Significant progress in the fight to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has resulted in a shift in focus to sustaining military gains in Iraq to ensure a lasting defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists, The commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command told Pentagon reporters today.
Speaking via teleconference from the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian said the Feb. 1 standup of a coalition aviation advisory and training team is an example of the transition.
The coalition team of airmen will help the Iraqis build a capable, affordable, professional and sustainable aviation enterprise, he explained. And while the standup of the team does not signal an increase in the U.S.-led coalition’s presence in Iraq, the CAAT will bridge the work toward standing up an air expeditionary wing that will take over that mission, he said.
Preventing ISIS Resurgence
The coalition’s train, advise and assist efforts to build a lasting Iraqi aviation enterprise will not be tied to a timeline, but instead will be conditions-based, proportional to the needs, and in coordination with partners in the Iraq government, Harrigian said.
“As we transition our focus in [Operation Inherent Resolve] to sustain our military gains, let me be clear that we will retain the necessary amount of air power to prevent a resurgence of ISIS,” he emphasized.
Harrigian said the progress to defeat ISIS has allowed the United States to realign some of its deployed combat air power and personnel to Afghanistan, including A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
“These aircraft will provide increased air support to the South Asia strategy, as well as ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Afghan-led operations,” the commander said. “This plus-up in air power is also producing tangible results as part of a deliberate air campaign that we kicked off in late November to decimate the Taliban's primary revenue source -- narcotics production.”
Goal: Choke Off Taliban
The goal is to choke off the Taliban’s ability to pay for its deadly attacks, such as those in Kabul recently, he noted.
Harrigian said the campaign to stop the Taliban’s resource flow will take time and that it will not align with the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan.
“Instead, [the campaign] will be relentless and persistent, as demonstrated by the 321 precision munitions we released this January against Taliban targets in the dead of winter, a time they typically rest and recuperate,” he said.
Such pressure will persist until the Taliban reconcile or die, Harrigian said. “We are already seeing positive reflections from our intelligence that the Taliban are not enjoying their typical winter break.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)