March 29th- Centcom Briefing - History

March 29th- Centcom Briefing - History

Presenter: Major General Victor Renuart, CENTCOM; Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, CENTCOM Deputy Director of Operations March 29, 2003

MAJ. GENERAL GENE RENUART: (In progress) -- that were not here when I was on last time, I'm Major General Gene Renuart, and I'm the director of operations here at Central Command. And Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. We continue to make good progress in accordance with our plan. We continue to believe it's a well-orchestrated plan, it's flexible, and it's producing the daily successes that we need on the battlefield.

We continue to apply good pressure across a broad area of lines of operations. This allows us to put pressure on the regime. It allows us to communicate with the Iraqi civilian leaders in the various communities and to take that information and then target some of these terror cells that are holding hostage many of these cities of Southern Iraq. It also allows us to work in the west and in the north with a number of tribal leaders to continue to expand influence of free Iraqis throughout those parts of the country.

It's -- it's important, as you look at the results that we see on the battlefield and the results that maybe are briefed to you here, that while there's a great deal of information that is passed through the media from the battlefield, and from what we try to pass here, there's a great deal of information that's just not covered out there, and those kinds of things are also producing great pressure on the battlefield. So, it's important to understand that we try to pass on as much information that we can that you can see. There are many things that we just can't pass to you because we don't visibility in terms of visuals with some of those key elements out on the battlefield. And, of course, as we continue to put pressure on some of these terror-like cells throughout the country, we certainly don't want to put any of our people at risk.

We continue to integrate a really superb coalition force. That comes at the lowest level all the way up to the highest levels. And I would tell you that -- I'll mention a couple of anecdotes in a minute that can show you how important it is to be able take capabilities of each nation, integrate it into a fighting force, and then get great results in a very timely fashion.

As I said, we're moving very successfully along our objectives, but that comes -- does not come without a cost, and certainly we mourn the loss of those men and women who deployed here, committed to the important aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we share the concern of the families of those missing in this tough time.

But as I said, we continue. We continue to isolate the regime, its forces on the field, its command and control networks. We continue to take strides with humanitarian aid. We mentioned yesterday the port of Umm Qasr opening. Twelve distribution points opened up on the -- in the area today, and food being delivered to Iraqi people in the Umm Qasr, Al Zubair, and to some to degree as we're able to get it to some of the Basra population.

We continue to take control of airfield. We're operating from some airfields in southern Iraq, with combat search and rescue, close air support, and obviously logistic support to our forces in the field.

We continue to expand the influence in our air operations and have virtual freedom of movement around the country. We've taken advantage of very rapid censor-to-shooter links in order to re-target our airmen as they move around the country to respond to situations on the battlefield that the commanders feel are critical to them. It's a great story of a combined nature. These are Australian, U.K. and U.S. airmen responding through pretty rotten weather over the few days prior, to the last couple of days where we've had much more of a capability to engage the ground -- the fielded ground targets, and I think we're seeing success, as we expected to.

I say it was -- it's an integrated operation, and I'll give you a couple of anecdotes. We had a U.S. fighter aircraft out on a mission a day or two ago, caught in bad weather, fought his way through thunderstorms. And after having a few harrowing moments in his airplane, found himself recovering, heading back out to a tanker. And after what I would have called a mission where I would have been ready to come home, he took on gas and went back and flew four more hours striking targets in southern Iraq. So, it's that kind of heroism that is occurring out there every day, and I can't show you that. I can't -- there's not a good way, other than for me to communicate that to you here, that kind of courage and heroism that occurs.

We've had Australian and U.K. fighters working through very difficult conditions in the southern portion of Iraq to strike targets in the midst of thunderstorms, Australian fighters who have swung from doing defensive counter-air into strike missions. And so across the board we have seen great flexibility.

One further little note, that we had a circumstance a couple of days ago where a long-range patrol element was out isolated in a bit of a -- in a bit of a bind, and we used an Air Force combat rescue unit to go pick them up and bring them out. Certainly not traditional missions for each one of those, but adapting to the battlefield has been one of our successes.

As we've mentioned, we continue to secure the oil industry resources in the southern part of the country. We have begun to complete -- well, we've progressed nicely in the -- in the emergency or explosive ordinance disposal operations in the southern oil fields. We have the Basra refinery now secured, and we continue our commitment to keep the economic assets safe for the people of Iraq in the future.

I mentioned our ability to destroy Iraqi command and control, but we've also been able to target some of those key elements of Ba'ath Party and some of these terrorist cell organizations. Later, General Brooks will show you some imagery of a strike that went particularly well. I'd like to focus a minute on the integrated effort that it takes to make that work, taking advantage of an ability to use small special operating teams to get close to targets that we can identify, that a location is of interest to us. We can find that these terror leaders are in fact having a meeting, and then call in very precise strikes to destroy that, and I'm pleased to say the result of that, we believe, were about 200 leaders of these -- of these irregular squads, and key leaders we believe were destroyed last night.

Each time we make one of these attacks, we continue to degrade the regime, we continue to degrade their capability. And in a very systematic approach, we are moving nicely down the road.

Our plan remains unchanged. We continue to focus on movement of logistic support up to our units. We've had, as you may have seen from some of the imbedded reporters, consistent movement of long lines of supplies up to the forces. That's going fairly well -- not without some engagements by some of these Iraqi irregular forces, but there is good force protection there with armed helicopters, with armored patrols, and we feel that line of communication is moving along quite nicely.

We continue to see these small units operating in the south, although we're seeing them get smaller and smaller, reducing in the area of As Samawa, An Nasiriyah and in Basra we're having positive effects, but we still see that terror behavior. A couple of days ago -- actually, a day ago, we had a report of an Iraqi woman waving a white flag to get out of an area that was hazardous. Our troops allowed her to continue. They continued on a patrol. Came back some time later in the morning and found her hanged at the light post on a street corner. So, that kind of terror continues. And we should not forget that that's the approach of this regime. That's not the approach of this coalition.

Iraqi terror organizations continue to force young men to come out of the towns and fight, and we have anecdotal evidence of young men fighting in some of these small cities that clearly are not there because they want. They're probably being forced to fight because they fear for their families as opposed to being loyal to the regime, and their prowess on the battlefield in some cases leads us to that conclusion.

So, in conclusion, I guess I'd say that we continue to work on plan. We continue to see the results that we would like to see on the battlefield. There is I think good progress being made with the land forces, conducting long-range patrols, artillery attacks to interdict a number of enemy lines of communication as well. So, we're having our effect on a much broader scale than these small attacks that are getting some publicity are having on our forces.

With that, I'll turn it over to Brigadier General Brooks for a few comments and video.

BRIGADIER GENERAL VINCENT BROOKS: Well, good afternoon again, ladies and gentleman.

Our direct attacks -- I'll just begin with directly and go straight into our daily discussion -- our attacks against the regime, its structures and its units continued in the last 24 hours, and that includes attacks against nine different Ba'ath Party headquarters locations. And here are some examples of recent attacks.

The first one is the one that General Renuart told you about a bit earlier. It's an attack against a Ba'ath Party assembly, northeast of Basra, yesterday evening. It had about 200 members of the Ba'ath Party in attendance.


The next video is of an anti-aircraft artillery system in western Iraq, and it also was struck yesterday.


What I'd like to show you next is a before and after image set that shows the regime-controlled television studio and broadcast facility. This, like other facilities, was used as part of the command and control network. There were three key facilities that were targeted within it. The post-strike image shows the intended damage at the three arrows. I particularly highlight the top most arrow, which shows a building that was caved in. Different effects for each weapon system delivered in that complex. And by comparison, the split.

Our targeting process remains deliberate, it remains sophisticated, and it remains precise. The risk to civilians increases, however, as the regime moves weapons into residential areas. What I'll show you next is a video that provides just one example.

What you see is a set of buildings. These are buildings in a residential area. It's just south of a major highway. Now, there's a mobile rocket launcher that's beside the building in the shadows. We tried to attack it earlier and did not have success in the preceding attacks. It moved into the shadows of this housing area, and it was eventually fleshed out and destroyed again. This is a zoom-in view. You can see it much more closely.


This is taken by an observation platform and not by a strike system, so you will not see the attack in this case.

Our coalition special operations forces achieved good success in their actions throughout Iraq in the last 24 hours, and I'll highlight four particular events.

Now, the first two are very effective close-air support missions that happened against enemy compounds in As Samawa and al-Rupa (sp), and those are both indicated on this map.

Our special operations forces interdicted several movements in the west, including a group of 30 men dressed in civilian clothes carrying mortars, Iraqi military uniforms, petroleum bombs, and cash.

And the last example is a coalition raid by Army Rangers last night against an Iraqi commando headquarters. And this headquarters controlled most of the commando operations in the western desert. And we will show you a video from that operation.

Now, this begins in the daylight as they began to move out, where it transitioned into darkness. This is through night-vision sights. (Sounds of gunfire on video.)

The raid was successful and resulted in the capture of over 50 enemy personnel, weapons, a large cache of ammunition, gas masks, and radios. Now, that was of course done at night. You saw it through a night vision device that was with the combat camera crew with the rangers. Otherwise, it was completely blacked out. You would not have been able to see that with the naked eye.

Our operational maneuver continued. Our land component conducted an attack helicopter raid yesterday evening against elements of the Republican Guard Medina Division north of Karbala. The attack had some effect and reduced the strength of the Medina Division. All aircraft returned safely.

An additional operation by U.K. forces north and west of Basra positioned the coalition to be able to successfully interdict the northern approaches to the city, and the land component continues its efforts to destroy any forces that would threaten its supply lines.

The maritime component, having successfully cleared the Khor Abdullah, as you saw yesterday, continued its support of coalition operations with operational fires, strike aircraft, and missile attacks.

As an information update, at this point, we have dropped over 32 million leaflets and are continuing to do so on a daily basis. We have also added an additional airborne broadcasting system to the coverage area.

And finally, our efforts to preserve the resources of Iraq's future -- the oil well repair activities are ongoing. Fire fighting continued yesterday. There are still three wells that are burning in the southern oil fields, and we are confident that that will be reduced here within the next few days.

I'm also pleased to report, as General Renuart mentioned, that the Basra oil refinery, one of three in the country, is now secured by the coalition. And we will enter that facility -- it appears to have been shut down -- and get it started again as soon as possible.

Yesterday did indeed mark an important milestone for the humanitarian action part of this campaign. The arrival of the Sir Gallahad positioned much-needed supplies into Iraq, and distribution began first in the Umm Qasr area, and will be carried to other areas as the security condition permits.

A short video of some of the coverage of the unloading yesterday. There was a lot of media there, which is great because it's an important story. This is just some of the work that we saw. These are all water boxes, water containers. Water is one of the most important resources we are finding the Iraqi people need at this point, and work on the water line from Kuwait into southern Iraq continues. That will considerably increase the amount of clean water available to the people of the southern region.

And, finally, our civil affairs teams, coupled with teams of free Iraqi forces, as I showed you a few days ago, continue their great work in the trail of the land combat operations. These next two images show that they are indeed well received.


GEN. RENUART: Okay, thanks, Vince. Let me just make one point before questions. We mentioned in a couple cases Kuwaiti support for oil field repairs and humanitarian assistance. We are extremely grateful to Kuwait and many of the other Gulf nations who have contributed to this humanitarian aid and seem committed to expand that as move to the future.

Okay, let me start with questions. Yes, sir.

Q Some embeds with U.S. Marines have said that they are no longer able to use Thuraya phones. Could you tell us why this is, when they'll be able to starting using this again? And doesn't this amount to censorship?

GEN. RENUART: Well, let me get to the last question first. On the battlefield operational security is critical to the successful accomplishment of every military operation. And there are times and places on the battlefield when you need to ensure that no communications go out in order to shield your movements and your intent. So I really don't see -- look at this as in any way restricting the ability of the media to cover an event. But I really see this more as the requirement for the operational commander to ensure that his movements are appropriately secured until such time as he has completed or begun that operation.

I think in some cases we have asked reporters to not use those. Those have happened in a number of places on the battlefield. I had a comment yesterday that it's maybe in one place but not in the other -- Why is it unfair for me and not for them? I think the important thing is -- (as we ?) move around the battlefield that it will be critical to the security of our forces out there that we make sure that nothing gets out that may tip the hand of the Iraqis, because some of those communications can be monitored somewhat easily. So I think that's really the better way to describe what has occurred.

Yes, ma'am.

Q I'm Nicole Enfield from the Associated Press. First I'd like, if you could, a few more details on the Republican Guard engagement, the Medina Division.

And the second question. The captain of the cruiser Cape St. George has been quoted as saying that Saudi has closed the airspace for some Tomahawk missiles because they have not landed at their designated targets. I'd like you to -- if you could speak about -- if that is indeed the case, confirm that, and are you -- are Tomahawks no longer being fired from the ships in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean? And if you could also speak to the issue of --

GEN. RENUART: You're going to overload me, aren't you? (Laughter.)

Q Sorry. I'll leave it at that.

GEN. RENUART: Let me -- (laughter) -- so you got so far into the second one, I've lost the first one. I'll come back to the first one in a second. With reference to the Tomahawks in the west, actually through Saudi Arabia, we have had, as is not uncommon with a Tomahawk missile that there is a transition period from launch to flight, and then beginning of its guiding process, where there are some steps that have to occur. If one of those fails, then it's likely that missile will not continue on its flight. That is something that the Navy has been working on quite a bit.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, we did have a number of TLAM missiles that were reported down in their territory, and basically we have a situation where the Saudis have said, Can you see if you can figure out what has caused this? -- and we do not want to in any way hazard the people of Saudi Arabia or any of the other countries where these may transit. And so we have agreed with them to conduct a review of those launch procedures and make sure that we don't have a systems problem that we might not have been aware of. And then once that's completed we'll go back with the Saudis and work to resume those when it's appropriate.

We are continued to use Tomahawk cruise missiles around the theater. We have actually coordinated with the Saudis to hold on a couple of routes that might put them in a position where they could be close to any civilian population.

And back to your first question?

Q The Republican Guard --


Q -- Medina Division.

GEN. RENUART: As General Brooks mentioned, we conducted a helicopter deep attack mission last night with a number of our Apache helicopters into an element of the Medina Division. We believe it was a very successful attack. A number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, multi-purpose vehicles and some surface-to-air missile -- mobile surface-to-air missile radars were destroyed in that attack. And the aircraft returned successfully. We did have two airplanes that had maintenance problems, mechanical problems, and I think those were reported in the press. But none were due to enemy fire.

Yes, sir, right here.

Q (Off mike) -- Television. Some sources told us that a few days ago some Israeli military expert joined the Central Command headquarters here in Sayliyah. Can you confirm that? And is the coalition receiving any kind of military technology and information even logistic support from Israel in this war?

GEN. RENUART: I can confirm that we do not have an Israeli representative here at Central Command. As you know, Israel is a close ally of the United States, and their traditional relationship is with your European Command, and that relationship continues.

As to use of equipment, I am not aware of any specific Israeli equipment that we are using anywhere in the theater to the best of my knowledge right now. But I can't confirm anything more than that.


Q This morning apparently there was a different type of attack involving the 3rd Infantry Division, where a vehicle pulled up and apparently was loaded with explosives at a military checkpoint, and caused casualties when it was detonated. This appears to be the first time that this type of strike against coalition forces has been used. Is this something that you train for, plan for, worry about?

GEN. RENUART: Well, I -- first I guess I'd make a point that I'd ask where have we seen those kinds of events occurring before? And I think we'd all agree that all of them are associated with terrorist events. This -- that kind of an activity I think is something that's a symbol of an organization that's beginning to get a little bit desperate. Having said that, our troops do in fact train to those kinds of events. I don't know the circumstances revolving around this particular one, because as you mentioned it's been relatively recently -- it occurred just recently, and we are still reviewing that, determining exactly what that particular small element of U.S. forces did at the scene. But I think -- I can tell you what we have seen across the battlefield is a movement of civilians to try to get away from some of these repressive cells that are in some of the cities. And so there is a fair amount of civilian traffic that we just have to be very cautious with, and obviously in this case these forces took advantage of a situation, and caused some --

Q But are you concerned about this type of strike against your positions?

GEN. RENUART: Well, we are concerned about any kind of an unconventional attack on our forces, and each one of those is reviewed to ensure that any other means that might be considered at checkpoints or in our force protection measures are taken into consideration. But I think in this case it will not have any operational effect -- it's certainly a tragedy for those families -- but no operational effect on the battlefield.

Yes, sir.

Q General, Jeff Meade from Sky News. I wonder if could talk a little bit to this pause in the advance which there's been a lot of speculation about this morning, and also whether as an airman you might also consider now advisable a pause in air operations to avoid more civilian bloodshed, which hands to your adversary -- I know you will challenge the responsibility -- but hands to your adversary the moral high ground which you claim.

GEN. RENUART: I wouldn't assign moral high ground to an body that sheds or that allows the kind of terror to occur in some of these towns that we have seen. I think with respect to a pause, I -- we are -- there is no pause on the battlefield. Because you see a particular formation not moving on a day, does not mean there is a pause on the battlefield. At the same time that we are conducting our air operations throughout the battlefield, we conduct artillery raids, we conduct deep attacks like we did last night, we conduct long-range patrols in order to fix and identify where enemy formations may be. All of those things are part of the battlefield commander's tools, and so it would be unfair to characterize the fact that you don't see tanks rolling on every single day as any pause in the operation. Certainly we had a pause with some bad weather, and it has -- we have had a couple of good days now to go back and reevaluate where we see the enemy during that period of time, and continue to work on plan.

Let me come -- yes, sir, right here with the glasses and the vest.

Q (Off mike) -- Weekly Press. Is it true that you are going to take for up to six days of rest in the offensive? And, secondly, do you feel under pressure of us, of international media, and push to hurry up with the offensive?

GEN. RENUART: I've asked General Franks if I could take four to six days off, and he has allowed that I should continue working. And I think everybody on the battlefield continues to do that. As I mentioned just a minute ago, I don't believe there is any intent to pause on the battlefield. We will continue to focus our operations. Sometimes they will be focused in the west, sometimes in the north, sometimes in the south, sometimes altogether. And so you have to be careful to characterize movement on any part of the battlefield as a pause or an acceleration for that matter.

As to having all the international media here, I enjoy having you here. I think it's a good experience, and hopefully I'll survive it.

Yes, sir, back in the back with the -- yes, sir, with the glasses.

Q (Off mike) -- Phoenix Television. Over 50 people were reportedly killed in Baghdad yesterday. What is the coalition response?

GEN. RENUART: Well, we're -- I think the response of anyone is it's a tragedy when innocent civilians are killed. We took note of that event. We are looking at targets that may have caused something like that. But it's -- I really can't give you any more detail that would either clarify or clear that particular issue.

Let me go back over to the side. Yes, sir, back here.

Q (Off mike) -- from Defense News. Sir, are you worried that you are being dragged into a war of attrition by the so-called irregulars? And also, are you a bit concerned about the effect on the morale of the Iraqis by seeing the 90 percent of the media in the Arab world print and television -- not just al Jazeera -- just all TV stations referring to operations as an invasion and occupation, and describing the Iraq resistance as a legitimate resistance?

GEN. RENUART: Yeah. First, I think it's important to put this operation in context. You'll recall on September 11th two years ago we began an operation, or planning for an operation, and then October 9th began in operation in Afghanistan against a very different foe than we had here and that we have here, and it was a period of about 60 or 70 days before we installed President Karzai as the new leader in Afghanistan.

I would go back to Desert Storm to tell you the time that it took to accomplish the operations in Kuwait. So we are 10 days or so into the campaign. I would not allow anybody to view those 10 days as too long, as us moving too slowly. I will go back to what General Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld and the president have all said, is that we are continuing exactly on the plan that we would like, and I think the morale of our troops is exquisite and not in any way harmed by the time that we are taking to conduct operations.

And as to what the international press prints, we believe they can print whatever they desire, and we think that we will continue on our plan just as exactly as we began.

Q Thank you, sir. Neil Cohen from ABC News. You have been showing us a lot of pictures of tanks and weapons storage facilities being hit by precision weapons pretty much every day here. Yet in other conflicts -- in fact, here in Iraq in '91, it turned out many of these were empty buildings or in fact decoys. And so I am wondering to what extent yo know the targets are hitting a real and meaningful after the fact, what assessments do you have, are there any percentages you can give us?

GEN. RENUART: That's a good question. The -- our intent in many of these command and control facilities is not necessarily to kill people. It's to take away the capability that that facility allows. And while a facility may be unoccupied by a person, it may be the house for key switching systems for communications, fiber optic networks, coax-cable repeaters. And so there is very significant military value in each of those targets -- command and control nodes that allow the Iraqis to communicate with their units. So each of those targets are looked at and vetted for their military significance, not necessarily for a determination if they are necessarily occupied.

Now, many of the other buildings, we believe, or many other facilities, operational command posts, corps headquarters, those things we believe in fact do have occupants.

Q But for instance the tanks, missile storage shelters, that sort of thing. After the fact, to what degree do you know they were real at the time you hit them?

GEN. RENUART: Well, we have -- there is a group of intelligence analysts spanning the world that look at those things and determine, A, they were valid; and, B, it was a good strike -- before we strike those in many ways. The targets are picked as they are vetted by the intelligence community, and we are confident in their ability to give us good information.

Yes, sir, right back here.

Q (Inaudible) -- international. Having said that there's no intent to pause a ground operation, can you confirm that there is a shortage of supply and there's regular attack from the Iraqi side on your supply line? Thank you.

GEN. RENUART: Well, let me -- second question first, and then I'll go to the first one. I like going backwards. The attacks on the Iraqi -- or on our supply lines, we need to be careful that they're not overplayed. Certainly there is -- there have been some harassing attacks on our supply lies, and they continue. But they have not stopped the movement of our logistics support forward to each of our fielded forces. We continue to provide self-protection to those. What we note is, those attacks have become fewer with fewer forces, and they have all been defeated with relatively minimal cost to our forces.

Now, back to the first question.

Q Are there shortages of supplies, logistic support?

GEN. RENUART: Ah! No. We have -- we have adequate amounts of support. We continue to build those over time. As you can imagine, when a mechanized or an armor unit pushes forward rapidly in the field, the units with ammunition, et cetera, have to follow along behind. And there is a period of time that it takes to keep the supply train moving and make it robust. So we're more than comfortable with that rate.

Yes, sir.

Q Adi Reval (ph), ABC News. Approximately 72 hours ago, we had the explosion at the market in Baghdad. Two days ago, 48 hours ago, CENTCOM said that it was possible that the Iraqis caused that explosion. Where do you stand now on that? And the second question is, regarding the Iraqi missile the exploded near Kuwait City last night, media reports indicate that it possibly may have come from the Al-Faw peninsula. I was under the impression that that area was pretty much secure. Does this foretell or does this show that possibly the Iraqis have a lot more launchers in that region, and that is a primary concern of yours?

Thank you, sir.

GEN. RENUART: Let me first talk to the market event. There is -- with every one of these circumstances, we ask the component who is in -- who may have had forces involved, whether it's land, sea or air, to do an investigation, and that takes a number of days to do that. The air component in this case is completing his review. We think that will be complete within the next day or so. And as soon as those -- the review is completed, we'll make that available.

As to what do we determine to be the cause, I think certainly there are a number of possibilities. We want to make sure that if in fact there was an error on our part, that we found that out and made the available. And if there was -- if it was caused by an Iraqi system, that we also find that out as best we are able, or at least be able to determine that it was not one of our systems.

With respect to the attack into Kuwait, we have a number of forces on the Al-Faw peninsula. I couldn't tell you that they've been into every single farmhouse that there may be out there, and so it's certainly possible that someone could have hidden equipment that we may not have been available -- or we may not have been aware of, but I do know that the land component commander is investigating areas where this may have come from and has put forces back into some of these areas in order to determine what may have been the cause.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Dinelle -- (inaudible) -- Canadian Television. One of the embedded journalists with U.S. Marines near Baghdad is saying that their rations are down to one meal a day. Is that not an indication that there are problems with supplies and logistics?

GEN. RENUART: I'm going to ask you to go back a second. I wandered off. But you said that an Iraqi unit --

Q No, no, no. And embedded correspondent with U.S. Marines near Baghdad has reported that their rations are down to one meal a day. Isn't that an indication that there are problems with supply lines and logistics?

GEN. RENUART: Well, I had not had that report. And I checked with our logistics folks this morning to verify that we are moving supplies up into all of those units and been -- it's been confirmed to me that in fact we are. So I can't tell you that someone is only getting one meal a day, and so I have no way to verify that for you.

Yes, sir, with the white tablet. Yes, sir.

Q (Inaudible.) I'm just wondering, as every day passes, the situation, particularly humanitarian crisis in Basra, is getting worse. And obviously it's getting worse at the hands of the regime. I'm just wondering how long do you wait before you go into Basra and liberate the people? These people have limited food and very limited water.

GEN. RENUART: Well, you know, Basra has been on of the cities that has been most oppressed by the Iraqi regime for many years. There will be no solution that happens overnight, even if we controlled the entire city and it was secure. We are poising our humanitarian assistance. We have improved the water supply into the city already. Up to about 60 percent of the people now have water flowing into the city. So we're making progress there.

In terms of the military, we are taking, I think, prudent steps to target the key elements of command and control of the forces to intercede where we are able. Example: We had an incident just in the last 24 hours where up to 1,000 or so Basra residents were trying to flee. They were taken under fire by these irregular forces, and UK forces placed themselves between the Iraqi forces and these civilians to allow them to break free and took these Iraqi forces under fire and destroyed them.

Those kinds of operations will continue to expand. And we'll continue to very methodically root out the causes.

Yes, ma'am. Right here.

Q Are there any indications or intelligence reports actually to indicate that al Qaeda elements are fighting side by side with irregular forces in Iraq?

GEN. RENUART: Well, a few days ago, General Franks mentioned what he describes as the nexus of terror, when you take a regime who would support terrorism and mix it with the fanatics of organizations like al Qaeda. We have conducted some operations in the north that are -- that have been targeted at elements that we believe are aligned with al Qaeda. We have not -- I have not seen any firm indications that those forces are in the south fighting. My sense is it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Okay?

Yes, sir.

Q Yes, Paul Hunter from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Just back to the terminology, this notion of terrorist organizations we've been talking about and terror tactics, and yesterday, it was terrorist death squads. Does that -- how does that effect how people who are captured from these groups will be treated? Do they lose there Geneva Convention POW rights?

GEN. RENUART: It's a good question. I'm not sure that I'm capable of giving you a technical, legal answer. We have the authority to engage as military targets both military and paramilitary organizations, and we continue to treat all of these as hostile forces.

Q So how do you decide who's who, I guess?

GEN. RENUART: Once they are captured, they will -- interrogation will determine what their appropriate status would be, and they'll be treated appropriately. I'm really not able to give you a more technical, legal answer.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Yeah, hi. Sally Balmer from Time Magazine. First a comment. You said you had lots of great stories to tell, but you didn't have the images to go with them. As a print reporter, I don't --

GEN. RENUART: (Laughs.) (Inaudible.)

Q -- I don't care about images. I'll hear a great story any time.

But a serious question. There's be reports that there have been found on the battlefield remains of what appear to be U.S. soldiers, and perhaps these are some of the POWs from the 507th. Can you tell us if that was the case?

GEN. RENUART: That report actually was in print today. I can tell you that we do have that situation developing now up in the vicinity of An Nasiriyah. I can't tell you whether they were the former POWs or POWs. I can't tell you whether they were soldiers who were in that engagement and were killed in the engagement and subsequently buried. I can't tell you for sure that they're 507th soldiers. We have a mortuary affairs team that is on its way to the site, may be there already, and it will conduct the normal, appropriate levels of investigation.

We will also approach it from a -- from the aspect to ensure that there were no war crimes committed in their death, that may have caused their death. So we'll have a full forensic evaluation as well.

Yes, sir.

Q General, Pete Smallis from Knight-Ridder. Two questions, if you don't mind. You mentioned before that some Saudi routes for Tomahawk missiles were on hold now, and I was wondering, without getting into specifics about future operations, how that affects things generically?

GEN. RENUART: Doesn't affect our plan, without getting into specifics.

Q How is that? Not using the same -- the route that you planned to use, that doesn't affect the plan?

GEN. RENUART: We use other routes. Or we use other systems. We have a great deal of flexibility on the battlefield, and that -- it's not an operational impact to us. Okay?

Yes, sir. On the end here.

Q Sir, good afternoon. Peter Lloyd from Australian Television, ABC. As an airman, I wonder if you could give us some perspective about the air force, its capacity to realistically get up -- this is the Iraq air force -- get up in the air and deliver WMD? And the daily question: Any WMD found yet? (Laughter.)

GEN. RENUART: Wait, this lady back here normally answers that -- asks that question. (Laughter.)

With respect to Iraqi air force, they've not flown an airplane. They've not had the capability to fly an airplane. They've not shown any inclination to fly an airplane. And I can tell you, as an airman, that I am absolutely 100 percent comfortable that the air component commander has a number of airmen up there who would be ecstatic if one of the Iraqis tried to fly.

Now, I'll also tell you that we have -- we keep a very close eye on the Iraqi airfields. We've kept them closed. We continue to -- we intend to continue to keep them closed. We're concerned about any possible use of an airplane to conduct terror of military operations, and we watch that very, very carefully.

And your other question was, where the WMD?

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. RENUART: We continue analyze a number of sites throughout the country. We have a number of pieces of both information and raw data that we've received from individuals that we're refining, but I can't really give you any more information that that right now.

Yes, ma'am. Way in the back.

Q (Inaudible) -- from Fuji TV, Japan. I have two questions. One regarding the 82nd Airborne Division --


Q -- and the 173 Airborne Division. First, about the 82nd. How much is it involved in the operations in the west and the north of Iraq? And second, about the 173 or the remaining part of it, what are the operations other than the insertion of the Harir airfield?

GEN. RENUART: I'm going to disappoint you, because I'm really not going to tell you how we're using any of the units on the battlefield. I will just tell you that both the 82nd Airborne and the 173rd are active, on the battlefield, and they will be integrated into the land component's plans at the appropriate point on the battlefield. And that's really as much as I can give you.

Sir, with the pad over here.

Q Robert Hodian with Army Times.

GEN. RENUART: Did you say Army Times?

Q Army Times.


Q Back to the Thuraya phones for a second, Thuraya was singled out as the one provider that there's concern about because it broadcasts latitude and longitude locations. Is that true? And second, if that is the concern, what does it say, after eight or nine days of bombing Iraqi communications nodes and command-and-control centers that you're worried they still have the real-time capability of recognizing from rather sophisticated analysis where a unit is and taking action based on that information?

GEN. RENUART: Thank you for your question, but I'm really not going to talke about what we can or cannot get out of any phone system.

And the specific issue of what we were concerned about in terms of operational security is now appropriate for this --

Q It's widely known that the phone broadcasts its GPS location. Everybody knows that --

GEN. RENUART: Then you have answered your own question.

Q The question is: What does it say about the capability of the Iraqis to be able to continue to analyze that information after you have spent nine days attacking its communications centers?

GEN. RENUART: Well, I didn't say that the Iraqis have any capability to use it for location.

Q Then why cut off just the Thuraya phone and not the other satellite phones?

GEN. RENUART: Operation security is a broad area that we continue to monitor, and we will take the actions that we need against any particular system.

Sir with the vest back here. You first, then you, then I have this lady over here who I promised -- I forgot, sorry. Go ahead.

Q William Heinzer Swiss Television. Did the Red Cross already visit prisoners? And do you know that if you make interrogation with prisoners it's not allowed?


Q It's not allowed to interrogate prisoners.

GEN. RENUART: Ah, I understand, I understand --

Q To ask questions to prisoners -- allowed just to tell their name, and that's all.

GEN. RENUART: Absolutely. And we will try to validate whatever information that they provide us against intelligence information that we have. Have the Red Cross visited the prisoners? I can't confirm they have gone back to visit. I know they have visited the location that is under construction. We're -- those prisoners are in many places on the battlefield. They will be brought back to the central location, and I am sure they will be made available as soon as that occurs. I can't tell you if that has occurred yet.

Q (Off mike)?

GEN. RENUART: I don't know the exact number, but we are well above three and a half thousand, I really don't know the specifics beyond that.

Sir in the back.

Q From Toronto, Asian Weekly. Did you find any activities of Iraqi navy? Because this morning they may have launched an anti-ship against Iraq -- against Kuwait. Thanks.

GEN. RENUART: We've not seen any activities of the Iraqi navy per se. But as you may be aware, those missiles could be put on other types of vehicles, and so we continue to be mindful of small dhows that might be out or tugboats, or any kind of vessel that might have a capability to launch those. And our naval component is actively monitoring anybody that might have that kind of --

Q (Off mike) -- launched? What type of a missile?

GEN. RENUART: I think the reports show that we are seeing on the media today say that it was a Chinese-made missile -- and I won't go beyond that.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Kathy Shin from Phoenix Satellite TV in Hong Kong. General, you mentioned many, many times in today's briefings there's no pause in the operation. However, yesterday Lieutenant (General) Wallace told the Washington Post that overextended supply lines, combined with unconventional Iraqi tactics make a longer war look likely. And the other day President Bush just said that there is no time table for this war. My question is: Would you be surprised if this war turned into -- the duration of this war turned into another Vietnam War?

GEN. RENUART: I really don't think there is any parallel between this operation and Vietnam. So that's as far as I am willing to comment on this one.

This side is getting tired over here. Yes, sir, in the blue shirt.

Q (Off mike) -- Network. My question is the Chinese missile that was thrown into Kuwait wasn't detected by radars. My question is: Any kind of bombs, all bombs, wouldn't be detected by the new technology?

GEN. RENUART: I don't think any technology is perfect. I don't know the specifics of what may or may not have been seen on our radars. We are working with the air defense units to determine what exactly they did or didn't see, and we'll know more after we have taken a look. Sir?

Q John Jammas from (Reuters ?). Given the warning that we heard from the defense secretary yesterday to Syria, what efforts are you making to prevent any weapons from coming into Iraq?

GEN. RENUART: Well, I think Secretary Rumsfeld was pretty clear in his comments. We have had indications on a couple of instances where either people or some equipment may have been coming across from Syria into Iraq. We will take action to not allow any kind of reinforcement or equipment to come from really any outside country to the battlefield.

Yes, sir?

Q Greg Gordon from Newsday. You said in your opening statement that we have been in contact with some tribal leaders, I believe, in an effort to -- I am not sure what the effort is. Can you talk -- elaborate on that a little bit -- what kind of contact that is and what's the nature of it? And can you also give us a little sense of I think there's a little bit of a feeling that we have not begun to win the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. How much of that is the fact that we don't -- the faces that are telling them they're liberators are American faces, British faces, and not Iraqis. There seem to be no Iraqis sort of putting that message out, at least none that we can see.

GEN. RENUART: Well, I think, again, as I mentioned, there's been 30-plus years of repression in Iraq, and that has an effect on generations of people. So there will certainly be very conservative response to anyone in a uniform.

Our goal is to convince with our actions. And it is humane treatment, it's medical care, it's food, it's water, it's treating people -- the people of Iraq as honorable human beings and not as an oppressed race as Saddam has treated the Shiia.

Last question. Yes, ma'am?

Q (Off mike) -- reports that Iraqi dissidents are talking about camps that are being sponsored to teach the kinds of practices that may have been seen with the attacks we have had this morning that killed a number of soldiers. Do you have any specifics that those camps exist? And have any been targeted yet?

GEN. RENUART: I don't have any confirmation that those camps exist. As we have talked about a number of terror-like activities, those tactics have been used by other terrorist organizations, and so it would not surprise me that that is being used here. But I have no information to tell me that there are camps somewhere or that someone specifically is being trained in them.

CENTCOM chief: 'Vital US interests at stake' in Yemen

WASHINGTON — As the White House is reportedly weighing deeper military involvement in the Yemeni civil war alongside Middle Eastern allies, America's top commander in the region told Congress "there are vital U.S. interests at stake" in the fight.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the U.S. does not want Yemen to be used as a sanctuary for attacks against the U.S. and allies or for militants to choke off the Red Sea's Bab el-Mandeb strait, which runs past Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula as well as Djibouti and Eritrea on the Horn of Africa.

The comments came as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is asking the White House to lift restrictions on U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, The Washington Post reported this week. The plan under consideration reportedly includes backing a planned Emirati offensive to retake a key Red Sea port.

Altogether, it would be a more aggressive tack against Iran for the U.S., beyond counterterrorism operations against the local al-Qaida affiliate. On Wednesday, Votel said Tehran "poses the greatest long-term threat to stability" of the region and that the U.S. must disrupt, expose and hold it accountable through a combination of diplomatic and military action.

"That has to be done, they have to account for their destabilizing role in the region right now," Votel said.

"This is the franchise of al-Qaida that has demonstrated in the past — that has tried to attack our homeland, and some of those people still exist," he said. "That's a key aspect, and our focus is on disrupting it."

The Revisionist History Of CENTCOM Attempts To Demonstrate Progress

By way of explaining his eight failed marriages, the American bandleader Artie Shaw once remarked, “I am an incurable optimist.” In reality, Artie was an incurable narcissist. Utterly devoid of self-awareness, he never looked back, only forward.

So, too, with the incurable optimists who manage present-day American wars. What matters is not past mistakes but future opportunities. This describes the view of General Joseph Votel, current head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Since its creation in 1983, CENTCOM has emerged as the ne plus ultra of the Pentagon’s several regional commands, the place where the action is always hot and heavy. Votel is the latest in a long train of four-star generals to preside over that action.

The title of this essay (exclamation point included: Prepare, Pursue, Prevail!) captures in a single phrase the “strategic approach” that Votel has devised for CENTCOM. That approach, according to the command’s website, is “proactive in nature and endeavors to set in motion tangible actions in a purposeful, consistent, and continuous manner.”

This strategic approach forms but one element in General Votel’s multifaceted (if murky) “command narrative,” which he promulgated last year upon taking the helm at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida. Other components include a “culture,” a “vision,” a “mission,” and “priorities.” CENTCOM’s culture emphasizes “persistent excellence,” as the command “strives to understand and help others to comprehend, with granularity and clarity, the complexities of our region.” The vision, indistinguishable from the mission except perhaps for those possessing advanced degrees in hermeneutics, seeks to provide “a more stable and prosperous region with increasingly effective governance, improved security, and trans-regional cooperation.” Toward that estimable end, CENTCOM’s priorities include forging partnerships with other nations “based upon shared values,” “actively counter[ing] the malign influence” of hostile regimes, and “degrading and defeating violent extremist organizations and their networks.”

At present, CENTCOM is busily implementing the several components of Votel’s command narrative across an “area of responsibility” (AOR) consisting of 20 nations, among them Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. As the CENTCOM website puts it, without batting a digital eyelash, that AOR “spans more than 4 million square miles and is populated by more than 550 million people from 22 ethnic groups, speaking 18 languages with hundreds of dialects and confessing multiple religions which transect national borders.”

According to the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, an AOR is the “geographical area associated with a combatant command within which a geographic combatant commander has authority to plan and conduct operations.” Yet this anodyne definition fails to capture the spirit of the enterprise in which General Votel is engaged.

One imagines that there must be another Department of Defense Dictionary, kept under lock-and-key in the Pentagon, that dispenses with the bland language and penchant for deceptive euphemisms. That dictionary would define an AOR as “a vast expanse within which the United States seeks to impose order without exercising sovereignty.” An AOR combines aspects of colony, protectorate, and contested imperial frontier. In that sense, the term represents the latest incarnation of the informal empire that American elites have pursued in various forms ever since U.S. forces “liberated” Cuba in 1898.

To say that a military officer presiding over an AOR plans and conducts operations is a bit like saying that Jeff Bezos sells books. It’s a small truth that evades a larger one. To command CENTCOM is to function as a proconsul, to inhabit as a co-equal the rarified realm of kings, presidents, and prime ministers. CENTCOM commanders shape the future of their AOR ― or at least fancy that they do.

Sustaining expectations of shaping the future requires a suitably accommodating version of the past. For CENTCOM, history is a record of events selected and arranged to demonstrate progress. By testifying to the achievements of previous CENTCOM commanders, history thereby validates Votel’s own efforts to carry on their work. Not for nothing, therefore, does the command’s website include this highly sanitized account of its recent past:

“In the wake of 9-11, the international community found Saddam Hussein’s continued lack of cooperation with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction unacceptable. Hussein’s continued recalcitrance led the UNSC to authorize the use of force by a U.S.-led coalition. Operation Iraqi Freedom began 19 March 2003.

“Following the defeat of both the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (9 November 2001) and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq (8 April 2003), CENTCOM has continued to provide security to the new freely-elected governments in those countries, conducting counterinsurgency operations and assisting host nation security forces to provide for their own defense.”

Setbacks, disappointments, miscalculations, humiliations: you won’t hear about them from CENTCOM. Like Broadway’s Annie, down at headquarters in Tampa they’re “just thinkin’ about tomorrow,” which “clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow, till there’s none!”

(Give the Vietnam War the CENTCOM treatment and you would end up with something like this: “Responding to unprovoked North Vietnamese attacks and acting at the behest of the international community, a U.S.-led coalition arrived to provide security to the freely-elected South Vietnamese government, conducting counterinsurgency operations and assisting host nation security forces to provide for their own defense.”)

In fact, the U.N. Security Council did not authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Indeed, efforts by George W. Bush’s administration to secure such an authorization failed abysmally, collapsing in a welter of half-truths and outright falsehoods. What much of the international community found unacceptable, more so even than Saddam’s obstreperousness, was Bush’s insistence that he was going to have his war regardless of what others might think. As for celebrating the “defeat” of the Taliban and of Saddam, that’s the equivalent of declaring “game over” when the whistle sounds ending the first quarter of a football game.

More to the point, to claim that, in the years since, CENTCOM “has continued to provide security to the new freely-elected governments” of Afghanistan and Iraq whitewashes history in ways that would cause the most shameless purveyor of alt-facts on Fox News to blush. The incontestable truth is that Afghans and Iraqis have not known security since U.S. forces, under the direction of General Votel’s various predecessors, arrived on the scene. Rather than providing security, CENTCOM has undermined it.

CENTCOM Headquarters (Where It’s Always Groundhog Day)

Even so, as the current steward of CENTCOM’s culture, vision, mission, strategic approach, and priorities, General Votel remains undaunted. In his view, everything that happened prior to his assuming ownership of the CENTCOM AOR is irrelevant. What matters is what will happen from now on ― in Washington-speak, “going forward.” As with Artie Shaw, serial disappointments leave intact the conviction that persistence will ultimately produce a happy ending.

Earlier this month, Votel provided a progress report to the Senate Armed Services Committee and outlined his expectations for future success. In a city that now competes for the title of Comedy Central, few paid serious attention to what the CENTCOM commander had to say. Yet his presentation was, in its own way, emblematic of how, in the Age of Trump, U.S. national security policy has become fully divorced from reality.

General Votel began by inventorying the various “drivers of instability” afflicting his AOR. That list, unsurprisingly enough, turned out to be a long one, including ethnic and sectarian divisions, economic underdevelopment, an absence of opportunity for young people “susceptible to unrest [and] radical ideologies,” civil wars, humanitarian crises, large refugee populations, and “competition among outside actors, including Russia and China, seeking to promote their interests and supplant U.S. influence in the region.” Not qualifying for mention as destabilizing factors, however, were the presence and activities of U.S. military forces, their footprint dwarfing that of Russia and China.

Indeed, the balance of Votel’s 64-page written statement argued, in effect, that U.S. military activities are the key to fixing all that ails the CENTCOM AOR. After making a brief but obligatory bow to the fact that “a solely military response is not sufficient” to address the region’s problems, he proceeded to describe at length the military response (and only the military response) that will do just that.

Unfortunately for General Votel, length does not necessarily correlate with substance. Once upon a time, American military professionals prized brevity and directness in their writing. Not so the present generation of generals who are given to logorrhea. Consider just this bit of cliché-ridden drivel ― I could quote vast passages of it ― that Votel inflicted on members of the United States Senate. “In a region beset by myriad challenges,” he reported,

“we must always be on the look-out for opportunities to seize the initiative to support our objectives and goals. Pursuing opportunities means that we are proactive ― we don’t wait for problems to be presented we look for ways to get ahead of them. It also means that we have to become comfortable with transparency and flat communications ― our ability to understand our AOR better than anyone else gives us the advantage of knowing where opportunities exist. Pursuing opportunities also means we have to take risk ― by delegating authority and responsibility to the right level, by trusting our partners, and being willing to trust our best instincts in order to move faster than our adversaries.”

In third-tier business schools, bromides of this sort might pass for “best practices.” But my guess is that George C. Marshall or Dwight D. Eisenhower would award the author of that paragraph an F and return him to staff college for further instruction.

Frothy verbiage aside, what exactly does General Votel propose? The answer ― for those with sufficient patience to wade through the entire 64 pages ― reduces to this: persist. In concrete terms, that means keeping on killing and enabling our “allies” to do the same until the other side is finally exhausted and gives up. In other words, it’s the movie Groundhog Day transposed from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to Tampa and then to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries where the bodies continue to pile up.

True, the document Votel presented to Congress is superficially comprehensive, with sections touting everything from “Building Partner Capacity” (“we must be forward-leaning and empower our partners to meet internal security challenges”) to creating a “Global Engagement Center” (“The best way to defeat an idea is to present a better, more appealing idea”). Strip away the fluff, however, and what’s left is nothing more than a call to keep doing what CENTCOM has been doing for years now.

To see what all this really means, practically speaking, just check out CENTCOM press releases for the week of March 5th through 10th. The titles alone suffice to describe a situation where every day is like the one that preceded it:

Trump orders US Central Command to include Israel amid strategic shift

Israel will now be included in the geographic area of responsibility of the US Central Command for the first time, the Pentagon announced Friday, amid the outgoing Trump administration’s bid to shore up regional cooperation to deter Iran.

The change, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, follows a last-minute push by the Trump presidency to convince Arab leaders to establish formal ties with Israel as the United States looks to focus on countering China in the coming years.

Until now, Israel has fallen under the area of responsibility of the US European Command (EUCOM) out of diplomatic deference to the political sensitivities of Arab leaders, many of whom have long refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state until a political solution is reached for the status of Palestine.

“The easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors subsequent to the Abraham Accords has provided a strategic opportunity for the United States to align key partners against shared threats in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said in a statement Friday.

“Israel is a leading strategic partner for the United States, and this will open up additional opportunities for cooperation with our US Central Command partners while maintaining strong cooperation between Israel and our European allies,” the statement read.

So far, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have signed formal agreements recognizing Israel, while Sudan and Morocco have signaled openness to doing so. The Trump administration has offered significant incentives for the agreements, including debt relief for Sudan and advanced weapons sales to the UAE and Morocco. Egypt and Jordan, which both fall within CENTCOM’s assigned region, already have relations with Israel.

But the move to include Israel in CENTCOM's region was not a last-minute idea, and has been increasingly discussed in the Pentagon in recent years, a former senior defense official told Al-Monitor.

"There have been discussions on this for some time," said Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. "Israel's biggest threat comes from within the Middle East: Iran. CENTCOM has a better understanding of what that threat entails," Mulroy said.

Israel’s inclusion is likely to be one of the final strokes of a Trump administration push to convince Arab leaders to put aside differences and begin work on regional security cooperation. One major obstacle to that goal has been the bitter political rift between Qatar and its neighbors, which eased last week after Gulf leaders and Egypt signed an agreement with Doha following US mediation.

A key objective of the Abraham Accords is to enable Middle Eastern militaries to become “interoperable with the United States as well as with each other,” R. Clarke Cooper, the State Department’s top official for foreign military transfers, told reporters last month.

CENTCOM has already begun to put that vision to the test. The Pentagon has orchestrated a military show of force in the region over the past several weeks, ostensibly to deter Iran and its proxies from carrying out threats to avenge the US assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in January 2020.

Saudi F-15s and at least one Israeli submarine contributed to the deterrence effort, the latter reportedly with Egypt’s consent. The Pentagon has also upped its joint F-35 training with Israel this year as the Israeli air force seeks a third squadron of the Joint Strike Fighters.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next week, has pledged to continue the Abraham Accords as his administration seeks to return to negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear capabilities. Al-Monitor has reached out to Biden’s transition team for comment.

CENTCOM was founded under the Carter administration in 1983 out of the expeditionary Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, which was formed after the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Its original focus was to ensure US influence over global oil supplies, a priority that has waned significantly in recent decades as international terrorism took center stage.

CENTCOM’s founding was welcomed by the Saudis, but Israeli leaders initially bristled at the prospect of Washington expanding defense relations with Arab neighbors. Some Reagan administration officials supported including Israel in CENTCOM from the outset, but the Joint Chiefs pushed against the idea at the time, citing Arab leaders’ political sensitivities.

Iran has again become a central focus for CENTCOM in recent years as Tehran moved to prop up regional militias in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and to some extent Yemen, while expanding its ballistic missile program and, the United States alleges, transferring weapons and weapons technology abroad.

Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against apparent Iran-linked targets to prevent such weapons from approaching its borders, and has occasionally struck targets in Iraq and Lebanon. The US began quietly aiding Israel’s air campaign in following a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018.

Central Command Briefing

The generals gave an update on the progress of the war with Iraq. They responded to questions from reporters.

Central Command Briefing

General Brooks briefed reporters on the progress of military operations in Iraq. Among the topics he addressed were…

Central Command Briefing

General Brooks briefed reporters on the progress of military operations in Iraq. Among the topics he addressed were…

Central Command Briefing

General Brooks briefed reporters on military operations in Iraq. Among the topics he addressed were efforts to…

CENTCOM commander vows to keep the pressure on adversaries even after leaving Afghanistan: Exclusive interview

/>Marine Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, speaks to the media after arriving in Syria to meet with U.S. and allied commanders and troops May 21. (Lolita C. Baldor/AP)

For the past 20 years, U.S. Central Command has been the busiest of the U.S. military’s geographically arrayed headquarters. But even with the end of the American commitment of troops on the ground in Afghanistan, a reduced presence in Iraq and an overall U.S. shift to countering China and Russia, CENTCOM oversees a restive region that will continue to warrant attention. Military Times conducted an exclusive June 11 phone interview with Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the CENTCOM commander, who talked about the withdrawal, the plight of interpreters, a drone attack in Iraq and the future of the region.

Some questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

MT: Have you provided options yet to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on securing the embassy in Afghanistan and providing counterterrorism support from outside the country once the withdrawal is complete? If so, can you share what some of those plans and troop levels might look like?

FM: So, I have been in consultation with the secretary, through [Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] on providing those plans, and the secretary is still chewing over it. We’re in a back-and-forth process, refining them, so unfortunately right now, because of that, there’s not much more I can share with you about the development of those plans.

MT: Do you foresee realistic threats to the homeland emanating from Afghanistan after withdrawal is completed and what worries you most about that?

FM: We know, with a high degree of certainty, that al-Qaida and ISIS, and the version of ISIS that’s in Afghanistan — ISIS Khorasan is what we call it — they both have aspirations to attack the United States. Long-standing, very public track record of wanting to attack our homeland, and the homelands of our partners as well in Europe and in other places. So, this is well established and well-documented from their own mouths. We believe that what has prevented these attacks from being developed, both from Afghanistan and from Syria as well over the last few years, is the pressure that’s been put on these groups. And so in Syria, for example, we and our SDF partners work very hard to keep that pressure on them so they don’t have — particularly ISIS — the ability to generate those attack plans because they’re busy scrambling around for their own survival. Sort of the same thing occurs in Afghanistan. So, what would concern me the most in the long term would be a future situation in Afghanistan where there wasn’t adequate pressure kept on these groups, because we know left unmolested that they are certainly going to rebuild, restrengthen themselves, and we have no reason to doubt they don’t mean what they say when they say, repeatedly and earnestly over the past few years, that they want to attack us in our homeland.

MT: A recent U.N. report warned that the Taliban appeared poised to take back control of Afghanistan for the first time since it was ousted from power by the United States. Do you believe that, why or why not?

FM: So, we’re leaving. That fact is evident to everyone and the only thing that is going to remain, If we can protect it, will be our embassy platform — our diplomats that will be there. And we still intend to support the Afghan military from just over the horizon. We’re still going to support them with funding. We’re going to try very hard to support the Afghan air force over the horizon some things will come out of the country to be worked on. We will do some televised remote advising with them as we go forward. All those things, we will continue to do that. I don’t want to minimize this, because I think they’re going to be tested, but we will continue to support them, just not in the way we are supporting them now.

The Firebombing of Tokyo continues

On March 10, 1945, 300 American bombers continue to drop almost 2,000 tons of incendiaries on Tokyo, Japan, in a mission that launched the previous day. The attack destroyed large portions of the Japanese capital and killed 100,000 civilians.

In the closing months of the war, the United States had turned to incendiary bombing tactics against Japan, also known as 𠇊rea bombing,” in an attempt to break Japanese morale and force a surrender. The firebombing of Tokyo was the first major bombing operation of this sort against Japan.

Early in the morning, the B-29s dropped their bombs of napalm and magnesium incendiaries over the packed residential districts along the Sumida River in eastern Tokyo. The conflagration quickly engulfed Tokyo’s wooden residential structures, and the subsequent firestorm replaced oxygen with lethal gases, superheated the atmosphere, and caused hurricane-like winds that blew a wall of fire across the city. The majority of the 100,000 who perished died from carbon monoxide poisoning and the sudden lack of oxygen, but others died horrible deaths within the firestorm, such as those who attempted to find protection in the Sumida River and were boiled alive, or those who were trampled to death in the rush to escape the burning city. As a result of the attack, 10 square miles of eastern Tokyo were entirely obliterated, and an estimated 250,000 buildings were destroyed.


2014 Edit

Unlike their coalition partners, and unlike previous combat operations, no name was initially given to the conflict against ISIL by the U.S. government. [102] The decision to keep the conflict nameless drew considerable media criticism. [103] [104] [105] [106] [107]

The U.S. decided in October 2014 to name its military efforts against ISIL as "Operation Inherent Resolve" the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) news release announcing the name noted that:

According to CENTCOM officials, the name INHERENT RESOLVE is intended to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the U.S. and partner nations in the region and around the globe to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community. It also symbolizes the willingness and dedication of coalition members to work closely with our friends in the region and apply all available dimensions of national power necessary—diplomatic, informational, military, economic—to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. [108]

The US Defense Department announced at the end of October 2014 that troops operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve after 15 June were eligible for the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. [109] [110]

By 4 December 2014, three U.S. service members had died from accidents or non-combat injuries. [111]

2015 Edit

On 22 October 2015, a U.S. Master Sergeant, Joshua Wheeler, was killed in action when he, with about 30 other U.S. special operations soldiers and a Peshmerga unit, conducted a prison break near Hawija in the disputed territories of Northern Iraq, in which about 70 hostages were rescued, five ISIL members were captured and "a number" were killed or wounded. [112] Sergeant First Class Thomas Payne was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the operation. The Kurdistan Regional Government said after the raid that none of the 15 prisoners it was intended to rescue were found. [113] [114]

From May, North American Rockwell OV-10 Broncos joined the operation, flying more than 120 combat sorties over 82 days. It is speculated they provided close air support for special forces missions. The experiment ended satisfactorily, but a US Air Force spokesman stated it remains unlikely they will invest in reactivating the OV-10 on a regular basis because of the overhead cost of operating an additional aircraft type. [115] [116]

2016 Edit

By 9 March 2016, nearly 11,000 airstrikes had been launched on ISIL (and occasionally Al-Nusra), killing over 27,000 fighters [117] and striking over 22,000 targets, including 139 tanks, 371 Humvees, and 1,216 pieces of oil infrastructure. Approximately 80% of these airstrikes have been conducted by American forces, with the remaining 20% being launched by other members of the coalition, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. 7,268 strikes hit targets in Iraq, while 3,602 hit targets in Syria. [82] On 12 June 2016, it was reported that 120 ISIL leaders, commanders, propagandists, recruiters and other high-value individuals were killed so far this year. [118]

  • Until March 2016, U.S. military members were ineligible for Campaign Medals and other service decorations due to the continuing ambiguous nature of the continuing U.S. involvement in Iraq. [119] However, on 30 March 2016, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the creation of a new medal, named "Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal". [120]

On 3 June 2016, aircraft flying from the USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean Sea began airstrikes on ISIL. [121] On 16 June 2016, AV-8B II+ Harriers of the 13th MEU flying from the USS Boxer in the Persian Gulf also began airstrikes on ISIL, marking the first time the U.S. Navy used ship-based aircraft from both the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf at the same time during Operation Inherent Resolve. [122]

By 27 July 2016, U.S. and coalition partners had conducted more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria: Nearly 11,000 of those strikes were from U.S. aircraft and the majority of the strikes (more than 9,000) were in Iraq. Of the 26,374 targets hit, nearly 8,000 were against ISIL fighting positions, while approximately 6,500 hit buildings ISIL staging areas and oil infrastructure were each hit around 1,600 times. [123] On 15 December 2016, the U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said that "more than 25,000 Daesh fighters have now been killed," a number that was half of the United States' estimate. [124] When asked about this discrepancy, the UK's Ministry of Defense said that it stood by his estimate. [124]

Since the first U.S. airstrikes on ISIL targets in Iraq on 8 August 2014, over two years, the U.S. military has spent over $8.4 billion fighting ISIL. [125]

BBC News reported in 2017 that according to the American think tank Council on Foreign Relations, in 2016 alone, the U.S. dropped 12,192 bombs in Syria and 12,095 in Iraq. [126]

Operation Odyssey Lightning Edit

From August to December 2016, the U.S. conducted another similar operation in Libya, code-named Operation Odyssey Lightning, during the battle to capture Sirte, which was the local capital of ISIL's Libyan branch. [127] [128] In September 2017, the US Africa Command announced that 495 precision airstrikes were carried out and 800 to 900 ISIL fighters were killed during the operation in Sirte between 1 August and 19 December 2016. [129] On 18 January 2017, US B-2 bombers bombed 2 ISIL camps to the south of Sirte, killing 90 ISIL militants.

2017 Edit

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Coalition airstrikes have killed 7,043 people across Syria, of which: 5,768 dead were ISIL fighters, 304 Al-Nusra Front militants and other rebels, 90 government soldiers and 881 civilians. The air strikes occurred in the period between 22 September 2014 and 23 January 2017. [130]

In March 2017, various media outlets reported that conventional forces from the 11th MEU, as well as special operations forces in the form of the 75th Ranger Regiment [131] deployed to Syria to support U.S.-backed forces in liberating Raqqa from ISIL occupation. The deployment marked an escalation in the U.S. intervention in Syria. [132]

By February 28, the Coalition had conducted 3,271 sorties in 2017, 2,129 of which resulted in at least one weapon released. In total, the coalition released 7,040 weapons in Iraq and Syria in this same time period in an effort to destroy ISIL. [133]

As of August 9, 2017, coalition aircraft flew a total of 167,912 sorties, and conducted 13,331 strikes in Iraq and 11,235 strikes in Syria, for a total of 24,566 strikes. [134]

2018 Edit

In February 2018, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division was awarded a campaign streamer following its deployment to Iraq. In May 2016, the brigade deployed to advise and assist, train and equip Iraqi security forces to fight the Islamic State of Iraq. The 2nd Brigade also conducted precision surface-to-surface fires and supported a multitude of intelligence and logistical operations for coalition and Iraqi forces. They also provided base security throughout more than 12 areas of operations. The Brigade also aided in the clearance of ISIL from Fallujah, the near elimination of suicide attacks in Baghdad, and the introduction of improved tactics that liberated more than 100 towns and villages. The 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division also played a significant role in the liberation of Mosul. [135]

2019 Edit

In early 2019, the US-led coalition focused on the final assault on ISIS in the Euphrates pocket, including the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani in the first quarter of the year. Civilian human shields held by ISIS were among the victims, including in one reported massacre on 19 March in which up to 300 civilians, including 45 children, were alleged to have been killed by Coalition forces. [136]

From August 8, 2014, to August 29, 2019, coalition aircraft conducted a total of 34,573 strikes. [100]

On December 31, 2019, the CJTF-OIR reported its forces were "closely monitoring the current situation of the protests at the US Embassy in Baghdad", adding that they were "taking the appropriate force protection measures to ensure [US Embassy personnel] safety". [138]

2020 Edit

CJTF-OIR paused all training and anti-ISIS operations on January 5, 2020, to focus on protecting Iraqi bases hosting Coalition troops in the wake of several rocket attacks. [139] This action was also linked to the anticipated response against Coalition forces in the wake of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. [140] In March 2020, the U.S. military started to withdraw from various bases in Iraq. [141]

U.S. and coalition forces are training Iraqi forces at four sites: in al-Asad in Anbar province, Erbil in the north, and Taji and Besmayah in the Baghdad area.

During the operation in Syria, there were several bases mostly in the north: [148]

However, following the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria, most U.S. soldiers withdrew from northern Syria to western Iraq in October 2019, [158] while even bombing their own Lafarge basement near Harab Isk. [159]

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon was planning to "leave 150 Special Operations forces at a base called al-Tanf". [160] In addition, 200 U.S. soldiers would remain in eastern Syria near the oil fields, to prevent the Islamic State, Syrian government and Russian forces from advancing in the region. [161] However, at least 600–900 U.S. Troops are expected to stay in Syria, [162] in Al-Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor Governorates. [163] In July 2020, the U.S. military built a new base including an airport, located between Um Kahif village and Tal Alu silos near Al-Yaarubiyah. [164]

According to Airwars, in 2014 there were 63 incidents involving the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria in which there were civilian casualties, causing at least 160 civilian deaths. In 2015, there were 268 incidents and 708 deaths. In 2016, there were 483 incidents and 1,372 deaths. Civilian casualties peaked in 2017, with 1,841 incidents and at least 4,677 civilian deaths. [136]

According to Airwars, 1,472 civilians were killed by the U.S. air campaign in Iraq and Syria in March 2017 alone. [165] On March 17, a U.S.-led coalition airstrike in Mosul killed more than 200 civilians. [166] Data compiled by Airwars shows that 229 strikes in Iraq and 878 strikes in Syria were carried out by Coalition forces in June 2017, killing an alleged total of 1,483 people. The reporting of 875 of those total alleged deaths is contested. In July 2017, Airwars recorded reports of an alleged 1,342 people were killed in Iraq and Syria by Coalition airstrikes. Of the allegations 812 were contested, and two were disproved. [167]

Casualty figures fell after the 2017 peak. According to Airwars, 2018 saw 192 incidents and 846 deaths 2019 saw 72 incidents and 467 deaths. [136] In 2019, the casualties were concentrated in the first quarter during the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani including an alleged massacre of civilian human shields on 19 March. [136]

By 2020, Airwars had recorded a five-year total of 14,771 US-led Coalition strikes in Iraq and 19,829 in Syria and investigated 2,921 alleged civilian casualty incidents, estimating 8,259–13,135 civilian deaths, of whom around 2,000 were children, although the Coalition itself estimated just 1,377 civilian deaths. [168]

Classic Military Quotes Brought into the Modern Era

December 1944, Probably England, UK — General Eisenhower Behind the Wheel of a Jeep — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Military doctrine is updated every few years, to reflect the changes in technology, tactics, operations, and strategy, as well as to keep several thousand doctrine writers employed. Next to military doctrine, famous quotes from past military leaders are the most commonly cited source when two strategists are arguing.

But although we update our doctrine, we never update our quotes. In an effort to assist the military in transitioning into the 21st century, I have very helpfully taken classic military quotes and brought them up to date with the digital age so that young service members can better relate to them.

“It is well that PowerPoint is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.”
– Robert E. Lee, J-3, CENTCOM

Image courtesy Wikimedia

“I regret that I have but one SHARP briefing to give for my country.”
– Nathan Hale, S-2

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without taking your Cyber Awareness Challenge.”
– Sun Tzu, Commander, ARCYBER

“You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will just be in Iraq forever.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte, Plans Officer, FORSCOM

“The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by well-articulated decision point briefings and excellent slide backgrounds.”
– Otto von Bismark, Political Affairs Adviser

“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither run out of ice cream at the FOB DFAC nor heard the groans of Soldiers unable to get wings at the Bagram Pizza Hut, who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
– William Tecumseh Sherman, Commander, Task Force Burnitalldown

Quote is not mine, sadly. I wish I knew who made this.

“There is no avoiding a mandatory briefing it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli, S-1, Public Affairs Officer

“Only the dead have seen the end of resiliency training.”
– Plato, Professor, Navy War College

“I have not yet begun to brief!”
– John Paul Jones, Commander, 10th Fleet

“Ten soldiers wisely led will beat a hundred without their reflective belts.”
– Euripides, Joint Staff, Pentagon

“There never was a good MRE or a bad RipIt.”
– Ben Franklin, J-4, CENTCOM

“Next to a lost battle, nothing is so sad as a battle that has never happened because we drone strike everyone now.”
– Arthur Wellesley, NATO Liaison

“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Send drones out as soon as you can. Dither about sending in ground forces as hard as you can, and keep passing the buck to someone else.”
– Ulysses S. Grant, National Security Adviser

From the Life and Times of U.S. Grant

“Cry,’Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of limited, low intensity counterinsurgency.”
– William Shakespeare, Poet Laureate for MARSOC

“In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. Well, actually just one thing: the lawyers at the Department of Justice have to bless off on it.”
– Thomas Aquinas, U.S. Air Force Chaplain Corps

“It is fatal to enter into any war without the will to keep creating PowerPoint presentations.”
– Douglas MacArthur, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

“The backbone of surprise is fusing mandatory briefings with a urinalysis drug test…War is merely a continuation of politics through PowerPoint.”
– Carl von Clausewtiz, Command and General Staff College

“A good spreadsheet violently tracked now is better than a perfect spreadsheet tracked next week.”
– George S. Patton, G-3 Plans

If you haven’t visited Lady History at her blog, you need to.

To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving Congress’s infatuation with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”
George Washington, President of the United States

“God is not on the side of the heavy battalions but on the side of the people who complete their Accident Avoidance Course.”
– Voltaire, Army Safety Officer

Have you own favorite military quotations that you have updated into modern parlance? Feel free to share them in the comments section.

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Telephonic Press Briefing with U.S. CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel

General Votel is speaking to us today from CENTCOM’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida. We will begin this phone call with remarks from the General. After that, we will open it up to your questions. Today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will now turn it over to General Votel for his opening remarks. General Votel, the floor is yours.

General Votel: Ok, thank you very much, and thanks to everyone who dialed in today. I look forward to the opportunity to talk with you and answer your questions. As mentioned, I just arrived back in Tampa last evening after about 10 or 11 days of travel in the region that took me to Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, The United Arab Emirates, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Jordan, so I do have a few things I would like to share with you, and then, as I mentioned, I’ll be happy to take your questions. In general, while we and our partners continue to face numerous challenges across the region, there are a number of areas where we are positioned to make significant progress in the weeks and months ahead, and I’d like to touch on three major points as we get started.

First, we need to recognize the tremendous sacrifice of our partners in the fight against ISIS. Thousands from the Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have given their lives or have been wounded during the fights to liberate major cities and liberate the majority of the terrain from ISIS. Having spent several hours in the city of Raqqa just a few days ago, I saw, first-hand, the level of violence that was needed to root out an enemy like ISIS. Partner forces on the ground conducted the vast majority of the effort and shed the preponderance of the blood, and for their efforts and sacrifice, we all – the global community – should be thankful for their efforts. Those forces have done well and continue to fight bravely. There is more work to do and they continue to do it. They have honored the entire 70-member Coalition with their grit and determination.

My second point is that recent successes against ISIS show that the best way to make military progress across the region and to work through the many, many contentious issues is through open and transparent military-to-military relationships. These military-to-military relationships preserve avenues of communication that allow us to de-conflict operations, deescalate tensions, and reduce the risk of miscalculation or error. We continue to see the value of our transparency and open communication with all of our partners across the region on a daily basis.

And finally, third, is the need – during the post-hostility period – for significant interagency and international action to alleviate and avoid significant humanitarian crisis. As I mentioned, I was in Raqqa this week, and while there is some efforts at stabilization that are underway, the need is much greater than the current resources that are available there. There is an urgent need now for a global effort to help with the recovery of displaced people, and the rebuilding and stabilization of war-torn areas. This is a massive effort that no single nation can undertake alone. Otherwise, if we don’t do this, we will find ourselves fighting the terrorists again in the future, and we will be unable to address the important underlying tensions that often times lead to terrorism.

And with that, I’d be happy to answer your questions.

Moderator: Thank you, General Votel. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topics of today’s briefing. We will take questions first from the English line, and then from the Arabic line. As a reminder, if you wish you join the question queue, please dial 01. I will now turn the floor to the English line. Operator, please give the floor to the first journalist.

Operator: Our first question is from Siraj Wahab, Arab News English newspaper. Please go ahead.

Arab News Reporter: General Joseph, thank you so much for giving an overview of your current visit to the region. I have only one question. What is happening in Afghanistan? What did you see during your visit there? You said the local partners are engaged. Does that mean that Pakistan is involved in the fight against terrorism, or what is your sense of what is happening there?

General Votel: Thank you. Thank you for your question. So what is happening in Afghanistan and really throughout the South and Central Asian period – or area – is we are very busily implementing our South Asia strategy, which is designed to bring the Taliban to the reconciliation table and end this very, very lengthy conflict. This approach – this strategy – requires the partnership of not just Afghanistan, but of all countries in the region, and of course, Pakistan is a key part of that. And as you are aware, we have had our differences with Pakistan over the years on this, but Pakistan remains absolutely critical to the solution of the problem in Afghanistan. And I would just note that there are very few countries that have suffered more from terrorism or sacrificed more in fighting terrorism than Pakistan. So their support to this effort is absolutely vital and we are working very closely in our military-to-military chains – and in other venues – to improve our collaboration and our support back and forth in what is an extraordinarily complex situation.

Much more broadly, the Afghan forces are preparing themselves for the fight ahead. Under the leadership of President Ghani and his four-year road map, they are making efforts at reform, they are addressing corruption, they are improving their leadership, and they are improving their Afghan forces and fighting capability with the expansion of their Special Operations Forces and their Air Force, and the offensive nature of all of their corps now fully-engaged in operations. They are set to continue to put military pressure on the Taliban and its cohorts as we embark on this season’s fighting, and of course, the Coalition – the US-NATO Coalition – will play a key part in that and we are taking all the necessary actions right now to address that. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you. Operator, can we take the next question from the English line?

Operator: Our next question is from Victoria Yan from The Daily Star. Please go ahead.

Daily Star Reporter: Hi, General Votel. Thank you for your time in briefing us. I know that you did not visit Lebanon on this tour, and I was hoping if you could talk a bit about the role of the US Special Forces in Lebanon. In 2015, it came up that they were operating drones in the area in order to – for counterterrorism against ISIS and militias along the area following the victory from the Lebanese Armed Forces against ISIS on the border region. Can you talk more about what’s being used – what’s being done with those drones right now and, furthermore, the role of the Special Ops?

General Votel: Thank you. Thank you for your question and I was in Lebanon – you’re right – not this month of January, but I was there last month and I do make frequent visits to Lebanon. I won’t go into too many details about what specific operations we are supporting, but our general role there is to help build capacity in the Lebanese Armed Forces and to help them in their fight against terrorism across the country and, as it affects them, from the region and to that end, our relationship with the Lebanese Armed Forces – which goes back a number of years now – nearly a decade – I think, has made a significant difference, and the Lebanese Armed Forces are emerging as the recognized and preferred security instrument in the country of Lebanon, responsible for protecting their people and of course protecting their people from the scourge of terrorism. We don’t – we are not conducting unilateral operations there. We only support the Lebanese Armed Forces in their activities using our by, with, and through approach, and so the success that we’ve seen on the ground against elements like ISIS are really being achieved by the Lebanese Armed Forces. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you very much. Operator, can we take the next question from the English line?

Operator: Our next question is from Omar Shariff, Gulf News, please go ahead.

Gulf News Reporter: Hello General Votel, can you hear me?

Gulf News Reporter: Yes, my question is this. Now that the main fighting against ISIL is over on the ground in Syria and Iraq, what lies ahead for the Global Coalition of 70 countries? Are you planning on winding down operations so that the peace actions can begin? Thank you.

General Votel: Thank you. That’s a very good question. First off, I would just remind you that while we have accomplished a lot on the ground and liberated a lot of previously-controlled land that ISIS controlled in Syria in particular, there still are pockets and locations of ISIS that our partners in the Coalition are actively fighting. We continue to fight even today and will continue to fight until they are liberated as well. But more importantly, what the Coalition is doing now is we are moving into what we refer to as the consolidation or stabilization phase and what our purpose now to do is to help local forces – whether they’re Iraqi or the Syrian Democratic Forces – consolidate their gains, ensure that we do not allow for the resurgence of ISIS, and that we create the security conditions that allow for stability and, in a longer-term sense, for reconstruction efforts – international reconstruction efforts – to take place in these areas. And so they work with local – our partners, supported by the Coalition, work with local civil authorities to address things like the remnants of explosive hazards that ISIS left behind, trying to create the conditions so that international aid groups and other resources can get in there and the population can be protected. So we can get these thousands, and perhaps millions, of internally-displaced people back in their houses.

In Iraq, in particular, we will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces to continue to develop their capabilities and their professionalism at the request of the government of Iraq.

Moderator: Thank you very much. Operator, can we take the next question from the English line?

Operator: Our next question is from Zaid Benjamin, Radio Sawa. Please go ahead.

Radio Sawa Reporter: Thank you very much, General, for doing this. My question is on Egypt. Today, a crisis group said the jihadi threat in Egypt is expanding so, what’s your assessment to the situation in Egypt and the ISIS branch in Egypt *inaudible*? Thank you.

General Votel: Well, thank you. Well, certainly we share the concern that our Egyptian partners have with the presence of ISIS elements that operate in areas like the Sinai and are posing a broader threat to Egypt, and our intention is to continue to work very closely with them, to provide assistance where we can, and to help them address this particular threat. The nature of this ISIS threat is a very dangerous one and so it is important that countries like Egypt, and others across the region, treat this very, very seriously, and do everything they can to root out that threat. And in my observation, in our work, I think Egypt is well on the way to doing that, and we look forward to staying very closely partnered with them to assist them in those efforts.

Moderator: Thank you very much. Operator, can we take one final question from the English line?

Operator: Our final question from the English line, Imad El Atrache, Sky News Arabia, please go ahead.

Sky News Arabia Reporter: Yes, General, my question is about Syria. You said you were there very recently. Are you going to support – continue to support the SDF in Syria, especially now that the Turkish operation is still going on?

General Votel: Thank you for that question. The direct answer is yes, we will continue to support the Syrian Democratic Forces as they continue their efforts to defeat ISIS and to prevent their resurgence and to create conditions for stability in the area that allow the humanitarian aid and other organizations to get in there to help the people. That’s been our government’s policy, but let me just expand for a moment, if I can. There are a couple of key objectives here.

We do recognize that Turkey has a very significant concern – a very legitimate concern – about security along their border, and so that objective of working with Turkey to address that is an important one that we have to do. Turkey has been a very good partner in the defeat-ISIS campaign, and of course they are a NATO ally to the United States, and so that means a lot to us, and so we will continue to support that objective as best as we can. At the same time, we also have an objective to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, and our partner on the ground to do that is the Syrian Democratic Forces, and they have been – in our estimation – the most effective force against ISIS – certainly in Syria – for a long time now, very effectively liberating large urban areas and bringing stability, particularly to the North and the Eastern part of the country. We do recognize that the Syrian Democratic Forces do include some Kurds and some Arabs and, of course, how our NATO ally, Turkey, views that, as they view them differently than we do, that’s a difference. That’s a rub, but we are working through that, but nonetheless, the Syrian Democratic Forces have, frankly, done some very good work with the support of the Coalition to address what is not just a Syrian problem, but really, is an international problem of foreign fighters who have converged on this area, who have attempted to take over terrain, who have caused mass refugee migration, and who have inspired, influenced, or perpetrated attacks in many of our homelands. And so they have done very good work in this regard, and we will continue to support them while we complete this. Thank you for your question.

Moderator: Excellent. We’re now going to switch over to the callers on the Arabic line. Operator, can you please take the first question from the Arabic line.

Operator: We have a question from Al Etihad.

Dina Mostafa from Al Etihad Newspaper: My question is about Syria. You said that there are efforts to secure the Turkey borders. What if you come face-to-face, could there be any confrontation with American forces?

General Votel: Thank you for the question. Of course, as I mentioned, Turkey is our NATO ally, and we are doing everything that we absolutely can to avoid that type of confrontation, and so we routinely – daily – communicate with our Turkish partners about activities that are taking place on the ground, about the locations of Coalition forces and partner forces and the intentions of activities that we are undertaking on the ground, and so we have a very robust deconfliction and coordination mechanism to ensure that that does not happen. And we certainly aren’t looking for that to occur, and we will continue to do everything we can to support the two objectives that I talked about a few moments ago, and to ensure that we don’t come to a situation like you just described. Thank you.

Moderator: Operator, can we take the next question from the Arabic line?

Operator: Thank you, General, for making sure to communicate with us. My question is about the Iranian threat in the region. What is the nature of the cooperation you have with Gulf States and Arab states facing the Iranian threat?

General Votel: Thank you. Thank you for the question. Certainly, the United States shares many of the same concerns that Arab and, in particular, the Gulf States have about Iran. As you’re aware, they’ve had efforts in the past to develop and procure nuclear weapons. Certainly, this is a significant concern that we all share. As you know, there is a JCPOA in place designed to address that and certainly, the discussions continue about that.

But, more broadly, I think the United States and our Gulf and Arab partners in the region share the concern about many of the other destabilizing activities that Iran perpetrates across the region. This includes the facilitation of advanced weaponry to groups such as the Houthis, who use advanced missiles to fire and attempt to attack into Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Of course, those are our very good partners, and we have some of our people and resources on the ground in those areas, so this is a concern for us.

Iran continues to stoke and develop relationships with extremist groups out there who are focused on conducting destabilizing activities and posing a threat to other partners, like Israel, in the region, and so this is a concern. They are attempting to influence governments, and try to exert undue authority over governments across the region. They support a number of other radical groups out there, like we see in Bahrain, that are designed to conduct destabilizing activity. And then of course in the past, they have conducted very provocative activities in the maritime environment, particularly down around the Straits of Hormuz, and in the Bab-el-Mendeb, where they have deployed capabilities or provided capabilities to their partners that could have a significant impact on the safe passage of commercial vessels, and the movement of commerce through the area. So, certainly, this is a very, very significant threat, so I think we share all of these concerns with our Arab and Gulf partners, and of course, we work very, very closely with them to align our efforts and collaborate in our planning. So, thank you.

Moderator: Operator, can we take the next question from the Arabic line?

Operator: A question from Ahmed Ghallab from Al-Hayat Newspaper. Good morning, General.

General Votel: Good morning.

Operator: You talked about the partnership with Gulf states, including The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. How do you perceive their participation in the international coalition against ISIS, and what about, also, their role in Yemen?

General Votel: Well, thank you. Saudi Arabia is, of course, an extraordinarily important and influential state – not just in the Gulf, but throughout the Middle East, and globally. So, they are a very, very important partner, and have been very supportive of the activities of the Coalition, one of the original members of the Coalition when it was stood up back in 2014, and they continue to be very important partners. As you’re well aware, Saudi Arabia leads a coalition in Yemen that is attempting to address the challenges being posed by the Iranian-backed Houthi organization. We are not necessarily parties to that conflict, but certainly they play a key role in trying to bring some stability to that conflict. I would say that Saudi Arabia is doing a very good job in helping to address some of the humanitarian issues that, unfortunately, are taking place in Yemen right now. As many of you know, they have supported the opening of the Port of Hodeidah, but they also have a much broader plan to allow aid into numerous other ports, aid to come over ground lines of communication, and aid to come into airports and other airfields in the area. And so I know they have been very, very focused on this, and when I was in Saudi Arabia last week, I had an opportunity to see some of what they are doing in this regard, and I think this is very important – important work – and I think it highlights that Saudi Arabia, while they are attempting to accomplish a military mission, is also exerting a lot of effort to try to protect the population and address some of the human suffering that is, unfortunately, taking place. Thank you.

Moderator: Operator, can we take the next question from the Arabic line?

Operator: Okaz Newspaper. Good morning, General. You mentioned the cooperation with Saudi – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. How does the US deal, particularly, with the Saudi efforts to face terrorism, and how can you describe some facets of this cooperation?

General Votel: Thank you very much. Well, Saudi Arabia has been a partner in countering terrorism with the United States and with many others for a long period of time. They have very good internal security forces and intelligence services and others who have very effectively addressed terrorism in the Kingdom, and around the region here, and have had a very cooperative and – excuse me – collaborative relationship with the United States and with other countries in terms of addressing this. More importantly, Saudi Arabia sponsors and hosts the Islamic Military Counterterrorism Coalition, and I had an opportunity to visit with their staff when I was in Riyadh last week. This is a very important initiative that has over 40 nations – Islamic nations – as members of it, and is designed to address things like ideology. It is designed to address things like financial resources that terrorists use and to prevent them from doing that, and it’s also – it attempts to address the training and equipment shortfalls that Islamic countries have in fighting terrorism.

So, we consider Saudi Arabia to be not only a close partner, but a leader in addressing violent extremism, and the most clear example of that, of course, is the Islamic Military Counterterrorism Coalition that I just mentioned. Thank you.

Moderator: Ok. We have time for one more question. Operator, can you take the final question from the Arabic queue?

Operator: A question from Mohmed Ataya Baladna Al-Youm Newspaper. Thank you, General Votel. I wanted to ask you what possible areas militants can go to after the defeat of ISIS, and how could you deal with that on the ground?

General Votel: Well, thank you. That’s a very good question. Certainly, what we have seen with militants like ISIS or al-Qaeda or other extremist groups, they have a tendency to thrive and move into areas where there is a lack of government control, or there is great instability on the ground, and so areas like, for example, we just talked about Yemen. We would expect that as ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria, that we may see the rise of ISIS organizations in a place like Yemen, where there is great turmoil, where this is not complete control by the government and these provide the conditions that an organization like ISIS can grow in.

I would also point to you that we do see some presence of ISIS in areas of Afghanistan that are not yet under the control of the government, and, of course, locations like Libya, not necessarily in the area in which I am responsible for military operations, but right on the periphery here, are also areas like that. So, what these organizations are looking for is they are looking for vulnerable populations. They are looking for weak governance. They are looking for economic disadvantage, and they try to come in and use their poisonous ideology to take control of the area, to subjugate the people, and to impose their will in these particular areas, and so that is why it is so important that as we complete our military operations in Iraq and Syria, or wherever we do, that we address stabilization activities to allow people to get back in, to allow governance – local governance – to begin to emerge, and then, ultimately, help create the conditions so that many of the underlying tensions and issues that often lead to terrorism can be addressed. That – I think that is the work of, certainly, the military – but it’s the work of all aspects of our governments and partners out here, our law enforcement, our diplomatic corps, and many others all have to pay attention and work very hard to address those conditions. Thank you very much for your question.

Moderator: Ok. That concludes the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. General Votel, do you have any final remarks?

General Votel: I would only say thank you to all of the journalists for joining us today. We appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and answer your questions. We value the relationships we have across the Central Command region. This area remains extraordinarily important for us. We have many national interests in this particular area beyond just terrorism. Certainly, the prosperity that comes out of this area because of the energy resources, the critical choke-points that support commerce globally, trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction that do sometimes emanate from this area, these are all vital interests of the United States, and they’re interests that we share, certainly, with our partners in the region, and we look forward to continuing to build strong military relationships as we address these very pressing problems of the region.

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