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Background Conference Call on the Administration’s Request for Overseas Contingency Operations

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

November 07, 2014

Via Telephone

3:36 P.M. EST

MS. MEEHAN:  Hi, everybody.  Thanks very much for joining the call.  This is Bernadette.  This is a call with senior administration officials to discuss the administration’s updated overseas contingency operation request as well as the President’s decision to authorize the deployment of additional forces to Iraq.  This call will be conducted on background so you can use quotes but you cannot use the names of administration officials.  I will let you know who those officials are right now for your information but, again, when you’re quoting them, you must refer to them as senior administration officials.

So with that, I will turn it over to our first senior administration official.  We’ll give you a laydown and then open it up for questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, everybody.  I’ll just make some brief opening comments and then turn to my colleagues to go into more detail on these different elements.  We obviously have a number of important announcements today to include the fact that we will be requesting $5.6 billion for additional overseas contingency operations related to our efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  Again, my colleague will talk through that — that includes, importantly, a $1.6 billion request to establish an Iraq train-and-equip fund, which is a part of our focus on strengthening Iraqi security forces.

That relates to the decision that the President has made to authorize a deployment of up to 1,500 additional U.S. military personnel to Iraq to participate in that train, advise-and-assist capacity.  Clearly, our strategy against ISIL, together with our coalition, has focused on degrading ISIL through our air campaign but also importantly strengthening partners on the ground who can take the fight to ISIL.  And what we’ve seen over the last couple of months is action by the Peshmerga and the Kurdish forces in the north to go on offense and increasingly Iraqi security forces becoming organized and beginning to push back against ISIL around Baghdad and in places like Anbar Province. 

We’ve had U.S. forces in Baghdad and Erbil in joint operation centers with Iraqi and Kurdish forces that have been able to determine their needs, what types of training and equipment can be of most value, what type of intelligence, support and advice we can provide as they go on offense.  But we’ve also been doing an assessment of what additional resources we can put into Iraq to have a more robust train, advise-and-assist program.

Our general view here is that we are not limited by geography in our training and support for Iraqi security forces.  And what these additional forces will enable is flexibility for our personnel to go to different parts of the country and to provide that function of supporting Iraqi security forces.

It does not change the President’s policy that U.S. forces will not be engaged in combat in Iraq.  So even as these forces are able to deploy to different parts of the country to provide the train, advise-and-assist mission, they will not be introduced into combat.  That is the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga who will be fighting on the frontlines against ISIL.

I would note that this is the request of the Iraqi government.  The Iraqi government has sought this additional support from the United States and, similarly, the Iraqi government has made clear that they want Iraqi security forces to be in combat on the ground.  They do not want foreign forces introduced to play that role.

I would also note that our coalition is playing a role in every line of effort in Iraq.  That includes not just the air campaign but also the train, advise-and-assist mission, and a number of countries have committed personnel to go into Iraq to work with us in carrying out that effort.  And that will certainly be the case as we expand our training mission with these additional forces.

So with that, we’ll move to the OCO requests.  Then we’ll go through the specifics of the military commitment, and then our State colleague can put the strategic context in play for you.  So I’ll turn it over to my colleague now.

 SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Let me just briefly provide the budgetary context here and then we’ll pass this on.

As was noted earlier, we’re announcing today that the President will request an additional $5.6 billion in overseas contingency operations funding for FY15.  For context, as many of you will recall, the President in June of this year sent forward an OCO budget amendment for the FY15 fiscal year that included $58.6 billion; that reflected the cost of the operations in Afghanistan, DOD’s forward presence in the Middle East, and a number of other critical missions, including the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund that the President announced in early June. 

The updated request that the President will transmit and that we are announcing today will reflect additional costs that were unanticipated at the time when the President submitted that initial request in June.

Principally, of the $5.6 billion, that reflects our estimate of the costs associated with the counter-ISIL campaign that was just outlined.  Just to break that down a little bit, that breaks down as $5 billion for the Department of Defense and about $520 million for the State Department.  Within the Department of Defense resources, roughly $3.4 billion of that is to support the ongoing operations, including military advisers, intelligence platforms, and munitions that are being expended in the context of the campaign that is currently underway.

The additional $1.6 billion will support the Iraq train-and-equip mission through a new Iraq train-and-equip fund.  These will provide resources to support the training effort that my colleagues will talk about in more detail. 

Importantly, those train-and-equip resources will be supplemented by resources both from the government of Iraq and by partner countries, as was previously mentioned.

The $520 million for the State Department and other international programs is intended to support the diplomatic efforts and other efforts associated with this campaign, including assistance to countries in the region, including Jordan and Lebanon, as well as assistance to the Syrian opposition and other humanitarian aid.

The structure of the request builds on the June OCO request, and we will be working with Congress between now and when the current continuing resolution expires on December 11th to try to make sure that we are able to enact these funds so that we can support this mission going forward.

And with that, I’ll pass it on.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  We’ll go to our DOD colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you very much.  I’ll just give you a little quick breakdown of the 1,500.  About less than half of that, around 630 of this number, will be directed to the train, advise-and-assist mission; these additional train, advise-and-assist experts.  And they’ll be at two expeditionary sites.  We’re still doing a site survey right now, but we expect one of them to be — one of these teams to be in Anbar, the other one will likely be somewhere in the northern Baghdad Province.  I would like to add that not all the 630 are advisers.  There will be a good portion of that number will be enablers for them, force protection personnel, some logistics personnel, command and control elements, that kind of thing.  So not all of them will be advisers.

The remainder of the 1,500 — around 870 — will be dedicated to this building partner capacity mission, which is essentially a training mission.  And there will be several sites stood up in provinces in Anbar, Diyala, Erbil and Baghdad.  We’re still completing site surveys right now, so we can’t get more specific than that.  But each of these building partner capacity sites will be able to train and equip about three brigades.  And right now we’re looking at nine brigades coming from the Iraq security forces, and three brigades coming from the Pesh forces in order to attend this training.

And the last thing I’d like to say is that it’s important to remember that this isn’t just going to be a U.S. mission.  We’ve got several coalition countries that have agreed to send trainers of their own.  And some of them have come forward with numbers, and some of them haven’t yet.  They’re still working that through.  But this will be a coalition effort.  It is not just an American effort.  And as the first speaker said, this is very much in keeping with, A, the progress that Iraqi and Pesh forces have made in south and in the north.  So it’s reflective of the progress that they’ve made and the continued progress that they want to make, and the help that they’ve asked for in that regard; as well as, how seriously we’re taking this component of the strategy, that the best ground forces are indigenous ground forces. 

And with that, I’ll pass it on.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  You want to close this out?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure, thanks.  I want to go back a little bit to where we’ve been to kind of understand this next step.  And if you go back to early June when Mosul fell, and Iraqi security forces in Mosul collapsed, and coming down the Tigris Valley — ISIL was coming down and threatening Baghdad.  ISIL then broke through the Euphrates Valley across the border from Syria, breaking through the strategic town of al-Qaem in Anbar Province and pouring down the Euphrates Valley.  And there was a real sense in those 72-96 hours of potentially the capital collapsing.  Everybody can kind of remember what that was like.

And President Obama immediately in those hours ordered the deployment of special forces teams to assess Iraqi security forces in and around Baghdad, but also further out; immediately surged our intelligence collection overhead, from drone surveillance flights (inaudible) 60 a day, including manned and unmanned surveillance flights.  And we also very importantly established joint operations centers in Baghdad and Erbil. 

And I was out there when we did that, and those teams got established right away, and also established the most important (inaudible) with the Iraqis in Baghdad and Erbil so that we could begin to work with them to help them both absorb the shock that they were feeling, and begin to kind of get their sea legs back and begin to push back.

There was a question at the time over the course of the summer as we were doing this whether they actually would be able to that.  And what we’ve learned since then, starting in the late summer, is that the Iraqis when they act in coordination with us, and when we’re working with units that are pretty good, and our initial assessment you might recall of about 50 units down to 26 were actually quite good, or at least we could work with.  Twenty-four of the units we looked at really had to be substantially reformed.

But what we’ve seen since then, if you look at Sinjar, the defense of Erbil, the defense of Haditha, the Rabia border crossing operation, taking back the Mosul Dam, taking back the strategic town of Zumar, an operation now going up the Tigris Valley is that every single time, every time a local force, an Iraqi force has worked in concert and coordination with us, with our air cover, they’ve not only defeated ISIL but they’ve routed ISIL.

And if you think of what had happened leading up to Mosul, about the year leading into Mosul and after that, ISIL had really never been defeated on the field.  So it’s a pretty significant development.  And since we’ve seen this happen, we’ve been looking at ways to continue to build on that momentum and really enhance Iraqi capacity.  So that’s really what this is about.

And let me also just talk about the coalition.  It’s significant also that in the days after Mosul, the world really did not rally to Iraq.  There was a lot of questions about — we had to get a new government up, and whether — how the government was going to (inaudible) basically the vision for Iraq, and putting together a national program.  This was very difficult because Mosul had been just shortly after Iraq had a national election.

So over the course of the summer, the Iraqis did come together.  They formed a new government.  It has significant new leadership from top to bottom, including a very strong minister of defense now.  And I’ve been to about 13 capitals over the last few weeks with General Allen, and there’s a real kind of unanimity in terms of support for Iraq.  We’ve seen that both in our bilateral visits, but also at the United Nations Security Council last month, with the United Nations Security Council meetings, which brought about 50 countries together pledging their support for Iraq, which is a really significant development because it’s something we haven’t had for years.  And it gives us a tool and gives the Iraqis a tool to begin to stabilize their country.

Over the skies of Iraq right now, as my colleague mentioned, we have not only us, but also Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands conducting operations and airstrikes along with us.  And this is all in support of a new Iraqi government.  And that’s what’s really significant.  This government has a new national vision for how to govern the country.  It’s significantly different from the previous government’s vision of how to govern the country.  And so we’re helping them implement that vision.

But I just want to close with emphasizing how difficult this will be.  It’s going to be a long-term campaign, as President Obama has mentioned repeatedly.  And we’ve been working very closely with the Iraqis in terms of developing an overall campaign plan.  And the Iraqis are also very mindful of just how long this is going to take, and how difficult it will be.  But the capacity that we’re providing them today will really help us kind of move to the next phase of this campaign, which really began over the course of the summer, as we started to recover from the events of Mosul.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks.  Operator, we will move to questions.

Q Yes, I just wonder if anybody can take this.  Why this large increase?  Does it show that the Iraqi forces are much less capable than you originally thought?  And also if you could address one of the key problems here — talking to people, retired General Mark Hertling says a lot of the good Iraqi commanders were fired by Maliki.  Do you know if any of them will be coming back?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’ll say a word here, and then my colleagues may want to join on both of those.  First of all, again, I think that there has been a very deliberate sequencing to how we’ve approached this train, advise-and-assist mission.  We really needed to get a better handle on the status of the Iraqi security forces.  We needed to get a better handle on the intelligence picture against ISIL.

And so the first steps were getting the assessment teams on the ground, and getting these joint operations centers in Baghdad and Erbil to give us that sense.  At the same time, we’ve learned a lot about ISIL through our ISR resources, intelligence collection and through the initial stages of this air campaign.

And I think what we’ve done now is we’ve made decisions about how we can best support the Iraqi security forces, as they go on offense beyond just being in Baghdad and Erbil.  And so the key point here is General Dempsey and General Austin both made recommendations up to the President over the last several weeks to have more geographic flexibility to move to different parts of Iraq so that we are able to reach a broader base of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

And so what these numbers really allow us to do is just to have greater reach into different parts of the country to carry out the train, advise-and-assist mission.  And again, that doesn’t speak to new information about their capabilities, but rather it speaks to how are we going to cover the broadest possible ground, the broadest set of Iraqi units in this fight.  And again, by being able to have more troops deployed in different parts of the country to carry out the train, advise-and-assist mission, we’ll be able to reach more Iraqi security forces, Kurdish forces to help them with training, advice, equipment, also intelligence as they go on offense.  And we’ll be connected back into the joint operations centers in Baghdad and Erbil and supplemented by these coalition partners. 

So I think the numbers are borne out of the analysis of how we can make the best difference, how we can cover the most ground, how we can reach the broadest cross section of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.  And now we’re matching resources against that analysis.  And this, we think gives us a very solid foundation in the country to provide support to the Iraqis as they begin to take back territory from ISIL and go on offense.

 But, my colleagues, I don’t know if you want to speak to either of those.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The only thing I would add is that — this is also reflective of the campaign plan that the Iraqi security forces are trying to execute.  And so it’s reflective of where they’re trying to go and what they’re trying to do, and those divisions that they believe are going to need a little bit of extra assistance, advice, counsel, intelligence support that kind of thing.  So it’s very reflective — when you talk about geography — about the geography that they want to occupy and they want to have gains in.  And the second thing is that we have learned a lot about the leadership in the Iraqi army, and it’s a mixed picture, and it’s also reflective a little bit of the knowledge added to the mixed picture.

And then the last thing I would say is that the new defense minister made clear to Secretary Hagel in their phone conversation that one of his key goals was to reform the Iraqi army, to try to correct all the things that had gone wrong under Maliki’s leadership and the things that had been neglected.  And so this is also part and parcel of an effort to assist them in that larger, more strategic effort.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I would just add, just building on what my colleague said and how this is kind of — we’re (inaudible) opportunities here.  The new minister of defense was just sworn in and ratified through the parliament about two and a half weeks ago.  Iraq has not had a minister of defense in almost five years.  And not only (inaudible), he’s a former air force guy in Saddam’s air force.  He’s a well-respected Sunni Arab.
 
But since he’s been in place, just over the last week he was in Anbar Province talking to tribal leaders out there.  He was in Erbil talking to the Kurds.  At the same time, Prime Minister Abadi was talking to the main tribal leaders.  He had delegations come to Baghdad to talk about what they want to do to organize cells to stand up to ISIL.

And so this sort of thing gives us opportunities that we didn’t have before.  And as my colleague said, the minister of defense has a very clear plan for how he wants to restructure the Iraqi security forces, and we think it’s a very good plan.  And General Austin was in the country a couple weeks ago meeting with the minister of defense and the Iraqi leadership.  So we have a kind of synchronization between what the Iraqis want to do and how we can help them.

And what my colleague said, this really gives us reach, which we need to keep these opportunities in line with the division that the Iraqis are putting out.

I would also say in just in response to the question in terms of the commanders, one thing Abadi has done from very early on in his premiership, is he abolished this office of the commander in chief, which Maliki had set up — very early in Maliki’s tenure, about eight years ago.  And he also fired the top echelon of the Iraqi command, which is pretty significant.  And it’s given a new vitality to the Iraqi security forces (inaudible).

And what was announced today basically seizes on those opportunities, and it’s the next step as we help develop the capacity of the Iraqis to begin to push back against ISIL.

Q Hi, guys.  Thanks very much for doing this call.  I wonder if you could just sort of clarify, are you all seeking to have the financing here of the overseas contingency fund approved during the lame duck session?  Or does that wait till later?  And then also can you talk about this in the context of the discussions the President had said he wanted to begin in the lame duck on AUMF and whether or not these conversations go hand in hand; or is the AUMF sort of a separate conversation than this specific request?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  On your first question, this is an amendment to our FY15 OCO budget request.  So our expectation is that Congress will enact this as part of the final FY15 appropriations bills.  Congress — we’re two months into the FY15 fiscal year now, and Congress is operating on a continuing resolution that ends on December 11th.  So our expectation is that this will get resolved in the lame duck session as Congress resolves the funding bills for the rest of the FY15 fiscal year.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, and on your second question there, Michael, first of all, this whole set of issues was a top of conversation at the meeting with congressional leaders today.  General Austin was able to attend that meeting and provide an update and a briefing on this plan, as it relates to the additional personnel going to Iraq.

This I think we would deal with as a separate topic from the AUMF itself.  This funding is related to ongoing operations which we have the authorization to carry out.  So on the one hand, this is a separate legislative agenda item.

On the other hand, however, I do think it points to the utility in the President working with Congress to formulate and implement our counter-ISIL strategy more broadly.  What the President has said as it relates to the AUMF is that the country is stronger, we send a more united message overseas, we’re better capable of supporting our servicemen and women if we are acting together.  And that relates not just to the funding of our operations, but also to the expression of support from Congress through an AUMF.

So again, given that this is going to be a long-term campaign, that it’s going to involve significant resources — albeit very different resources from the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, we believe that we want to work with Congress to achieve an AUMF that gives that expression of support, that message of unity that is important to carrying forward the campaign.

So, they were able to discuss that issue today.  I think we’ll want to hear from different voices in Congress going forward about the best way to shape an AUMF.  We’ve welcomed the bipartisan support thus far for our actions against ISIL.  And again, as we address this specific funding request, we’ll also be having conversations about how to move forward on the development of congressional support for an AUMF against ISIL.

Q Yes, hi.  Thank you so much for doing this call.  Very much appreciated.  I would like to ask you a question:  What’s your assessment on foreign fighters at this moment in Iraq?  And in this new strategy, are you going to put more resources to create a structure which will prevent foreign fighters to go to Iraq?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Laura, for the question.  We have a U.N. Security Council resolution that provides an international framework for how to deal with foreign fighters going into both Iraq and Syria.  This — the particular announcement today of additional personnel to deploy to Iraq I think would be a separate line of effort within our broader counter-ISIL campaign, in that this is very much focused on helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces take the fight to ISIL on the ground inside of Iraq.

At the same time, however, our broader strategy has a key component that is focused on foreign fighters — foreign fighters to both, again, Iraq and Syria.  And what we’re looking at, again, is how do we get a cooperation from other countries across law enforcement and intelligence agencies so that we’re better able to detect and monitor and, if need be, apprehend foreign fighters before they entered the theater in Iraq and Syria, or if they are seeking to exit and return to their countries of origin.

And so we’ve committed resources to that.  And we’re working with a really broad coalition of countries so that we are aligning our efforts to crack down on the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the country of Iraq — and Syria.

This will also be a topic, for instance, of the President’s upcoming trip to Asia.  There has been a growing challenge of foreign fighters from parts of Asia into Iraq and Syria, including, for instance, Malaysia and Indonesia.  And they have stepped up to the plate with additional resources and efforts to crack down on the flow of foreign fighters out of their countries.

So again, while this announcement is more distinctly focused on the support for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting on the ground, the broader strategy and the coalition is going to continue to work across our law enforcement, intelligence, and other channels to try to stop that flow of foreign fighters leading into and out of the country and, importantly, to confront the ideology that is propagated by ISIL to recruit foreign fighters through the use of social media and other propaganda.  So that will be a key piece of our broader effort going forward.

We’ll take the next question.

Q Hey, guys, it’s Major.  Can you hear me?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  Hi, Major.

Q Two questions.  Many Americans will look at this and ask themselves, is this mission creep?  Is this growing larger than the President first advertised?  Address that and also address — set aside natural journalistic skepticism — that the timing of this after the midterm election has much less to do with the operational necessity in Iraq and everything to do with the political atmosphere before Tuesday.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I can take this, Major.  First of all, on your first question, the reason I would take issue with the notion that this is mission creep is that the mission is not changing at all for our servicemembers.  When the President first sent additional personnel into Iraq, he made clear that we were not going to be putting U.S. servicemen and women back into combat in Iraq; that rather they’d be there in a support role for the Iraqi security forces.  And even with these additional personnel, the mission is not changing.  The mission continues to be one of training, advising, equipping Iraqis, and the Iraqis are the ones who are fighting on the ground, fighting in combat.  So we are keeping the limiting factor on the mission.  We are adding personnel to better carry out the mission and, again, to support the Iraqis as they move forward with their campaign plan.

And this is a different — this continues to be a different approach to the previous efforts in Iraq, in which we had large-scale ground forces in combat.  What we’ve determined with the Iraqis is the best thing is for indigenous forces, Iraqi and Kurdish forces, to be the ones taking the fight to ISIL on the ground.  Our contribution can come from the air through strikes and through this training, advising and equipping.  We recognize that any time that we send additional men and women overseas to serve, particularly in a dangerous country like Iraq, that that raises important questions from the American people about what the nature of their mission is.  And that’s what — we’ll continue to provide those answers, but we’ll continue to assure people that this is a different type of mission from the combat missions that we’ve undertaken in Iraq in the past.

With respect to the timing, no, really, it was not driven at all by the political calendar.  As you heard us say earlier, there are a range of factors that led us to make this announcement when we did.  Specifically, the sequence of our setting up joint operation centers and having assessments done and determining what the needs were with the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqis were developing their own campaign plan to go on offense in different parts of the country, which we could then support by having a broader geographic presence in the country — the coalition coming together so as we formulate and have discussions with other countries about different nations contributing advisers, we wanted to cement what we believed our commitment would be. 

And then, lastly, as my colleague pointed out, the Iraqis just recently got a minister of defense in place.  He has been engaged in discussions with Iraqi security forces about where they’re going to go on offense and where they see additional needs.  And what we’re really doing here is matching our resources against the needs we’ve identified in the Iraqi security forces and the need they’ve identified in developing their campaign plan and doing their own review. 

So this is a recommendation that has been developed over the course of the last several weeks.  It’s been a topic of conversation in a number of the meetings the President has had, the weekly meetings he has had with his national security team on ISIL.  Again, it’s a recommendation from Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey and General Austin that was refined over the last several weeks.  And today, as we are concurrently seeking these additional resources from Congress, we want to put forward to the American people what we believe the necessary commitment of our men and women in uniform will be to this mission going forward. 

And the opportunity of the meeting with the congressional leaders today allowed the President to share this with both the Senate and House bipartisan leadership.

Next question.

Q This is for number two and number three.  Do the Iraqi security forces need weapons-capability improvements, like Apaches and new M-1s or other types of hardware?  Or is it more a question of retraining them on the organizational skills of maneuver combat?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Tony, as you know, we have a robust defense sales program with Iraq and they do have equipment and weapons needs that we continue to meet, as in the shipment of hundreds more Hellfire missiles just this month.  But what we’re talking about today is really advise, assist and training, and trying to improve their capabilities, their organizational skills, their ability to provide enablers for themselves or at least to supplement the enablers that they have to help them with the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capabilities.  So it’s really — this is mostly about capabilities.  And the robust defense trade relationship that we have with Iraq will continue as well.

Q Thanks everyone for doing this.  I haven’t heard much discussion about the Sunni tribes other than in these couple of meetings.  Will at least one of these advise-and-assist centers be involved in training and equipping Sunni tribes?  How onboard are they?  Because of course the Iraqi security forces “so Shiite dominated” are really not terribly welcome in some of those provinces.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It’s a big question and we’re in touch with the tribes literally constantly now.  And some of the tribes are standing up and fighting ISIL as we speak.  Literally as we speak, some of them are prepared to but feel that they don’t have the capacity — and, frankly, they’re fearful.  And you can see what happened to the Albu Nimr tribe over the last couple weeks. 

And what that event has done, at least what we are sensing — and I’ll be heading back into Iraq this week — is a galvanization of the whole national political class against ISIL, particularly among the Sunnis, but also most importantly the real pillars of Shia Islam in the society are coming out and calling for support for the Sunni tribes.  So if you saw Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s sermon last Friday, a week ago today, he called on the government to dramatically step up its direct support for Sunni tribes, particularly in Anbar Province.

What we’re seeing parallel with that kind of public galvanization is a tangible and concrete plan to first organize and equip 5,000 tribesmen in Anbar, and this is now being openly discussed in Iraq and it’s starting to happen.  And the government is getting resources out to those tribes and we’re trying to work with them as best we can in terms of developing that capacity.  One of the things my colleagues said about enhancing and expanding our reach in the country is specifically to take advantage of opportunities like this.  And these are opportunities that did not exist say two to three months ago or even 30 days ago.  They do exist now and we’re going to do all we can to help the Iraqis through our advise-and-assist capability to help them to do this effectively.

So all I would say is that the tribes want to get ISIL out of their communities, but ISIL as we’ve seen is a particularly ruthless enemy.  As I said in my introduction, every time that we’ve worked with a local force on the ground and we have provided them advice and some cover, they have been able to defeat ISIL.  The counter to that, however, is that every time — and particularly before we were substantially engaged — there had never been a local force to rise up and really defeat ISIL in a substantial way.

So in order to degrade ISIL, which is the primary objective of — the immediate objective of the strategy, you have to develop the capacity of local actors combined with kind of national-level resources.  And that’s what we’re trying to do.  And what the President announced today is directly in line with that.  So there’s an awful lot going on with the tribes and I think you’ll see more over the coming weeks.

Q Thank you.  I’m wondering if you are ready to put a limit on the number of troops that you will eventually send to Iraq?  Is this the last sort of grouping that you think you’ll send over?  Or is there sort of a limit on — a ceiling on the number that you think you’ll need eventually?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  The limit that we’ve placed, again, as I said, is more on the mission — is the limiting principle that this is not a combat mission. 

In terms of numbers, I don’t think we want to specify that we’re going to be steady at a very specific number.  That’s both because there could be troops rotating home, as well.  Or we’ll assess whether there needs to be additional advisers based on judgments on the ground going forward.

I would say that there was a very deliberate effort here to look at the comprehensive needs across the country, and then to put forward a significant number that match those needs.  So as was said earlier, this is both supporting the train, advise and assist mission, but also this building partner capacity function that we’re moving out on in Iraq. 

So we I think we deliberately wanted to be transparent about the fact that this would be a significant number of personnel to carry out these functions, so that is to say I’m not anticipating there being additional requirements on the horizon in terms of personnel.  But I also don’t want to suggest that we’re going to set a specific ceiling with respect to U.S. personnel.  What we are doing is reiterating that the limiting principle applies to the mission and the fact that troops are not going to be carrying out a combat mission.  They’re going to be in the support role.

I don’t know if you have anything to add to that or not.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, I don’t.  I think that’s exactly right. 

Q Thank you for doing this.  So what I’d like to know is what units will be deployed and for how long?  And then also, what’s the difference between the train-and-advise mission and the building partner capacity mission?  Can you go into a little bit more detail about what that is?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, I can take that.  The sourcing solutions have not been determined yet, so we can’t tell you right now exactly what units are going to be contributing to these numbers and these missions.  That will go to the services to work out.  And obviously, just like we do in every other case, when we have sourcing solutions that we’re ready to announce, we’ll certainly announce them.  And deployment lengths are also to be determined, just like we’ve been judicious about the deployment length so far and watching that closely.  But I don’t have anything firm for you on that — in that regard.

The difference between the two missions and the way I would kind of describe it is, one is very much dedicated to advise-and-assist-type roles.  This is to help key Iraqi divisions collate and process intelligence; help them develop their operational enablers — or at least help provide some operational enablers to them; and assist them at the brigade or division level, headquarters level — very much like what we’re doing now with the 12 teams, but just what’s different with these advisers are that they’re going to be in a more expeditionary capacity.  In other words, they’re going to be in different geography than where the other teams are now.  But it’s essentially the same role.

And of course, there’s a training component to that.  When you have advisers with headquarters level, they are doing training, as well, in terms of good staffing, good organizational and the application of resources.

The building partnership capacity concept, that really is what we would consider hands-on training.  So this is where we’re going to be able to take up to 12 brigades, again, a mix of Pesh and Iraqi security force brigades at several sites and actually help train them in basic military skills, organizational command and control and leadership functions.  So it’s more of a hands-on training mission.  Does that answer your question?

MS. MEEHAN:  Thanks, everyone, for joining us today.  Just as a reminder, this call is on background.  You’re welcome to use quotes, but they must be attributed to a senior administration official.  Thanks very much.

END
4:19 P.M. EST

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