WASHINGTON, June 20, 2017 —
The sole focus of coalition forces in Iraq and Syria remains on defeating Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists in those nations, a Pentagon spokesman said today.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis briefed Pentagon reporters on operations against ISIS and on recent coalition defensive shoot-downs of two armed unmanned aerial vehicles and a Syrian SU-22 fighter-bomber.
Davis told reporters what coalition officials have said publicly to all parties: that the coalition will not tolerate demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward coalition or partner forces in Syria who are conducting legitimate operations to defeat ISIS.
"We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS," Davis said, "but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if necessary."
Davis said today is Day 121 of the operation to liberate West Mosul in Iraq. Iraqi forces have reached the Old City neighborhood and have effectively surrounded ISIS, he said. Yesterday, he added, they gained another 29 square kilometers -- about 3 and a half square miles -- in the northwest part of the Old City.
Since Feb. 17, total gains in the greater area of West Mosul are about 788 square kilometers -- 304 square miles -- and Iraqi forces have gained 4,300 square kilometers -- 660 square miles -- since the larger Mosul operation began in October, Davis said.
Federal police forces are maintaining the southern part of the forward line of troops in the Old City, and Iraqi counterterrorism service forces are attacking in the northern part of the Old City from west to east against heavy resistance, he added.
Emergency response division and Iraqi army forces continued efforts from east to west toward the Al Jamhuri Hospital, and Davis said coalition forces continue to conduct strikes on enemy positions to protect partnered forces.
To the west of Mosul, the 5th Iraqi Army Division continues its offensive operations east to west toward Kisik junction and Tal Afar, he added, and in already-liberated East Mosul, the 16th Iraqi Army Division continues conducting patrols, Davis said.
Syrian Democratic Forces liberated another 1,000 square kilometers -- 386 square miles -- of terrain around the Syrian city of Raqqa yesterday, Davis said, and the SDF continue to fight along three axes toward the center of Raqqa against substantial ISIS resistance.
"On the west side of Raqqa, they gained a small amount of terrain and repelled ISIS counterattacks. On the north side, the SDF continues to clear south, from the sugar factory and on the east side they're within [about 1,000 yards] of the Old City," "Davis said.
From there, he added, the SDF is working its way north around the historic Rafiqah wall that that surrounds the Old City. South of Raqqa and the Euphrates River, the SDF gained another 6 square kilometers -- 2.3 square miles -- of villages and agricultural areas, Davis noted.
Today in southern Syria, a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle shot down an armed pro-regime unmanned aerial vehicle as it advanced on coalition forces in southern Syria. The Iran-made Shaheed-129 was displaying hostile intent, he said.
"This occurred at an established combat outpost northeast of At Tanf where [coalition forces] were training and advising partner ground forces in the fight against ISIS," Davis said. "This is the same location where the other pro-regime UAV that dropped munitions on coalition forces was shot down on June 8." The F-15E intercepted the armed Iranian-made UAV after it was seen advancing on coalition positions. Davis said it was loaded with ordnance and made no attempt to divert.
On June 18, the coalition shot down a Syrian SU-22 fighter-bomber after it attacked SDF positions. "There was an incident earlier in the day where regime tanks, artillery, technical vehicles and soldiers were advancing toward SDF forces that were holding the towns of Jadin and Shuwayhan," Davis said. "There had been multiple communications through the deconfliction line."
U.S. aircraft conducted a show of force, including strafing runs near the regime positions, "so they stopped their aggressive and threatening movements," Davis said.
"That was when they saw the SU-22 approaching and it was carrying ordnance," he added. They did everything they could to try to warn it away, ... but ultimately the SU-22 went into a dive and was observed dropping munitions and was subsequently shot down."
Also in Syria, Davis said the Defense Department now can confirm that coalition forces killed Turki al-Binali, the self-proclaimed grand mufti, or chief cleric, of ISIS. He was killed in an airstrike May 31 in Mayadin, Syria.
Binali had a central role in recruiting foreign terrorist fighters and provoking terrorist attacks around the world, Davis said, and as chief cleric to ISIS since 2014, he provided propaganda to incite murder and other atrocities. He also tried to legitimize the creation of the caliphate that ISIS claims and was a close confidant of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
"He leveraged his self-proclaimed religious role in propaganda writings and called for terrorists to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi as the caliph," Davis said. "His recruiting efforts for the terror group also included multiple recorded lectures attempting to justify and encourage the slaughter of innocents."
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)