Hey Reddit, this is COL Steve Warren from Baghdad, Iraq. I am the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led counter-ISIL military coalition. Our 66-partner coalition is working with our partners in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIL/ISIS/Da’esh.

I’ll be answering your questions for an hour today, May 6th from 8:00pm to 9:00pm local time in Baghdad (1:00pm to 2:00pm Eastern). Ask me anything!

I hope I can answer all of your questions but please remember that in military operations some secrecy is necessary. Our enemy is watching and they would very much like to know what we are planning and how we will fight them. This is information I will not let them have.

If you’d like to receive updates about Operation Inherent Resolve after this AMA, follow me on Twitter @OIRSpox.

Proof: https://twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/727486733080612868

/Edit: Hey Reddit, this has been a terrific 100 minutes. Your questions were thoughtful, intelligent, and I hope I was able to provide quality answers. We're shutting down for the night-- it's almost 10pm here in Baghdad. We'll chip away at some of these other questions in the coming days.

However, I do have one major disappointment: no one asked me about ducks, horses, or horse sized ducks. So here's the answer in case you were wondering: Between duck sized horses or horse sized ducks, I'd want to face duck sized horses. They wouldn't be able to fly so you could punt them like footballs. A hundred isn't really that many so I don't think you'd even break much of a sweat booting them all.

Comments: 377 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

Stingray199376 karma

It appears the Vetted Syrian Opposition is struggling to capture territory from Daesh despite coalition air support and Turkish artillery support. It seems to me that the most effective and more influential opposition groups in Syria are extremists. So my questions are, what is the long term plan for Syria? Will there be a shift in strategy due to the lack of moderate effective ground troops, or will the US and its partners push for better training and equipment for the Vetted Opposition? It seems the US wants to focus on fighting Daesh. After the defeat of Deash, will the US work to compromise with the Assad government, or will it pursue a policy of fighting his government? How can the latter be achieved considering Assad holds major population centers and has the support of Russia?

I understand these are sensitive/difficult questions, and I understand if they can't all be answered. I follow the conflict, but obviously don't have the knowledge you do, so feel free to correct me if my assessment is incorrect.

OIRSpox88 karma

Your assessment is astute. VSOs have had trouble holding territory that they've captured in the Northwest. That said, they've been resilient. When they get kicked out of a town, the regroup and fight another day. They've had more success holding territory they've captured in the East (Shaddadi).

We are pushing to see better training of the moderate groups. As you know, we've sent up to 300 Special Forces in there. SecDef Carter has said that he's looking for ways to accelerate the campaign.

After the defeat of Da'esh we all know that there's got to be an end to the Syrian Civil War. As you know, our policy is that we do not see a future that includes Assad. I don't know how the latter can be achieved. The Secretary of State has been to Geneva several times, and that's really something for the diplomats and the politicians to work out.

/edited for grammar

rsa77770 karma

Is there concern the YPG may turn to Russia for support if Turkish interference hinders U.S. support?

OIRSpox89 karma

Sure there's concern, but I don't believe that YPG interests align with Russian interests. We know that they interact, but we believe that at the end of the day they won't be comfortable getting in bed with the Russians.

Pastonka67 karma

I doubt that you're familiar with the subreddit /r/syriancivilwar but as the name mentions, it's about the civil war in Syria. One of the big debates in this forum is about the term 'moderate rebel'.

My question is: what is the definition of the term 'moderate rebel', in your eyes or/and that of the coalition?

OIRSpox92 karma

Great question and I'm not sure there is a great answer. The opposition forces in Syria range from violent extremists (like ISIL who we are fighting) to reasonable people who we can work with. The vast majority are somewhere in between and some slide along the scale.

Our challenge is to find forces who will fight Da'esh but will not turn on us later. This is a difficult challenge and we are not always going to get it right, but we have to try.

fauz8757 karma

For people on the sidelines, there have been a few moments of levity in an otherwise grave situation in Syria and Iraq over the past few years. We've seen gang bangers from L.A., an IS car bomb explode in mid air, Syrian soldiers dancing to Usher, and recently the legend that is Abu Hajjar among others.

Have you been able to enjoy the lighter moments of this war or does your position and closeness to it prevent you? If so, what's your favorite?

OIRSpox81 karma

This is a serious business, but we can't take ourselves too seriously. I got a good laugh out of this.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/04/08/the-daily-show-will-thank-us-pentagon-briefing-goes-awry-with-emergency-drill/

AmberAC50 karma

COL Warren, can you describe how cyber operations are figuring in with Inherent Resolve?

OIRSpox221 karma

The first rule of cyber operations: never talk about cyber operations. The second rule of cyber operations: never talk about cyber operations.

rsa77748 karma

Has the U.S. applied pressure on the YPG to slow their advance on Manbij due to Turkish concerns?

OIRSpox72 karma

Yes. Both the YPG and the Turks have legitimate concerns. We devote much energy to working through these issues and deconflicting competing interests.

trollers40 karma

What do you see as the center of gravity for ISIS in the context of OIR? Thanks for your response!

OIRSpox86 karma

We believe their military centers of gravity are in Mosul and Raqqah. When these cities fall, it will be the beginning of the end for ISIL. That said, their ideological center of gravity is the existence of their so called “caliphate” and their conviction that their “mission” is to bring about the end of days. Their ideological center of gravity is difficult to fight. Their military center of gravity, while challenging, is a nut that we can crack. It’s not a question of “if” these cities will fall. It’s only a question of “when” and “who.”

VitaleTegn37 karma

Before I begin my questions, I'll post this map for reference.

1) Would you recommend that the SDF take Raqqa?

2) Would you also prefer they relieve the besieged SAA pocket in Deir ezzor?

3) Will the SDF eventually attempt to link up with the New Syrian Army? (rebel area in rural Damascus area).

4) Will a small US group like Charlie Keating's help with the Battle of Mosul?

5) Are you interested in some cooperation with Syrian government forces in the fight against ISIS?

OIRSpox73 karma

1) Would you recommend that the SDF take Raqqa? Raqqa has got to be liberated. I don't think it's a good idea for Kurds to go that far south. The SDF is majority Kurd (60%), but it is a multi-ethnic outfit. So our challenge is to get the appropriate mix of forces into play. That's what our 300 operators are trying to do. 2) Would you also prefer they relieve the besieged SAA pocket in Deir ezzor? Tough call on Deir ezzor. Obviously we want it free of Da'esh, and of course we would prefer the SDF do the freeing, but that's a long row to hoe. Remains to be seen if they can do it. 3) Will the SDF eventually attempt to link up with the New Syrian Army? (rebel area in rural Damascus area). I don't see any scenario that gets the SDF that far south. 4) Will a small US group like Charlie Keating's help with the Battle of Mosul? Let me start with this: Charlie Keating is an American hero, as is every other American who has bled in this land. We are not the lead force here but we have been clear that if the Iraqi government needs our help we will provide it. I know this is a little bit vague, but I don't want to telegraph our punches. 5) Are you interested in some cooperation with Syrian government forces in the fight against ISIS? Our policy is that we will not work with the Assad regime. First things first: the only way to end the Syrian civil war, in our view, is for Assad to transition out of power...

EliVlach35 karma

What do you think of the Russian strategy?

OIRSpox171 karma

What Russian strategy? If they send it to me I'll be happy to comment on it.

LeoBurt34 karma

Good evening, COL Warren. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Your strike announcements have demonstrated the coalition can kill Da'esh terrorists wherever they hide in Iraq and Syria. What effect do you think those strikes have had on Da'esh's ability to plan and inspire terror attacks in the West? When you kill plotters, are you making us safer? How do you know?

OIRSpox141 karma

You better believe we are making America and the world safer. Since the start of 2015 we’ve targeted and killed more than 40 high-value ISIL and al Qaeda external attack plotters. We have removed cell leaders, facilitators, planners and recruiters. We’ve shown we can get them wherever they are – in their strongholds in Raqqah and Mosul; in the middle of the desert in Syria; and in shady border towns across the region. We share information across our networks and we applaud as the FBI and partner nations take ISIL operatives off the street.

We knock down the doors and take them in the night, we fly over them and level their hide outs. We destroy the vehicles they are riding in. It’s they who should be scared of not knowing when, where or how the coalition will come for them.

Senatorialist31 karma

What is your favorite book you have read that applies to your military career and public affairs job? What book would you recommend to better understand Iraq and counterinsurgency?

OIRSpox76 karma

When I was a captain my battalion commander handed me a book that I still read every couple of years: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Starship Troopers is a fun and easy read that makes me think of real life airborne operations and mixes in delicious social-political commentary. If you're a PAO, read the Elements of Style once a year whether you need to or not. PERIOD. There are too many Iraq books to count. Emma Sky's The Unraveling would be a great start.

waitingandseeing25 karma

The SDF in Northeastern Syria have been supplied with technology to provide targets to the CTJF-OIR planes to increase the effectiveness of the airstrikes targeting ISIS there.

Have the rebels in Northern Aleppo fighting ISIS been provided with similar technology?

Have the recent problems between the rebels and the SDF in Northern Aleppo affected the support that the CTJF-OIR has provided both groups.

Does CTJF-OIR apply pressure to try to prevent such actions from recurring as it reduces the groups effectiveness against ISIS?

OIRSpox31 karma

We have not provided the rebels in Northern Aleppo with similar technology. The recent problems between the rebels and the SDF in Northern Aleppo concern us. That said, the friction has not affected the support that we are providing them. Of course we apply pressure to try to prevent such actions from occurring. The recent display of dead bodies by one group was deplorable, and leaders from all corners of this conflict condemned it.

waitingandseeing24 karma

How intricate and direct is the communication between the Coalition and Syrian/Russian air forces flying over Syria? Do you for example share information about flights with each other when there is a likelihood of jets from both sides sharing airspace over targets like Idlib and Deir ez-Zor?

In light of the recent incidences in the Baltic sea with Russian aircraft buzzing a US navy ship and the interception of a US reconnaissance plane in a way that was characterized by the US military as “unsafe and unprofessional”, is the relationship over Syria professional enough?

OIRSpox48 karma

We do not have any communication with the Syrians. We speak daily with the Russians involved in the air campaign. The focus of our discussions is only on deconflicting airspace not coordinating operations or sharing information about targets.

trollers22 karma

How do you feel about a no fly zone in Syria and do you have any references or literature to back up your position? Thank you so much for your response!

OIRSpox65 karma

A no fly zone in Syria has been looked at by two Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Marty Dempsey, General Joe Dunford), both have said in Congressional testimony that they do not see military benefits in a no fly zone. Two of the more important reasons are: 1. ISIL doesn’t have an air force. 2. Enforcement of the no fly zone would be resource intensive with little benefit towards the counter-ISIL mission set.

Shaggysnack22 karma

What is your worst "Oh Crap" moment to date?

OIRSpox70 karma

I have one about every day. The one that comes to mind is a few weeks ago, during a press conference, when the "duck and cover" alarm sounded. At first I didn't have the slightest idea what to do...and the cameras were rolling. And for a second I figured "what the hell, might as well duck."

TeamRedRocket21 karma

Do you think the Iraqi/Syrian forces can take on ISIL without more direct involvement of coalition forces?

Also, are we taking a more concerted and directed effort to train them in basic battle drills?

I was there 4 times between 2003 and 2011, and the training didn't really get serious until late 2007 for most of the IA conventional forces. I personally think it was too little/too late, and even then, we didn't focus on it because we used taskers to fill slots instead of having unit cohesion using infantry battalions.

OIRSpox31 karma

Thank you for your service between 2003-2011. The Iraqis have been taking on ISIL for months now. They collapsed in the opening days, but they've since begun to regain their footing. They've seen victory in: Tikrit, Baiji, Sinjar, Ramadi, Hiit, and Bashir. The Iraqi Army isn't perfect, but they understand the threat to their country and they want to win. Of course, they're going to need continued support from the US and the Coalition.

Syria is a tougher problem. What we have there are groups of fighters, sometimes numbering only in the dozens... in other cases numbering in the thousands. These groups are disparate and often not aligned. This is why we've sent up to 300 American Special Forces there.

CognitiveAdventurer17 karma

What is the current economic situation of the Da'esh and how do you plan to restore (or create) a working economy in the areas currently occupied by them?

Is there any way to cripple Da'esh resources without also crippling the local civilian population?

Are the Da'esh generally well informed / aware of the global geopolitical relevance of the areas they occupy or are they mostly working on a smaller scale?

OIRSpox64 karma

Da'esh's economic situation is beginning to crack. A big focus of our effort has been to smash their oil production capabilities. We've also incinerated hundreds of millions of dollars in cash that they hold in warehouses (much like a drug cartel). Most importantly, we're taking back territory which deprives them of people to extort money from. But let me be clear, they are still the richest terrorist group on Earth, so we have a lot more work to do.

We try our best to make sure we don't hurt the population as we try to hurt ISIL. But we know that some hurt is inevitable. Like I said, most of our focus is on their oil, bulk cash, and taking back territory. We believe this minimizes the amount of pain the citizens must endure. I believe the quicker we get rid of Da'esh, the quicker we end peoples' suffering.

I think ISIS is very well informed. They're all over the internet. I'm convinced that they read Western press and study our movements. I have no doubt that they are watching this IAmA at this very moment. And by the way, Da'esh, please send me your address. Would love to pay a visit :)

trbrtc17 karma

Hi Colonel Warren,

Thanks for taking the time to do an AMA.

I'm a contributor at the Bellingcat project that aims to geolocate all airstrike videos uploaded to the Internet by all countries conducting airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State and other groups in Iraq and Syria (link to the project website: https://bellingcat.checkdesk.org/en).

I have a question about a specific video of an airstrike uploaded to YouTube by the CJTFOIR account. The description says to show an airstrike conducted on March 23, 2016, near Al Hawl, in Syria. This is a link to the video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkgRft0xAQ4.

However, the building targeted in the airstrike is actually in Iraq (though very close to the Syrian border). http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=36.137411&lon=41.297414&z=19&m=bh

Therefore, why was this video labelled 'near Al Hawl, Syria', when the target was in Iraq?

OIRSpox34 karma

Al Hawl, Syria was the nearest identifiable city to the strike, but yes, it's an administrative error that it's listed in Syria rather than Iraq.

hawklucha16 karma

How is the Shia militia on Sunni retribution being mitigated?

OIRSpox25 karma

There’s a long way to go. These groups have been at each other’s throats for years. There is too much animosity. This is more than an Iraq problem by the way—it’s a regional problem. For now, we are working with Sunni groups to provide stability in Sunni lands and Shia groups to provide stability in Shia lands, but this is only a short term fix. We know that political reconciliation has to progress here in Iraq if there’s to be a real lasting peace. This is something that the Iraqis have to work through. We do what we can to help bring these groups together, but this is a problem that only they can solve.

im__dirty__dan16 karma

Good afternoon Colonel. What exactly are the goals of our forces currently involved in Iraq?

OIRSpox33 karma

Our primary goal is to defeat Da'esh. We've got four flavors of troops here in Iraq.

  1. Advisers- These guys are helping the Iraqis figure out their plans and sort out their logistics. Petty Officer Keating who lost his life here on Tuesday was an adviser.

  2. Trainers- These forces are teaching the Iraqis everything from infantry basics to communication, engineering, medical, and counter IED.

  3. Enablers- This is the support staff (me for example) that provides command and control as well as situational awareness of the battlefield.

  4. Force Protection- These guys protect everyone doing one through three.

HunterA1315 karma

Hi Colonel Warren, thank you for your service and taking the time to answer some questions. While I understand the epicenter of the ISIS organization is located in Syria, do you think that this war needs to expand even more to have greater coverage over areas like northern Africa in order to target affiliate groups such as Boko Haram? Also, do you expect to see an increase in terrorism-related violence due to the growing competition/rivalry between Al-Qaeda and ISIS for who can be the most dominant on the world stage?

Thank you for your time,

Hunter

OIRSpox23 karma

That's an interesting question and the answer has two parts. Groups such as Boko Haram are legitimate terrorists that need to be dealt with, some of them may even want to cause terror in the west. But just because Boko Haram puts on an ISIL t-shirt, doesn't make them ISIL.

We know ISIL wants to expand and they have got to be stopped. They want to kill us, and they want to do it in our homeland. It's important that we fight the enemy in his castle so that we don't have to fight him in ours. But breaking their back here in Iraq and Syria really has to be our first priority.

hawklucha15 karma

I read a report a few days ago that listed the roads/bridges/buildings as essentially demolished beyond reason in cities such as Sinjar and Ramadi. How can the diplomatic/economic efforts that are supposed to work in tandem with military efforts be actualized if the military efforts are destroying the infrastructure?

-Tibeardius-52 karma

As long as the cancer is gone, you're okay with the chemo taking your hair.

OIRSpox48 karma

Well said!

OIRSpox42 karma

First and foremost, ISIL destroyed the majority of the infrastructure in both of those cities—they are using scorched earth tactics. They rig houses with demolitions, they deliberately demolish bridges so the population cannot escape, and they dig tunnels under houses so the foundation will collapse. This has been reported extensively. Before any reconstruction can begin, we must first establish security. You see this happening in Sinjar and Ramadi. The devastation is staggering in both of those cities. Certainly some of the destruction is a result of Coalition airstrikes and of the combat action of local security forces. This is unavoidable. ISIL has dug into these cities and will not give them up without a fight. That said, we work very closely with both the international diplomatic bodies as well as countless humanitarian agencies here in Iraq. A contract was recently awarded to a civilian company to begin the demining process in Ramadi. This will take months. ISIL left thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of booby traps in that city.

Unthinkable-Thought14 karma

What can an average American do to help stop ISIS/ISIL/Daesh?

EDIT: ummmmm guys.....WHY THE HELL DID THIS GET A DOWNVOTE?

God damn you punks if you don't love America. You fuckin terrorists.

OIRSpox28 karma

I think the first the average American can do to help is to understand what we’re up against. This is a group of terrorists who want to harm us. They’ve conducted 40 attacks in 21 different countries and caused a thousand casualties since January of 2015. This is a real threat. They are using social media to radicalize and inspire lone wolf attacks. Don’t let this happen in your neighborhood.

waitingandseeing14 karma

How deep seeded is Sunni support for ISIS in Iraq? What are the plans to work at ISIS’s base of support among the population, like the Sunni Awakening, a Sunni Reawakening if you will, to try and prevent an insurgency taking shape as soon as ISIS is removed from power?

OIRSpox30 karma

I’ve seen polls that indicate support for ISIS, even among Sunnis in Iraq, is in the single digits. I feel that the Sunnis are feeling some buyers’ remorse in regards to ISIL.

We are working closely with Sunni Sheiks and leaders in Anbar. We’ve trained thousands of local and federal police and we’ve trained more than 5,000 and vetted 9,000 Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar province. This is not 2006, and there is no requirement for an awakening. The Sunnis know that there’s no future with Da’esh. That said, the Iraqi government has got to do a better job of reaching out to the Sunnis and addressing their concerns. That is the only path to lasting stability.

two_off13 karma

How different is fighting ISIL than Al Qaeda or Taliban?

OIRSpox43 karma

ISIL is a proto-state and a semi-conventional army. This poses both challenges and opportunities. Because they're a state, we can attack their "stateness." Once we've taken away all of their land they will cease to exist as a state. Their military tactics are more conventional which is why they were initially so successful, particularly in northern Iraq. AQ is an old-fashioned terrorist outfit and has to be approached purely from a counter terror perspective. The Taliban is more a regional movement than anything and haven't shown any desire to expand.

ChrisHernandez11 karma

Hey sir I just have some questions concerning drones.

What is the reasoning behind releasing drone strike videos online from UAVs or Apaches?

Also, what is the process to determine which videos are to be made public and is the resolution lowered when they are released?

OIRSpox62 karma

We release strike videos regardless of the platform to be transparent.

The resolution is not lowered. Different platforms offer varying levels of quality. We release videos based on several factors to include operational security - anything that could help the enemy learn how we will attack them - and if they look really cool.

waitingandseeing11 karma

How does the CTJF-OIR use the airstrip near Rimelan in SDF controlled Syria that was recently lengthened and broadened with the help of US experts? How will that use increase now that 250 extra US personnel will be inserted into Syria for the fight against ISIS?

OIRSpox17 karma

The soon to be 300 American forces working in Syria need to be resupplied. Aerial resupply only makes good sense.

AppFritz9 karma

Hey there, Colonel. I hope you are doing well. I have a few questions for you. What was your starting MOS when you entered into the military? Did you go into the military knowing you'd be in for as long as you have been, especially to the point of where you are now?

OIRSpox30 karma

I'm an Infantry officer and never thought I would find myself as a Colonel. My dad only made it to 1st Lt, but he was AG so that's really only 2nd Lt. The Army has been great to me and my family. It's a terrific lifestyle, join us.

rootski669 karma

Iraqi CTS has generally been more effective than Iraqi regulars in opposing ISIL. Why? What makes them take ground more effectively? What lessons from CTS can be applied to the rest of the Iraqi forces?

OIRSpox16 karma

CTS is unquestionably the most effective force in Iraq right now. U.S. Special Forces has been training them continuously for more than a decade. CTS troops are drawn from the very best of the regular army. In other words, they are an elite force.

We trained the Iraqi Army as a counter insurgency force, but now they face a conventional fight, so they've had some learning to do. But they have learned. Near Makhmur, they liberated three towns without CTS assistance and they're gaining confidence. We've also seen CTS and the Iraqi Army work together, and conduct combined arms operations. This is encouraging.

david_tennants_hair8 karma

Will the coalition support groups fighting against Nusra in a similar manner to how groups have been supported against ISIL?

OIRSpox15 karma

This is really a policy question that I don't know the answer to. Nusra is a terrorist group and needs to be defeated.

trollers7 karma

Do you consider the Popular Mobilization Forces to be a possible future National Guard for Iraq?

OIRSpox13 karma

The PMF is part of the Iraqi security apparatus. There was some legislation in the Iraqi parliament to develop a national guard, but that legislation has not progressed recently. Whether or not the PMF could be a future national guard remains an open question.

HeyDude3787 karma

I know this is probably the simplest question you'll get, but what's needed in order to win? And how far off are you from that? (Example: We have X number of troops on ground now, we need Y troops to win).

OIRSpox22 karma

This is probably the hardest question! We would like to see every member of this Coalition contribute more. The Iraqis are in this fight all the way. The rest of the world needs to join.

Redshadow866 karma

Will the b52's take over alot more of the bombings now they they have arrived?

OIRSpox23 karma

The B52, besides being a great band, is a precision strike platform. It replaced the B1 aircraft and is simply another arrow in our quiver.