As the Iraqi flag flew over Qaim's border to boast the Iraqi town's liberation from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, it signaled a milestone in the defeat of ISIS as a physical caliphate, a senior coalition officer told Pentagon reporters today.
Speaking via teleconference from Irbil, Iraq, where he is temporarily commanding operations, Air Force Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Croft congratulated the Iraqi security forces on driving ISIS out of Qaim, and largely out of Iraq, over the weekend. Croft is Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command's deputy commanding general for air as part of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
"Over the past few months," Croft said, "we have seen the [Iraqi forces] increasing in confidence and ability as they have taken the fight to ISIS and allowed the Iraqi people to regain control of their own towns and cities."
The U.S.-led global coalition has stood fully behind the fight to defeat ISIS, and its members are proud of their role in the win of the barbaric enemy and its false narrative, Croft said.
Coalition Continues Support
"We will continue our efforts until the threat is completely destroyed and no longer able to terrorize the people of Iraq," he said of the coalition. In Irbil, he added, "we are investing in the future by continuing our training mission to ensure that all Iraqis can be responsible for their own security."
The U.S.-led coalition has a long-standing relationship with Kurdish peshmerga fighters and the Iraqi security forces, both of whom have fought in the recent offenses against ISIS, he said. And the support will continue to assist in making the continued negotiations take place between both parties as they seek to forge a new relationship in a post-ISIS era, Croft said.
"As [the Iraqi security forces have] fought a hard ground battle," the general said, "I have been impressed by the capability and the effectiveness of the Iraqi air force and army aviation command throughout the campaign." Iraq's pilots have shown bravery as the Iraqi air force has come to maturity, he added.
The coalition will provide surveillance, reconnaissance, precision air support and ground artillery, enabling the Iraqi forces' advance while taking great care to minimize civilian casualties in the process, Croft said.
"As the [Iraqi forces are] pushing through the last areas of Anbar province, the coalition continues to assist the ground maneuver with intelligence-led precision strikes and close air support. In addition, we are supplying technical and logistical support to the battle," he added.
'More Work to Do
"Our job here is not finished," the general said. "We as a coalition will continue to hunt ISIS and disrupt and destroy their operations. Iraq will be liberated and secured by Iraqis with the help of our united coalition."
Croft noted that from an air perspective, the campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq has been "the most precise, proportional air campaign that we have ever done."
"And … from Mosul to Tal Afar, through Hawija through the Anbar province," he continued, "the ability of the air component to support the [Iraqi security forces] is a real success story," he added. "It's been disciplined, professional, and very effective."
The coalition is continuing its work to enable the Iraqis to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations on their own and assisting with their precision-strike capability, Croft said. "This is an enabler that will allow this country to defeat another enemy, whether it looks like ISIS or otherwise, in the future," he added.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)