In Conversation with Colonel Dillon: Part 2
by Colonel Ryan Dillon
April 12, 2018
This interview with Colonel Ryan Dillon, the official Spokesman of Operation Inherent Resolve, was conducted and condensed by frank news. It took place March 21, 2018. This is part two of an ongoing conversation between frank and Colonel Dillon.
I was warned you’d have a very limited response — but I wanted to ask about the upcoming elections and what you anticipate the changes on your end to be.
Well really, quite frankly I don’t think that there will be much change at all in what the coalition is doing, you know, what the CJTF is doing with our Iraqi partners. Everything that we do is at the request or at the approval of the government of Iraq. What is important to the Iraqi Security Forces, or the government in Iraq, is important to us.
We're going to make sure that whatever the Iraqis do, we are supporting them in those efforts. That largely right now has a lot to do with providing them intelligence through some of the platforms and some of the things that they don't have. But quite frankly the Iraqis are, when it comes to gathering intelligence, that comes from on the ground, the Iraqis are far better at that than we are at identifying those threats and are aggressively going after those threats before they become a problem.
And that really goes, not just to any particular cohort of the Iraqi security forces, it’s really integrated throughout all of them. So the Border Guard Force, is so that ISIS elements that do remain in Syria cannot infiltrate or bring weapons or other things. Then you have layered defenses as you get to these poling stations and cities where the elections will occur. So there are many different ways and nets to catch terrorists that are attempting to do something to disrupt or to stop the elections.
Do you anticipate any problems on Election Day?
We are doing our job, and the Iraqi Security Forces are doing their job to make sure that we identify all these threats, every way that we can. The Iraqis have all the proper forces, quick reaction forces, to be able to interdict, or stop, or react, to anything that does happen. The biggest thing is to make sure the Iraqis are in a place where security is established at these locations so that elections can go off as planned.
Has campaigning gone smoothly so far, for the civilians at least?
The one way I will address that is that I know,
the government of Iraq has made great efforts through the non-governmental organizations and humanitarian organizations in Iraq to make sure that there is a voluntary return to internally displaced persons to their homes so that they can conduct elections and they can vote.
But even if they cannot, if their homes are still destroyed, or if there are essential services that are still not functioning because of ISIS's destruction of these, then there are opportunities to conduct elections in these IDP camps as well. But the intent is to get as many people back to their homes so that they can vote. And I just want to highlight that that is voluntary returns to get them back.
Iraqis have not taken their foot off the gas. So even after major combat operations have ceased, there are no large columns of Iraqi military formations going after territory or ISIS held ground they did not stop. And they made a very quick transition to continue to conduct patrols, and conduct operations in these traditional hiding spots where ISIS started, before they came on the scene in 2014 in these traditionally very remote rural areas. The Iraqi Security Forces are continuing to go after ISIS remnants relentlessly. And they're doing a phenomenal job of this, and it shows that they are professionalizing and getting much better at what they do. Just recently at a very long distance, in Western Anbar Province, intelligence fed to the operations command, they flew both with helicopters supported by Iraqi Air Force and counterterrorism service, all these elements were able to come together and conduct an operation simultaneously, to not just kill, but capture ISIS leaders, that were in the desert, that were planning to conduct terror operations in Iraq. So it just goes to show that they are very capable of identifying, going after, and not just killing, but also detaining ISIS threats and ISIS remnants that remain in Iraq.
How much of this action is supported by Americans?
Well that's a great question because as the Iraqi Security Forces continue to demonstrate and increase capacity and capability to do these types of operations, the fewer American and or coalition forces are going to be required to assist them. In many cases, in almost all cases in Iraq right now, our coalition support to Iraqi Security Forces is largely through advisors. We’re talking about the level that is at brigade or higher division level. So you have a Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel that is advising a two-star or three-star general.
So I just want to make sure that people in your audience know and understand that you do not have coalition forces, U.S. forces, that are on the ground. No front man a in an operation kicking down the doors, and you know, leading the charge. It is very much Iraqis who are doing this, and we are merely advising, and providing intelligence, and also training and equipping.
And finally, we have really limited the amount of strikes, precision strikes, that we have provided in support of the Iraqi Security Forces. Iraqi Air Force are very much capable of conducting these operations, and conducting these strikes on their own.
How many Americans are in serving in Iraq right now?
That number is put out by the Pentagon. I think it was December when they put that out. That is about 5000 U.S. service members, that are serving in Iraq. But what I’ll say is, there will be, and there has been, a gradual decrease in the footprint of U.S. forces, and coalition forces here in Iraq. We will continue, and we expect to see that continue, to gradually go down over time.
Is there a number you’re trying to get to this year?
I would say no, not necessarily. We will not keep one more person than necessary to accomplish our mission. Also, this is very important, we are still here at the request of the government of Iraq. As long as they want us here, we will continue to work with them to provide them the support we think they need to be successful in fighting DAESH and in stabilizing the country.
Let’s move to Syria. I woke up this morning to news that there was an airstrike over eastern Ghouta that left a number of school children dead. I know there are no troops there —
I need to make it very clear that coalition forces are not in eastern Ghouta, they’re not in Damascus, there not in places like Idlib, or in Afrin, which are places that you hear about regularly now for the last several months.
Because our number one reason for being in both Iraq and Syria is on defeating ISIS. And that has always been the case still holds true today. We have supported our partners, which is the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern part of Syria. So as you look at the Euphrates River, and if you use that as an indicator, all of the forces that we support are on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, all the way to the border with Iraq, and then going up north it includes Raqqa and Manbij.
Is there any chance that expands?
I do not anticipate that. That particular area that I just described has been where we have been operating with our partners for the 3 years that we’ve been conducting this mission. The Assad regime, backed by the Russians, have been in the areas that are west of Euphrates River, and unfortunately they have not had the same amount of success that we have, and our partners have, where every single inch of territory that our partners have retaken from ISIS, not an inch of it has ever been retaken. Because of this we've seen this as a blueprint for success all throughout eastern Syria.
The Russians, and the regime, they have taken locations, cities, they have paraded in and touted their success, just to see weeks later, it retaken by ISIS. And this isn’t just one instance. It happens pretty regularly. News over the last 24 hours is ISIS has retaken neighborhoods and have killed, reportedly, up to 40 regime fighters in a neighborhood in Southern Damascus.
The Syrian regime commanders in December said these fighters came from the Euphrates River Valley area, traipsed all the way through Syria to regather, reconstitute, and now they have retaken areas in southern Damascus.
We are true to our word. We are here to defeat ISIS, not just push them around, or give it lip service. We're very serious about defeating ISIS and making sure that our partners are successful.
Colonel Dillon referred frank news to a speech by H.R. McMaster on Syria which we have embedded below.