Iraqi forces have surrounded Mosul in Iraq, and progress is being made against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Raqqa, Syria, and in Sirte, Libya, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters today.
In the hard-fought battle to wrest Mosul from ISIL control, pressure is being applied mainly in the city’s east, east of the Tigris River, and the Popular Mobilization Forces have moved up west of Tal Afar, 39 miles northwest of Mosul in Iraq’s Ninevah governate, and have cut off ISIL’s use of Highway 47, Davis said.
The PMF is an Iraqi government-sponsored group made up of about 40 militias that are mainly Shiite Muslim groups but include Sunni Muslim, Christian and Yazidi groups.
“Mosul is effectively isolated now,” Davis said. “They still have freedom of movement between Mosul and Tal Afar, but they don't have freedom of movement beyond Tal Afar and into Syria.”
The south axis of the Mosul fight is still coming up Route 1 east of Qayyarah, he added, and Sharqat, which Davis called “the island of ISIL,” is now being targeted by Iraqi security forces.
Within the last day, the most progress has been on the southeast axis, Davis said. “They advanced [about a mile] into the city, so that was probably the best news overall, ... and they did that while facing heavy resistance that included six vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices,” he added.
Over the past 24 hours, the coalition has conducted three airstrikes delivering 110 munitions -- bombs and artillery -- in support of the Mosul operation, hitting an ISIL tactical unit, a vehicle-borne IED facility, an excavator, three supply routes and two tactical units, Davis said. These strikes bring the total number of munitions delivered in support of the Mosul operation to 5,866 since Oct. 17, when Mosul liberation operations began, he added.
The strikes to date since the start of Mosul operations have destroyed 84 vehicle-borne IEDs, 103 tunnels, 230 vehicles, 264 bunkers, 20 antiaircraft artillery sites and 213 artillery or mortar systems, Davis said.
“This is hard fighting, but the fact remains that ISIL is surrounded ... by a superior force,” Davis added. “They're facing resistance from within the city, they're being bombarded daily by coalition air and artillery strikes, they have no ability to resupply or reinforce, and it is a military fact that they are in a position where defeat is inevitable.”
But the fight will take patience, he said.
“This is a large, crowded, heavily populated city, and the best way to go about achieving a sustainable victory is to be very slow and methodical,” Davis said.
Road to Raqqa
On the road to Raqqa, the Iraqi forces have reclaimed 724 square kilometers -- more than 100 square miles -- throughout the area and now are now within 14 miles of Raqqa city limits, Davis said. In the past 24 hours, he added, eight strikes delivered 18 munitions against ISIL targets in support of these operations.
In Raqqa, three strikes engaged two ISIL vehicles and destroyed two storage containers, a logistics node, a decoy tank and a vehicle. A total of 734 munitions have been delivered in support of Syrian Democratic Forces since Nov. 5, when the effort to isolate Raqqa began, Davis said.
In the last occupied block in Sirte last night, the final nine ISIL fighters and 10 women and children surrendered, Davis said, adding that the Misrata militias now are going through the block, clearing the block and looking for IEDs.
“At this point, we don't know of any other areas where ISIL is hiding out,” he said. “We certainly are going to stand ready to continue to support the Government of National Accord-aligned forces as they do this backclearing, but at this point, ISIL's not in control of any territory.”
ISIL tried to establish a large presence in Libya for use as a hub for their operations in Africa, Davis noted. “They moved senior leaders from Syria over there early on,” he said, and in November 2015, the U.S. military conducted an airstrike in Libya against Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi national who was a longtime al-Qaida operative and the senior ISIL leader in Libya.
“We have been relentless against them ever since in coordination with the GNA, particularly as it came to moving in on Sirte,” Davis said. “This was an attempt by ISIL to establish a foothold in Northern Asia, and it appears they've failed.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)