WTF NEWS – Friday, American officials revealed multiple pieces of information important to the changing geopolitical situation while the internet seemed to take a break from alternative news for April Fools Day and the weekend. Many of the new revelations were disclosed during a press briefing for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. led coalition efforts to target Islamic State.

U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the operation, began Friday’s April Fools briefing with a summary of claims of success against Islamic State. Warren stated that U.S. efforts have been responsible for “dismantling their headquarters and disrupting their efforts to plan attacks here on the battlefields” during the targeting of “ISIL leadership” in Iraq and Syria. He also claims ISIS leadership has trouble enforcing the declared caliphate as they are “hunkered down with a degraded ability to shoot, move or communicate” due to U.S. coalition efforts.

Among other successes touted were the killing of three senior Islamic State leaders, including Abu Shishani. Shishani, also known as Omar the Chechen, was allegedly killed for the third time in 2 years as an ISIS media account posted a previously unseen picture of Shisani to refute this claim.

1. The U.S. has not targeted ISIS oil infrastructure in almost 30 days

QUESTION: Good morning, Colonel Warren. Thanks. Let me — if you could — I was just wondering what became of that operation against the Islamic state’s oil infrastructure that you talked about so much a number of weeks ago? Has that been completed? And have you assessed the impact on their oil resources and revenue?

COL. WARREN: Great question. We — it’s called Operation Tidal Wave II. As you recall, it is named after Operation Tidal Wave I, which was our effort to strike Nazi oil in Romania. So I do have some statistics, here. So we’ve struck a total of 247 targets in Operation Tidal Wave II.

I don’t have an updated set of numbers here for you, Bob. The last Tidal Wave II strike was conducted on March 11th, which was a strike against a gas and oil separation plant and a well head. But looking at this, it looks like we’ve conducted strikes associated with that operation roughly every — we’ve got a March 11th, a March 8th, a March 7th, 4th, February 28th.

So, those operations continue a pace. We don’t have updated estimates of the amount of financial damage that it has done. We’re waiting for those estimates to come in. If you recall, our last estimate was several months ago, and it was roughly a third of their ability to produce income through oil had been destroyed.

QUESTION: Steve, you mentioned March 11th was the last — as far as you can tell, the last strike in that campaign. That has been a few weeks ago. Does that suggest that it has been interrupted, or ended?

COL. WARREN: Tidal Wave II operations continue. Often, what we’ll have to do is either wait for a new target to be developed or allocate resources elsewhere. I don’t know what the case is in this particular instance.

But as targets become available and those target are matched with resources, there is a priority list and those strikes are conducted.

2. There are different estimates ranging from 20,000 ISIS fighters to 35,000 plus.

QUESTION: I was just wondering if you had an update on the total number of Islamic State fighters that are in Iraq and Syria right now?

We had heard on Friday from General Dunford an estimate of up to 35,000, which is — which is higher than what we had heard last time. And I know that estimates are exactly that, they fluctuate.

But have you seen an increase or a decrease in fighters? And to follow up on that question, what is being done by the United States and the coalition to hinder some of the recruitment, because that would — the assumption to that, if the numbers haven’t gone up or down, is that the recruitment still remains strong.

Would you agree with that, and what’s being done to stop that?

COL. WARREN: I won’t disagree with General Dunford. But I will say that our estimate here is that they’re between 20 and 25,000 enemy fighters on the ground.

And we believe that, that’s a reduction from the number that we had been using for the previous year, which was up to 31,000. So, we believe — so, our estimate has reduced from a top end of 31 down to a top end of 25. So, that’s what we believe based on the information that we have.

Recruitment certainly is — is one of the lines of effort, right? It’s one of the things that we want to stop. We want to stop the flow of foreign fighters.

Now, there’s two types of fighters in ISIL: foreign fighters and then local fighters. The local fighters, we’re seeing increasingly that they are conscripts. In other words, they are forced to fight against their will.

There is another category of local fighters, which is fighters who maybe aren’t committed to the ISIL ideology and the ISIL ideology and philosophy, but they need a job and so they’re fighting just for the money. And these two categories are the types of fighters that we see increasingly deserting, throwing down their weapons and running away because they’re — you know, they’re not, you know, committed the way the foreign fighters are.

The foreign fighters certainly are the most committed, right? They’ve gone through quite a bit of effort just to get to Syria, so they are both the most committed fighters and they benefit — they received, we believe, superior training from ISIL and they’re used often as either shock troops, or a quick reaction force, or as specialty troops.

So those are the different types of fighters. So to get to your question, how do we reduce recruiting? Well locally, you know, that really is happening on its own, right? As people realize that ISIL does not really offer what they claim to offer, there’s much lower propensity for people to want to join them.

You know, if you watch ISIL propaganda or read their ridiculous magazine, you would think that ISIL is a land of sunshine and rainbows where there’s unicorns, you know, being ridden by Leprechauns, everyone’s happy. But then when you show up here, you realize that it’s closer to hell on Earth, right? It’s apocalyptic.

So these are bad people. Well, that word’s gotten out fairly well here in the region. I think people get that, so they’re not really — we’re not seeing easy recruitment locally.

Less the case, obviously, externally, right? We still see foreign fighters as a problem that needs to be addressed.

3. U.S. is confident ISIS leader Baghdadi is alive and can stil cross Iraq-Syria border

After about 2 years of “fighting” Islamic State, U.S. officials have had minimal success in terms of targeting the group’s leaders.

QUESTION: Good morning, Colonel Warren.

I want to go back to your opening statement, sir. You mentioned — you mentioned that you are always committed to target ISIL leaders, either in Iraq, or in Syria or abroad.

After taking many leaders in the last few months, my question is, how close do you think you are from targeting ISIL leader, Al Baghdadi? And do you have any information if he is in Syria or in Iraq? Can you share it with us?

COL. WARREN: Well, for one thing, I hope that Al Baghdadi watches these press conferences because I want him to know that we are hunting him, and we will find him. Just like we found his mentor, Zarqawi, and killed him. Just like we found the grand master of terrorism, Osama bin Laden, we killed him.

We are going to find Baghdadi, and we — he will taste justice. I don’t know if that justice will look like a Hellfire missile, or if it will look like a dark prison cell somewhere, but he will find justice one day.

We know he’s alive. We — or we can — we believe he’s alive. We also believe that he moves in between Syria and Iraq.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Even now, do — you think he’s take — he has the capability to move, right now, from Syria to Iraq, or vice versa?

COL. WARREN: Yes.

4. The U.S. is officially training new groups of Syrian “rebels”

Warren announced that the U.S. is now training new groups of rebels, which comes after the last training program for opposition groups failed spectacularly as highlighted by mainstream media. The primary group that made it through “vetting” and training ended up being smaller than 100 men.

In September 2015, the trained amateurs were embarrassingly robbed for their weapons and equipment by Al Qaeda after entering Syria. That number was degraded down to “four or five” as stated in Congressional hearings on the subject. The next group of rebels trained was also robbed again in a similar scenario.

There is also speculation that in some cases, trainees simply handed over the weapons or joined the ranks of Al Nusra, the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate.

QUESTION: Do you — could you bring us up to date on the Syria train and equip mission that has been launched now, the new one? And kind of tell me — you know, or tell us, you know, how it is at work? And how people — how many people are being trained or have been trained.

Are we talking about, you know, dozens of people? Hundreds of people? Thank you.

COL. WARREN: Yeah, so, dozens of people are now being trained. These are individuals as opposed to units.

So, what we did the first time was try to pull full units off the line and cycle them through training. We realized that didn’t work.

So, in accordance with our commitment to find things that work, we’re trying this. And so, what this is, is pull some individuals out of units, vet them, give them some training, give them some capability, and then reinsert them back into the battle field.

So, that’s what the program is. And we’re going to keep an eye on this program, we’re going to keep working it, and if it works, we’ll do more. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll shift again.

And I think we’ve been very, I think, clear and open about that fact, that, you know, some of this is us working through different scenarios, and ideas and programs through a simple process of trial and error, to see what works and what doesn’t work.

And when we find things that work, we’re going to do more of them. And when we find things that don’t work, we’re going to cut sling and move on.

QUESTION: You were before, when you were just working with the SDF folks and giving them, you know, training on helping coordinate the — the air-strikes

COL. WARREN: Phil, unfortunately, the beginning of your question got clipped again, but what I heard was, you know, are we going to work with these new trainees to help train them how to spot targets? And the answer is yes, of course we are. That’s probably the largest single combat multiplier on the Syrian battlefield.

The Syrians who we trained in the old program are still operating on the battlefield and they’re still able to identify targets for us, and that is a legitimate and real combat multiplier. That allows us to bring significantly more fires into play in any of these — in any of these skirmishes, battles and fire-fights there are taking place, you know, throughout Syria.

QUESTION: I guess, I was trying to get a sense of scale because there were also folks that we given some cursory training as well from the SDF, or the SAC, I guess, and I’m just wondering scale. Is there more folks that are being trained now? Does this represent an increase in the level of training than you were doing before when you were just looking at the Syrian-Arabs? Thanks.

COL. WARREN: Well, that SAC mission was, I think unique, right? That was a very discrete — and by discrete, I mean, you know, isolated, singular operation. So what that was, was we brought the leaders of various armed groups out of Syria for a week-long training and briefings and some relationship building, et cetera.

So that was a very specific thing. That was leaders from about a dozen different armed groups, but the leaders of these smaller of these subgroups that came together to form the SAC, the Syrian-Arab Coalition. So that was a very kind of unique and not — has not yet been repeated training mission.

What we’re talking about — what you first asked about was a train — a training and equipping program that we are now doing that is based on the lessons that we learned from our ill-fated train and equip program of 2015. In that program, in the old 2015 program, we would identify an entire unit, exfiltrate that unit to a training location, train the unit, equip the unit, infiltrate the unit back into the battlefield and have them go fight.

And you know, that program didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, so we — we paused it, stopped it, ceased it, didn’t do it anymore. We conducted some assessments, we figured out what went right, what went wrong, how can we do this better. And so now, we are trying again with adjustments.

And the adjustment in this case is that it’s a group of individuals. So I’m trying to think of a way to explain it that would be easy to understand. Imagine, you know, a unit, we would take some members out of each unit and pull those members out of the unit. So the unit remains in the fight, right? Because one of the lessons we learned is people didn’t want to come off the line for the training. Why? Because they were fighting for their homes, their families — dedicated enemy, et cetera.

So what we learned is pulling a full unit off a line is problematic. So, now what we’re trying is to take a few individuals out of the unit — not the head — not the leader of the unit. The leader of the unit needs to stick with his unit and fight.

So, a few individuals out of the unit, pull them off, get them some training, and then get them back into the fight with this new, increased capability — with the theory that, if you have a highly trained individual here, well, the man on his left and right are going to benefit from his great training.

So, now, for the price of training one, you’ve got three who are better, and maybe even more than that.

So, that’s kind of what we’re looking at doing here. And then of course, there’s an equipment piece, and again, the capability piece, right? That these guys are able to really be combat multipliers, because they’ve got the ability to assist with the — with air power.

So, scale, we’re not comfortable talking about. I’ll just — I’ll leave at, you know, it’s still relatively small as we see if this works. Like I said, dozens. And that’s all I’m going to say.

QUESTION: You actually answered a little bit of this, Colonel Warren. But are there other lessons learned from the first go-round that are being applied now? It sounds like, instead of taking out whole units, you’ve got — you’re taking out key leaders from units. What else is the U.S. doing differently?

COL. WARREN:
Well, a lot of what we learned is — is, you know, will seem insignificant, maybe in Washington or in the United States, but certainly, you know, cultural things. You know, when to start the training, when not to train, how much leave to plan.

It’s the little things like that, individual — you know, personal management almost type things that we learned, that we believe now we can apply to get a better result.

And that — that’s really the only one that I have at my fingertips. I can look into it and see what else there is. But you know, we learned a lot of lessons from that first — from that first go-round.

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QUESTION: Just one quick clarification on the Syria train and equip.

You said dozens of people are being trained. So, how many — is it also dozens that have been trained in this latest tranche, and are back out on the battle field? Is that the same rough, broad number?

And then, can you say how many of the original, the 2015 Syrians who were trained are out fighting still?

COL. WARREN: Of the original group, I have to go back and get the exact number, but I believe it’s — it’s over 100, right? It’s more than a 100 from that original group that remain on the battle field.

At one point, it was up in the 100 — over 150. But I think there has been some attrition, both through, you know, loss through combat and other ways.

But — but that’s not an exact number, and we can probably go back and get that for you.

This — this new program that we’re doing, it’s in the very early stages. So — so far, no one has returned to the battle field.

5. The White House is considering increasing the number of special forces “greatly” in Syria

REUTERS
The U.S. administration is considering a plan to greatly increase the number of American special operations forces deployed to Syria as it looks to accelerate recent gains against Islamic State, U.S. officials told Reuters.

The officials, with direct knowledge of the proposal’s details, declined to disclose the exact increase under consideration. But one of them said it would leave the U.S. special operations contingent many times larger than the around 50 troops currently in Syria, where they operate largely as advisors away from the front lines.

The proposal is among the military options being prepared for President Barack Obama, who is also weighing an increase in the number of American troops in Iraq. A White House spokeswoman declined comment.

The proposal appears to be the latest sign of growing confidence in the ability of U.S.-backed forces inside Syria and Iraq to claw back territory from the hardline Sunni Islamist group.

6. No evidence of Syrian military or President Assad mistreating people in Palmyra after freeing the city from Islamic State

QUESTION: Hi, Steve. Back to Palmyra. Have you — have you seen any evidence or any anecdotes that the Syrian civilians who are there have faced any kind of bad — brutal behavior from the Syrian regime forces, where the Russians or anyone who’ve retaken the city? And then you — when you were talking about Palmyra earlier, you mentioned that it’s a question of whether the Syrians have the power to go past there. Are you seeing any evidence that the Syrian regime forces are stretched thin? Are they having trouble moving? Any kind of operational problems?

COL. WARREN: So I don’t have any anecdotes for you on how the regime has treated the population of Palmyra, but we surely know that Bashar al-Assad has a very long and well-documented history.

As far as the logistical capability of the regime forces, you know, it’s always difficult to know exactly, but certainly, they are as far east as they’ve ever been since the civil war really got going, so we know that they’ve been degraded significantly over the last five years. So it remains to be seen whether or not they have, you know, the logistical capabilities to move much further to the east. It’s simply something that, you know, remains to be seen.

You know, we know that they’ve been significantly degraded, but we also know they’ve been resupplied by the Russians and others, so we have to wait and see.
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QUESTION: Colonel Warren, thank you. Just a follow-up to Tom’s question. Do you welcome a Russian-backed Syrian offensive on Raqqa?

COL. WARREN: Any time Daesh is hurt, we consider that a good thing, or ISIL. I forgot who I was talking to. Anytime ISIL is hurt, we consider that a good thing.

But it’s a tricky situation, right? Because, you know, what do you see in Palmyra? You see the Russian regime has pushed out ISIL. So, in our view, that is kind of like going — at least for the people of Palmyra, that is certainly a movement from the frying pan into the fire, isn’t it?

Assad is a brutal, ruthless dictator who has, you know, gassed his own people with chemical weapons. He is the problem, right? He is responsible for this bloody civil war that has taken more than a quarter million Syrian lives, in the estimation of many humanitarian organizations.

And so, the situation for the people in Palmyra has — probably not going to improve that much. They’re still — they went from being under the boot heel of ISIL to being under the boot heel of Bashar al-Assad.
And I’m not sure that that is much of an improvement for those poor people in Palmyra.

So, anytime ISIL gets hurt, we’re happy. But anytime the people of Syria are hurt, we don’t think that, that is a good thing. So, it’s a question that’s very difficult to answer, Lucas.

QUESTION: Is there some kind of race to Raqqa? Would — is the coalition –do you want this Syrian defense force, these Arabs and Kurds to arrive in Raqqa before a potential arrival of Syrian forces?

COL. WARREN: We do. We believe that the moderate Syrian opposition forces, who we have supported and are continuing to support are the appropriate forces to enter Raqqa and Deir el-Zor, because they will bring with them goals that are in alignment with our goals, which is a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

There is certainly no evidence that Bashar al-Assad has interest in anything other the continuation of his brutal and ruthless dictatorship.

QUESTION: Is there a sense of urgency on the coalition’s part to get to Raqqa first?

COL. WARREN: Well, nobody’s going to get to Raqqa anytime soon, frankly, neither the Russians nor the SDF. This is going to require a significant generation of combat power; this is going to require significant shaping operations in and around the area.

So, right now, there — certainly no race is on but we’ll have to see what the future holds.

7. State Department end internal probe of Hillary Clinton emails pending FBI investigation

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Amazingly, this comes after the State Department has declined to comment about Google helping overthrow the Syrian government.

QUESTION: Clinton’s emails. Do you guys have an update on the internal review the State Department is conducting into the 22 top secret emails and whether they should have been classified at the time, whether or not they were mishandled?

MS TRUDEAU: I do. It’s a procedural update, but it is an update. As you know, in late January, the State Department announced that we intended to conduct an internal review to examine questions of classification at the time emails from former Secretary Clinton’s collection were sent. In doing so, we contacted the FBI to solicit a judgment from them as to the best path forward. The FBI communicated to us that we should follow our standard practice, which is to put our internal review on hold while there is an ongoing law enforcement investigation underway. Of course, we do not want our internal review to complicate or impede the progress of their ongoing law enforcement investigation. Therefore, the State Department, at this time, is not moving forward with our internal review. The internal review is on hold, pending completion of the FBI’s work. We’ll reassess next steps after the FBI’s work is complete.

QUESTION: Do you expect to help inform the FBI’s investigation in any way in determining if those emails, specifically 22, ought to have been marked classified at the time? Do you expect to inform —

MS TRUDEAU: So we’re coordinating with the FBI on this. I’m not going to share any additional details at this time. This is a law enforcement matter.

Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry, I’m not sure I understand.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: These two – well, I don’t —

MS TRUDEAU: Review and investigation.

QUESTION: Right. I don’t understand how they contradict each other. Why?

MS TRUDEAU: So it’s basically – it’s – like I said, it’s a procedural matter. So while the ongoing law enforcement investigation is taking place, our internal review is on hold pending the completion of that.

QUESTION: Why?

MS TRUDEAU: Because we don’t want to complicate the law enforcement investigation. That takes priority.

QUESTION: Are the same people doing the review as are doing the investigation?

MS TRUDEAU: I understand that it’s our standard procedure. In cases like this, if there’s an ongoing law enforcement investigation we pause. So we communicated with the FBI in this matter.

QUESTION: Well, let’s just take, for example, something else. Like there was an ongoing investigation into what happened in Benghazi, and yet there was also a internal State Department review going on at the same time to see – I didn’t see that – the review wasn’t stopped then.

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to that. I can speak to the decision that was taken here.

QUESTION: Well, you can say what the decision was, but I don’t understand why it is that you would —

MS TRUDEAU: So what —

QUESTION: I don’t understand why it is that you would say that your internal review would somehow complicate an FBI investigation. And I don’t understand why the FBI would say that either. It doesn’t sound right.

MS TRUDEAU: So what we’re saying is that the law enforcement investigation will continue. We don’t want our own internal review to impede or complicate the progress.