tv Brett Mc Gurk Briefs Reporters on Combating ISIS at the State Department CSPAN August 5, 2017 12:01am-1:02am EDT
was a certain musical kind of gracefulness about a bridge like this, so people i guess, just wanted to think that there wasn't anything wrong. --watch these problems programs and more. saturday at noon eastern on c-span twos book tv, and sunday at 2 p.m. on american history tv on c-span3. the c-span cities tour, working with our cable affiliates, and visiting cities across the country. next, a look at the coalition against isis with the mcgurkepartment's brett briefing a panel on the current situation in syria. this went just under one hour. >> hello everybody. how are you all doing today. good to see you all back. i know it is friday, late in the
day, summertime,'s though, you all get good camper awards for coming in today. thank you so much for being here this friday. we have our special envoy to the global coalition for isis here us, brett mcgurk. i know you heard from him a couple of weeks ago and he wanted to come in today to update you on where things hand. without further do, brett mcgurk. brett: thank you. ok, thank you everybody for coming. what i wanted to do today, you heard from the secretary, about a trip around the world. everything going on in the world in activity at the state department. what i thought i would do is drill in a little bit more about what he discussed, one of our key priorities here in the state department about the campaign , against isis. so, i want to focus on the overall campaign, it is a global campaign.
but dive in a little bit to the so-called caliphate in iraq and syria. bring you into what we are doing every day and how it is working, interagency, throughout the government, and particularly with our diplomats here at the state department. some topline points, i think it is important, if you go back to when isis arrived on the international scene, back in 2014, we had 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries pouring into syria and iraq. they were controlling to cause i state and they were able to maneuver force all around iraq and syria, taking entire cities and controlling millions under their domain. since that time they have lost about 70,000 square kilometers of territory in iraq and syria, 78% of the territory they used a best used to hold in iraq they , can no longer operate in, and 50% of the territory in syria , they can no longer operate in. of all that territory that they have lost, they have not regained.
when our coalition supports elements on the ground, to regain territory from isis, they have never been able to reclaim that territory. so it is not a campaign where , you go in and nuclear into they cannot, and hold when they come back. importantly, not just territory, but even more important people. of almost 5 million people who had been living under isis, they are no longer living under isis, they have been liberated by coalition-enabled operations on the ground. also important, a few years ago you saw migrants and refugees pouring out of this part of the world and we have now reversed the flow paired in iraq, 2 million people have returned to their homes in areas of the have -- areas where they had been cleared from isis. that is almost unprecedented in a conflict like this in terms of
, getting those returnees back and it is due to the work the secretary mentioned here on the podium the other day about the , stabilization and humanitarian efforts that go in parallel with any military campaign. so the force we are working with, the iraqi security forces, we have trained 100,000 members of the iraqi security forces in total. they have never lost a battle. it is in iraq a secretive force that had almost collapsed, those forces and units that we have trained in the coalition have never lost a battle. in syria, with the campaign against isis, we are working primarily with the syrian democratic forces, a force of about 50,000, half of them are kurds. they also have never lost a battle. the training forces, i have been to syria about three times over past six months, and our training forces on the ground in syria are full. as we move into areas that particularly among the sunni arab population, the training classes are full because people want to get back to their homes and kick isis out of the area.
so, training classes are full and they have never lost a battle. also importantly, what we call the vetted syrian opposition, on particular the parts of syria i will point to on the map, supported by the turkish forces, an area known as the euphrates shield zone, also effectively cleared isis out of the terrain they held. here is what is important, over the last six months we have dramatically accelerated this campaign. you heard about this from secretary tillerson. nearly 30% of all the territory that has been retaken from isis, about 20,000 square kilometers has actually happened in the last six months. as you know the campaign against , mosul is now finished and i , which i will speak to you more about in more detail 45% of it is now clear to. o. three changes, initiatives from president trump and i will highlight them. number one, very importantly, this makes a tremendous
difference on the ground, a delegation of tactical authority from the white house, in washington through the chain of , command to the commanders on has made a that tremendous difference. it has a mental them to seize opportunities from isis. you saw secretary mattis talk about the campaign of annihilation. we surround the enemy, making sure that foreign fighters in particular, cannot escape. every foreign fighter that made their way into syria and iraq, we want to make sure they can never make their way out of those areas. and third, from day one we looked to how to increase the burden sharing from the coalition. that is why, as the secretary mentioned earlier this week one , of his first initiatives was to call on all members of the coalition and it is now 73 members of the coalition, 69 countries and for international organizations, one of the largest coalitions in history. he had all of the members here in march to talk about the next accelerated phase of the campaign. we raised in that session about
$2 billion, which really came in critical need, particularly for the post mosul phase and taking humanitarian care of the idp's in mosul. finally, the whole government effort to make sure that we are working as a government hand in glove with our colleagues in treasury and defense here at the state department to make sure we , are taking advantage of opportunities, not just with isis, but with a severing the connections and propaganda networks that continue to fuel terrorist groups like this. let me go into detail. we will turn to the map. the map has about nine numbers on it, some of which i'll spend more time on and others. i will start with the yellow, -- more time on than others. i will start with the yellow, the yellow circle, the yellow gumball. six months ago, they were planning major attacks in raqqa against the u.s. and partners , there and doing it using if
-- the infrastructure of a major city. isis is fighting for every last block in raqqa and , trying to defend those blocks they are about to lose. it is a fundamentally transformed situation. the raqqa operation to seize the city launched in june 6, and as of today, as i mentioned, they have seized about 45% of the city. there was a detailed briefing yesterday talking about the details of the operation at dod yesterday. those groups who have advanced from east to west, are about to connect. they could connect now that they need to clear high-rise buildings before they join forces. that is the second phase of the operation to clear the rest of the city. we estimate about 2000 isis fighters left, that is an inexact science. we think there are about 2000 isis fighters left in raqqa, and they most likely will die in raqqa.
u.n. estimates now, that there 500,000 civilians on the ground in raqqa, it could be higher. what is happening is similar to what we saw in mozilla, but on a -- in mosul, but on a smaller scale, some of the isis fighters are using civilians as their own shields, as hostages. they are using snipers to kill civilians trying to escape. they are trying to put suicide bombers in columns of displaced people as they try to go out. similar tactics we have seen from this barbaric terrorist organization in other cities. the campaign to seize raqqa was a knebel -- enabled by an operation that came a few months ago in the city of tapka. , right there, near the dam, where the euphrates curves. city, to highlight the because it was critical to
setting up the conditions for the success that we are now , and basically tightening the noose around isis. i do not think it could've happened absent of the delegation of authority that talked about. i happened to see this up close, because i was in syria in march in the town of ineisa. there on the map, just north of with locale we met commanders who were sensing what was happening with isis, and they told our military commander, general townsend, who has done a next -- an extremely great job, that they sensed an opportunity to catch isis by surprise in the city of raqqa. said, all that we need, is for you to help us get across this body of water, about eight kilometers wide at night, job is lines,op us behind isis and we can take it from there, catching them by surprise.
this is very important, to close the noose on isis, because isis was using the area to get personnel and equipment in and out of rock up. it was pretty audacious, requiring us to put these fighters on helicopters, crossing eight kilometers of water at night. incrediblys were brave, most of them had never been inside a helicopter. it was also complicated, because was hard to tell exactly what was on the other side of the water, we had never really been that far south. general townsend and our commanders approved the operation within days and it launched, took about six weeks to finish, but the forces were right. they actually know the local area, and they caught isis by surprise, and were able to seize ka dam and the airport we really saw isis go into a , reeling effect after that, fighters trying to flee and defenses began to degrade. it was a critical corporation, done because authorities had
been delegated down to seize opportunities like that. a really important moment in this overall campaign. we also, had to work very closely, as forces converged in this area, as the secretary mentioned, despite all of our tensions with russia, we also look for areas where we had to find a way to work together. i think syria exemplifies that. this is particularly true in forces arese regime very close to the areas that we are operating in, and we actually had an incident on june 19 in which our forces shot down a syrian jet, violating an agreement we have on the ground where they could go and not go. since then, we have drawn what we call a deconstruction -- deconfliction line with the russians help accelerate the , to campaign in raqqa and make clear where there forces will be and where our forces will be.
it is holding well. whenever we need to, we speak with lazrov from time to time and we will see him soon, later this weekend. it is an important line and it has helped us accelerate the pressure on isis. now, what gets less attention, this is very non-glamorous work, thevery critical work, secretary specifically mentioned some of what our diplomats are doing on the ground, to make sure that in the wake of the military campaign, we are doing all we can on the humanitarian and stabilization side. as our forces move into raqqa. let me describe that a little bit and give you some facts, i do not want to get too much into the facts but it is important to get a sense of what is going on and i have seen it with my own eyes. so, as idp's come out of areas that have been controlled by isis, these are people who have
been living under isis for the last three years, we have seen almost all of the idp's flow north into the lines of the force we are working with. they are not going west into regime areas, they are not leaving to stay with isis in the east, they are not going south into the desert, they are coming into the areas of the syrian democratic forces. total now idp's from the environment, not just raqqa, but surrounding areas, about 24,000. -- about 324,000 of them. we track this every single day. as of this morning, about camps and in sites, communities. and what we are seeing in syria is that the population comes out from areas where fighting is ongoing, they go to camps, as areas are cleared, the and they are demined, the population's return. we have seen it repeatedly mow it is a good pattern. the syrian march, near the town of ineisa, we saw thousands of idp's sleeping on the side of
the road living in situations that were totally an acceptable. this area, at the time was almost inaccessible to the u.n. ka operation wash finished, so they had no way to get in there. it was an unacceptable situation, so we accelerated the deployment of some of our experts and diplomats from the state department and usaid, and we wanted to get key people on the ground to help enable the ngo's to address the situation. and when i returned in may, it was a fundamentally different picture on the exact same road. before and after pictures, i think i even put a tweet out with some of the pictures. two months earlier, thousands of people sleeping in dirt on the side of the road, and two months later it was a well maintained , camp and people taken care of. that is due to the work of our diplomats and military civil affairs people on the ground
every day, and they are doing an extraordinary job. so where are we today? our experts are working on the ground, and we have finalized a day-after liberation plan for raqqa. it will be plenty for up to 50,000 people in the city, and based on the u.n. estimates, we think that that figure is lower but we will plan for the very , worst case. as i mentioned, the u.n. has gained road access, so they are delivering a fairly large number of supplies the world food , program, icrc, and a number of other ngos operating in the these areas. so, as the secretary mentioned we have pre-positioned supplies , so we are ready for the day after isis in raqqa. to tell you what that means, we have food ready for 447,000 people. we have tents and shelters for an additional 50,000 people, medical treatment facilities for over 200,000 people water , sanitation, hygiene, all these
things are getting pre-positioned to be ready for the day after isis. how are we doing this with so few people on the ground? we have the right people on the ground. our humanitarian expert who is in syria, was just back here in washington for a consultation, usaid, he isr from doing a great job and he has connections with all the ngo's on the ground. we are also working with the civilian counsel, a group of civilians from the area, they are based in iniesta. it is a temporary structure. they are committed in having an election by the end of the main -- by may of next year. we need local people on the ground to help us deliver and the iccte aid, and alone, has coordinated delivery of133 metric tons humanitarian aid to areas around raqqa and their instrumental in -- they are instrumental in
planning the day after activities. and in terms of stabilization, i want to really emphasize what the secretary said from the podium earlier this week. we are committed to stabilization, that word is important. this is not reconstruction or nationbuilding, stabilization is de-mining, that means, setting conditions for people to return to their homes. isis leaves landmines everywhere so people cannot return and we are committed to help to do all we can by training locals to --p de-mine critical's critical structures and sites to allow people to come home. it also means rubble removal, so trucks and equipment can get into areas of need. basic electricity, sewage, water, the basic essentials to allow the populations to come back to their home. and we have found learning , lessons from iraq, which i to, that this focus on the basic elements of stabilization is a critical , enabler for allowing people to come back to their homes. now, sometimes we meet local councils and they say, we want you to help us with the
hospitals, the school systems, you're going to run the hospitals aren't you, aren't you're going to run the school systems? and we say no, we're not doing that. we have learned lessons of that we are not good at that. also, it is not our responsibility. we will do basic stabilization. when it comes to schools, if the if the local counsel -- counsel says to us,cil there are five schools in the area and they have been word with explosive devices, will you please help us with that, yes, that is something we can do. if they need desks, chairs, chalkboards, we can find contractors from the local area to do that. i will give you an example. we are working with local people met a whilewho i ago when they were living under isis and now they are working hard to try to restore life to their community. they have told us about a number of schools that actually are wired to explode, so we are now rs into to get de-mine
the area, to clear the schools. about five have already been finished. we will do all we can to have as many schools ready for the opening of the school year on september 15. but again, in terms of school curriculums teachers, , this is the responsibility of the syrian on the ground and iraqis on the ground. not us. in raqqa we have 400 google -- critical infrastructure sites that we have identified, 100 of them are really priority. we are also getting contributions from our coalition, we announced we have the conference two weeks ago and , we had funding mechanisms focused on syria. we have the syria recovery trust fund mow which is now able to operate in the area. second, the donor consortium, which is very project-specific as we identify those projects we can matchzation them with co-contributors. it is ongoing but it will take time. it will be a difficult battle.
just because 45% of the city is cleared in two months, it does not mean it will be finished in another two months. sometimes they go faster, sometimes slower than anticipated. i anticipate in the center of the city, isis will put up a very difficult fight, with suicide vest and everything that we have seen them do in other places. let me jump quickly to number two, the other gumball. i will go a little faster with some of these. this is the area known as the and aseuphrates valley, leaders saw the writing on the wall in raqqa, they tried to flee before the news was tightened. they fled to these small dusty towns in the area of the euphrates river. very small areas in this, what we call, the middle euphrates valley. and i would say any isis leaders in the small town have a good life insurance policy because unlike when they are living in what these guys used to do, they lived in apartment buildings
with hundreds of people in the structure, which obviously makes it impossible for us to target them, because we are not going to target a civilian structure. when they live in small towns and villages, not only is it different for them, this is not the glamorous so-called caliphate they expected to find. it is also easier for us to find them. in the last few weeks alone, i think the dod and us this yesterday about 13 key leaders , and associates have been targeted and eliminated in the area and it will continue. this area of the country also cannot emphasize enough, extremely complex. confliction a de- arrangement with the russians, will be increasingly important as we operate in the area. it is a complex battle space, the arrangements are important and that is why we are so focused on that. number three, the yellow gumball, this is a garrison. we are training a force there to fight isis in the middle valley,
because the force we are training there is from the euphrates valley. that training continues and it is a very important mission in terms of our overall counter -isis campaign. this area also became fairly tense in the end of june, with some, i do not know if i would call it misunderstandings, some perhaps misunderstandings from forces operating in the area, which led to airstrikes against some of our military forces. since then, the situation has calmed down considerably, we and we have worked on an arrangement that has been working well and we will make sure those stay in place. it is an important piece of syria, connected with our critical ally, jordan, and also our critical ally, iraq. we want to make sure that isis cannot fill up space in this area, because it incorporates critical road networks which i will talk about briefly when i discuss iraq. the fourth yellow gumball, that is the southwest.
this is very important because it is a little separate from the counter-isis campaign, but it is a key enabler, for trying to remove the red block, which is isis. this is a cell for isis near the number four. they are and isis cell known as bin-walid, when they come in and capture a village like they did there they capture , locals, they do beheadings, and they terrorize the local population. we are determined to remove that cell from the southwest. we worked with the jordanians, who are a critical ally in the process, and there was a cease-fire in the southwest with jordan and russia. the cease-fire was concluded on hamburgfinalized in treat president trump and president clinton, going into effect on july 11, so we are in
the third week of it now. the results have been quite promising thus far. the fighting has largely stopped. there are a couple of reasons for this, unlike other cease-fires that have been tried in's area this cease-fire was , the result of months of negotiation with the jordanians who really know the terrain, and the russians that were representing effectively the syrian regime. painstaking negotiations, meter by meter, throughout the southwest and throughout the city, so that everybody understood where they could go and where they could not go. the map was initialed by all three parties and the cease-fire went into effect on july 11. we are now seeing civilians beginning to return to this area, which is very promising. we are also beginning to see land mines being removed as the fighting has topped. we are working hard to make sure that cease-fire remains in effect, and so far it is looking promising. if you look at the last six months in syria and you look at the data that is put out by the
u.n., it is interesting to look at the trend data, in terms of idp's and refugee flows. um, this is from unhcr, in the last six months of the calendar year, about idp's have returned 440,000 to their homes. that is a sister stick you normally do not see -- a statistic that you normally do not see and six months. 31,000 syrian refugees, those that fled outside of syria, have also returned to their homes in the first six month of this year. so reverse of the migrant , refugee outflow, it is an important indicator and is obviously something we want to continue because it is in our interest, and the interest of our critical partners and in our lebanon, turkey and of course our partners in europe. backup on syria writ large, the secretary spoke about this. if you think about the two phases in syria, right now this is phase one. we want to defeat isis. we have to defeat isis, because
isis is trying to plan major attacks against us and our partners as i mentioned. and they are still trying to do that. so long as they are still holding territory pretending to , hold this caliphate with people under its domain the , long-term political settlement in syria will be out of reach. our first priority is to protect our homeland. number one, defeat isis. in parallel with phase one, we want to de-escalate violence in syria through a combination of de-escalation, deconfliction arrangements, and de-escalation such as the cease-fire we have reached in the west. we are in the phase one, where we are in the escalating the situation. and we have imported talks about a constitutional process in the future, internationally monitored elections in which the syrians can vote. that is a condition enshrined in 2254, and welution
are determined to get to that point. the secretary discussed defeating isis, get arrangements in place, quiet down the overall situation, which sets the conditions for political settlement of the civil war. at the end of the process, we cannot put a timeline on it, but at the end of the process we do not envision assad being in control of syria from damascus. whether that is through a constitutional process or election or some combination, that is very important. some people ask, why do you say that? look, it is just reality. syria by world bank estimates , about more than $200 billion to reconstruct, it is probably many multiples of that, and to -- and the international community will not come to the aid of syria until there is a credible political horizon that can lead to a credible transition in damascus. that is the reality. so we are working through the two-phase structure and we are committed to the roadmap
outline in the un security council resolution let me jump 2254. over to iraq. i will start with the yellow gumball number five. number five is to the west of as you know, the battle of mosul has now completed. since the battle completed, there is a glamorous face of stabilization and support is underway. it is important, because the reason we brought those 70 countries here in march was to make sure we have the resources necessary for the post isis phase in mosul. in total, we saw 940,000. scale of mosul, compared to raqqa, it is not even comparable. mosul is a city of about 1.5 million people.
so, displaced from mosul, total, about 940,000 word of -- were displaced. most important, all of them received aid. this is almost unprecedented in terms of humanitarian response. you did not see thousands of people stranded all of them , received aid and assistance and it is because of the planning that went into the humanitarian response plan together with the military plan. of the $2 billion raised in march, about $500 million from the u.s., and again, the ratio that we mentioned before, we try to make sure that it is about 4-1, when it comes to the stabilization and humanitarian response, it is a ratio we are looking to grow over the coming weeks. currently in mosul, about 830 8000 people remain displaced. about 240,000 people who have returned. we are working very hard right now and west mosul, and when i say we i mean the government of , iraq, our coalition, the united nations and the people of
the province, on stabilization projects. so, in west mosul, where the damage is far more extensive than east mosul, engineers, part of our stabilization program funded in part by our coalition, have assessed about 200 schools, political substations, sewage treatment plans, hospitals, police stations, demining, setting of the conditions for people to return. the model is east mosul where the battle ended six months ago. we already have 350,000 children back in school. the population has really returned. if you talk to people who've walked the streets of east mosul, they come back with that story after seeing it with their own eyes. a lot of problems to see the least, but -- say the least, but people are returning. long-term reconstruction, we are as the secretary mentioned, focused on the immediate stabilization, and long-term
reconstruction -- again do not , look to the u.s. to fit the bill for long-term reconstruction. it is an international problem, isis is a challenge for the entire world. that is why we built a coalition of 74 partners, one of the largest in history. and i also give great credit to the iraqi government because they are looking to fund, how to fund long-term reconstruction needs. they have a standby arrangement with the imf and they passed a very difficult budget amendment through their parliament. this is the kind of difficult stuff that does not get much attention but it pays dividends , down the road. it will release another $1 billion dollars from the imf. sent theirovernment world vision to the imf about reforms that they are committed to, to help fuel the are international financing of the reconstruction. kuwait, his highness there has announced that they will hold a conference for iraq in the early part of next year. so those are obviously efforts that we will support.
when it comes to the next phase of the isis campaign, in telaf ar, it will probably be the next battle, around the choosing of the government in iraq. we estimate that there are about 30,000 fighters in there, and about 40,000 civilians. it is very difficult, this has been a hub for isis for many years, a place were terrible us -- terrible atrocities were committed, not against just is, themuslims, yazid terrible fulcrum of isis atrocities, many of them happened there. it will be a complex operation, similar to mosul it will involve cooperation between the kurds, iraqi secured forces, and forces local to the area.
the numbers are sometimes hard to go by. about 50,000 civilians in the pocket of territory, about 50,000-80,000 if you look at the environment. it will be a complex operation, similar to mosul it will involve cooperation between the kurdish iraqi security forces, and forces local to the area. secretary tillerson spoke over the last few days with the prime minister and the president of the kurdistan region, about the next steps and important issues that iraq is confronting. quickly, number seven, that is al-qayem, which has also been a heartland of isis forces. we will support forces as they clear that and restore sovereignty to their border with security forces. we are preparing for that. and number eight, 8 and 9 are important because this is the phase after isis. we are asked a lot about what
comes after isis. number eight, this is the main border crossing between iraq and jordan. it is a very important commerce route, very important for iraq, and jordan, and the government of iraq as well as anbar province. the iraqis have been working to set conditions to open the highway and we hope it can happen fairly soon. i give them great credit for what they are putting in place to get that open. the billion dollar a month commerce route, it is important for the future of the region and obviously something we are supporting both governments, encouraging them to move forward on that. number nine, the border crossing with saudi arabia is a border crossing that has been closed since multiple u.s. 1990. administrations have encouraged an opening between iraqi and saudi arabia that the doors have remained closed for decades. we achieved a breakthrough, the iraqis and saudis, a
breakthrough that they really reached on their own, that has led to exchanges of key ministers and talking about opening the border crossing for the first time since 1990. again, a critical commerce route, and e can kind of see the post-isis situation come into shape there. it is very important, which is why wanted to include the nine on the map. so beyond iraq and syria, why is , it important? this is the caliphate, been firesis what drew so many -- fighters to join isis and it is what makes him a global network. they try to fund isis from the resources they get around iraq and syria. we have genetically targeted and have dramatically targeted and degraded their ability to resource themselves and their ability to get foreign fighters into syria, almost impossible for them to do that now. we are working to sever all their financial connections. i thought it would highlight, finally, a way that we work throughout the inter-agency,
which again, sometimes does not get much attention. the state department has a very robust program for finding true in the organization of ice this is the leader who is handling , money, and making sure we designate those people so they can never have any access to the financial system internationally, and some of her -- some of our colleagues now, recently confirmed to officials at the treasury department that they have done a great job at this. it is important, because when you see a list of designees from isis, that means they will never have access to the financial system. whatever we know of their finances are frozen, and a lot of these guys living in the euphrates valley probably never , expect to have access to the international financial system; but if you are in isis and your name shows up on a treasury designation list, you are not just being targeted by the treasury department. that is why it is a close correlation between announcing a designee and eliminating these people from the battlefield. since june of this year, three
critical financial facilitators from isis have been killed in coalition air strikes in the euphrates valley area. i think you are all fairly familiar with what we are doing, counter messaging and working with our partners in the region. we talked about that before when i was here a couple of weeks ago, so i will not go to bang deeply into that. -- i will not go to deeply into that. i will conclude with the map of the caliphate which is rapidly shrinking. 30% of their territorial losses in the last few months alone. that is due to changes we have made in the campaign and we will continue to accelerate the pressure on isis until the entire organization collapses and they cannot hold any physical territories from which they can threaten us. so in fact, i think i have time for a few questions. >> thank you. just one question, you said that the u.s. will not participate in reconstruction, you will be
engaged in just stabilizing the area, so what does that mean for your partnership with the kurds? does that mean your partnership is about to come to an end, because it seems to me that most of the areas that are predominantly kurdish, have been retaken and stabilized? >> let me be very clear about what i mean. in terms of our military partnerships, our training, our relationships, they iraqi government has a budget and a military force of about 10 billion dollars, and they look to the united states to be a primary supplier, they are buying our equipment. that is something that we very much intend to continue. our training relationship with and themerga, government of iraq, is also something that we intend to continue. when it comes to long-term reconstruction of the areas, that is not something that the u.s. can do on its own. that is why we have built an international coalition of 74
members to help. that is why the world bank, international monetary fund and other international financial institutions, it is important for them to be engaged. critically important for the future of iraq for the gcc to be engaged. that is why we are very encouraged by the reconstruction conference at our card. so, we have an important role. we recognize the role of the united states of america. isis is a threat to the whole world. just a few questions, first of all, can you tell us whether the overall deterioration with russian relations in america -- in america has had any impact. and, you said that you got this liction, or cease-fire line in the south, are there other areas where that might shift to more of an agreement,
or is that something that you see and eight after raqqa is finished #>> that is a great question. so far, we are not the and witht on our engagement the russians, when it comes to syria. most of those engagements, as i mentioned, our professional military to military engagements. the early airmen talking with , airmen to avoid accidents. the second part of your question is important, the southwest, that is one area where we have reached a kind of political agreement about a cease-fire. with that agreement, it is not de-confliction line with as cease-fire on both sides, it is also talking about political arrangements in the area, making sure opposition arrangements can remain intact, re-freezing everything in place. it is a detailed arrangement. it is an actual cease-fire with the russians, that is the only part of the country we have reached an arrangement.
if there are other opportunities to build on the military to military talks, which have gone very well, if we are able to help syria in an interim phase, we are very much open to that. so obviously that is something we will speak with the russians about, but so far the southwest is really the only place we have locked in place the cease-fire. >> to follow up on that, there have been were ports that the cia stopped funding for the program to fund the syrian opposition that is fighting assad. you said that it was frozen in place, does that mean, i am wondering what is happening to the people are they protected and the arrangement, if you are no longer supporting them? much about talk that. i can say that the agreement we reached with russia has a very detailed cease-fire line. the russians have put their monitors on the northern side, in syrian regime territory to , help monitor regime violations. so far the fighting has stopped.
as we begin to see people return to their homes, we see the increase of humanitarian aid and that is when you can become a self-sustaining cycle. which is what we are working towards. >> as part of the post isis political system, all of this fighting, for the kurds the key issue is the independence referendum. what is your position on the? -- on that? are the iraqi elections a factor in your consideration? brett: i think we have spoken to this, we do not believe the referendum is a good idea. it is ill-timed, not well prepared. i mentioned, there are critical engagements in some areas that are taking place, with the full cooperation of the peshmerga and iraqi security forces and it could have catastrophic consequences, so obviously we are in detailed discussions with iraqi leaders over this and that is one reason why secretary tillerson made important calls over the last few days.
>> it is it a question of timing or the referendum itself? >> brett: the kurdish authorities say they want to hold it on september 25, it is something the u.s. government is firmly opposed to. >> when you talk about the numbers left in iraq and syria, how many of the ones that have left the area do you think are dead, versus who fled the region? were these see the bulk of them going, are they going more to libya or to europe? and how do you think one to -- with isis kind of defeated in raqqa and iraq, what is the benchmark for that and how do you see the next kind of iteration of the coalition in in terms of once you consider isis defeated? brett: great question.
look, we work very closely with turkey to help seal the entire border, whether it is east of the euphrates river, or on the westside where they have and girabulus, crossings,wo border and also a spiritual town, where isis will leave to that a spiritual battle would happen -- they were actually calling people there from all around the world. that is an important operation, and since the border has been sealed, isis fighters are not getting in and also they are not getting out. i cannot guarantee that they cannot find a smuggling route, but they are coming by the thousands, at least 90%. and we are not fighting isis fighters able to leave syria. not long ago, they would plan a terrorist attack in raqqa, they
would train a terrorist combat and, infiltrate, hang out then go and conduct an attack such as in paris or in brussels. do, is what they used to and they were developing and that capacity. they cannot do that anymore. what are we doing? we're building a database of who these people are. as we find names on the battlefield and we have a very robust, through our coalition, intelligence gathering. we call it sensitive site exploitation, if we find a cell phone address book, we share , names with host nations. if it is a french name we share it with french authorities. we have built a database now of almost 19,000 names, drawn out on interpol databases, so that any member of our quality shouldn't and any member of interpol has access to it so that if there were somebody that fought in syria, and happen to have gotten out, and a routine
border stop or routine traffic stop they can actually be , identified. so, the next phase of the coalition is obviously a little bit less as the is on the ground operations in iraq and syria, because those alternately conclude, and it is information sharing. that is the critical enabler to protect our homeland. that is one reason that this strong, remains in tact and continues to grow. we just added 4 african countries to the coalition about three weeks ago, because this is a global network, and as we succeed against these networks, more and more countries want to join and be a part of this. yes sir? >> i have a few questions. first of all, as you know, u.s. special forces commander general thomas aspen, said that it will rebrand itself to avoid turkish
concerns, and have a voice in syria's future. -- they ared that rebranding themselves. secondly, do you plan on going -- once raqqa is cleared? [indiscernible] >> so, general thomas has been an incredible job in the campaign, going all the way back abani. battle of q had gabbani fallen, the whole battle would have gone to isis. our kurdish friends in iraq, put us in ties with the turkish the city at the
and we were able to get fighters to come to kobani and help top -- turn the tide of the battle. we killed -- over the course of the battle, we killed 6000 isis fighters, the first time they lost a battle and it was really a turning point. after that, when we met fighters from kobani, and we said, how we going to really take the fight to isis in the other areas. we have to recruit arabs into the force. you have to have an umbrella that embraces the arab component of the force with the key principles in syria, as areas are liberated from isis, they should return to the local people from those areas. that is our perm -- priority first and foremost. we had to have in him will that bring in as many people as possible. all these guys working together as a cohesive force, not working
together as different military units, which is not very effective. so general thomas was a part of that. it has been a very effective. so all returning classes are -- all of our training classes are full, of christians, kurds, people who want to liberate their country. overall i think it has been successful. dezor is on the map, it is to the northwest of the yellow gumball number two. and what makes it complicated is a city with an airfield, which syrian forces have been trying to surround and use for the last two years. they have thousands of their own fighters in there, and some of their best fighters are there surrounded by isis. the syrian army forces are determined to break the seizure -- the siege. there was a russian general give a briefing a couple of weeks ago talking about the operation. they are 140 kilometers away.
they have some ways to go. i think it is a decent assumption that over time they will probably succeed in that mission, but how much further they go from there will remain to be seen, and web will be in fairly detailed discussions with the russians on that. >> thank you. after isis is defeated, do you think that kurdistan will be the u.s. strategic ally? brett: so, our strategic ally, our friends in iraq, we support the government of iraq, we support a unified federal iraq that is strong and prosperous , and is at peace with itself and with its neighbors. so obviously we have the relations's in the car to stand kurdistan in the region. that is something we have had
for decades, and something that we will continue. we will also continue working through the government of iraq within the iraqi constitutional system to support a unified in -- and federal iraq. >> couple of questions. first, have you sorted out differences with turkey regarded -- there was a statement from the state department and in the panel you kept mentioning idlib as a safe haven for al qaeda. in syria. it is not on this map, obviously, bowing your dan -- when you are done with the points on the map, do you have plans for idlib in the future? and another question, regarding iraq. as far as i know, when there was a problem about the turkish president, and you brokered a them in baghdad, the deal was that mosul would be liberated. can you confirm that the turkish
president is coming to an -- the turkish presence is coming to an end especially with the turkish troops in the region? brett: a lot of complex questions there. [laughter] so i did a 90 minute panel and about 30 seconds of the panel got some attention, i think was very badly mischaracterized and i think we have spoken to this. and i mentioned, we have worked closely with turkey to seal the border. i mentioned in the battle of , working with the turks to open up the corridor. this promo time, foreign fighters is a problem for all of us. 40,000 foreign fighters that came to join isis came from 110 countries all around the world. they came in through turkey, and that is the problem not only for turkey, but a problem for the source countries too. we had fighters coming from
tunisia, the saudi arabia, and they all have to do what they can to stop all of these people from traveling. through our coalition, we have done an awful lot to try and close down those routes. i give the saudis and turks tremendous credit working on this problem. idlib province is a serious problem, i haven for al qaeda. and i think that what my remarks reflected is that we have to work together with turkey and with our other partners, to deal with this problem. so, i think over the coming weeks will be having this conversation. on the question of, he asked about your -- about bashiqa is , it is an issue between the government of iraq and the government of turkey. it is our position we want the government of iraq and turkey to have very strong ties. i think prime minister abadi has
had a number of phone calls with president erdogan, with improved stability in this part of the world. i am confident that we can get things worked out in a way that improves the relations between these particular leaders. thank you. >> today, there were negotiations taking place reportedly between coalition , forces and syrian opposition forces to create a national army in the southern side of he zakah city. can you comment on this, and if this is the case why did they withdraw arms from the syrian army? also, do you know that the lebanese army is about to launch an operation against isis? you tend to land air support
against isis? mr. mcgurk: many things there i am not going to comment on, including the reports from the syrian observatory, which i have not seen. when it comes to lebanon we had , a successful visit with the prime minister. i would let the president's remarks stand on that. lebanon is a critical ally we would like to see succeed. you might already have answered this but if you have, do not bother. someone was asking about what the secretary said about the stabilization, rebuilding or restoring basic utilities. if that is what you're going to do, why are you confident that you are not leaving a vacuum that the are ready as will exploit? if you have answered it -- mr. mcgurk: i did not get into the iranian element, but our focus is do not dismiss the importance of stabilization.
what stabilization means, is studying the conditions for people to return to their homes. it means water, electricity. de-mining. what we find is as people return to their homes, and in anbar province, we have one million people that are back in areas that you speak under control devices. these are fairly sophisticated people, and you see life returned to the streets. you see the schools open. as you help with stabilization, see the elements that are set in place for people to return and i can tell you that the numbers become cells. 2 million iraqis are back in areas that used be controlled by isis. >> i get that, but you are seeing the iranian influence vastly greater now, are you not? mr. mcgurk: you are seeing the iranians flood the market with some of their products and things, and i think the long-term that, something that
we are talking about the iraqis about, we have g.e. doing multibillion-dollar private deals, about long-term electricity generation, ian done by general electric. we have some of the best american oil firms helping to regenerate some of the oil fields in the south, capture gas and exploited to kuwait. these are the kinds of things that make a tremendous difference. >> what about in syria? >> in syria, long-term reconstruction is dependent upon getting a credible political horizon on the table. until we have that credible medical horizon, the international community will not become it to the aid to reconstruct syria. that is just a reality. thank you. neal,s weekend, richard
the top democrat on the house ways and means committee. he docs about the dental tax reform in congress whenever his return from their august recess. watch the interview sunday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. eastern on c-span. >> sunday night. >> i have never heard of him. i wanted to know how this man who had been told from the time he was young child that he was not worth anything have the courage and determination to find a way out of slavery. i was intrigued and cannot stop reading. ry looks at the life of robert smalls, the slave who escape bondage during the civil war and became a member of the u.s. congress in her book. >> he served five terms in the house of representatives. there was a bribery charge against him at one point in his career and he never recovered from that. that is one of the reasons he is not better known today. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern
on q&a. >> president trump was at the fema headquarters where he was briefed on hurricane preparation efforts. along with members of his cabinet and a number of governors. here is a brief portion of the president's visit. president trump: thank you very much. i just want to congratulate the acting secretary. he is a terrific person. he has done an amazing job. congratulations. on the work you continue doing. we are very strong on homeland security and with respect to fema. fema is something i have been involved in already. we have had some things where i