Counterterrorism efforts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are proving successful, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command told Pentagon reporters today.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, briefing reporters from Baghdad via teleconference, said supporting the Iraqi security forces in the fight to liberate the key city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria remains the priority and the United States has maintained an around-the-clock presence of aircraft to protect and support its partner forces on the ground.
"These aircraft provide myriad missions, including close air support, situational awareness, command and control, refueling and kinetic strikes," he said.
"Complementing the coalition has been an increasingly capable and lethal Iraqi air force that has made tremendous progress in its growth and development," the general said. "This continuous presence of Iraqi and coalition aircraft continues to severely restrict ISIS's freedom of movement and their fighting capacity."
West Mosul Liberation Progressing
The offensive to recapture West Mosul is progressing well, he noted, with the vast majority of the city back in the hands of the Iraqi people.
"As we target the remaining ISIS holdouts in the old city, I'll [say] what [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis said last week," Harrigian said: "'Our strategy going forward is not to allow the remaining ISIS force to escape to fight another day, but to annihilate them with precision.'"
The precision of U.S. strikes is imperative in the dense urban terrain of places like Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, he said.
And whether it's a deliberate or dynamic strike, Harrigian emphasized, the coalition strives to mitigate impacts to civilians throughout the targeting process, from identification to validation to the moment a weapon is released. Although many U.S. strikes are dynamic, the focus remains on the deliberate targets because of the tremendous impact they have had on the enemy's fighting capacity, he said.
"A force without money can't fight, and ISIS' key revenue source, the illicit sale of oil, remains a top priority," the general said. "To date, coalition airstrikes and ground operations have struck approximately 2,600 ISIS-held gas and oil targets, including over 1,500 tanker trucks."
In the 10 months since Harrigian has served as commander of Air Forces Central Command, Harrigian said, he has seen ISIS grow increasingly brutal against the people in the areas it controls, he said.
"ISIS has become so desperate that they have baited us to strike targets that will purposefully cause civilian casualties," he said. "Our eyes and ears in the sky and on the ground keep the coalition abreast of ISIS' increasingly desperate tactics, allowing us to refine our targeting process so we avoid hurting those we're trying to liberate."
Operation Resolute Support
The United States also remains committed to the ongoing missions in Afghanistan, Harrigian noted. "As part of Operation Resolute Support, we have coalition air advisors working side by side with the Afghans, from certifying aircraft maintainers to providing training on various aircrew duties," he said.
"The Afghans have clearly gained the confidence of their ground forces and continue to expand their operations," he added.
A Positive Effect
Their contributions are having a positive effect on the outcome of the mission, Harrigian said. "The Afghan air force improvement is a testament to our partnership and advising efforts, but more prominently to the Afghans' hard work, dedication and professionalism," the general added.
In Operation Freedom's Sentinel, Harrigian said, the focus is to provide air support to counterterrorism efforts. In the last nine months, Afghan and U.S. counterterrorism forces have killed the ISIS commander, his replacement, and more than a dozen of their top leaders, he said.
And since early March, forces have removed more than two-thirds of the ISIS fighting strength from the battlefield, and territory under the terrorists' control has been reduced by two-thirds, Harrigian said.
"Our counterterrorism and train, advise and assist missions are concurrent and complementary," he said. "While we continue to attack the remnants of al-Qaida, we are building the Afghan national defense and security force so that they can instill peace and contribute to stability throughout the region.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)