The invasion of Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant forces into Iraq two years ago has met with a “remarkable turn-around,” British Army Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, deputy commander, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters today.
In a teleconferenced feed from Baghdad, Jones said the coalition’s training of Iraqi forces has been key in the campaign to defeat ISIL. “It's been well over a year since [ISIL] last defeated an Iraqi force, although they continue to resist,” he said, noting that more than 4,500 forces are training now to sustain the Iraqi forces and establish wide-area security and holding forces when Mosul has been retaken.
“We're a coalition of more than 60 nations, united against [ISIL]. And we're very proud that so many have offered contributions to fight against [ISIL’s] twisted ideology here in Iraq, in Syria, and other locations around the world,” he said.
The majority of trainers are non-U.S. coalition forces, Jones said. “We believe their contributions play a key role in developing a sustainable security way ahead for Iraq since the fall of Mosul and Raqqa will not in itself defeat [ISIL]. Once they have been defeated in Mosul and Raqqa, they will still be dangerous and we will continue to support our partners in the region in further reducing them.”
The coalition has trained more than 63,000 fighters and many are in combat operations in Mosul and other locations around Iraq, he said.
“The Iraqi security forces continue to fight bravely and display the dramatic progress they have made since 2014. It is truly amazing to watch them perform so professionally under pressure.”
The OIR deputy commander said the Iraqi forces continue to progress in their advance on Mosul, and while ISIL has lost significant amounts of territory in the city’s eastern sector, the enemy has used snipers and indirect fire, mortars and rockets “to terrorize civilians in areas that have been ripped away from their control. They've also used suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices to attack the advancing Iraqi security forces,” he said.
Iraqis OK Bridge Air Strikes
In response, and at the Iraqi government’s request, U.S.-led coalition forces struck and disabled four of the five bridges connecting east and west Mosul, and increased terrain-denial missions, Jones said.
“The intent of these operations is to reduce the effectiveness of the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. This combination of the two tactics seems to be reducing the number of VBIEDs the enemy has been able to use,” he said.
While tough fighting is expected in the coming weeks, “we expect that pressure on ISIL will continue to increase, and their resistance will begin to wane,” Jones said. “This is not a race, so patience is required. The protection of civilians continues to be a top priority for the [Iraqis]. It's going to take time and a lot of tough fighting, but we're confident of [ISIL's] defeat in Mosul.”
Surrounded by a superior coalition force, the enemy has little ability to resupply or reinforce their fighters, he said, adding since the counterattack to liberate Mosul began Oct. 17, the coalition has relentlessly bombarded the enemy.
“The coalition has supported the Iraqi advance with more than 4,800 precision bombs, artillery shells, missiles and rockets against [ISIL] fighters and resources,” he added.
Next Phase in Raqqa, Syria Planned
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces having recaptured more than 270 square miles of terrain from ISIL, and are planning the next phase of isolation of Raqqa, Jones said.
“They're now less than [18 miles] from the city and have encountered light to moderate resistance as they continue clearing villages along the axis of advance,” Jones said.
The SDF is also back-clearing the areas they control to reduce ISIL’s ability to reinfiltrate or attack using sleeper cells. “The coalition continues supporting their operations with air strikes, having delivered more than 600 munitions onto enemy targets,” he said.
“These strikes have destroyed vehicle-borne improved explosive devices, fighting positions, vehicles, and eliminated [ISIL] tactical units -- the fighters they use to intimidate and maintain control over the population,” Jones said. “The SDF continues to prove that they are quite capable of defeating Daesh wherever they encounter them on the battlefield.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)