Operations have begun to liberate western Anbar and Huwayjah, the last two areas in Iraq where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria hold territory, said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made the operations announcement to eradicate ISIS, Dillon said, speaking to Pentagon reporters via teleconference out of Baghdad, today.
“Already, the [Iraqi forces] have routed ISIS in Akashat, Rihanna, and just this morning they have cleared 11 villages, completing their first phase of operations in Huwayjah,” the spokesman said. “These operations are evidence, and showcase the [Iraqis’] increased capacity as a battle-tested, formidable fighting force.”
It is clear that ISIS terrorists are overwhelmed and outmatched by the strength of the [Iraqi forces], he said. “[ISIS] is losing ground, and is failing in every battle. Soon, ISIS will have no sanctuary anywhere in Iraq,” Dillon said.
The coordination among the Iraqi army, the federal police, peshmerga forces, local police, counterterrorism service, and popular and tribal mobilization forces has contributed to the victories seen recently against ISIS, the spokesman said. So far, he added, more than 4 million people have been liberated, and about 15,800 square miles have been cleared.
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces continue to eliminate ISIS in the eastern and northeastern regions of that country, Dillon said. In Raqqa, “The SDF have now cleared about 70 percent of the entire city,” he added.
The SDF gained about 84 city blocks in Raqqa from ISIS control in the past week, he said.
“In the past week, the SDF have assisted more than 200 civilians flee the city of Raqqa,” Dillon noted. “The SDF also detained ISIS fighters attempting blend in amongst civilians; one of which was another ISIS emir, or local leader.”
About 400 to 900 ISIS fighters remain in Raqqa, officials estimate.
The coalition is staying focused on defeating ISIS in Syria, “while maintaining de-confliction between various groups, especially in and around Dayr Az Zawr,” Dillon said.
Coalition and Russian military officials met face-to-face this week to adjust and expand de-confliction measures, he added.
“The discussions emphasized the need to share operational graphics and locations to ensure the prevention of accidental targeting or other possible frictions that will distract from the defeat of ISIS,” Dillon said.
“We will continue de-confliction efforts with the Russians at every level to ensure we remain focused on fighting ISIS; all while protecting coalition and our partners' forces,” he said.
SDF partners continued their anti-ISIS clearance operations in the Dayr Az Zawr province, northeast of Dayr Az Zawr city, the spokesman said. Since clearing began two weeks ago, the SDF have cleared more than 193 square miles, he added.
The SDF also has continued to receive, screen and assist internally displaced persons, moving north from Dayr Az Zawr, he added.
In southern Syria, near the tri-border region, coalition forces continue to conduct patrols and prepare for defeat-ISIS operations with the majority in the vicinity of Tanf, Dillon said.
Across Syria, he said, some 2.3 million people are free of ISIS control and more than 44,000 square kilometers -- nearly 17,000 square miles -- have been cleared in the ongoing fight against ISIS.
“We still expect tough fighting ahead, but with our partners' battlefield successes, increased capacity and continued support from a 73-member coalition, we will keep the pressure on until ISIS is defeated in both Iraq and Syria,” Dillon said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)