There is evil in the world, and good people of all faiths and nations have joined together and made progress against the evil that is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the commander of Operation Inherent Resolve said today.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, who also commands the Army's 18th Airborne Corps, told Pentagon reporters via satellite from Baghdad that ISIS "is the most evil entity I have encountered in my lifetime."
In 2014, ISIS swept across Syria and Iraq and declared it as the heart of the new caliphate, with a capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa. "They did not hide their atrocities," the general said. "They tortured, beheaded and burned those that did not agree with them. They posted the evidence of their evil for the world to see on social media. They enslaved millions under their twisted ideology."
Iraqi security forces were at first overmatched and were backed up to Baghdad and Kurdistan. Iraq asked for help, and a coalition led by the United States formed against ISIS. Coalition forces helped train and equip Iraqi security forces, and they provided the air support needed to keep ISIS from making any further gains.
"To date, more than 110,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained and equipped by the coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq," Townsend said.
Iraqis Take the Offensive
Those forces were ready to take the offensive against ISIS in late 2015. They liberated Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah, Qayyarah, Sharkot and countless smaller villages. "When the 18th Airborne Corps arrived last August, the liberation of Mosul was just an idea and colored lines on a map," the general said. "The nine-month-long liberation battle for Mosul was not an easy task. It was a brutal urban fight."
Iraqi security forces took on ISIS in the city the terrorists considered the jewel in their crown in Iraq. Mosul tested the Iraqis and they passed with flying colors, Townsend said.
"The Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga set the example for all of Iraq," he said. "They proved how resilient and powerful they can be. They put their differences aside and worked together toward a common goal."
As Townsend spoke, Iraqi leaders announced yet another victory over ISIS, this time in Tal Afar.
The Iraqis could not have done this without coalition support, and the coalition of more than 60 nations "was there every step of the way" to provide that support, Townsend said. "But make no mistake about it -- this is an Iraqi plan," he added. "This is Iraqis liberating Iraqis."
Progress in Syria
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces have gone from almost being pushed out of the country to pushing into Raqqa, the general told reporters.
"The fighting is difficult, but they have made much progress, and I have no doubt they will succeed," he said. "You have to remember that the Syrian Democratic Forces are not the Iraqi security forces. They do not have tanks, helicopters or fighter jets. They are really an irregular light infantry force with a comparative handful of light armored vehicles and heavy weapons who, with coalition assistance, are fighting well above their weight class. They have been and remain the most effective counter-ISIS fighting force in Syria."
In short, the strategy drawn up in the early days of ISIS success in 2014 worked, Townsend said. "Our partners in Iraq and Syria, with coalition help, have made substantial accomplishments in the fight to defeat ISIS," he added. "Together, we have liberated approximately 75,000 square kilometers of ISIS-held terrain, and, more importantly, 5.5 million citizens had been liberated from ISIS captivity."
Townsend, who will pass on command next week to Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, the 3rd Corps commander from Fort Hood, Texas, said much remains to be done.
"The coalition is strong, united, and we remain committed to our partners to bring a lasting defeat to ISIS in Iraq and Syria, to prevent ISIS from exporting their terror around the world, and to protect our own homelands," he said. "I am proud of all we have accomplished thus far, and I'm confident Lieutenant General Funk and his team will continue to help our partners take the fight to ISIS."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)