WASHINGTON (October 1, 2015) — Over the 24 hours since Russia began carrying out airstrikes in Syria, the coalition has not and will not change its operations in Syria to accommodate new players on the battlefield, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.
Army Col. Steve Warren spoke with press here via live video conference from Baghdad, noting that the Russians were very clear publicly that their independent airstrikes, uncoordinated with coalition operations, would target the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria.
“I'm not going to get into exactly who [the Russians] hit,” Warren said, “but we don't believe that they struck ISIL targets. … The Russians have said that they're going to do one thing, and here they are doing something different.”
Warren added, “Secretary Carter talked about this a little bit yesterday [during a Pentagon press conference], in that if there's going to be other participation, it needs to be against ISIL. That's what's important here.”
Over the past 24 hours, Warren said the coalition has conducted several sorties and executed an airstrike that destroyed two enemy excavators in northwestern Syria.
“Our average has only been eight strikes per day," he said. "So it was lower than our average but that’s only because these are dynamic targeting processes and there weren’t any targets.”
The presence of the Russians in the skies over Syria, Warren said, “have nothing to do with our pace, our tempo, or on the focus of our airstrikes.”
The potential always exists for miscalculation and accidents, he added, but there are many square miles of Syrian air space.
“Most of these strikes are two or four aircraft, [and] they fly in, they strike, they depart. And … there is no set of pilots on Earth who are as good as our [coalition pilots].”
Warren said steps are being taken here in Washington to help deconflict the airstrikes.
In an update of troop numbers and coalition operations, the OIR spokesman said total coalition troops in Iraq are 5,451 -- 3,359 of them are U.S. troops, and 2,092 are coalition troops.
Warren said the coalition is fighting ISIL in four complementary areas: airstrikes, training and equipping, advising and assisting in Iraq, and training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition.
On airstrikes, as of today the coalition has executed 7,184 airstrikes, 4,604 in Iraq and 2,580 in Syria, he said.
Training and Equipping
On training, Warren said the coalition is working very closely with the Iraqis.
“We've trained almost 15,000 Iraqi personnel, [including] the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Sunni tribal fighters, the [Iraqi Counterterrorism Service] and the [Iraqi security forces], all of whom work with the government of Iraq,” he said.
Coalition members have trained more than 5,000 Sunni tribal fighters, and the training continues, Warren added.
“We find them a very key and critical part of operations here. The tribal fighters have immediately [gone] back into the fight in many cases, particularly around Ramadi,” he said.
On equipping in Iraq, about $2.3 billion has been allocated, he said. Of that, $1.6 billion is from the United States. The funds have bought almost 400 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles and armored Humvees, 2,000 AT-4 anti-armor weapons, 10,000 M-16s, 5,000 sets of body armor, 450 metal detectors to use in the counter roadside bomb fight, and other equipment.
On the ground fight in Iraq, Warren focused on what he characterized as “a hard fight” for control of the city of Ramadi.
Over the course of the summer, he said, several things converged to cause what essentially has been an operational pause in the fight for Ramadi. These include environmental conditions -- the hottest summer on record, for example -- the Islamic holidays of Ramadan and Eid, and what Warren called “the enemy’s way of war.”
“What ISIL has done … is defended Ramadi almost in an early 20th-century style, with belts of defenses [around the city],” Warren said.
This includes the use of IEDs not as individual explosives but as landmines, creating minefields that ISIL covers with fire.
“This is not what we trained the Iraqi army … to fight against. We trained and built a counterinsurgency [force], and this is much more of a conventional fight,” Warren explained, adding that the Iraqis are now being trained to deal with such defenses.