WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2017 —
Iraqi security forces this week have continued steady progress against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, including the liberation of Mosul University, a sprawling complex on the northeast side of Iraq’s second-largest city where the enemy was deeply entrenched, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian briefed the Pentagon reporters from Baghdad during a live teleconference, noting that the Iraqi forces have taken control of the east bank of the Tigris River in Mosul and of three of the southernmost of five bridges over the river there.
“The liberation of the university denies ISIL a significant base for operations and research, it's culturally significant to the citizens of Mosul, and it's also important as a landmark educational institution,” Dorrian said.
As Iraqi forces search university buildings, the colonel said, they're finding laboratories and workshops that ISIL is thought to have used to manufacture machine-grade weapons and facilities indicating that ISIL used the university as an important command-and-control node.
“The enemy fought hard to retain this key terrain, and they were vulnerable to the [Iraqi forces’] continued use of synchronized advances on several axes,” Dorrian added.
Waning ISIL Resources
ISIL’s waning resources on the east side of Mosul leave the terrorist army vulnerable to such coordinated attacks, he said, adding that Iraqi force are finding the kinds of damage, booby traps and weapon storage the coalition has seen in other places the enemy once controlled.
“There's evidence the enemy also trained their fighters at the university and we've seen reports that [ISIL] has torched several facilities -- a continuation of the despicable tactics we've seen from these terrorists throughout the campaign,” Dorrian said.
In recent days, the pace of ISIL’s use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices has waned, the colonel added, “and we've seen them use VBEIDs with less up-armoring, which makes them a bit more difficult to identify, but a little bit easier to stop.”
Some of these effects, he added, result from coalition airstrikes that have cut supply routes from the west of Mosul.
“We're prepared to continue striking VBEIDs anywhere they can be found,” he said. “To date in the Mosul campaign, the coalition has destroyed 145 of these, which are the enemy's weapon of choice.
“Even as we support the [Iraqi] advance with our artillery strikes, advisers and intelligence, and surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” he continued, “we continue to train Iraqi forces to hold the terrain they're liberating and to sustain a strong force that can maintain security as the enemy resorts to terrorist-style attacks.”
More than 4,400 Iraqi security forces now are in training, including nearly 2,500 police, Dorrian said, adding that the police will be instrumental in holding territory that is won back from ISIL.
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian-Arab Coalition have continued progress in isolating Raqqa, the city that ISIL claims as its capital, Dorrian said. Since the operation began Nov. 5, coalition partner forces have liberated about 1,225 square miles of terrain and moved to within about 3 miles of the Tabqa Dam to Raqqa’s west, where they're facing the stiffest resistance thus far, he added.
Syrian fighters cleared the area east of the Euphrates River northwest of Raqqa, displaying tactical skill by switching back and forth between the northern and western advances, Dorrian explained.
Coordination with Turkey
Elsewhere in Syria, the coalition continues daily coordination and conversations with Turkey, the colonel said. As a result, he told reporters, the coalition has recently flown several ISR missions to support Turkey and partner forces operating around Bab, which is about 25 miles northeast of the beleaguered city of Aleppo.
The coalition also has begun conducting strikes against those targets near Bab, and these strikes eliminated ISIL capabilities around the forward line of enemy troops near the city, Dorrian said.
“The coalition will continue to work with our Turkish partners to maximize these and other counter-ISIL operations on as many fronts as possible,” he said, “to ensure the military defeat of ISIL, and to provide stability to the region and security to our homelands.”
U.S. and Turkish military officers will continue to work in combined headquarters to deconflict, coordinate and develop targets “to maximize effects against [ISIL] and avoid negative effects on this complex and crowded battlefield,” Dorrian added.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)