Department of Defense Press Briefing by Lt. Gen. Terry in the Pentagon Briefing Room
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Good morning, everybody.
I won't make this long, but I wanted to welcome Lieutenant General James Terry, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, our anti-ISIL efforts. I want to welcome him to the briefing room. This is his first briefing in this new command with you all, and we're delighted to have him here.
We're going to keep this to 30 minutes. The general has a short opening statement. I will be moderating from over here, calling on you. Please, when I do call on you, identify who you are and who you're with before you ask your question, so that the general knows who he is talking to. And I would ask you to please limit follow-ups if you can so that we can get through as many people as possible.
So again, we've got 30 minutes from the time -- from the time we start.
With that, general?
LT. GEN. JAMES TERRY: Thanks, John.
Good morning, everyone, and happy holidays to each of you out there.
As many of you may know, we recently established the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. It's a headquarters of more than a 40-nation coalition that is designed to integrate our collective military capabilities to defeat ISIL, or as I have picked up in the regional vernacular "Daesh".
The fact that we have so many nations united in this mission I think is really significant. Various countries will contribute national capabilities on different timelines. The strength of this team is in our common purpose. And what unites us is a strong resolve to combat this threat.
Daesh is why we are here. Daesh uses terror and fear to dominate people and reward themselves. It has demonstrated time and time again a disregard for life and humanity. It has also openly stated intentions to apply its trademark barbaric methods not only regionally, but globally as well.
While we recognize the ruthlessness and capability of this enemy, we also realize that the strategic advantage and tremendous strength of the coalition will ultimately lead to the defeat of Daesh. The Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve is a subordinate command of CENTCOM under General Lloyd Austin and we have three foundational priorities.
First, we will contribute to build and maintain the coalition. The Combined Joint Task Force provides an organizing framework that is designed to synchronize and integrate capabilities and amplify our efforts. Forty-plus nations contributing to this effort provide a strategic advantage through which we intend to harness the collective strength of all those that are involved.
Second, as a coalition, we will relentlessly pursue Daesh in order to degrade and destroy its capabilities and defeat their efforts. Up to this point, we have conducted more than 1,300 airstrikes. In fact, I just checked before coming in. It's 1,361. Many of you may be following recent events from two nights ago in support of Iraqi security force operations around Sinjar and Zumar -- 53 precision strikes that have resulted in allowing those forces to maneuver and regain approximately 100 square kilometers of ground.
Combined efforts like these are having a significant effect on Daesh's ability to command and control, to resupply, and to conduct maneuvering. We will continue to be persistent in this regard and we will strike Daesh at every possible opportunity.
Also the coalition will work to deny Daesh safe haven and to deny sanctuary. We will do this not only through precision strikes, but also by enabling our partners to expand their footprint and expand their influence, remove the opportunities for Daesh to manipulate youth, harm citizens, deny basic services and recruit fighters.
The key is assisting the government of Iraq in improving their security forces, which, after 16 military combat operations are regaining their confidence and proving more capable every day.
While several places remain contested, Iraqi security forces have retaken many critical areas. Examples include Mosul Dam, Haditha, Baiji, Muthanna, Karma, Rabiya and Zumar.
That leads us to our third priority. As a part of the broader diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic effort, the coalition will enable regional partner security. Iraqi security forces must be a capable force, one that can restore Iraq's sovereign borders, retake territory from Daesh, and secure the Iraqi people.
An offensively minded and trained security force backed by an inclusive government of Iraq is the key to future stability.
As you know we have been authorized an additional 1,500 U.S. personnel. They will serve in noncombat roles to support additional advise-and-assist requirements, and the building capacity partner effort.
In addition, we anticipate coalition contributions that should produce at least an additional 1,500 personnel in these efforts.
We're seeing initial successes in this fight. My assessment is that Daesh has been halted in transitioning to the defense and is attempting to hold what they currently have. You will see some local counterattacks in that regard.
There will be challenges down the road that will require patience. The government of Iraq understands the great threat they face, and they are resolved to defeat it.
The combined joint task force represents what I believe is a new chapter of what I assess will be a successful campaign to bring the coalition's power to bear and ultimately lead to the defeat of Daesh.
Thanks for your attention, and I will now take your questions.
Q: General, thanks for doing this. Lita Baldor with the Associated Press.
I'm wondering if you could explain a little bit more about some of the coalition forces you expect to be coming in. Do you -- are you looking for more than 1,500? And when do you expect to see some of those forces start to move in?
And, although Iran isn't, obviously, one of those coalition forces, can you talk a little bit about what you are seeing from Iran's air operation? Is it consistent? Is it sporadic? And is it a help?
GEN. TERRY: Let me get started with the coalition. Part of the coalition is obviously already there, so the 1,500 in addition that I'm speaking to are additional capabilities in a relationship to advise and assist in the build partner capacity side.
And so, what we -- what we will look at then is how we balance those capabilities as the -- as the coalition comes in, in relationship to the requirements that we see in Iraqi security forces, where we have to advise and assist, and where we need to create some of that additional capability in those forces so that over time they become increasingly capable.
As you heard me discuss there, I think the key to success out there will be increasing the capabilities of Iraqi security forces, and combining that with an inclusive government. I think that's the key to success down the road. At least, it leads to stability inside of Iraq.
I see the same reports you see on Iran. Obviously, Iran has interest in Iraq. I don't think any of us deny that.
What I would tell you is that all of my activities are focused on Daesh and that I coordinate those activities by, with, and through the minister of defense and his offices in Iraq. So I don't -- I don't directly coordinate with anyone outside the coalition in Iraq.
ADM. KIRBY: Jamie?
Q: Jaime McIntyre with Al Jazeera America.
Two quick questions.
One is, is there any way to quantify how much ground has been retaken from the ISIL rebels?
And then a more broad question, we're told that the key to -- to Iraqi forces standing up and fighting is for them to feel that their government is more inclusive and less corrupt. Can you give us any idea of what the progress on that is?
And also, can you explain this new name that you've given ISIL?
GEN. TERRY: Daesh is a -- it's a term that our partners in the Gulf use, and in fact, it's -- it's -- it speaks a name that's very close to ISIL in -- in Arabic, and it also speaks to another name that means to crush underneath the foot.
And so, you know, it's -- it's a regional acronym for -- for Daesh. And I would just say that our partners, at least the ones that I work with, ask us to use that, because they feel that if you use ISIL, that you legitimize a self-declared caliphate, and it actually -- they feel pretty strongly that we should not be doing that.
So I'll slip back and forth every now and then, ISIL or -- or Daesh.
I apologize. The other piece is?
Q: So is there any way to quantify how much ground has been retaken, or territories were retaken? And what about progress on more inclusive government?
GEN. TERRY: Yeah.
I would -- I would say the -- the way I look at the progress is more in line with the effects that we're -- we're having against Daesh.
As -- as an example, we are not seeing a broad offensive movement like we saw in May and June and even into July. I mean, we've -- my headquarters has -- has really been there since about the July timeframe and moving to a CJTF later in the September-October timeframe.
And so that broad offensive becomes important to Daesh as they try to gain territory and populations for the caliphate, the self-declared caliphate. And so what that allows them to do then is message, and that's one of the things that they do well. I think we're all familiar with that.
And they do it in two ways: It becomes attractive to some populations out there, so that they can recruit, and I think the -- we know they intentionally do it then to create some fear inside the minds and the perceptions of some of these populations.
And so a large part of countering that ability to message is the fact that, you know, broadly, I see them as transitioning to the defensive piece of this.
You will see some local counterattacks, and again, some of these areas will be contested. Again, I would just say it takes some patience as we continue to build the Iraqi security forces out there.
And then there -- as a transition like this, it provides an opportunity for Iraqi security forces specifically to become more offensive in nature that now starts to uncover Daesh and certain capabilities and allows us to strike them.
So I would just broadly characterize it as that and say I think they're having a hard time in terms of communicating right now, in terms of resupply.
And we're seeing indications -- you -- can go to the social media and see some of the stuff that's coming out of places like Mosul in relationship to the inability of the self-declared caliphate to govern populations out there.
Q: General, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about Mosul. There were reports that Iraqi forces want to take Mosul sooner rather than later. What's your estimate when the Iraqi forces can retake Mosul? What will the U.S. element be on the ground? General Dempsey's talked about JTACs. And also, you said several places are still contested. What are those places?
GEN. TERRY: Okay, that's about four questions. So my Georgia public education -- let me start with Mosul. And that -- specifically, you want to know about conditions inside Mosul or --
Q: When do you think Iraqi forces can retake it? What will the U.S. role be may be --
GEN. TERRY: Right.
Q: -- maybe on the ground?
GEN. TERRY: We -- we continually, you know, 24/7 work -- work with the Iraqi security forces. A large part of that goes into the planning, but also part of the planning has to be how you generate force to do operations.
Up -- up -- up to this point, the Iraqi security forces have been challenged with continual redistribution of forces out there, is I guess is the best way to say it.
So now how do you get into a place where you can generate some capability, pull some units back so that you can make them better, and then now start to put those against operations down the road in a more campaign plan like fashion.
I don't want to disclose any timelines, but certainly I think part of the build partner capacity effort that we're doing right now will certainly play into resourcing those capabilities and move the Iraqi security forces forward. Two places, not -- not just Mosul, but, you know, you ask about contested places. There are places in Anbar that are certainly contested.
The reports I'm seeing certainly indicate places like Ramadi are contested. The center of Ramadi is, I think, is being cleared and secured in a lot of ways by the Iraqi security forces, but the east and the northeast part of it still contested as an example.
We have some contested places in and around Baiji right now. I think we can expect that as -- especially as Iraqi security forces continue to conduct some more of these offenses operations and -- and Daesh's ability then to -- to counter that at the tactical level will create some of the contested spots.
Q: Phil Stewart with Reuters. Quickly, how -- when do you think that 1,500 U.S. force, additional forces will be in place?
And -- and on the issue of National Guard, I heard a report this morning -- I don't know if it's true -- but describing fears that that plan is, you know, entirely on hold, that it wasn't going to stall entirely. What -- what are you -- what's your estimation about the national guard plan?
GEN. TERRY: Still 1,500 Iraqi national guard. The -- the -- the 1,500 I think we'll start see flowing in a, you know, couple of weeks. But what -- what you need to understand is we're not -- we're not waiting on those 1,500. We've actually used some of the forces and capabilities that are there, like the regional force from the army and the special purpose MAGTF that's there in the region. That's what they're there for, provides General Austin a lot of flexibility to react, a lot of operations like we're seeing up in Iraq.
So, they are starting to move forward and have moved forward in many cases to make sure that we are preparing the -- the sites out there. We've got the -- we've got the legislation moving through that gives us authorities to train. And we want to be ready, and I -- we certainly will be as the Iraqis now start to designate in a deliberate way which units now will go to those partner capacity sites, either pull them out of the line somewhere or creating new capabilities out there.
Second question again? Guard?
GEN. TERRY: National guard, again, as many of you realize, we've got this initial tribal 5,000-bridging strategy that the Department of State is working directly. And of course, all these activities go through the government of Iraq. So we've got the initial 5,000 started; 250 trained and contracted; more coming to do that. And again, this is Iraqis.
We -- we participate with the Iraqi security forces in training them on how to train, you know, this initial tranche of capability there. That's important because for this program to be successful, I've firmly assessed that it has to be done by the government of Iraq.
Now, over time, then, there are several versions of legislation, as I understand it. I talked to Ambassador Jones last -- the 14th, before departing. There are several versions of that language that have to go before their council of representatives to be approved. But I am -- I'm optimistic that it is going to go through. There are many that see this as a way to not only bring those tribes back in, the national guard piece, but also to bring some of those ungovernable militias back in also.
Q: General, thanks for your time this morning.
I was hoping you could clarify how airstrikes are being conducted without any JTACs on the ground in most cases. And also how you assess civilian casualties in those cases, if at all.
GEN. TERRY: Let me -- let me start with the civilian casualty piece. You know, the coalition is really very deliberate about how it conducts strikes out there. We -- we have some great capability in terms of precision. What's in the balance here if you're not careful is you can be precisely wrong. You could strike, you know, tribes. You could strike Iraqi security forces. And you could create a very bad situation.
To date, we've got a very good record. I am tracking no civilian casualties. Where we -- if we even suspect civilian casualties, we would immediately direct investigation, determine the cause, and then seek to understand the lessons learned from that and apply those lessons learned. So, that's the -- the civilian casualty piece of this, and again, a very, very deliberate process.
And the second question?
Q: How you're working without the JTACs.
GEN. TERRY: So, it kind of reminds me of back when I was a lieutenant and a captain. And it starts with a good operational scheme of maneuver on the part of the Iraqi security forces. What that helps you do, then, is to understand the concept of control measures and graphics on a map. It allows us then to track Iraqi security forces and understand where they are.
And we have capability in the form of ISR platforms that we can actually, with that understanding of where Iraqi security forces are, can actually see -- see Daesh's capabilities on the ground. What we have done through our advise and assist teams, and again, these are typically at the operation centers, as an example, the Baghdad Operations Center or the Jazeera Operations Center, you know, as might be an example down the road, or with some of these division headquarters that are out there. But, certainly, they're backing something we call the combined joint operations center, which is at MOD. And we also have another one that works up in Irbil.
And so, we bring the right people into that to actually help us identify units, and then what we call deconflict of fires and the clearance of fires, so there are Iraqis in the process when we do all this.
General, Justin Fishel, with Fox News.
Q: So, why hasn't the vetting process of the Syrian rebels begun now, three months into this? And does the U.S. would consider the Kurds to be its allies? And if not -- if so, why not arm, do more to arm them directly?
GEN. TERRY: So, the Syria train-and-equip piece is what you're specifically asking?
Q: Yeah, that's the first part.
GEN. TERRY: You know, I think part of that has been, this one is not cleanly in my lane, and I'd -- well, I'll have to punch you back up to CENTCOM in some ways here.
There is -- you may be aware, there's a separate task force being established to actually handle the train-and-equip peace. I would just tell you, I think a large part of that has been getting the legislation right to get the authorities and the funding to do a lot of -- a lot of what you're talking about.
Q: And, the Kurds, are they U.S. allies? And why not do more to arm them directly?
GEN. TERRY: Again, I'd have, I would have to defer you back up to State and back up to CENTCOM on that particular one. They are considered our allies, and I think in a lot of ways we are enabling them. When you look at the strikes have been going on in places like Kobani and some of the other places, I'm pretty comfortable that we are supporting them right now.
Q: Hi, Missy Ryan, Washington Post.
Q: Hi, thanks for being here.
Just two quick questions. On the airstrikes in Syria, could you just give us an update on what's going on with the Khorasan Group? There was a spate of airstrikes against them, and there hasn't been for a while. Are they effectively a debilitated organization?
And, secondly, you mentioned the bridging strategy with the 5,000 tribesmen, and 250 trained. Can you give us any additional detail on that? Who's doing the training? Where are these people being drawn from? And when you say 5,000, what does that mean? Are those people who have been identified, but not yet trained?
GEN. TERRY: So, Syria first?
Okay. The Khorasan Group was your question.
GEN. TERRY: Okay. My focus is Daesh, and where we find violent extremist organizations, we will -- we'll continue to work that effort in terms of precision strikes.
I -- I hesitate to give you any type of affect achieved on those groups out there. Whenever we do that, we always wind up with them re-creating themselves someplace and creating problems for us.
And, again, my principal focus in Syria is to, while we are working Iraq first, is to make sure that we shape that deeper fight out of there in terms of sanctuary in some places, in places like Raqqa, so that it has an enduring effect on what we're doing in Iraq also.
Second question was?
Q: If you could just give us any additional details, and who's training, who they're training -- who the trainees are.
GEN. TERRY: The -- and, again, these -- this gets executed through the government of Iraq.
There is -- as we see the ISF conducting operations, not -- not only in -- in Anbar but in some of the places in Salah al-Din, as an example, and Nineveh. A lot of these tribal members are wanting to come together and participate.
And so how the Iraqi government pulls those in over time, like I said, is going to be -- going to be pretty critical.
And I -- and, you know, exactly what their approach is in relationship to that, they're trying to link it to assert the campaign plan in relationship to a concept of operations.
And so I'd -- in terms of sequencing that, I'd like to not answer that, because we might probably give away some -- some capabilities there.
ADM. KIRBY: Tony, go ahead.
Q: Sir. Hey. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News.
What heavy weapons does the Iraqi security force need that they don't have now?
Apparently, you mentioned this to Secretary Hagel when he was there last week. Did he articulate what they needed? What's your understanding of what they need, what they don't have now to pursue major offensives.
GEN. TERRY: Yeah -- and again, I'll -- I'll answer it. I'd defer you for further question to the Office of Security Cooperation who works that particular challenge there.
One of the things that we're trying to do is we get in certain places then and advise and assist, is how do we now get an advise-and-assist team that starts to look at what you actually have on hand in relationship to getting visibility of those heavy weapons and capabilities that are out there.
A large part, I think, of their challenge there right now is -- is repairing what they actually have on hand. And my -- my -- my kind of basic answer to you is we're going to -- we're going to try to help them baseline that, especially as they -- as they start to bring units into these build partner capacity sites and then give them a little bit more accurate picture of potentially what they need out there.
Q: Okay. So bottom line is they don't really know what they need to think they do, but you're going to help them decide what they need.
GEN. TERRY: We're going to help them see themselves in this effort, and then let them determine them.
Again, we work with the ministry of defense directly. We'll give him an assessment and let them determine what it is that they need.
Q: General Jim Miklaszewski with NBC News.
What progress, if any, is being made in the reawakening of the Sunni awakening? Are -- are any of those Sunni tribal leaders being convinced that the Iraqi government that they felt betrayed them is now an alternative to ISIS control?
And -- and is that absolutely key to defeating ISIS in Iraq, to have the participation of those Sunni tribes that were so critical in war in Iraq in U.S. operations there?
GEN. TERRY: Jim, I hesitate to call it an awakening. I would just tell you that the -- the tribal piece of this I -- I think is coming around, and we see more and more of it everyday.
The difference between now and then is that the government of Iraq is in charge of the program, and I think that is an essential point in relationship to the future.
And so I see a lot of opportunity out there, especially as the ISF conduct operations in places like Anbar, for the government of Iraq to -- to reach out and contact some of these tribal elements and some of the tribal fighters that you're very familiar with and then bring them back into the side of the government of Iraq.
Q: Initially, though, they were reluctant to rejoin -- to create any alliance with Baghdad, which they felt had betrayed them.
Can you somehow quantify in any way the progress that may or may not be being made?
GEN. TERRY: Let me back up a little bit -- just remind everyone here that, you know, this -- this current government is I think a little over 100 days old. And they've started several initiatives out there, one of which is this kind of tribal outreach, tribal engagement; one of which is this national guard piece that they're trying to move the legislation through the council of representatives to do that.
I would just way that what -- what I see in relationship to bringing some of those tribes around that I think is going to be important to not just the fight, but long -- long-term enduring stability, that the conditions are getting better for that every day. I see the current prime minister at least moving in that direction and we'll continue to support them and encourage them to bring the rest of those that want to come to the side of the government of Iraq, support them to bring those around.
ADM. KIRBY: We're going to take a couple more.
Q: General, this is Joe Tabet with Alhurra.
Four months of airstrikes against Daesh, and that group is still in control of large parts of Syria and also in Iraq. When do you think your mission will reach a turning point in the fight against Daesh? And also, how do you assess Daesh influence along the Syrian-Lebanese border?
GEN. TERRY: Okay. I -- I would just tell you, I think we're in, you know, some patience in relationship to turning Daesh. They have proved to be resilient. And again, as I look at it from a military standpoint, you know, the first -- the first strikes were, what, 8 August? And so this is December. What's that? Four months.
I think we've made significant progress in halting that offensive that I talked about, the ability for them to continue to expand, you know, in terms of terrain and geography out there. I think what we must do, especially inside of Iraq, is continue to build those capabilities. I think you're at least talking a minimum of three years.
Now, that -- that doesn't mean we haven't started turning Daesh in a certain direction. And that's going to be the power of the coalition. Not only from a military perspective, but how do you apply all those elements of -- of national power, along from the different nations, along those lines of effort that have been laid out out there.
So I hesitate to give you a time, but I'll show up in six months and you'll ask me why we haven't gotten there. I think a lot of it, I see the conditions for it right now being set for a pretty stable environment, but I still think we're, in terms of building some of the capabilities that are required there, probably about three years down the road minimum.
Q: (inaudible) what about the Daesh influence along the Syrian-Lebanese border?
GEN. TERRY: The Syrian-Lebanese border? You know, certainly Daesh has a desire to expand. I am not -- I'll have to get back to you on that one. In terms of influence, you're talking ability to enter and exit Lebanon or influence the population? Or specifically, what are you asking?
Q: They do exist along the border.
GEN. TERRY: On the border -- right.
Q: Since your mission is to defeat Daesh anywhere. Will you be willing to strike them in that area?
GEN. TERRY: Inside Syria, where we see Daesh, and we have an ability to target them, we will conduct precision strikes.
ADM. KIRBY: Last -- and one last question. Gopal.
Q: Gopal Ratnum reporter with Foreign Policy Magazine.
During a visit of Secretary Hagel, one of the things that the Iraqi prime minister asked was an increase in air strikes. And just yesterday, there was a big spike in the number of strikes that were reported by the task force. Why is the Iraqi prime minister asking for more air strikes? And is that something now that you're agreeing that they do indeed need more air strikes?
GEN. TERRY: I -- I would have to ask you to ask the prime minister that question in relationship to -- to why he's asking. My answer to it would be simply this, when the Iraqi security forces plan operations, conduct those operations, we plan to support them, as I've described here today in -- in terms of delivering those precision fires.
And again, we're very conscious of any collateral damage, civilian casualties. And again, I -- my assessment is we've been very effective in delivering those fires. And I think we've -- I think we've got it just about right. The key here is building the capability inside the Iraqi security forces, give them an offensive mind set, and we'll continue to strike and be effective.
ADM. KIRBY: Okay, everybody, that's all the time we've got.
GEN. TERRY: Thanks.