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DoD Transcripts

TRANSCRIPT | April 17, 2018

Department Of Defense Press Briefing by Colonel Dillon via Teleconference From Baghdad, Iraq

STAFF:  Well, good morning, everybody.  It's been a while.  Thank you very much for joining us today.

As you can see, we welcome back Colonel Ryan Dillon, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, to provide an update on operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

As you know, the nation (sic) of our mission has not changed.  The coalition remains committed to achieving a lasting defeat of ISIS.  We are accomplishing this objective by training, equipping, advising, assisting and enabling our partner forces in Iraq and Syria.

Colonel Dillon, can you hear us?

COLONEL RYAN DILLON:  I can hear you very well.  How about me?

STAFF:  We've got you fine, sir.  If you want to go ahead with your opening statement --

COL. DILLON:  All right.  Thank you very much.

Good morning, everyone.  I'll begin in Syria, and then move to Iraq.

The Syrian Democratic Forces continue to secure liberated areas in north and eastern Syria.  The SDF have developed obstacles to protect against potential attacks, and contain ISIS elements in the final two locations where they hold territory:  near the Hajin, which is along the Euphrates River, north of Al Bukamal; and in Dashisha, near the Syria-Iraq border.

Our Syrian partners, with coalition support, have contained ISIS in these areas, and continue to look for opportunities to exploit ISIS weaknesses and conduct strikes and attacks against these remaining terrorists.

In addition to defeating ISIS in these last holdouts and preventing their return, security elements, such as the select members of the Raqqa Internal Security Forces, play an essential role in clearing the thousands of improvised explosive devices and booby traps left behind by ISIS.

The coalition conducts counter-IED training for these forces, with about 250 trained thus far, complementing the work being done by demining organizations to stabilize the city.

This is a dangerous but necessary task that must happen before residents can safely return to their homes, and people can get back to work.

Moving to Iraq, security and stability operations continue, as Iraqi Security Forces aggressively pursue ISIS terrorist remnants throughout the country.  ISIS has gone underground in an attempt to regroup, but they are still very much a threat.

The ISF know their enemy.  They know that they are a threat.  And they are planning and implementing security measures with coalition support in this critical period leading up to parliamentary elections in May.

In the past two weeks, Iraqi Security Forces have reported the discovery and clearance of several caches containing mortars, rockets and improvised explosives, and the capture of several ISIS members during multiple raids.  In Kirkuk, federal police also discovered a tunnel hidden inside of a school, recovering several weapons.

We applaud the diligence and professionalism of the ISF during these clearance operations, and also in their protection of approximately 9 million worshipers during the annual Kadhimiya pilgrimage, which safely concluded last week.

However, we know there is still work to be done as we face an enemy that is adaptive and determined.  The coalition remains focused on enhancing our Iraqi partners' capacity to sustain their operations and protect their citizens against these terrorists.

As Iraq identifies requirements and specific needs for their security forces, the coalition matches appropriate capabilities to enhance their operations.

And as an example, the coalition has helped to train and equip police and border guard forces, with more than 40,000 personnel trained since the beginning of this campaign.

We have distributed about 200 containers equipped with necessary supplies to help establish police stations in communities and border guard posts along the western border.

The border guard force has already employed about 30 of these containers along the western border.  Meanwhile, most of the 100 containers delivered to the Iraqi police are now in use, bolstering security in liberated areas.

These Iraqi-led operations to maintain security also help enable recovery in areas scarred by years of ISIS violence.  The 75-member global coalition continues to support this through the whole-of-government civil military efforts.

Recently, for example, the Al Sahroon water treatment plant in East Mosul is now operational, providing clean water to approximately 100,000 people across 16 neighborhoods.

Another example:  The coalition is training Iraqi Security Forces in bridge construction and these skills are already being put to use in Mosul.

These are encouraging signs of progress and stability, and we are maintaining relentless pressure on ISIS so that terrorist group cannot undermine and reverse these hard-fought Iraqi gains.

The coalition remains committed to the defeat of ISIS.  And we thank all 71 nations and four international partner organizations for their contributions to this effort.

Last week marked the third anniversary of the French military operations in support of the coalition to defeat ISIS.  Our French partners have played an essential role in the ISF training mission.  Task Force Narvik has trained nearly 6,000 members of the Iraqi counterterrorism service and Task Force Monsabert has helped train, advise and assist the 6th Iraqi Army division.

Much of the training follows the train-the-trainer method, enabling the ISF instructors to increasingly train their own forces in skills such as counter-IED and first aid.  Additionally, French contributions have helped identify and eliminate ISIS targets through air support and ground-artillery strikes.

The effort to defeat ISIS comes at a great cost, though.  We are reminded of this as we recently lost two members of the coalition while conducting operations near Syria, U.S. Army Master Sergeant Johnathan Dunbar from Austin, Texas, and British Sergeant Matt Tonroe from Manchester, England.  Our hearts go out to their families and comrades.

We honor the contributions and sacrifices of all members of the combined joint task force and our Iraqi and Syrian partners who have fought hard and given so much to defeat ISIS.

And with that I'll now take your questions.

STAFF:  Okay.  Thank you very much.

First, we'll go to Bob Burns with Associated Press.

Q:  Thank you.

Colonel Dillon, I'm wondering if, in the aftermath of the airstrikes last week by the U.S., Britain and France in western Syria, whether there's been a pause in U.S. coalition airstrikes in eastern Syria or other adjustments you've made in light of the air defense threat.

COL. DILLON:  Thank you, sir.

So, number one, there's not been a let-up in the support that has been provided by AFCENT and the air support that has provided our ground operations to continue.

You will see in our weekly strike reports that what you've actually seen is, especially since probably January-February time frame, an increase in the amount of strikes that the coalition is providing, particularly in Syria.

So, as you know, in January the events that happened in Afrin took several of the SDF fighters from the Middle Euphrates River Valley which then, you know, drew down on the combat power and the ability of the Syrian Democratic Forces to continue to conduct offensive operations.  Now, they still did, however it was limited.

So, what we've been able to do since that time is put in some obstacles that have allowed us to contain ISIS in these areas.  And just like I said in the opening, we have found opportunities and exploited ISIS weaknesses to conduct limited attacks.

But over this time, it has also allowed us to do some serious, deliberate target planning.  And we are seeing the results of those -- that planning, as we've seen in strikes in a -- in a slight increase and uptick in strikes in places like Hajin and Dashisha.

So I'll -- I hope that answers your question.  I'm ready for a follow-up if you have one.

STAFF:  I've got one follow-up.

Q:  Yeah, I was thinking more specifically of more recently, just since Friday, for example, have there been airstrikes of the type you just described?  Or has there been any adjustments made in light of the Syrian reaction to the airstrikes -- the -- the missile strikes?


So, yes, we have conducted strikes and -- and -- but we also -- to answer the second part of your question, you know we're always assessing the threat and we knew a year ago, after the -- the strikes that the U.S. conducted in the same response to chemical -- alleged chemical use by the Syrian regime, there were some measures that were put into place.

And we are always assessing the threat and making sure that we have the right airframes and the right assets that can still operate and support our forces.  So yes and yes.

STAFF:  Next we'll go to Tara Copp with Military Times.

Q:  Hey, Colonel Dillon.  Thanks for doing this.

Where are you seeing the largest pockets of remaining ISIS fighters in Syria?  Are they mostly in the south?  Are they in the MERV?  Can you just describe what you're seeing and give us any numbers?


So I won't give you numbers, but I will say is that they're isolated in these two areas that I talked about.  Number one is in and around this, you know, town called Hajin, which is right along the Euphrates River and runs north from Abu Kamal.  So ISIS fighters are concentrated there.  And then also in Dashisha, which is due west of Deir ez-Zor city proper, but on the east side of the Euphrates River along the Syria-Iraq border.  That is where ISIS in eastern Syria is concentrated and that's where we are going after them.

We have seen also not just reports, but also corroborated through our own intelligence gathering, that ISIS is starting to conduct more attacks on the west side of the Euphrates River outside of Abu Kamal against pro-regime forces.  And then we've also seen -- not corroborated by us, but in open source, the retaking of neighborhoods in southern Damascus.

So that -- in the pro-regime area west of the Euphrates River, we have seen a resurgence -- or rather some ISIS elements coming back and attacking with success pro-regime forces.

Q:  Two quick follow-ups on that.

If you're not seeing a concentration of ISIS fighters up north near Manbij, why is there still a concentration of U.S. troops there?

And then in the south, as you're continuing to conduct operations against ISIS, is it still with partnered forces?  And are you seeing any sort of threats to those partnered forces?  For example, earlier this year around Tanf, there was the -- the drones that were pursuing some of those partnered forces, and of course the Syrian jet that had been pounding them.


So, to answer your first question, you know even though we know full well that even, you know, in -- so number one, you have areas where we know ISIS exists.  And then you also have liberated areas that they may not be holding territory and the black flag may not be flying, but we are also working with many of the different internal security forces throughout liberated areas to make sure that ISIS cannot come back.

And, you know, I don't want to say a perfect example, but a very succinct example of the presence of ISIS is unfortunately where we had two of our coalition members who were killed in Manbij last month going after an ISIS -- an ISIS high-value target.

So even though ISIS is not you know flying their black flag in certain areas, that doesn't mean that it is not a threat in these areas.

Going to your second question about -- in southern Syria, in At Tanf Garrison, we continue to support our partners there.  They continue to conduct patrols, they continue to interdict and find ISIS fighters that are trying to transit the area.

But we have not seen similar to what -- what I first came into in the May-June timeframe, with UAV overflights or -- or things coming from pro-regime forces.  That is -- we have not seen that, fortunately.  And we maintain that communication and the deconfliction line with the Russians on both ground and air operations.

STAFF:  Okay, next we'll go to Ryan Browne with CNN, and then after that we'll go to Joe Tabet.


Q:  Hello, Colonel.  Thank you for doing this.

Just one quick follow-up on Manbij, on Tara's question.  Do you know whom was responsible for planting the IED that killed the two coalition service members?

COL. DILLON:  I don't have that answer for you right now, Ryan.

I know that the investigation -- you know, they are still looking into that.  And you know, our professionals will -- would very much be looking to go after any of those networks of ISIS, you know, remnants and -- and leaders.

So we've done a very good job of going after the drone networks, the external operation networks, the counter-finance networks, and same thing with the IED network, as well.

Q:  Just to -- to -- there haven't been any –- on a separate note -- there haven't been any additional instances of Turkish-backed rebels, opposition groups shooting at coalition members in the Manbij area?  There -- have there been any instances of that?

On a separate note, to -- you talked about the 71 countries that are part of the coalition.  Are any -- currently any countries from the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia participating in any of the Syria operations to train, advise and assist, stabilization efforts, anything like that?  And is there any plans for them to?


So the -- the first question, in reference to Manbij and the patrols that our forces -- coalition forces are conducting in conjunction with the Manbij Military Council, number one is that, you know, there's been several weeks -- and I don't have an exact date range for you -- but our forces have not received any kind of fire, harassing or otherwise.  There have been reports of cross-FLOT firing from -- from checkpoints that are out there, but our forces have not received any -- any direct or indirect fire for several weeks now.

In reference to your second question, as far as the coalition and individual nations that are contributing to -- forces to Syria, as a request by those nations, we have not announced that and -- and we will respect, you know, their -- their request on that.

So whether that's, you know, providing air support or ground support or trainers, you know, we'll leave that to individual nations to first make that announcement.  And if they want to, then we will be able to echo that.

STAFF:  Okay.  Next we'll go to Joe Tabet, Al Hurra.  After that we'll go to Jeff Schogol and then Jeff Schogol and then Kasim.


Q:  Colonel Dillon, thank you for doing this.

What is the size of ISIS fighters that goes in -- in the area between Hajin and Bukamal?  It's a small area.  But what's your estimate of the ISIS fighters there?  Is about hundreds?

COL. DILLON:  Yeah, Joe, I don't have a -- an estimate to provide you right now.  And I know that, you know, the -- the remaining numbers of ISIS fighters is less of a concern for us than it is the ability for them to stand up and -- and work as networks and work as an organization.

So they are very much contained in the areas where they still remain.  And our attempt is to continue to go after them in these -- in these areas.

We talked about the limited of offensive operations, but we have said, and I have said from this podium several times over the course of this campaign, that, you know, we will -- are always pursuing -- relentlessly pursuing ISIS wherever they are.  If we are not striking them, then we are looking for ways to do so and finding out where, when and how we are going to do that.

And these final two locations, I am confident that we will be able to eradicate ISIS in these final two locations.  And then continue to work with internal security forces in liberated areas to prevent resurgence of ISIS.

Q:  Quick follow-up:  Do you have a timeline when those two areas will be cleared from ISIS?

COL. DILLON:  Joe, I do not.

And, you know, just as that same question was asked just about every single time we conducted briefings on Mosul and Raqqa, even if we did, you know, have a timeline, you know, the enemy gets a vote and weather gets a vote.  So we don't set timelines.

And we'll just continue to -- to work on defeating them in these locations, just as we did in Mosul, just as we did in Raqqa and just as we did in all the other areas that they used to hold territory.

STAFF:  Okay, thank you.

And Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q:  Thank you, Colonel.

Foreign Policy's reporting that shortly after the strikes in Syria, Iranian-backed militia surrounded a U.S. base west of Baghdad.  Can you confirm that this event happened?

COL. DILLON:  Yeah, I -- I cannot confirm that.

But what I will say is that, you know, any of the coalition forces in Iraq are co-located with Iraqi forces.  And as -- as we've said before, you know, our forces always maintain the right to self-defense.  And our forces are with Iraqi Security Forces.  So we don't operate independently throughout Iraq.

So any of these, you know, militia groups, especially if they are legitimate militia groups that fall underneath the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is a part of the Iraqi Security Forces, they should be, you know, taking direction and guidance from the prime minister, as they are a part of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Q:  Are you seeing any aggressive posturing in Syria or Iraq in response to the strikes against the Assad regime?

COL. DILLON:  I'll tell you, we have not.

We are -- we are constantly assessing the environment and, you know, continuously watching and looking at, you know, where forces are arrayed on the battlefield, where their weapons are pointed.

And that is -- in Syria, that is one reason why we maintain that deconfliction line and we've been able to deescalate a lot of buildups that we have seen over time.  We've been largely successful in that, especially, you know, since the, you know, 7/8 February incident, where we had to act in self-defense.

I mean, number one, you know, just the fact that, you know, we have that deconfliction line to communicate.  But then number two, our actions have speaken (sic) -- spoken many times in the past, and, you know, should be -- stand on its own to at least inform those elements that attempt, you know, to threat (sic) us with rhetoric or even through -- through actions, that it'll be a long day for them, should they do so.

STAFF:  Next Kasim Ileri, Anadolu.  After that, we'll go over to Lucas Tomlinson.

Q:  Thank you very much, Colonel Dillon, for doing this.

(UNKNOWN):  (Off mic)

Q:  Yeah.

(inaudible) -- two questions.  My first question, can you just tell us about the number of contractors in Syria?  And what are -- they basically do.  Not -- maybe just an estimate, not an exact number.

COL. DILLON:  Yeah, Kasim, I don't have that exact number or not.  I understand there was a report that -- put out by the Pentagon, that provides those numbers.

And I know that, you know -- you know, as far as what the contractors do, I know many of them, at least from what I -- you see, as I walk around the, you know, facilities where I work, is a lot of those logistical support and -- and things like that.

But I don't have a -- a full answer on what everybody does.  And I will -- I can either take that back, or I'll have someone else answer that for you.

Q:  The other one, as you will remember, a statement came out of the coalition in -- back in January, saying that the coalition is training a border security force.  Then it was clarified that it's not a border security or border patrol force, rather it's an internal security force, as you mentioned several times in your opening statement.

In the Defense budget request for 2019, there is a fund for internal security force, and there is a separate fund for border security force.  Border security, actually, with Iraq and Syria.

I know you won't discuss, you know, budget issues, but apparently the Defense Department has crafted this number based on the planning of the coalition.

So my question is, what is -- you -- are -- are you planning to do with the security of the Iraqi-Syrian border, or Iraqi -- sorry -- Syrian and Jordan border, and Syrian and Turkish border from -- from the side of Syria?


So, I have not seen that -- that report either.  But I can tell you that, number one is that the Iraqi, you know, border security forces, as we have seen the -- the slowdown or the cease of major combat operations in Iraq, a transition to the wide-area security that is going to be required to secure Iraq.

And that has a lot to do with the border security.  Because where does ISIS still hold territory?  Where do they still remain?  In Syria, right along the border.

COL. DILLON:  So we have invested personnel and time and equipment to the Iraqi, you know, border security forces, so that they can stem that transit of -- of ISIS fighters through -- across the borders.  So number one, you know we've got the border, you know, border guard forces from Iraq.

Number two, we've always talked about internal security forces.  And I would say that since, you know, those areas have been liberated, Raqqa, Tabqa and other areas throughout the Middle Euphrates River Valley, the -- the hold forces that came in after the SDF and then the internal security forces have been able to prevent the ISIS from coming back.

And that's a big difference between, you know, our operations and the way that we have supported our partners versus across the Euphrates in western Syria.  So we're proud of that fact and we think that we have set up a blueprint that works.  And we've seen stability come back in these areas, in Tabqa, in Manbij, we're starting to see that come back in Raqqa.  So there is an effort and a continued effort to make sure that these internal security forces can prevent the resurgence of ISIS.

STAFF:  Thank you.

(Inaudible) -- and as a matter of fact, that report that you referenced about contractor numbers in Iraq and Syria, it contains a breakdown of the -- of the functions those contractors perform.  And they're generally support functions that enable the train, advise and assist mission.

Next we'll go to Lucas Tomlinson with Fox.

Q:  Colonel, in 2016, Manbij was declared ISIS-free, and now we're hearing about a raid against an ISIS high-value target there.  What can you tell us about the ISIS presence in Manbij?  Has it expanded recently?

COL. DILLON:  No, I won't say that it has expanded.

Like I said in an earlier response to a question, you know they don't hold territory there.  But as we've seen, you know, throughout Iraq and in Syria, we knew that ISIS, you know, even though you know they have been defeated militarily, that they were not going to just give up.

You know, many have run, you know, back into the desert areas and into these vast rural areas to hide and attempt to regroup.  But that doesn't mean that they're exclusively just in these desert areas.  Others have attempted to go back into and blend back in with population centers, as well.

So I think if you -- you have looked at and seen, you know, pictures and photos and life in Manbij, I think you see, you know, a city that -- it has come back in a very short time after being oppressed by ISIS.

Q:  And you mentioned earlier ISIS crossing the Euphrates River to take on the regime.  Can you walk us through that?  When you're looking at that on drone footage and you see ISIS fighting the Assad regime, which side are you taking there?

Are you concerned that strikes against ISIS could be seen as supporting the regime in those isolated engagements?

COL. DILLON:  So let me just clarify real quick.

When you said they're crossing the Euphrates River, again, you know, we're not saying that, you know, we have -- that that has happened.  So we're not, you know, saying that ISIS is leaving areas where they hold territory.  You know, they could very well have been, you know, hiding out in areas outside of Abu Kamal and are now starting to attack again against pro-regime forces.

Like I said, there's -- you have the pro-regime that is focused on west of the Euphrates and the coalition on the east of the Euphrates.  And to be able to, you know, prevent any kind of increased mishap or miscalculation, you know, we have put in deconfliction measures so that that does not happen.

If we do see things that are -- or ISIS rather on the west side of the Euphrates River, we will tell the Russians.  And we, you know, certainly hope they will act on the information that we have provided.

But, you know, very rarely, if at all, have we had the green light to strike on the west side of the river, if we have seen anything.  It is -- that's why you have the deconfliction line.

STAFF:  Okay, next we'll go to Thomas Watkins, AFP.

Q:  Hi, Colonel.

I missed the top of this briefing, so I'm sorry if this came up already.  Could you -- could you tell us the -- what happened on the deconfliction line in the -- in the run-up to the -- to the strikes last week?  And subsequent to the strikes, what -- what has been going on?

Was there a change in the tempo of calls?  Did -- did things drop off?  Can you just kind of help us understand that?  And are things back to normal now?

COL. DILLON:  I -- what I will tell you is that they were really at normal levels throughout.

We are focused on defeating Daesh and we are focused on defeating ISIS.  And that deconfliction line stayed open and it stayed open for the reason and the purposes of what we have been doing in eastern Syria.

So I've already addressed and talked about, you know, how we addressed potential threats and reallocation of assets to support our forces.  But the deconfliction line continues both on the ground deconfliction and the air deconfliction without any real change or difference from before strikes or after.

Q:  And also, I know obviously the focus of your operation is counter-ISIS, but you do have eyes on Syria all over.  Can you tell us what you saw in terms of the movement of Syrian assets, aircraft and so on, in the week running up to -- to Friday's action?

COL. DILLON:  I -- I think the way that I would characterize that is the majority of -- yes, we watch, you know, air activity throughout Syria.  And I would say that the majority of the Syrian-Russian air activity leading up to the strikes, you know, was out in western Syria, in Damascus, in -- in Douma, in places like that.

There has been -- and -- and you've seen it, just as I have, all of the heavy bombing and the civilian casualty allegations that came along with that heavy bombing.  But during that time, there was very little activity of Syrian or Russian aircraft that were flying in the areas where we were supporting our partners on the ground.

So they were -- had a very minimal presence in eastern Syria really for about a month or so, you know, leading up to these strikes.  And we have not seen a lot of that activity come back to eastern Syria.  Although we've seen -- as a result of some of these attacks I've talked about outside of Abu Kamal -- west of Abu Kamal in pro-regime areas, we have seen some air support that has come in to be provided to those troops on the ground there.

Q:  And finally, did you see a lot of Syrian jets being moved to the Russian bases?

COL. DILLON:  I -- I can't answer that.  I -- I -- I don't know where, like on the ground.  Again, we -- we look and see where their activity is, but I -- I'm not ready to address that one.

STAFF:  By the way, today we're going to have to cut a little bit short.  We've got about 10 more minutes left.  I'm going to try and get to everybody that I can.  Corey's been waiting for a while.  I know Tara has a clarifying question; we might have to do that afterwards.

Corey Dickstein, Stars and Stripes?

Q:  Hey, Colonel Dillon.

I just wanted to check, you talked about limited offensive operations in the MERV earlier.  Has the SDF actually retaken ground from ISIS recently; the last weeks, months?  And if so can you give us kind of an idea how much and how much it has slowed down recently?


So yes, they have retaken some territory.  And I want to say it's been within the last month.  And as far as how much, I'd have to come back to you on that and let you know.

But what I will say is there really has been no gain of territory -- significant gain of territory since the departure of many of those fighters that left to go towards Afrin.

So, again, we have -- in an effort to make sure that we can contain ISIS in these areas, there is obstacles that were put into place, and we have since focused some of our air assets to be able to identify targets and conduct deliberate planning.  And now we're starting to see some more strikes as a result of that.

Are we going to see more Syrian Democratic Forces come back and reconstitute combat power in these areas?  I know that's something that we are urging and trying to get to, so that we can build up that combat power and start to push again in these areas and take ground.

STAFF:  (inaudible) -- who's been infinitely patient.

Q:  Wyatt.

STAFF:  Wyatt.  Wyatt.  I'm sorry, Wyatt.

Q:  Thank you, Colonel Dillon, for doing this.

Can you just tell me in general in Syria how often do coalition forces or SDF forces engage with Iranian-backed troops?  I mean, we hear about it in Iraq, but do they face similar, sort of, pockets -- (inaudible) -- with ISIS?  Or how often do you have to deal with them?

COL. DILLON:  Yeah, I -- I don't know from the Syrian Democratic Forces if at all or how often they do.  I know that we, as the coalition, do not at all.

Our conduit to any of the elements that are fighting for the regime, whether Iranian-backed militia groups or the regime itself, we work through the Russians through the deconfliction line.

STAFF:  Luis Martinez, ABC.

Q:  A question about the readjustment of forces inside Iraq.  Since the major battles have kind of ended inside Iraq, has there been a decrease or a readjustment or reallocation of U.S. forces inside Iraq as a result?

COL. DILLON:  So, I would say yes.

So, we have -- the coalition has reallocated and repositioned forces within Iraq to address what it is that we are doing.

There are, I would say, fewer advisers particularly down at the tactical level than what we saw during major combat operations.  You have also a lot of the train-and-equip missions -- some of that is run by the U.S., but the majority -- the vast majority of that training is by non-U.S. actors and -- and nations within the coalition.

So, I would say yes, there has been movements around.  And that's something that we are always looking at -- number one, the Iraqis say, "All right, let's look out to the future and this is what we think that we're going to need to address our security concerns."  And then we match what we have to those priorities and we allocate accordingly.

So, yeah, I would also say, just while we're talking about this, we talked about major combat operations.  I don't know how many of you were in the audience, you know, that were -- was there two years ago, but when Steve Warren was here and he was talking about the Beast -- and I can't see your hands raised, but does anyone remember the Beast and the single M1A1 tank crew that was driving around Hit, Iraq, because the other tanks had either been destroyed or were broken?

And it's a pretty, you know, cool story of this, you know, tank crew going around and just, you know, kicking butt and -- and it shows the tenacity of the Iraqi Security Forces.  That is a great story, but that is not how it should be done.

What has happened recently -- and I just want to bring this to your attention, is so you go from that single M1A1 tank crew, the Beast, and running around, to an operation that happened about a month ago where information was received by a ministry that passed to another.  And then you had Iraqi Air Force, Iraqi Army helicopters, air weapons teams, you had three or four different units and organizations made a 200-kilometer movement through air, all in helicopters, to conduct a raid against an ISIS element in the middle of the desert.  And not only -- not just to kill them, but to capture them, grab them, detain them, exploit that information.

That is not you know something that just happens overnight.  I think that that displays and shows the difference from where we were two years ago to where the Iraqi Security Forces are today.  And the complexity of the operations that they can pull off and -- and what they can do.

So I know that was a little long-winded there and not exactly what you asked for Luis, but you got it anyway.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up.  Thanks for that anecdote.

What about -- has the reallocation of forces led to the re-deployment of forces outside of Iraq?  And what numbers are you talking about?

COL. DILLON:  You know -- you know, there have been, you know, some elements that have, you know, departed Iraq, you know, from the coalition.  Whether they're reallocated within theater or they redeployed, that has happened.

I'm not going to provide numbers on -- on those elements and on those forces.  But that is kind of -- as we've seen the transition from major combat operations, from the CJTF, from CJFLCC, we're continuing to assess where we are in the campaign and making the right decisions and choices to address the Iraqis -- you know, what they want and what we think we can give.

STAFF:  Okay, thank you very much.  I believe this may be the last question.  Hans Nichols, NBC?

Q:  Yeah, thanks sir.

I know you don't want to get real specific on the number of ISIS fighters left.  But I was wondering if under 1,000 is still accurate, or could we say under 500?  And what percent of territory does ISIS still control?


Yeah, on the numbers, as far as how many are left, I'm not even going to, you know, give you that one.

But what I will say is that as far as the territory that still remains, where ISIS still holds territory, it is less than 10 percent.  And I talked about our areas, but what I don't want to do is -- is we had said 98 percent.  But as we've seen ISIS start to resurge in areas west of the Euphrates River, we'll just keep it at, you know, well over 90 percent of the territory that ISIS used to have has been retaken.

STAFF:  Tara Copp promises a quick clarification.

Q:  I'll be real quick.

The IED attack that occurred in Manbij in March that killed the two coalition service members, does the U.S. assess that it was an ISIS-emplaced IED, do you know that for certain?  Or is there a chance that it was another party that emplaced that IED?

COL. DILLON:  You know, I don't want to get too -- I don't want to get ahead of the investigation.  But there's enough evidence to lead us to believe that it very much was a ISIS-implanted IED based off of the mission that they were doing.

Q:  Okay, thank you.

STAFF:  We'll hit one more.  Thomas Watkins, AFP.  That's -- that's it.

Q:  I just wanted to follow up on Hans' -- on your answer to Hans' question.

So earlier on, you said you've seen no -- no significant gain in territory, so that's -- that's basically SDF taking territory.  You also said that there has been -- the SDF has retaken some ground from ISIS within the last month.  And now you just said that actually you're changing the number from 98 percent to less than 10 percent.  You know, you kind of flipped it from saying they only had 2 percent left, and now it's kind of gone up to maybe about 10 percent.

So what are we to make of that?  That's quite a significant change in the -- in the -- (inaudible) -- amount of territory.

COL. DILLON:  Okay, all right.  So I'll put it to you this way, then.

So -- well, we had said, you know that ISIS -- we had our forces, both in Iraq and Syria, have taken away about 98 percent of the territory that ISIS once held.  And yes, I did say also that within the last, you know -- within the last month, the SDF have retaken, you know, some territory.  And -- but that is not enough to change that percentage point at all.

The other thing that I just wanted to highlight too is that, as we look at ISIS in areas where -- where we are not operating, where we are not supporting our partners on the ground, there has been ISIS elements who have been able to come back and take territory.  As I mentioned, some of the neighborhoods in southern Damascus.

So that is -- and I don't -- I hope that that explains it a little bit more.  But that is what I was addressing, is that we don't just talk about -- the 98 percent, those are also areas where ISIS used to hold territory, and that is not in areas where we are supporting our partners.

I hope that makes sense.  If not, you can ask again.

STAFF:  I appreciate your patience, everybody.  I'm sorry, we're going to have to wind it up there.  If you have follow-on questions, feel free to touch in with me, or Colonel Dillon will be around, I'm sure, for a little while yet.  We're not letting him go to bed yet.

Do you have any closing remarks, sir?

COL. DILLON:  I do not.

I think, you know, hopefully I'll see you guys again next week and, you know, we can do this all over again.  And I'll give you some more clarification.

STAFF:  Thank you very much.  And that's all we have for today.