Background Briefing on Humanitarian Response and Preparation for Post-Operational Mosul

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Special Briefing

Senior Administration Officials
Via Teleconference
November 7, 2016

 


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining today’s call on preparation for managing the humanitarian aspects of post-operation Mosul. As a reminder, today’s briefing and discussion is on background, and it will be attributable to senior Administration officials.

Today we have joining us [Senior Administration Official One]. From here forward, [Senior Administration Official One] will be known as Senior Administration Official One. We also have [Senior Administration Official Two]. From here forward, [Senior Administration Official Two] will be known as Senior Administration Official Two. Also joining us is [Senior Administration Official Three]. From here forward, [Senior Administration Official Three] will be known as Senior Administration Official Three.

I will go ahead and open up our call with brief remarks from Senior Officials One and Two, and then turn it over to answer a few questions from you all. With that, please do go ahead, Senior Administration Official One.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. Thank you all for joining. The Mosul post-liberation operation is prepared and well-coordinated, but it is war, and so it’s unpredictable and uncertain. Let me give you a snapshot of where we are right now. So far we have just over 33,000 people that have been displaced by the Mosul operation. That is lower than initially expected, so we’re happy about that. But it’s important to keep in mind that the Iraqi and Kurdish forces have not yet reached the most populous areas of Mosul city. And with all these variables in play, we’re still planning for a worst-case scenario of up to 700,000 people displaced, which accords with the UN’s plan. And it’s also important to know that displacement alone does not equal need, because there’s been a lot of messaging that people should shelter in place for as long as they feel safe, particularly during the military operation. And so these variables toggle back and forth as we’re trying to minimize the risk, the humanitarian risk that the most vulnerable will face.

Let me put this in some broader context for just a second. So ISIL, as you all know, has been absolutely murderous and horrific. And there’s been about 3.2 million people displaced from their homes since 2014, and 10 million people in need of assistance. That equates to somewhere around one-third of the Iraqi total population. And the United States has been there supporting the Iraqi people with more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid since 2014. Over the summer, we helped the international community secure pledges for $2 billion as it relates to the Mosul operation.

So what have we been doing? We’ve been actively working with our partners on the ground – that’s the UN and the international NGOs – to stand ready to provide emergency shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene services as well as health support. We’re trying to stay ahead of the crisis, which we’ve been able to do. This is unique in the sense that a lot of times our bureau faces crises that are unpredicted and unprepared, and so those are fast onset crises. But in this instance, we’ve known for weeks and months that this is coming, and so we’ve been able to pre-position stocks and supplies and food in advance.

Right now we have food relief for about 1.25 million people – so one and a quarter million people – that’s been pre-positioned. And that’s – those are MREs – and then kind of broader – ready-to-eat meals, meals ready to eat, MREs. And then more broadly, we have food for 2.3 million people ready.

So lots of issues still – shelter, water sanitation, health, protection – but we’ve been positioning in advance of this.

So I think with that, I’ll just turn it over to my colleagues.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Okay, thanks very much. This is Senior Official Two. I’d like to follow on to what my colleague just said, by underlining that because we had the advantage of forewarning in this case, this situation may be one of the best prepared responses to a humanitarian emergency that is expected that we have seen, certainly in a long time. The elements of the preparation, which my colleague has already gone through, I think, very importantly, include very significant mobilization of resources in advance, both financial and material, to be pre-positioned in place, as [Senior Administration Official One] has already laid out.

One of the most important elements of the story, I think, is the fact that there has been coordination in the humanitarian response, led by Iraqis, coordinated by the United Nations, and supported by the United States and other international actors. Also I think in a fairly unprecedented step, we’ve seen levels of coordination between the government of our – of Iraq, and the Kurdish Regional Government, which have been very impressive and extremely helpful in all of our preparations.

So I will stop there but be prepared to answer questions on any of the specifics you folks are interested in.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll go ahead and turn it over and take questions now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. If you would like to ask a question today, you may press * then 1 on your telephone keypad. You will hear a tone indicating that you have been placed in the question queue. If you are using a speakerphone, we do suggest picking up your handset before pressing the numbers. And once again, you may press * and then 1 at this time. Give me one moment, please, for our first question.

Our first question today comes from the line of Lesley Wroughton with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, good afternoon, could – or good morning. Could you please give us a rundown on the financial commitment – what has been committed, what you’ve received? Because you were talking about moving these financial commitments quite early. And then where do you see the most immediate impact – well, let’s put it this way: Have you already started putting – deploying some of that humanitarian response as areas have been freed up? And then what do you see as the most immediate area where you’d pump that money into?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Let me just walk through these. So we’ve put in $1.1 billion since 2014. That included commitments this summer. We’ve been prepositioning food, shelter, and relief supplies. Right now, even – and for weeks before this, we’ve been running 50 trucks a day in to get those food and other supplies positioned.

So I think as my colleague Number Two stated, we are prepared and we are in advance and we’re positioned to respond and we’re prepared for the worst-case scenario. I will only just caution that we are in the early days of this operation, though.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: This is Number Two speaking. I’d just like to add to – add a little further clarification. We had the unusual situation of having a flash appeal issued by the United Nations in preparation for Mosul. That was a request for $284 million in funding. Now things don’t match up one for one as we look at funding appeals and what funding has actually been mobilized, but I would say that in addition to the overall number of $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance pledged and offered by the United States since 2014, this year alone, in Fiscal Year ’16, the United States pledged 513 million – contributed $513 million to this effort.

Your question asked about what needs to be prioritized in the mobilization of this assistance and what else has already come through. One of the things I would say is that actually, in terms of resources, we’re not in a bad position right now in terms of getting resources that permitted us to pre-position the materials that are actually needed. But undoubtedly, while all of this coordination goes on and the unexpected evolution of this situation develops, we’re going to be reassessing the needs and probably determining what other kinds of resources we have to mobilize.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from the line of Karen DeYoung with The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Hello, thank you. Can you hear me? Hello?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes, we can hear you.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. I had two questions. One is: There have been some reports that while food and medical supplies are pre-positioned, that the number of housing units, however they’re configured, is far less than 100,000 at this point. And I wondered if you feel like you have enough places for people to be in addition to feeding them.

And secondly, I wanted to ask about vetting. Who is doing the vetting? How quickly is it being done? We’ve already had stories again about families kept out of facilities by Kurdish forces who are insisting on doing vetting. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. So let’s see, the first question was on shelter. So in these kind of emergency complex situations, many people don’t go to camps. Many people go to friends or families or they’re able to get shelter independently and on their own. What we’re seeing right now is about 50 percent of the people are able to get their own shelter and 50 percent need to be provided shelter. So we are – we understand that this is a dilemma. We’re working with our humanitarian partners to get these shelters in place.

This emergency shelter also includes additional spaces or kind of expanding and existing camps or existing kind of communities. We also are looking at and working with our partners to support the construction and management of new existing camps. So we think – and again, early days – we think that there will be more than enough shelter in place to meet the needs for a million people by mid-November, but that includes those that won’t require actual tents, so to speak.

Your second question was about vetting. We – and I actually was recently in Erbil and I went through a lot of these issues – not only with the UN and the NGOs, but with the government officials as well. So the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government are – we understand that vetting is a big deal and that if we don’t get it right, if they don’t get it right, it actually could exacerbate the problem. So we are working closely with them to make sure that their screening is appropriate, that it’s done by government officials, that it’s at planned sites, that it’s standardized, that it’s opening – it’s open to international monitoring, that it’s transparent and humane.

We’ve also deployed mobile protection and legal aid teams and are establishing protection service centers, so – particularly in those areas where we know families are most likely to flee. And then we have another array of support for families and vulnerable people that would kind of relate to the screening of people that are fleeing but is – it’s in addition to. So that’s psychosocial support, issues that relate to gender-based violence, et cetera. So the bottom line is we’re trying and we’re working with the Iraqis and the Kurds to make sure that the screening process is appropriate, reasonable, and standardized.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: This is official two. Let me add that we believe that today there are formal camps that can accommodate 80,000 people, and we expect that by mid-December there will certainly be, through UNHCR’s preparations, formal camps for 250,000 people. However, that’s not all, because other partners are continuing to build more facilities, including International Organization for Migration, which is building two camps right now – emergency sites right now – with a view to building a total of six or perhaps ten.

I’d like to add to what my colleague has said that we really need to remember that there will be different levels of facilities for IDPs. There will be formal camps that are well prepared and that meet all of the international humanitarian standards. Also, in a fast-developing situation, there will be emergency sites that will provide shelter but will not meet all of the international standards immediately. And then there also will be out-of-camp situations where shelter materials are provided to people under different sets of circumstances, perhaps in areas where there are buildings that need to be sealed off or areas where some shelter can be provided on a temporary basis. Thanks.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go now to the line of Elise Labott with CNN.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking the call. We’ve talked a lot about the humanitarian situation. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about the kind of initial plans for post-governance and stabilization. Particularly, what are you doing – what are your discussions with Iraqi Government in terms of setting up a kind of interim administration that could then move towards a more longer-term elections and such?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think experience has taught us that getting the governance structure right is paramount. And generally, this is, if I may, the software of how local governments interact and connect with their people. So we are – and again, this will be led by the Iraqi Government, but we are prepared to assist in helping to stand up some basic services, to create livelihood operations or opportunities, and to —

QUESTION: Do you mean jobs?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean – jobs in a nutshell, yes, okay. But, I mean, it’s a little bit more than jobs, because these are not simply like private sector jobs that you envision. But these are programs that are designed to displace – designed to support displaced people as they are kind of working through the crisis in their community. And so the immediate kind of post-liberation challenge is one of governance, and we’re going to continue to help with them, but the bottom line is we’ve got to restore basic services, get the trash picked up, get the water turned on, get the schools open, and create some emergency livelihood or jobs opportunities.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Once again, if you would like to ask a question today, you may press * then 1 on your telephone keypad. Next we’ll go to the line of Howard LaFranchi with Christian Science Monitor. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to go back – I think it was official number one who said originally that a displacement does not equate with need, and I wanted to get a better idea of what that means, if that means that, well, people can go to families or something.

And then also you spoke about encouraging people to stay in place if possible. So if that happens, how do you get services – what’s the planning? How do you get services, whether it’s food or whatever – but people who stay in place but may not have everything they need – how’s that going to be carried out?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, so first of all, it’s the government and the Kurds that are describing the stay-in-place option. But just walking through this logically, in a fast-moving environment, if where you are is safe and secure and where you’re going is uncertain and unpredictable, it would be better to stay in place. And obviously, that can change and that can evolve – it can evolve. But the point is that depending on the circumstances, you might – staying in place might be the right thing to do. And this is part of the unpredictability about the nature of the war that we’re engaged in. So if it turns out to be very, very messy, protracted, and complicated, that’s going to be one thing. If it ends earlier or if it – the dynamics change, that’s going to be another.

In terms of getting assistance in, primarily we need security. And so if there are pockets of Mosul that are safe and secure and stable, then we can provide assistance there in concert with our partners and the Iraqi Government. But maintaining and getting that level of stability is going to be the most critical. If people need to leave because it’s not safe, then they – and as they flee, we’ve been kind of charting out different paths in which they may take, and then we’re prepared to accept them in – again, in partnership with the UN and our NGOs.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Could I add – official number two – that right now roughly 50 percent of the internally displaced fleeing from Mosul have made their way to formal shelter arrangements. That’s actually a very unusually high number. Overall, inside Iraq, a very large number of displaced – only about 15 percent are in those kinds of formal shelter circumstances. So as my colleague said, I think that we have to prepared to be very flexible. We have to be prepared to react to circumstances on the ground.

I would also note that, assuming that a lot of people stay put inside Mosul, that indeed there is going to be a need for massive assistance in the city. And I note that my colleague mentioned that there are 50 trucks a day on the move right now delivering food supplies, and so I’m sure we would be ramping up from that. Over.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from the line of Ben Kesling with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I appreciate it. The question I have is: How in – how are you working with the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to ensure that once families and people are displaced from where they’re living, they’ll be able to return to their homes and that there won’t be any kind of a – especially in, like, Arab areas – a de-Arabization of those areas with Kurdish – the Kurdish government possibly pushing people out of those areas and not letting them back in? Is there any conversation taking place on what to do to ensure that certain populations aren’t targeted unnecessarily and unfairly and that there will be no recourse and, for lack of a better word, payback for perceived and real slights that have happened in the past?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So I think [Senior Administration Official Three], number – colleague number three, might be best positioned to answer this.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Gladly. I mean, we’re already engaged with the – both the KRG and the GOI and the various governors as well to ensure that it’s understood at the highest levels that returning home is what this is all about. Prime Minister Abadi has assured us on many occasions about the – he takes seriously the need for future reconciliation, and the first step towards that is being able to get people back into their homes. And so this isn’t something that we’ve waited to talk to him about for the future, this is something that we’ve been talking at all levels right now. They’re going on – these type of conversations.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from the line of Steve Herman with the Voice of America.

QUESTION: Hi. Good morning. This was partly answered in a previous response, but I’m just wondering if you could talk a little bit more specifically about what are the triggers to when you can actually move into the city. You’ve mentioned about security. But specifically what level of security determines that it’s safe for supplies or personnel to be able to go into the city to reach these people?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: This will be decided on the ground by the UN and the Iraqi military. I mean, clearly what we need to do is have enough space and security that we can move in supplies and we can help people and families. But it’s very hard to say from Washington when those conditions will be met. But I will say that we have very impressive teams both at the UN and with their NGOs. Plus, actually we have a disaster assistance response team – a DART team – that’s in Iraq, and they will make those determinations as to how and when and what way people can best get in to help.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go to the line of Rosalind Jordan with Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for holding the call. My first question was partially answered about dealing with booby traps and how quickly relief work can get underway. But my other question is about the role of Turkey. There’s been so much made about Turkish desire to be involved in trying to route ISIL both in Syria and in Iraq. What conversations have other members of the coalition had with Turkey about stabilization once Mosul is retaken? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL NUMBER ONE: I think that’s best for official three.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL NUMBER THREE: Yes. This is official three. I can’t speak to what other members of the coalition have discussed with Turkey. Obviously, we take the Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity seriously. And any member of our coalition is there with the permission of the Iraqi Government, and it’s coordinated – the movements are coordinated through the Iraqi Government, and that’s kind of the ground basis for our relationship there. So – but yeah, as far as other coalition members, how they’ve contacted Turkish or Iraqi Government on this issue, I can’t speak to.

MODERATOR: Okay. I think we have time for maybe one more question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And that comes from the line of Elizabeth Dickinson with Devex. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. Good morning. I had one follow-up question from the previous discussion about the screening process. So you spoke a bit about sort of the planning process and the conversations that have been had with the government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. I’m interested in your assessment so far of sort of how that’s going. I mean, do you see the process so far as it’s happened with these initial thirty-something thousand displaced as going to plan? Are you satisfied with sort of the standardization and the appropriateness of what’s happening?

And secondly, I’m hoping you might be able to speak about whether there are any contingency plans in place or any discussions about sort of possible unknowns from ISIL’s response to the operations (inaudible) discussion about their use of chemical agents or other humanitarian atrocities that certainly they’ve threatened to commit in other situations and (inaudible) what the humanitarian response would look like in that situation.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL NUMBER ONE: Okay, I’ll – let me – I think one and two are going to share these, and I’m number One. So again, just in terms of – on the transparency and the protection issues. I mean, we are working very hard to make sure that the – those who are fleeing are treated with care, with dignity, with standard procedures, that that process is run by state actors, that it’s open to international monitoring. Again, we have a team that has been deployed that will protect – that will look at protection and legal aid issues for these families as they’re deploying. And so there’s a lot of emphasis on getting this right.

In terms of the second question, the unknown unknowns, so to speak, that’s why we’re prepared. And, of course, you can envision this as almost an accordion, from a worst-case to a best-case scenario. But for instance, we have water, sanitation, and hygiene that are on the ground, because one of the first things to go in a very, very chaotic situation or unknowable situation would be water. So we have 900 water tankers in place. We have water systems for 50,000 households. We have portable showers that would be available to help stave off illness, disease. And we have health kits that we are – we have available and are able to give to people. We’ve also stockpiled medicine and medical equipment for 300,000 people, and we have 100 ambulances at the ready. So we have no idea what the unknown unknowns could be, but we have – we think that we’ve prepared and we’ve postured our supplies – positioned our supplies sufficiently so that we’d be able to hand a reasonable scope of worst-case scenarios.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL NUMBER TWO: This is official number two. Let me say about the question of screening: This is an area where I do think we’ve been able to learn from the past and where our preparation, I hope, will pay off in a better outcome for all the folks who are involved in this. Our approach really involves three big elements: One is to develop standard operating procedures for how screening would actually take place and that has been done, and the information on how to do that has been distributed to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Pardon me. Number two has been to promote the highest level of transparency possible in the screening process. And we’ve received commitments from the Government of Iraq and from the Kurdish Regional Government as well to permit that, although the situation is evolving and it’s not necessarily so easy to know exactly where the forward screening points will be at in order to ensure that international observers actually can be on the scene and watch. But that’s something that we have commitments to permit. And the third piece is to try to, as much as possible, conduct the screening in a way that’s respectful of different sectarian issues, which we are also trying to do.

As regards to the question that was raised on chemical weapons, again, I would say that we are taking very prudent, preventive measures. The first is that the U.S. and coalition forces have placed a high priority on targeting ISIL’s chemical weapons and capabilities to produce or use chemical weapons. So we’ve tried to destroy as much as we could in advance. The second is that U.S. and coalition forces and other partners actually maintain capabilities to protect themselves from chemical weapons attacks if such a thing should occur. So force protection measures are already in place.

So I think those are the two elements of the response to the potential threat from chemical weapons. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. I just want to thank our speakers, our senior Administration officials, for taking time out to do this call today, and thank you guys for calling in and joining us. This will conclude today’s call. I just want to add another note: If you do have follow-up questions, you can email them to the State Department Press Office at PAPressDuty@state.gov. Again, that’s PAPressDuty@state.gov.

Thanks, and everyone have a great afternoon.