said that the military goal in Raqqa is to push Islamic State out so that the Raqqa coalition can run the government. Who is going to be overseeing the Raqqa coalition?
Are they going to be reporting to the Syrian government? Are they going to be paid by the Syrian government, or are they going to be independent in Raqqa?
COL. DORRIAN: These are — are people that are from Raqqa and they — and the region right around it. And they will be administering services and reestablishing essential services in the city.
So the establishment of the group is very recent, and there’s a lot of planning ongoing, so I don’t have a tremendous amount of detail on specifically what and how that’ll all be done. That’s planning that will happen in the weeks and months ahead.
In the meantime, we remain focused on the isolation of Raqqa.
CAPT. DAVIS: Missy Ryan, Washington Post?
Q: Hi, colonel. I know that there was a question earlier about the safe zones in Syria, but just wanted to ask again. Can you — can — can you at all flush out what that proposal means? What safe or de-escalation zones — what that concept means, and what that potentially could look like, and what the U.S. military role would be in that?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I’m — I’m afraid I can’t do that, Missy, because that would be speculation on my part, if I did. So I do understand that safe zones in Syria were a topic of discussion at leadership levels with the presidents of Russia and the United States. But I don’t have any insight onto what the discussions were beyond the fact that they happened.
And I think that’s probably a conversation for another day.
CAPT. DAVIS: Paul Shinkman, Time Magazine?
Q: Yes, Colonel Dorrian. Just to follow up on Carla’s question, previous secretaries of defense have said that the U.S. would be prepared to defend what has now become the SDF from other regional forces.
Going into these negotiations that you talk about with the Raqqa Council, is the Combined Joint Task Force prepared to tell these council members that the coalition will protect them from other regional forces?
COL. DORRIAN: I think, right now, it’s premature into — going into what security arrangements will exist after ISIS has been eradicated from Raqqa. Right now, we’re focused on isolating Raqqa.
Raqqa has to be liberated at some point. And then the role of the Raqqa Council will become a prominent role, and the nature of our relationship with them will — will be planned out and developed in the months ahead.
So I don’t have any detail for you on that.
CAPT. DAVIS: Laurie Mylroie, I think it — (inaudible) — for a follow up.
Q: Yes. Laurie Mylroie, Kurdistan 24.
Colonel Dorrian, you mentioned that there were still policy efforts on the question of what force will go into Raqqa. Could you give us a sense of what options are being considered, and when the liberation of Raqqa might occur?
COL. DORRIAN: Yeah, I’m afraid I can’t do that, because I don’t know that I have visibility on all of those. So I think that’s a question best posed in Washington, because that’s where that issue will be resolved.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. DAVIS: Anybody else? All right. Thank you, J.D., for your time, and hope you have a nice evening in Baghdad.
Thank you, everybody.
COL. DORRIAN: All right. Thank you.