tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN September 16, 2015 11:00pm-12:01am EDT
landscape in baghdad. in syria, the northern part of the country, syrian kurds, arabs have h syrian successful pushed them along the turkish border. they want to degrade and defeat isil and he emphasized it would multi-year campaign. secretary carter was here, the nine strategies. need to dry up isil's finances and stop them. humanitarian assistance in areas we are taking back from more nd find a way to affectively counter isil's very campaign. messages as secretary carter said to the
believe in july, they we have the right strategy in place. on implementing the strategy. interagency effort, across all of the departments that are involved. secretary carter and secretary kerry have been meeting together with their senior staff to in tor and identify issues the campaign and they're meeting foreign to focus on fighters. they are responsible for two of effort inside the strategy, denying isil safe i would like to speak the ly to those areas. coalition has removed some of its key leaders in iraq and syria. regained of them and
partners have taken the key border town, which of isil's key lines of communication and supply and pressure on its stro stronghold. when we have credible ground forces and support them with our air power, isil can suffer. we are working hard to build the capacity of our forces on the ground. six trained more than brigades and provided training 13,000 personnel. we have more in the pipeline. as secretary carter said, in iraqi raining for the army has been slowed due a lack of trainees. we've had better participation at the training sites and iraq expanded the pool of units who are eligible for training.
the units are participating in the sites. they are performing well in face a issions but they difficult fight ahead. forces on the ground are and ved in advising training sunni fighters through providing direct training and train the trainer type of assistance with the iraqi security forces. in terms of equipping the sunni fighters, we have sent equipments to iraqi officials the to distribute equipment to fighters. overseeing this to the sunni fighters from these bases. we now have more than 4,000 sunni tribal fighters. we're still in the early stages f our train and equip program
in syria. this is one element of what largerrying to do in the campaign in syria, which includes an increasing number of air strikes and supporting partner forces on the ground, syrian kurds, to try to put pressure on isil in northeastern syria. hey have rolled isil back in this area and have had ignificant impacts on isil's freedom of movement. and equip program, we're training more than 100 fighters. this number is definitely maller than we'd hoped for, in part because as the chairman and others have noted, we put our trainees through a rigorous screening progress. we closely aligned all of our
fforts with our 62-country coalition and as an example, decision to nt provide us with bases has enabled us to extend the fight. before turning to general ustin, i want to address russia's involvement in syria. e're closey tracking russia's efforts to deploy additional equipment to syria. both russia and iran has continued to support politically milltrarily, the regime that people. red its own what we need in syria is a to the l solution conflict. any actions that empower the regime are unwelcome and would and not bilizing productive. we're not going to solve it
quickly, but we have the right components in place and we're dynamically adjusting our campaign. achieving a lasting defeat is going to require commitment, as well as commitment and sacrifice from syria.orces in iraq and thank you. mccain, morning general senator reed, i want to thank ou for the opportunity to appear here today to provide a support of ate in the ongoing campaign against isil. i'm pleased to appear here this morning. respected ly throughout the department of defense and we are most grateful continued and strong support of our efforts. i'll join christine with some
opening opening comments. address anto quickly important issue. chairman mentioned, there into investigation looking allegations about processing the intelligence processing. because the allegations are currently under investigation, in ould be premature and approperate for me to discuss this matter. i welcome the oversight. once the investigation is complete, based upon the findings, you can be assured i will take appropriate actions. again, i cannot speak to the specifics of the allegations; however, i would like to take with clarity on how we use intelligencement nature of our mission, we have a robust
intelligence enterprise to support the command. 1,200 people that make up that enterprise and they exceptional work. i seek their input and insights. the assessment, together with the inputs that i receive sources that of include my commanders on the i talk to almost every single day. you know, there's been a lot of speculation about the d, onetions made to the do dshgs i think should be corrected. they have concerns that it was to the president. media put out to the ast week, quote, they are not allowed to engage in the president's daily brief process.
produced and funneled through the dia to make and finaleliberations contributi appropriately re coordinated, unquote. for them to it complete its investigation. to provide this additional clarification. to the ongoing things in syria and iraq today, to make progress in support of the strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat isil. of to the enduring success the military campaign has sustained pressure on isil on air and on the ground. in dignns forces. n recent months, iraq's
security forces have experienced some setbacks. to happen in ed the early stages of a fight. air strikes and our iraqis and assist, the continue to make progress. n northern iraq, they have performed exceptional well. air coalition is substantial effects. 17,000ave taken more than kilometers. the intent of the military campaign is to degrade and ultimately defeat the enemy through our own actions and enabling and supporting our coalition partners and in forces.ous progress is being made and this
is evidence by what we see happening in the air and on the ground in both countries. i that the point out rogress points out the many contribution tions by our ribu partners. success in this campaign will of our the support coalition partners and other lements of the u.s. government and international community. more importantly, it will iraqis do what their necessary about political challenges. outset that the military campaign would take ime and it will take time and we should expect there will be occasional setbacks along the way. enabling porting and this. it is taking a bit longer to get
things done but it must be this lastingwe are to achieve and positive effects. the many challenges, we find opportunities and we remain onfident that our actions, in pursuit of these, will do better in days. i want to thank you, once again, for the strong our service how to members, our civilians and are truly hey aekscepti aeksceptional. we appreciate your support and i look forward to answering your questions. thank you. i must say, i've been a member of this committee for 30 years and i've never heard testimony like this. never. general austin, on september ago, chairman of
joint chief of staff said it was, quote, tactically sta stalemated. so obviously you and the outgoing chairman have a very what the view of situation is. so, with all this progress that you're citing, how long do you think it's going to take for isil and to restore stability in iraq and syria. >> it will take years. if i may comment on the chairman's comments. s i spoke to the chairman yesterday, we did talk about this issue and when i went back he said,a look at what is lso said, isil's future increasingly dim. and although it is typically
stalemated with no dramatic gains on either side, isil will ve at the speed of its guv governance. mr. mccain: please, general. chairman dempsey said exactly there's thing, so clearly a disconnect between your view and that of our outgoing and ingoing of the joint chiefs of staff. really, in your view, everything should remain as it is. for example, do we think we no-fly zone in syria? >> that's a policy decision. mr. mccain: would you recommend it? >> not at this point.
mr. mccain: would you recommend setting up a buffer zone in syria where refugeee may be able to come some be protected? will take a ground force to protect refugees. like to n: would you have a zone there? i don't see a force available. wouldn't be able to shoot down the aircraft as barrel bomb innocent men, women and children? we have capability to protect them mr. mccain: but you would not recommend it? you are telling us everything is fine, as we see hundreds and refugees.of
slaughtered, as you see more and more iranian militia f the shi'ah that are the only ones that are the fighting. as i say, i've never seen a hearing that is as divorced from outside ty of every expert and what you're saying. the massive flow of efugees from syria have any affect on what you think we should be doing in syria? want to be clear. i believe that this is a horrible horrible tragedy and this is a thing that the entire international community is going to have to continue to work there's on and so, always -- we would hope that as refugeees continue to be
disadvantaged, that we see more joining in to assist -- would not you support a policy that would s from these refugee being slaughtered by these barrel bombs? our best lways in interest to protect civils. not recommend a buffer zone at this point in time. mr. mccain: so, everything is going well then? the chairman of the joint chiefs tacticically it's stalemated and you think verything is going well, pursuing the strategy and tactics on the ground that we re, general austin, i respectfully disagree. respectfully, fundamentally disagree. this is an object failure. refugees are a result of it.
his is a result of leaving iraq. you were there when they told enator graham told us he would agree to keep a residial force never gave him the forces. created the departure from iraq. this is, as i say, i've not attended a hearing that is so grossly distorted as the view of terrible and tragic situation. single thing ery hat's happened now and i predict it will remain stalemated. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. a year austin, about
go, or more, there was real concern that baghdad could fall to isil. virtually ere unstoppable and at this point, security,sment of the at least of baghdad, has that been improved? >> sir, it has been greatly improved. >> going forward now, one of the fundamental issues is, and i related to both who will who is -- have the advantage going forward time?ms of the use of isil or iraqi forces supported by the united states. what's your view on that? forcesink it's the iraqi supported by not only the united states, but the 60-plus coalition. have of the things that recommended d and
strongly is they create a sunni l guard unit -- with the mally align government and that legislation s bogged down, is that accurate? >> that's correct, sir. >> we could do more, essentially, if the iraqis were willing to make changes to their policies. we can contemplate the use of national th these guard -- iraqi national guard ofts to be bogue rs in terms distributing equipment and advice. >> it's cleary possible. >> is it something you would consider? >> yes, sir, it is. > this is a constant source of fact, is that -- in
iraqi wrote a scathing report about the lack suggesting that whatever he said couldn't be trusted. is that, you know, his estimate eading up to this crisis, a factor over many years? former we saw from a prime minister was cleary ectarian behavior and a number of bad decisions that lead to the atrophy of his security forces. >> and tactical reports, as i've media, they blamed the disintegration at the doorstep, no one else, is that accurate? > it's his responsibility and those who he appointed in key enable that as
well. your campaign plan, you have tried to exploit area where we have the most iraq, st, in isil, that's while maintaining syria. is that the general outline? could expect and frankly, anyone's seen the progress that would like to see. the first progress would come in iraq. is that accurate? >> it is, sir. a government 's for us to work with, initially. there were some forces for us to begin to work with and of ourse, we had access to things that could -- that could enable us to get our -- to get the work done. in our shaping operations in enabled our work in iraq
and as we get increasing resources, we're able to in syria and empo o, i think we'll have greater effects going forward. >> and just finally, any general omments because one of the recent devepmments is the fact hat turkey is allowing operations and they seem to be curoperative in -- cooperative sense. > i think it will translate to a lot more pressure in syria, rocka, which of has been an isil stronghold. ecause of that access, we'll have the ability to increase the pace and focus on key places in that'll certainly shape things in iraq.
very much.u >> thank you, mr. chairman. senator ustin, when carter was here before this committee in july, he testified that there were only 60 syrian fighters that had been trained and equip program and reinserted. the heard reports about attacks on those individuals when they were reinserted back into syria. can you tell us what the total fighters trained remains? a small number and the --s that are in the fight is is -- we're talking four or five. >> a new york times reporter, on september 6, indicated that from the lessons learned that experience was that these fighters should be returned to
syria in larger numbers than the obviously, larger than the four or five that are there. do you agree with that? senator.e with that, it is in our best interest to make sure that we have an element that can protect itself and also can go in and combine efforts with other elements that are on the ground. >> how do you plan to achieve that. how do you plan on increasing fighters when we're looking at the tough security screenings that are in place now? thatre we going to achieve and you mentioned increasing resources. i took that to mean increasing number of fighters that you would place in syria and the would have. so, what's the time period we're you ng at here and how are going to do it because i don't
think it's been at all successful yet. >> i certainly agree with you. the new syrian force program has gotten off to a slow start but i think it's important to remember designed toement is be a compliment to all the other things we are using. we are using every tool we have vailable to us in our inventory. our approach is to utilize indigenous forces, to compliment our work from the air on the ground. as we -- >> if i can interrupt you on that point. i'd like to get back to your answer. when you say to compliment the with air e ground, strikes. did i just hear you say that? >> they have to work in tandem. work if they're going to are we going to
change strategy? i think it's in foreign policy united states e is drawing up a new plan that's trained send these fighters into syria that are going to help direct air strikes. is that report correct? >> i would just say that, ma'am, we'll continue to look at the best ways to -- the best means to employ these forces as we go forward and we'll capalize on lessons learned. again, it is really about the compliment of indigenous forces we have to work with. mentioned earlier, the wpg syrian kurds have done remendous worse in north east syria and they have pushed isil back from the border. they're currently around 40 isil's ers north of capital city and they'll
continue to pressure isil. syrian force is additive to that effort. >> so with the fighters that training and equipping, is it still the goal to have about 12,000 of them there? them?s the expectation for the certainly won't reach goal that we initially established for ourselves. overall goal is to make sure we have enough mass to be the to get work done on ground and whether it's wpg that ts or other elements are able to help us, we are able to still achieve and are effects. we same are doing this today and i think a lot of people.
my understandy that general dempsey recently said if the u.s. really seize control of the campaign against isis we could speed up isil's defeat but that it would come at a great cost to our service members and that another group with another name and ideology would just be back in a couple of years. isn't that what you understand general dempsey to have said and that you have reaffirmed that here today? general austin: yes, sir, it is. i think it's important that the people in the country and in the region take ownership and work to put in place lasting solutions.
and if we don't do that we will be back in another two or three years. senator nelson: and because of that campaign against isis, it must be won by our coalition partners and the iraqis, not just us. general austin: that's correct, sir. senator nelson: would you care to read that statement again for clarity in your response to the chairman's question that general dempsey had said in its full context? general austin: yes, sir. what the chairman said is isil's future is increasingly dim as more nations join the anti-isil ffort. he further stated that although the fight right now is tactically stalemated with no dramatic gains on either side, iraq will move at the speed of its governance and not at the speed of its military capability. senator nelson: mr. chairman, i have the transcript here in front of the committee. i would like to reinsert this transmit of general dempsey with your permission.
senator mccain: absolutely. and along with that we will include the assessments by senator keane, general petraeus, the architect of the surge and all of those who observed this debacle. senator nelson: of course. general, give us your assessment that russia is building up the military base and sending soldiers and weapons into syria to prop up assad. under, i might say, the guise of fighting isis. general austin: sir, we're witnessing a buildup of forces in syria by russia. as you know, they have been there all along but they are increasing their footprint. what they stated is that they want to focus on helping to
counter isil, as i understand t. that's left to be seen. as you know russia is not very transparent so we really don't know what their true intentions are. but the introduction of potential introduction of additional capability and operations, utilizing that capability could increase the friction in that battle space significantly. senator nelson: general, the senate defense authorization bill calls for 30% reduction in headquarter staff across the department of defense starting with a 7.5% cut in fiscal year 016.
what impact will that have on your ability to conduct operations and what is centcom, if you want to submit for the record, planning to do to make that cut? general austin: sir, if you take a look what's going on -- and from pakistan to afghanistan to yemen to iraq and syria and to increase tensions in other places throughout the region, it's clear that we have a very active region. and so in order to manage the things that we need to manage and work with our partner nations in the region, we need an appropriate staff to be able o do that. i fully understand and appreciate the pressure that the
departments -- the department is under in terms of the reduction of the top line on the budget, and so we have to do what we can do and need to do to tighten our belts. i appreciate that. but it makes it increasingly difficult to get things one. senator nelson: thank you, general. senator ayotte: i want to thank both of you for being here today and for your service, i want to follow up and ask about, general, i believe you testified about the effectiveness of the syrian kurds right now in syria in pushing back isil. are we providing support and weapons to the syrian kurds? and what assistance are we giving them given that as i heard your testimony when senator fischer asked, we only have, as i understand it, four or five of u.s.-trained syrian fighters in this fight, so what are we doing to support the syrian kurds as they are effectively pushing back isil on he ground?
general austin: we are providing them a tremendous amount of air support which is what they wanted most. as you will recall, ma'am, this is the element -- a portion of this element where the folks that hung on at kobani valiantly. there was question if they could survive and continue on. they increased their size and activity and they made a significant difference in the northeast part of the country. and so what they asked from us over time is sustained airpower, sustained strikes and they have benefited from those strikes. because of their aggressiveness, they made a tremendous difference in the northeast. senator ayotte: so just to be clear, they haven't asked for arms? and how does turkey -- how is turkey acting on the ground here n terms of obviously -- first,
i want to know what have the syrian kurds asked for that we haven't given them? i understand air support. how do you view turkey's role in all of this? because as i see it these four or five u.s.-trained fighters, let's not kid ourselves, it's a joke. if they're the only force on the ground doing something, what more can we do to help them? general austin: up to this point they have not asked us for arms, but it doesn't mean that they won't, ma'am. i think -- and, of course, you know, as we go forward, there are things that we can do to continue to help as they try to get supplies into northeastern syria, work with the kurds in northern iraq to help make sure that we have lines of communication that facilitate that. and we're doing that. they will also need to partner with syrian arabs in the area, and they're doing that and we are working with syrian arabs, developing relationships as
ell. and so i think it's the combination of all of these forces that are going to make a difference going forward. and, again, we expect our footprint with the new syrian forces to grow over time. senator ayotte: sir, can you help me with turkey, what role that turkey is playing that we would like them to play? general austin: senator, turkey has recently come onboard and given us access to their bases which is a tremendous apability. it shortens the legs that our fighter pilots will have to fly. it allows us to be more responsive, and they also are flying strikes in our formations and focused on elements, isil elements in syria thus far. and so they are adding value.
what we asked them to do, as well, is continue to tighten up or abate the flow of foreign fighters and lethal accelerants coming across the border. senator ayotte: what role is iran playing in this, and also their support for hezbollah, what role is hezbollah playing in terms of supporting the assad egime? general austin: well, we know that iran has been -- has been instrumental in providing support to syria throughout. and we see increasingly that they would like to provide -- they want to provide more support. what that will mean in the future i don't know, but they are active in syria. senator ayotte: so perhaps if they had more cash and money, they would like to provide more support to the assad regime? general austin: that would be --
my assumption would be that would be the case. senator ayotte: i wanted to also ask our issues with these rained fighters. are we going to provide, if they're under attack, i guess we got four or five of them, but if we're able to get more of them trained what are we going to do to support them or protect them? general austin: we will protect -- provide air support and i.s.r. to overwatch and air support to protect them. with the first class we put in, we've done that already. so we are committed to doing that going forward. senator ayotte: thank you. senator mccain: senator mccaskill. senator mccaskill: i'm worried, like the rest of my colleagues, and there have been a number of questions from my colleagues, about the train and equip mission. there are good news and bad news about america's military. the good news is you give them a job they'll figure out a way and get it done.
the bad news is sometimes you give them a job and they're not willing to say it's not going to work. at what point in time, general austin, do you envision us admitting that while all good intentions and on paper all of the work was done but the job of finding willing fighters that can be screened appropriately when you have the vast majority who feel victimized by the current situation in syria are running for the exits? at what point in time -- and what is the discussion ongoing about the $600 million you're equesting for next year? that seems very unrealistic to me in terms of a request. if at this juncture we successfully completed five to six, and i believe you said the last information you had, ms. wormuth, more than 100. hat is the number?
ms. wormuth: senator mccaskill it's between 100 and 120 basically. senator mccaskill: so we're counting on our fingers and toes when we envisioned 5,400 by the end of the year. i'm just worried that this is one of those instances where the good news about our military is dominating. we can do this. we can do this. and the practical reality of this strategy aren't being fully embraced. general austin: thank you, senator. you know, i absolutely agree with you. we have the finest troops in the world. and they will figure out a way to get the job done one way or the other. and again, what our special operations forces have done in northern syria is they didn't ait for the new syrian force
program or train and equip program to fully develop. at the very outset, they began to engage elements like the y.p.g. and enable those elements, and they are making a difference on the battlefield. and there are tens of thousands of the y.p.g. out there. they're right now fighting isil. so because the syria train and equip program is slower getting started than we'd like for it to be, it doesn't mean we're not creating effects on the battlefield. senator mccaskill: i want to make sure, general austin, i know they feel strongly about the surge and there are a lot of incredible american heroes that were part of that surge, but the other part of the surge we don't talk about as frequently is we aid a lot of people. we paid a lot of people to help us during the surge. is this money that we're setting aside for train and equip, would it be better off in direct compensation to some of that .p.g. force?
ms. wormuth: senator mccaskill, can i address this a little bit? as general austin said, we're reviewing the program and we're looking at a range of options. our train and equip program is part of a broader effort that we're prosecuting with the y.p.g., with the syrian arab coalition and so on, and we're looking at how to have our train and equip program effectively enable those other efforts and i think as we go forward and look at what our options are, we absolutely want to look at the resources we requested for the next year and how that fits in. but the forces we are training, while right now a small in number and leerily are not going to reach the numbers we had planned for, are nevertheless getting terrific training and very good equipment and as such will be able to really be force multipliers of those other groups on the ground that has been very effective, line the syrian arab coalition.
senator mccaskill: if we get to the end of the year with us bragging about the difference between 100 and 120, it's time for a new plan. ms. wormuth: and i do not mean o be bragging. the program is much smart smaller than we hoped. we're not bragging. it's not as big as we thought it would be. senator mccaskill: i know there's pressure on analysts to change the the nor of their report -- tenor of their report. it's a serious allegation. i want to say at the end of this investigation when you can discuss it, i want to put on the record that i for one will be watching very carefully for any potential retaliation against any of the men and women that came forward with allegations. it's incredibly important that whistleblowers be protected. depending on what the investigation finds, i
understand that maybe there are other factors i'm not aware of. but i want to put on the record that i will be playing close attention to how these whistleblowers are treated in the aftermath of this investigation. general austin: i share your concern, senator. you have my -- i will assure you that we will do everything within our power to ensure that the whistleblowers remain protected and there is no retaliation. this is absolutely important. and again, you know, we need oversight by organizations like the i.g. and so we welcome hat. and we're going to cooperate fully and we'll make sure we abide by the spirit of this investigation.
senator mccaskill: thank you. senator sessions: thank you, chairman mccain. i think the grim nature of your remarks are justified. ms. wormuth, how long has it been since we've had this train and equip program in effect? ms. wormuth: we started the actual training earlier this spring. we started the program in december when we got authority from congress. senator sessions: you have to say we started in december. that's when it was authorized, and funding was provided. and we have to acknowledge, this is a total failure. senator sessions: it's just a failure. i wish it weren't so but that's the fact. so it's time, way pastime, to react to that failure. i just would say the whole idea that we've got to wait for the locals to take ownership and to take the lead and do this kind of activity without any leadership support sufficient from the united states or our
allies is also a failure. they're not able to organize well. mosul has fallen. there's divisions within iraq that make it very difficult. so i just wish it weren't so but i'm afraid that's the reality we are dealing with. we now have, i believe, the u.n. says, four million refugees, seven million displaced persons. it's obvious to me that this is a humanitarian catastrophe. we need to deal with it in an honest way and the most effective and honest way is to keep people as close to home as possible. if they can't stay in their homes because of violence and war, then they ought to be kept as close to home as possible. i talked to a senior european official recently, he told me that this refugee crisis is the greatest threat to europe since orld war ii.
and i don't see any plan to make it any better. general austin, we've got to consider creating safe zones within syria. i understand there are some places in syria now that refugees can stay. and we're going to have to keep, we can't have millions and millions of people walking into urope. it's hardly worth discussing. but i am really worried about his. and wish that we could -- we had already done much better. by being so slow to act initially this is what esulted. now the situation is far more than it should be in my opinion. general austin, i do tend to agree with you that a defeat of isil is not the end of the problems in the middle east.
we've got extremism that witnesses told us may be going on for 50 years. would you agree with that? general austin: i absolutely agree with that. senator sessions: there'll be another crisis. we need a strategy, an understood strategy, bipartisan, with our allies around the orld, to confront this long-term, multidecade threat to the western democratic order. and to try to help protect people in the middle east from this disaster. so i want to ask you, do we have a strategy of that kind that our allies in the united states and congress and republicans and democrats understand and agree on? ms. wormuth: we have a strategy to defeat isil ultimately in the middle east, it's largely in the middle east but obviously spreading to other areas. there are other dynamics in the
middle east obviously that are part of this. there's a broader sunni-shia sectarian conflict that's gone on for decades. there's the fact that many of the, excuse me, governments in that region are not very representative and have internal policies that don't give much freedom too their people, so that's part of what's creating problems in the middle east as well and a big part of our relationships with these countries is talking to them about the importance of more democratic approaches. senator sessions: well said in one sense, how however, does that -- however, does that mean we don't support the king of jordan? just asking rhetorically, ok. we've got to have a more ealistic policy than that. i was just reading in the book on order he hit the part about the containment strategy that maintained western unity against
the communist totalitarians. it went on for 50 years almost. ended up ultimately successful. this was the way it was expressed. soviet expansion, according to kinnon, was real and inherent. the conflict was inherent in the two ideologies. it's income pat tart, totalitarian communism and onstitutional democracy. he said, but it could be, quote, contained by an adroit and diligent application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points. close quote. and i don't sense we have any such strategy and i'm sorry we don't. i think also that radical islam, sharia law, an essential component is incompatible with constitutional democracy.
we need to work better. thank you, mr. chairman. senator shaheen: thank you both or being here. senator session's comments about containment is a good segue. ms. wormuth, why do you believe that four years into this onflict that russia is is deploying materiel and increased shipments and setting up shop in syria in a way they haven't over the last four years? ms. wormuth: russia has been a supporter they have assad regime and putin has spoken more publicly about the role russia has played to date. part of what may be happen, part of putin's calculus may be that assad regime has been under greater threat in the last several months as isil has advanced in places like padmar r palmyra.
so putin may be nervous about the stability of the assad regime and trying to shore it up. senator shaheen: given that, how do we assess the possibility that the assad regime may all? ms. wormuth: at this point, the assessments i have read are that the regime still has considerable strength in terms of military forces, it's still the most powerful military force on the ground and the support it receives from iran and russia remains significant. so there have certainly been battlefield losses that are concerning, but -- and we are looking at obviously how to deal with we are planning and thinking about the potential for a significant retrenchment. but i think the assessment right now is the regime is not in imminent danger of falling.
senator shaheen: are we concerned that they'll threaten our coalition aircraft? general austin: if they're trying to operate in the same space, senator, that possibility s clearly there. senator shaheen: and how are we thinking about responding to that? general austin: well -- senator shaheen: for either of you. ms. wormuth: we are still in the early stages of what russia is doing. but at the diplomatic level we are making clear that deployments to shore up the regime and draw out the conflict are counterproductive and destabilizing and if this is about russia joining the fight against isil we expect the kinds of military they deploy to be consistent with that. senator shaheen: how are we making that clear to russia? ms. wormuth: secretary kerry speaks to his counterpart very
relationly and has been making that point clear and on the military side, i'm sure general austin can elaborate on this, if in fact it gets to a point where we see russian aircraft operating in that area, we would, i imagine, need to set up some sort of mechanism to continue our counterisil campaign there. senator shaheen: general austin? general austin: we know how to do that, senator. my utmost concern is protection of my -- of our troops. and we're going to make sure we have the ability to protect ourselves at all times. and you know, there are on occasion syrian aircraft that are flying in, you know, spaces that are not too distant from where we're operating but we're able to make sure that number one, we maintain vigilance and number two, we keep the battle
space -- we work in the battle space in such a way that we avoid conflict, avoid encounters if at all possible. senator shaheen: so i appreciate that that has been our policy to date. given the total failure of our ability to influence the outcome of the syrian civil war, are we assessing whether we should take a different response with respect to assad? and engaging with the syrian roops? ms. wormuth: i think we continue to believe that what would be the best solution is to get a political transition and get assad out of the government while retaining the governance structure so you don't have a situation of chaos on the ground. russia, with its relationship with the regime, could
potentially contribute to helping find that solution. that would be a valuable contribution from russia. senator shaheen: it would be but there's no incentive at this point for russia to do that. what's the incentive? ms. wormuth: they want more than anything a more stable syria and they are quite fearful of isil as well. i mean, they have many, many chechens in russia. they are just as concerned about foreign fighter flows from isil as we are. i think russia does have an interest in having a more stable syria and constructive way for them to engage would be to work with us and other countries who would like to see a transition there to try to come up with a diplomatic way to make that transition happen. senator shaheen: i certainly think that would be a positive outcome, but it's not clear to me that we've seen any action in the last 4 1/2 years to suggest
that russia is going to play a more positive role. thank you. senator rounds: thank you, mr. hairman. general austin, thank you for your service. in both syria and in iraq we have individuals that are learly part of the discussion on the worldwide stage. i'm curious, in terms of numbers right now, this one a -- would be a question for either of you, do we have an update on the total number of individuals who are displaced between syria and iraq that you can share with us this morning? ms. wormuth: i believe, senator, it's around four million. it's a very large number. there are more than a million. senator rounds: that would be from syria. ms. wormuth: i thought it was rom both syria and iraq. for example, there is more than a million refugees in turkey right now.
there are hundreds of thousands in jordan, the neighboring countries are already hosting very large you were ins of refugees, lebanon, jordan, and turkey. senator rounds: could you just check and see if the numbers you are providing are up to date? i'm curious about the number of individuals displaced in syria and the number of individuals displaced in iraq but still perhaps in iraq. ms. wormuth: we can get you that breakdown. senator rounds: general, the reason for my question is that it would appear this is a significant number. most certainly concerning military operations, regardless where you are at. our desire not to do more harm than good in what we provide yet at the same time one of our expectations is that we're doing ongoing air operations throughout the area. we don't want to get into areas where we're going to cause more damage. yet, right now, you're