September 25, 2014 – Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Hey, everybody. As you know, U.S. military forces and partner nations, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, attacked 12 ISIL-controlled modular oil refineries located in remote areas of eastern Syria in the vicinity of Al Mayadin, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal. We also hit an ISIL vehicle in the same general area of the country.
We are still assessing the outcomes of these attacks, but initially we believe they were successful. I’m going to show you some imagery in just a minute to demonstrate where that confidence comes from.
These small-scale refineries provide fuel to run ISIL operations, money to finance their continued attacks throughout Iraq and Syria, and they are an economic asset to support future operations. Producing between 300 and 500 barrels of refined petroleum per day, ISIL is estimated by some regional organizations to generate millions of dollars of revenue from these refineries.
These were, as were the strikes we conducted earlier this week in Syria, strategic attacks meant specifically to get at the ways that this group sustains, leads, and controls itself. There will be more.
Now, if I can have the first slide, I’m just going to walk you through some of the specifics from yesterday. This is a map of the area, and you can just see, as I said, it was in eastern Syria. We’ve located the three areas I talked about, sort of where they — where the strikes happened, 12 total refineries, 12 attacks.
Next slide. This is sort of a breakdown of how it went by the numbers. So 12 modular oil refineries, again, all in eastern Syria, 16 total fighter aircraft participated in this, 10 from coalition, from Saudi Arabia and UAE, as I said, six from the United States. So most of the aircraft that participated in these strikes were not U.S. aircraft.
Munitions, 41 total bombs were dropped, all precision-guided, again, the majority dropped by coalition aircraft, 23 for — split between Saudi Arabia and UAE, and 18 dropped by the U.S. I do not have the breakdown by country of what they dropped, and I’m not sure that that’s all that relevant at this point.
And you look at the bottom there, this is not a small point. 80 percent of the tonnage of the bombs dropped on those refineries, 80 percent of the explosive effect was caused by the coalition aircraft. And largely that comes from the fact that the bombs they were dropping were of greater weight. These GBUs, these precision-guided munitions, as you know, come in various sizes and forms and tonnage, and the coalition aircraft were flying with heavier tonnage, by and large, heavier tonnage bombs than we were.
Q: Two thousand pounders?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think there were any two thousand pounders in this one, Tony. I think the highest — and I’m not — and I can check on this, but I’m pretty sure the highest weight went up to about 1,000. Most of the ones that we dropped — in fact, if not all — were 250 pounds.
Q: Now, why is that? Is that because ours are coming off of aircraft carriers?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know the reason why. You’d have to — I mean, I’m not — I’m not a — I don’t write the air tasking order. I have no idea how they—how they came up with who was going to fly, you know, with what size bomb.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’re missing my whole point here. (Laughter.)
Eighty percent of the tonnage, all right? Read the bullet at the bottom. Okay, next slide.
This is just a photo of one of the modular oil refineries the Gbiebe, which I think is how you pronounce that — and I want to point something out. I mean, you can see the before-and-after. Obviously, the after, quite a bit of destruction there.
But if you look at the — I’m just going to move away from the mike — you see the shadow, this is one of the towers here. You see the shadow here, you can still see the shadow here in this shot taken obviously sometime later. In other words, the tower is still there, and we were very — we’re trying real hard to be precise in these attacks.
It wasn’t about obliterating the refineries off the face of the map. It was about degrading their ability to use these refineries, them themselves, and so we — we’re still assessing, because 12 targets we still have to assess. But by and large, the goal was to get at their use of it. And so much of the parts of the refineries that we were going for were areas where they were berthing themselves, where their office spaces are, communications equipment, that kind of thing. But you can see the tower is still left standing. Actually, you can even see the tower itself right now.
Q: Admiral, what’s the purpose of that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The tower? I’m not sure. It’s part of the refinery process. It…
Q: No, I mean the purpose of preserving the tower.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, because these refineries were in place before ISIL came along. And assuming that Syria gets to a point where it’s better governed, you know, we’d like to preserve the flexibility for those refineries to still contribute to a stable economy in what we hope will be a stable country when the Assad regime is not in control anymore.
Q: Admiral, ground forces will go in and hold those areas then if you’ve just preserved them and ISIS has been…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We didn’t preserve them. We preserved some capability in the refineries. There’s not — if you’re asking for are U.S. ground forces going to go in there, absolutely not.
Q: So you want to keep…
Q: So what’s going to stop ISIS…
Q: You want to keep the infrastructure intact…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We want to keep some — we want to keep some infrastructure available in the hopes that it can be — these refineries can be used again one day by, you know, the moderate opposition.
Q: But that’s actually where their real money comes from.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Whose money?
Q: In other words, the crude oil, the infrastructure, that’s where the ISIS money comes from. So if you’re really going to take our ISIS’s financial capability, don’t you sort of have to…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’re not going to be using these refineries for some time.
Q: Admiral Kirby, when you say that there’s no ground troops to fill up the vacuum, who’s going to fill up the vacuum after the extremists…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’ve talked about this before, Joe. I mean, we’re — we’re working on a train and equip program for the moderate opposition. That’s going to take some time. You guys are thinking about these strikes in the wrong way, if I may. We hit targets, and then there’s this immediate assumption that there’s going to be some sort of holding of ground.
In Syria — and I tried to state this at the beginning — the kinds of attacks that we’re conducting in Syria are strategic-level. We are trying to remove the means through which this organization sustains itself. That’s the goal.
In Iraq, it’s a different goal. In Iraq, we have — there are Iraqi security forces on the ground responsible — they are responsible for defending and securing their own population and their borders. And so many of the strikes that we have taken in Syria have been of a tactical nature, to help them take back territory or ground, like the Mosul Dam, or to prevent attacks on them and their forces or Iraqi citizens.
It’s a different type of mission here, which is why we wanted to preserve a little bit of flexibility on the precision with these particular strikes.
Q: I get that, but in regards to Syria, you said that last week training the opposition might take up to one year.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: From now to one year, who’s going to fill the vacuum?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: A vacuum for what? These refineries?
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: These refineries are not — they’re not operable right now. I mean, we didn’t completely obliterate them off the map, but you can take a look and see that they’re not going to be pumping any refined oil out, petroleum, anytime soon.
Q: Did you say all 12 are inoperable?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are still assessing the results of the strikes. We’re still…
Q: And then also…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me just — let me get through a couple of slides here. Go ahead.
Q: No, go ahead.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: So this is the next one. This is a Jeribe west modular oil facility. And that compound is about 200 yards long, as you’re looking sort of from the northeast corner of the slide to the southwest corner of the slide, you can see we just — we hit the half that we needed to hit. That’s just another example there.
And I’ve got a video that can show the attack on this facility. So if you could just put the slide down and show the footage. We’ll make this available to you, as well.
Q: Do you have video of the first attack, the first oil refinery that you showed us?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. I only have video right now — now, we’re collecting — I’m sure we’ll have more video available, but right now this is all I got. You can see, it was just that corner of the compound. That’s what it looks like there.
So, again, very precise, we think very lethal, very targeted. Yes, Helene?
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know any more than I know why we flew with certain bombs on certain airframes. But the point was to render them incapable of using these refineries, which was a significant stream of revenue for them. There are other refineries that they have. And, of course, as I said, I’m not announcing future operations here, but we’re going to continue to look at future strategic-level targets against ISIL in Syria. And I think you’re going to see, you know, more such action.
Q: Since the — since the strikes began a few days ago in Syria, have you seen any evidence of Assad forces taking any ground that was previously held by ISIS? And the corollary to that, in Iraq, have — to what extent has the Peshmerga or the Iraqi forces been able to retake territory because of American airstrikes? If you could just update us on that situation, as well.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen any movement by Assad regime forces to move into facilities or infrastructure that we’ve hit. We’ve also seen — not seen a lot of — to be quite honest, haven’t seen much in terms of reaction by ISIL inside Syria as a result of these attacks. In other words, were not seeing a lot of movement or major muscle movement changes by them in just the last couple of days.
In Iraq, the — I could point to the preservation of Haditha Dam. I could point to their ability to work with Kurds, to retake the Mosul Dam facility. I can point to the town of Amerli, which we prevented with them a humanitarian disaster. We could go on and on and on.
I would also note — and this gets forgotten a little bit — that Baghdad is still relatively secure. I mean, there’s been a couple of minor IED attacks inside Baghdad, but the ISF, the Iraqi Security Forces, in and around the capital are still defending the capital. And it’s not like ISIL hasn’t posed a threat there. You may have noticed that some of the strikes that we’ve taken lately in the last week or so have been south and southwest of Baghdad, because we know they continue to threaten the capital.
So the Iraqi security forces are beginning to hold their own. There’s a lot of work left to do.
Q: But it’s still a static situation?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s still — the way I would — I wouldn’t say static. I’d say mixed. It’s still a mixed picture. And, frankly, their performance as an army is still mixed, which is one of the reasons why we’re getting more advising teams in there to try to help them at a higher headquarters level, of course, and we — nobody’s underestimating the scope of the challenge here.
Q: As you know, the Syrians are starting their own airstrikes. And I’m just wondering, will the U.S. ignore or look the other way while the Syrians are doing their own airstrikes? And is the issue you just don’t want the Syrians in any way interfering with the U.S. and allied air campaign? And what happens if, let’s say, the Syrian strikes start hitting the moderate opposition that you support or create some sort of humanitarian catastrophe?
Will the U.S. interfere with those airstrikes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think — I think Secretary Hagel covered that question pretty well in testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee when he was asked, you know, would — you know, when you put these moderate opposition back into the field, if they come under attack, are you going to defend them? And he said yes.
Now, I’m not going to get in — I’m not going to speak for Mr. Assad or his army in terms of — or his air force, in terms of, you know, what they may or may not hit in the future and how they’re going to conduct themselves. What I will reiterate for you today is we’re coordinating with the Assad regime or the Syrian military. We’re not communicating with them.
Q: Right, but (off mic) that you’re going to look the other way while they do their own bombing, you’re just focused on your bombing, and…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s not about looking the other way, Tom. It’s about being focused on what we are trying to do, and what we are trying to do with our partners — that’s not insignificant — inside Syria is to degrade their strategic-level capabilities of sustainment.
Q: But a lot of us have reporters along the Turkish border. And the people they’re talking with say, why doesn’t the U.S. do anything to prevent the Syrian airstrikes? That’s what those folks are saying up there.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Our job — again, I can’t — I could — I could sit up here all day and talk about the things we aren’t doing or won’t do or don’t do. But what I want to focus on is what we are doing, and that’s going after strategic-level targets that belong to ISIL inside Syria, trying to get at their ability to sustain themselves inside Iraq, as well.
Q: John, just to follow up on what Tom is asking, will you set up a no-fly zone in the north?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about future operations. Lita, you’ve been patient.
Q: Can you address whether or not you think any of the leaders of the — the Khorasan leaders are, indeed, dead? And also, the civilian casualties, there’s a lot of video out there of civilian casualties, including possibly families who were at some of these refineries. Are these, as it was potentially suggested yesterday, maybe fake videos? Or are there real concerns about some civilian casualties?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We cannot confirm the demise of any particular leaders of the Khorasan group in the strikes that were taken the other night in and around Aleppo. We continue to assess the effectiveness and the — of those strikes. So, I don’t have anything to say one way or another about whether we killed a leader in particular.
On civilian casualties, you know that no other military on Earth takes the concerns over collateral damage and civilian casualties more seriously than we do. And we go to great lengths and great care to prevent collateral damage, and certainly any hazard to civilian populations.
That said, we — if we had indications that we think we may have caused civilian casualties, we’re going to look into that. I have — we — I’m aware of some — we are aware of some reporting out there that there may have been civilian casualties, and we’re taking a look at that.
I would add, though, not as a caveat, but just to be completely transparent, we don’t have any credible operational reporting through operational channels that would sustain those allegations. That said, we’re taking a look at this very seriously, and we’re aware of these other reports, and we’ll look into it.
Q: (off mic) mainly from these most recent bombings or also from the previous?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: From all the operations. From all the operations. Now, again, I would — on these particular, we’re just now — you — you guys are actually seeing some of that video that I showed you is very fresh. I mean, these things just happened yesterday afternoon, so these images and the videos are still coming in from the battle damage assessment of those strikes. I mean, it’s not — we actually don’t have all the raw material, so it’s going to take a little while to work our way through that in terms of civilian casualties or potential collateral damage.
I do want to add, again, not as a caveat, but I think it’s important to say that — and you saw here on the map, I mean, this is a pretty remote area of the country, mostly just desert. It’s not — it’s not urban. There’s — you know, so we — we don’t believe that there’s much reason to be too concerned about any collateral damage, you know, to civilian property, that kind of thing.
But on the civilian casualty issue, certainly we take that seriously, and we’ll continue to look at that and review that as we work through the damage assessment process.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: One at a time here. Go ahead.
Q: All right. You have no ground troops on the ground. How do you assess the…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, it gets hard. It’s real hard. I’m not going to…
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We don’t have — we don’t have anybody on the ground going to these sites. So that’s a great question. It gets hard to disprove a negative when, you know, you’re mainly looking at it from the air. So I can’t — it could be some time before we have any way to address these allegations and these claims.
Q: (off mic) confirm these reports (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have — we have ways to do it, but they are limited by the fact that we’re not going to have U.S. personnel on the ground going to these sites. So it’s going to be hard. Absolutely, it’s going to be
Q: Admiral Kirby?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, Joe?
Q: Yesterday there was a report— an Iranian report saying that the head of the Quds Force, General Qassemi, with 70 of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard militants, were assisting the Peshmerga in Erbil against ISIS in the last few weeks. What’s your comment on that? And do you know if the U.S. military has — has had any contact with the Quds Force, even through the Iraqi forces, for example?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that specific case that you talked about. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. We are not coordinating or communicating with Tehran or with Iranian armed forces or Quds Force forces with respect to our military activities in Iraq.
We are coordinating and communicating, obviously, every day with Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga up in the north.
Q: But can you deny that report — can you say that there’s no Quds Force (off mic) for example?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can’t. I can’t. And I’ve said from the podium before that we know there’s Quds Force operatives and forces inside Iraq. I mean, that should come as a surprise to exactly no one.
So I can’t sit here and dispel the idea that they might be up in Erbil. What I can tell you is, we’re not communicating with them. We’re not coordinating with them.
Q: Admiral, on the refineries, are there any environmental risks to hitting these? And on another question, point taken on the coalition partners doing the majority of those…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I hear a “but” coming.
Q: … but what about the day before? General Mayville was not as forthcoming on the breakdown on number of strikes carried out by the U.S. versus the coalition. Can you give us a similar breakdown for…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have it today, but I’m sure we can get that for you. I probably should have anticipated that question.
Q: (off mic) some operations you’re highlighting the coalition and other ones you’re not.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I can only speak for the stuff I brief. I will try to get a breakdown for you. I don’t — I don’t have it. I probably should have been prepared for that.
But I think — I think what you’ll see — the numbers will bear out that — that that first night, as the general said, the vast majority of strikes were conducted by U.S. aircraft or U.S. munitions, because, as you know, the first wave was almost exclusively Tomahawk missile, and those — of course, we’re the only ones firing those from our ships at sea. So I think just that also skews a lot of the data.
There were — there were three waves, as you know. First wave, largely Tomahawks. Second wave was U.S. aircraft predominant, but there was a partner nation in the second wave. I believe it was the UAE. And then in the third wave, as I’ve said before, virtually half the aircraft in that third wave were coalition aircraft.
I think it — I don’t want to give the numbers, but it’s just a little less than 20 total for U.S. and a little bit more than that for coalition aircraft. Now, the munitions breakdown — I mean, there was a lot of — there was a lot of munitions dropped, more than 160 that first night, and I just don’t have that breakdown for you. We’ll see if we can get it to you.
Q: (off mic) refineries — the environmental risks?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, yeah, sorry, you did have another question there. These are — so I’m not — I’m not an environmental expert. I can’t dispel the fact that in some of these targets there may still be some fires burning as a result of what was hit. Again, we’re working our way through the analysis right now.
I think it’s important to note that these were refineries, and fairly small-scale refineries at that — 300 to 500 barrels per day was the max capacity — that doesn’t mean they were operating all of them at max capacity when we hit them or that they had that much.
The crude had to get trucked in to these refineries to then get refined and then to be sold on the black market. So, you know, it’s possible that at some of them there wasn’t any. I just don’t know. We’re still working our way through that. But I can’t completely ignore the possibility that there might still be some oil fires burning because of this.
Q: (off mic) majority of their refineries in Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We believe that the 12 constitute the majority of those that they are in control of. I think it’s fair and safe to assume that they probably still have control of several others. We’re taking a look at that right now. But I think, yeah, the 12 would constitute a majority.
Yeah. Yeah, Tony?
Q: What are some measures of effectiveness for judging the strategic impact of attacks? That’s — you had rattled off fairly persuasively the tactical impacts…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I rattled?
Q: Well, you listed the tactical impact in Iraq. What are the strategic measures of effectiveness you’re going to be looking for? And how long is that going to play out? You know, after World War II, they did a strategic bombing survey of Germany and found a lot of the bombing didn’t have impact on the final resolution of the war, but how does it play — how do you judge the effectiveness of strategic bombing?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, there’s — without — I mean, I’m — let me put it this way. First of all, we have the means to assess ourselves in ways that they didn’t have back in 1945, right? So we’re going to be constantly assessing — I mean, almost by the hour the effectiveness of the actions that were taken.
That’s why I said, I mean, you guys are getting some of the first looks at some of this — this imagery, as it’s still coming in and the analysts are still pouring over it, and we’re going to constantly take a look at this over time.
And there may be targets that we have — that we struck over the last couple of days that we might have to go back and strike again. I mean, that’s part of a dynamic targeting process.
How do you know — how do you know — what are your measures of effectiveness? I think broadly speaking, in Syria, we’re going after — trying to degrade their ability to train themselves. We know that — let me back up even more. We know that in Syria, the safe haven sanctuary that they’ve enjoyed, they have been to — they have been able to work their financing. They have been able to — they’ve had — they have training camps. And you saw General Mayville showed you that we hit some training — training and berthing areas.
They have resupplied themselves. Remember, not long after they took Mosul, I think I was up here telling you that we saw them — some of the captured equipment and vehicles that they took from the Iraqi security forces, they moved back across the border into Syria, out of harm’s way, so that they could bring it back at a time of their own choosing. So we know they resupplied themselves from there.
So it’s — the sanctuary that they have in Syria is sort of a hub for them. It’s sort of a headquarters, if you will. And so the targets that we’ve been hitting there are getting at those command-and-control capabilities that they have enjoyed inside Syria.
So how do you know that you’re having an effect? Well, it may take a little while, but we’ll know when they have to radically change their operations. We’ll know when we can see that they no longer are flowing quite as freely across that border. We’ll know when we have evidence that it’s harder for them to recruit and train or they just aren’t doing as much training and recruiting.
So there’s lots of ways you’ll know. It’s just like you judge the health of any organization. How well are they financed? And how much money do you think they have coming in?
I also want to make another — and so that’s on that. In Iraq, tactically, you know you’re being effective when you can see a vehicle there and then not there anymore.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, that’s a nice thing. And then there’s, you know, artillery positions that are gone and firing positions and checkpoints gone. And, you know, we’ve actually hit some convoys and some collections of them, and then, you know — and seeing them no more, that’s a pretty good tactical effect, and you know that you’re — that you’re having.
But the main point I want to make here is, we get caught up in the immediacy of these airstrikes. And it’s dramatic, and that footage is pretty cool. But this is going to take — this is going to take time. This is — this is not — this is not a short-term effort. And nobody here in the building is taking anything but a sober, clear-eyed view of the challenge in front of us.
And so your question gets at — really gets at, how do you know you’re — how do you know you’re winning? And I’m going to tell — what I’m telling you is that’s going to take us a while to be able to — to say that, because this is — this organization is still — even after the this they’ve taken — and they have been hit — they’re still — they still have financing at their fingertips. They still have plenty of volunteers. They still have plenty of weapons and vehicles and the ability to move around.
They still control a wide swath inside Iraq, no question about it. This is just — as I said the other day — and I think it’s — I want to state it again — this is just the beginning.
Q: Admiral Kirby, you said that you guys haven’t seen any movement by the Assad regime forces into infrastructure, like the oil refineries. So I’m wondering, what happens when you do see movement? Like, would you destroy the oil infrastructures entirely? And do you really plan on keeping an eye on these 12 modular stations in Syria when you’re conducting operations across the country?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think the answer to your first question is you should ask the driver of the vehicle that got schwacked inside Raqqah yesterday. We see them moving around, and we can get them, we’re going to get them.
Q: Admiral Kirby…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Schwacked. That’s a new word, by the way. (Laughter.)
Add it to zorch. Yeah?
Q: Last week, General Odierno said that an Army division headquarters would be going to Iraq.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: I was wondering if you have any details about that, how many troops, which units, when they’re going to go, et cetera?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, thanks, John. I actually meant to read that out at the top, and I — and I got distracted because you guys didn’t let me finish showing the pictures. (Laughter.)
So yesterday, the secretary signed a deployment order for about 500 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division headquarters element from Fort Riley, Kansas. They’ll be deploying to the Central Command area of responsibility later this month — I’m sorry, later in October.
Of those 500, approximately 200 will deploy to Baghdad and Erbil as part of the 475 increase that the president announced on the 10th of September. If you want a breakdown of that, I actually got it: 138 will go to the Baghdad joint operations center; 68 of them will go to the JOC up in Erbil; and 10 will be working out of the ministry of defense there in Baghdad.
Q: Could you run those numbers again, please?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. Was I going too fast?
Q: Just Baghdad, yeah.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: 138 to Baghdad, 68 to Erbil, 10 to the ministry of defense in Baghdad. They’re going to provide command-and-control of the ongoing advise and assist effort in support of Iraqi and Peshmerga forces. And they’re going to continue to help us all degrade and destroy ISIL.
The remaining of the 300 remaining that are not going into Iraq will be based still in the Central Command AOR, but outside Iraq. And I’m not going to detail exactly where they’re going to be.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sorry?
Q: The rest of the 475?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have any updates on the rest of the 475. They’re continuing…
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They have not gone in. This 200 will be the first major contingent of the 475. To be quite fair, as any headquarters element in the Army does before they deploy, they have an advance element that goes. So there’s been a handful, seven to 10, from the 1st ID [infantry division] that have gone to Baghdad in advance to get ready for the flow of the other 200. But I don’t consider that significant.
So this 200 will be the first major installment of the 475 that the president announced.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m sorry?
Q: It will embed only in the headquarters?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This is a — this is a headquarters element. Now, you’re — don’t mix these guys up with the actual advising teams. The advisers — and there are still, I think, another half a dozen or so teams left to go — part of that 475, they’re not there yet — the advising teams, which could number between, I think, 15 and 17 is what we said — they will be the ones going to embed, if you will, at Iraqi headquarters at the brigade level and higher. This 1st ID headquarters element, they’re going as a command-and-control node. They aren’t going to embed, you know, inside Iraqi units.
And I’ve just given you the breakdown. They’re going to be mostly in the joint operations centers.
Q: So the other 300 aren’t meant to fill spots on these teams? Are they meant to be a rotational force to be prepared to…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They are not meant to fulfill jobs on the teams. I don’t — I won’t speculate at this point about rotations. I mean, I just don’t know for how long they’re going to be there or how and when they might be replaced. Let’s get them on the ground first.
Q: Who’s the general coming from…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Hang on (off mic) what?
Q: Who’s the general coming from Fort Riley? And will that person replace Dana Pittard?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know. I’ll have to refer you to Army on that.
Q: Admiral, has this operation been given a name yet from CENTCOM?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, it has not.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I know of no plans at this point to name it.
John, I’ve already gotten you. Can you…
Q: It’s just a quick follow-up. What are these 300 that are going to be in the CENTCOM AOR, but not going into Baghdad, these 1st ID…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’ll be support — they’ll be supporting the rest of the 1st ID headquarters element in there. But they won’t be going — they won’t be — right now, there’s no plan to put them inside Iraq.
Q: How much is all of this costing? And how much is budgeted? How are you budgeting for this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s a great question, and we’re still working our way through that. I don’t have — and I know I get this question every day, and every day I don’t have a great answer for you — but we’re still operating with current funding that we have allocated to us. So we’re inside the budgets we’ve been given.
The best estimate I can give you now is between — is between $7 million and $10 million per day, but that — that varies. And it — and I just don’t — so I don’t have a great figure for you right now. But we’re constantly assessing this and working on it.
Q: (off mic) Iraq and Syria together, $7 million to $10 million a day? Or is that…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s total — yeah, that’s total for these operations. But, again, I want to remind you, that is an estimate right now. I know we owe you a better answer, and we’re continuing to work on that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer that we come back after we do the pencil work is different than that. That’s the best estimate now, and I can’t stress that enough. And please remind — you know, when you’re filing your reports, that you keep that in mind, that it is a best estimate at this point.
Q: Can we talk a little bit — excuse me — can we talk a little bit, Admiral, about the non-kinetic side of the strategic efforts? What are we doing on the web? What are we doing in terms of strategic messaging? Are we doing broadcasts? Have we started that sort of effort?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to — I’d refer you to Central Command for that kind of level of specificity. As you know, in the world of information operations, this is not the kind of thing that we usually talk about openly or publicly.
I don’t honestly have an update for you today on the information campaign here. That said, everybody knows it’s important and it’s got to be a component of this. Thus far, the locus of the energy has been placed on supporting Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga in the north and conducting these airstrikes. But I would point you to CENTCOM for more detail on that.
Q: Are the F-22s still flying?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The F-22s did not participate in yesterday’s missions. But I wouldn’t be in a position to rule out future participation. And they did very, very well the other night, very well.
Q: The first days of this strike were larger. How soon are the strikes in Syria going to switch from high-intensity conflict to a lower-intensity conflict, like the ones we’ve had in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Boy, I mean, I — I don’t know that I would characterize what we’re doing in Iraq as low intensity.
Q: Right, I just mean…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Again, I mean, you know, ask these guys when they’re sitting on artillery position how intense it is when they get hit. I mean, it’s pretty intense.
Low in volume — and I get that. And I just don’t know. And even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you. I mean, this isn’t the kind of thing that we’re going to, you know, just tell — tell ISIL what we’re doing. The takeaway I’d like you to have from this is that we’re going to keep the pressure on them.
The other thing I want — really important to say is that the — we’re responsible for applying military pressure on them, but it can’t — there’s no way that this group is going to be defeated just solely through airpower or even military power alone. So we are very cognizant here in the Pentagon of our role, and it’s one piece of a larger strategy that has to be executed not just by the whole-of-government here in the United States, but by the international community, and not insignificant.
And I know I’m riffing here a little bit, but just hang with me. You know, more than 40 countries are participating in this.
Q: I mean, just to follow up (off mic) 30 strikes in the first day. Now in Iraq we’re seeing, you know, maybe two or three per day (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right. I mean, I think it’s understandable that a target-rich environment will become less rich over time as you continue to hit targets. But they will react. You have to expect that they’re going to react, and we’re going to react right along with them.
Q: Admiral, going back to the question about the Khorasan group, beyond whether any of their leadership had been killed, do you have any more information on how else that group has been degraded as a result of the strikes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we know we’ve had an effect — again, we’re still assessing the attacks in Syria, so we know we hit what we were aiming at. We know that these were valuable targets to them, such as the ones we just showed you today.
But in Iraq, we know we’re having — we absolutely know we’re having an effect on them, on their morale, on their ability to maneuver, on their ability to communicate, and we know that we’ve forced them to change some of their tactics. And I’m not going to detail all that for you here today.
But we know, just by — by virtue of the information that we’ve been able to collect and analyze in Iraq, that we’re definitely having an effect. But, look, but…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: (inaudible) ISIL in Iraq. Sorry. But — now you got me all confused. We know we’re having — we know we’re having an effect on them in Iraq, Okay? We absolutely know that. But an important point to make is that — as I said at the beginning, and I’ll keep saying it — is, nobody’s doing touchdown dances here. Nobody’s doing high fives.
We know that there’s a lot of work left to do and that this group still remains viable inside Syria and inside Iraq. And this is not by a long stretch over.
Q: And (off mic) that’s the Khorasan — the Khorasan…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Khorasan group is a different matter altogether. And I guess I misunderstood your question.
Q: Okay, that was — that was my question (off mic) any update on how they’ve been (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: How they’ve been degraded. I’m sorry. I — we’re still assessing the results of those strikes, as well. Again, we have high confidence that we hit the targets we were aiming at in and around Aleppo. And I can’t say with extreme confidence that we know we have, in fact, you know, disrupted a specific attack, but we definitely know that we hit targets that belong to them, that were of use to them, and we’re still assessing the results of this.
Q: And on — on that threat, can you offer any more clarity — and I apologize if I’m just not picking up on this — but was it– was the imminent threat that they posed? Was it that they had gained a capability that they could use anywhere? Or was there a specific threat at a target in Europe or against U.S. homeland that we saw and then prevented?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m going to need to be careful here about the depth of information I get into from an intelligence perspective. What I’ll tell you is, they were in the advanced stages, near the end stages of planning an attack on a Western target. We don’t know whether it was in Europe or the U.S. homeland, but we know that they were getting close. And I don’t want to talk about how exactly we know that or the — or the manner in which they planned to conduct this attack, but we had enough information that led to a high degree of confidence that this was the right time to get them.
And, you know, and the next question will be, well, how long — how — when — I know where you’re going with this. You know, how — how much future in the future was this attack going to happen? And I don’t know that we, you know, can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months. It doesn’t matter.
Far better to be the left of a boom than to the right of it. And that’s what we’re trying to do, is get to the left of any boom to prevent the planning from going any further, and certainly to prevent them getting into an execution phase, which we don’t believe they were in yet, and that’s where you want to be.
I mean, so we can have this debate about, you know, whether it was valid to hit them or not or whether it was too soon or too late. We hit them. And I don’t think, you know, we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes. And so they got hit, and we’ll assess the strike, and we’ll see where we go from there.
Q: On building up the Iraqi security forces again, can you describe what level of contact or effort there is to bring back the Iraqi commanders, leaders, who were ousted in the last administration? Is that part of any of this first wave of advisers or something the Pentagon is able to do covertly?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s probably a question better put to Central Command. I don’t have that level of detail in terms of advising, mission, and how they’re going to go about doing that. I’ll tell you this, I’m not aware of any discussions or plans to bring back old commanders.
My understanding is that the — first of all, the advising mission is only just recently started, and we’ve got more advisers that are going to be flowing in. And their main focus initially is just going to be, again, at the higher headquarters level, helping the Iraqi army better organize itself and better develop its own capabilities, improve their competence and their confidence.
Could that be a part of it? I just — perhaps I don’t know. And, again, I’d refer you to General Austin and his staff for — for their thinking on that.
Q: (off mic) priority (off mic) commanders the U.S. (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn’t say it’s not — no, I didn’t say it’s not a priority, Kevin. I just don’t know. I mean, what I do know is the focus is on getting at a higher headquarters level and helping them improve their battlefield competence. And there are lots of ways to do that. Might that be part of the discussion? I don’t know. Really, I’m the wrong guy to ask.
Q: Hi, sorry, just a quick follow-up. I know that you can’t get into too many details, but how long have you know about this group? A lot of analysts we’ve spoken to haven’t even heard of the Khorasan group. So can you give us even a rough idea of how long you’ve been watching these guys, how long they’ve been around?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, they’re — they’re an offshoot of Al Qaida. They affiliated with Al-Nusra. I know that the name isn’t exactly a household name to many of the American people. I’ll tell you that we’ve been watching them for many, many months, is how far I would go.
We’ve been aware of them, and we’ve been watching them, and we’ve been monitoring their activities, which, again, led to the information that we had which precipitated the strikes.
I don’t know how many different analysts may have been aware, but we were aware. And, again, as I said, we believe these targets were valid. We believe that — the justification that we used to get them was sound.
Q: Two questions. There’s a report out that there was a threat to the New York City subway system pertaining to this group that we’re talking about. Do you have any information on that?
And the second question relates to the fate of the remaining Western hostages being held by ISIS. Do you have an update on their situation?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the intelligence that we had surrounding the attack that we know that they were planning. So I’m just not going to get into details on that.
On the hostages, we still believe, obviously, that ISIL holds hostages. I don’t have any information today to provide in terms of what their captivity looks like or where they might be or anything like that.
I mean, we — what I will tell you is, we remain focused on that issue, as we have stayed focused on it, and are doing the best we can to gather as much information as possible.
Q: Is there any consideration that possibly the — the military action that we’re seeing inside Syria could pose a threat to their safety?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think their safety is under threat as it is. I think it’s safe to assume, if you’re being held by these guys, that it’s not a safe environment. We don’t — I’m going to put it to you this way. There’s not a day goes by — at least talking for the Pentagon — where the leadership here isn’t focused on their fate and the precarious situation that they’re in. That situation isn’t going to be made any easier or any better by this group enjoying the free rein that they’ve enjoyed in that region.
Yeah? Yeah, go ahead.
Q: (off mic) with France 24. Could you drive us through the figures, please? Twelve refineries, 300 to 500
barrels per day, doesn’t match completely with two million (off mic) of revenue per day. That’s the figure given by the CENTCOM. It’s much more like thousands of dollars, but not millions. Have you more specifics about those figures?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nope, I don’t.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I mean, I’m not trying to be flippant. I mean, I don’t. And the two million figure is a figure that some regional think-tank organizations came up with about how they’re selling things on the black market. And I don’t know their — I don’t know what their price points are for, you know, stolen oil. So…
Q: (off mic) $20 per barrel (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, well, that’s good. I did not know that. But — but so that’s why I was a little bit — I was more general today on this. There are — there are estimates by outside organizations that it could be up to that figure, but — but that’s — that 2 million figure is not ours. It’s not an estimate that the U.S. intelligence community or the Pentagon is endorsing or has come up with.
And as I said at the outset, the capacity of these refineries is 300 to 500 barrels per day. It doesn’t mean they always operate at that capacity. I was just trying to give you all a sense of why these were valid targets and why they were important to go get.
I think I got time for just one more. Yeah, Tom?
Q: General Mayville said the first night of the attacks that the Syrian radar was passive. Is that still the case? And also, getting back to the Syrian airstrikes, are you monitoring the Syrian aircraft, where it’s going with your surveillance?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters, Tom. You know that. And I would still — based on what we saw yesterday, I think General Mayville’s characterization is still accurate in terms of passive.
You’ve been patient. I didn’t get you.
Q: (off mic) are the customers of this black market oil coming from ISIS in danger of an airstrike?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, we don’t talk about future operations. I’m not going to speculate about what we may or may not do. But I can tell you that the focus of the strikes we’re taking are on ISIL and their membership, their capabilities, their facilities, their infrastructure, their ability to sustain themselves.
Q: Could I follow up on Tom’s question just very quickly?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: In regard to Secretary Hagel’s testimony that the U.S. would defend the moderate rebel forces against attack from the Syrians, how? Are you talking about U.S. airstrikes against Syrian military components?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You know what, Jim? When we get to that point, we’ll have that discussion at the appropriate time. We haven’t even started the training, and — and, you know, you guys got us flying airstrikes in support of them. We’re just not there yet. The focus right now is on getting these guys vetted and recruited into the program and getting them trained.
The secretary was clear in his testimony that, once we have trained opposition forces, should they come under attack, we would defend them. He said. But I’m not going to get into speculating on what that might look like right now.
Q: (off mic)
Q: (off mic) when the U.S. — when the U.S. sent a message to the Syrians of its intent to launch these airstrikes, did they also send a message of intent to the Syrians not to — or a warning not to engage, that they would be engaged by the U.S.?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to the U.N. for that. Since the vehicle through which the notification of intent was transmitted was Ambassador Power speaking for the military, there was no coordination, no communication with the Assad regime.
Thanks, everybody. Got to go. Thank you.”
Source: Department of Defense
*The slide presentation from today’s briefing can be accessed at the following link: http://www.defense.gov/pubs/140925SyrianOilRefineryStrikesRADM.pdf