Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the U.S.-led coalition air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, during which millions of people have been freed from ISIS control, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said today.
Briefing the Pentagon press corps, Davis said the air campaign was a response to a terrorist army that came seemingly out of nowhere and emerged as one of the most well-funded, fastest-growing and most capable terrorist networks anywhere in the world.
“On Aug. 8, 2014, two FA-18 [Super Hornet] jets launched from the USS George W. Bush in the [Persian] Gulf and dropped the first 500-pound laser-guided bombs on fighters near Irbil,” Iraq,” Davis said.
ISIS was more than just an insurgency, he added. They were capable of holding 40,000 square miles of territory and able to launch external attacks in Europe and the United States.
At one point they held an area the size of Ohio, Davis said, “and … 8 million people were being ruthlessly held captive by their rule, living in misery, many fleeing their homes, many forced into refugee status, many forced into slavery. And we saw their depravity in videos that they posted on YouTube.”
Although 5 million people are now liberated from ISIS control, ISIS still presents a great threat, he said.
“We know that they continue to murder and wound innocent people -- using them as human shields and displacing families into refugees. And we know that they're spreading to other places. We've seen their attacks in Europe … [and] we've seen their influence shift into places like Afghanistan, Mali, and now even the Philippines.”
In the three years since that first air strike, Davis noted, “we've worked very methodically over time with our defeat-ISIS coalition, and ISIS' control has been reduced significantly.”
In Iraq, about 70 percent of the territory ISIS once held is now liberated. In Syria, 50 percent of the territory they once held is liberated, and ISIS has not retaken one inch of territory liberated by the coalition, Davis said.
“This includes places where external operations were [being] hatched and that served as hubs for the flow of foreign fighters in and terrorists out. Places like Manbij, and now Raqqa, their capital in Syria, which is surrounded and collapsing quickly,” he added, noting that all was done with the cooperation of a large coalition.
The coalition now includes 73 partners -- 69 nations plus the European Union, NATO, the Arab League and Interpol, he said.
“The coalition is progressing and ISIS is facing its inevitable defeat. We will win and they will lose. Our campaign against ISIS has been done with the utmost care to minimize civilian casualties,” Davis said, adding that although this campaign has been the most precise in the history of warfare, “Civilians do die in war and that's a sad truth.
“But the 5 million innocent people liberated from ISIS would still be living under that brutality and the death toll would be even higher but for our efforts against ISIS,” he said.
Syria and Iraq
In Raqqa today it is day 64 of Syria operations, Davis said.
“Yesterday the [Syrian Democratic Forces] liberated about a square kilometer of terrain in Raqqa, continuing to work on the three axes that we've talked about before -- west, east and south.
“And the east-west deconfliction line south of the Euphrates is holding as regime forces remain south and SDF forces remain north of that agreed-upon line,” Davis added.
Over the weekend strikes were conducted in Abu Kamal, Shaddadi, Dar Azar and Raqqa. The 24 strikes included 11 ISIS tactical units and destroyed 30 fighting positions, two vehicles, two command-and-control nodes, two mortar systems, a tunnel, a heavy machine gun, an improvised explosive device facility and a vehicle-borne-bomb facility and damaged six fighting positions, he said.
“Meanwhile in Iraq, hold forces are in place in Mosul. This is a combination of Iraqi forces including the Federal Police, the 16th Iraqi Army Division, and [Counter Terrorism Service] battalions that remain in east and west Mosul and continue to assess security requirements,” Davis said.
The coalition continues to support the [Iraqis] as they reset and prepare for follow-on operations in Tal Afar, he said, “which is effectively surrounded at this point and we'll continue to see that tighten as time goes on.”
More strikes took place over the weekend in Huwayjah, Kisik, Rawah and Tal Afar, Davis said.
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