WASHINGTON, May 4, 2015 - While Beiji and Ramadi in Iraq remain contested between Iraqi security forces and extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants, ISIL is experiencing setbacks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said Friday.
Speaking to reporters in the Pentagon via teleconference, Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder provided a weekly update on CENTCOM's operational highlights in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
In central Iraq, Iraqi security forces continue to conduct operations to secure the city of Karmah, and they have retaken territory around the Tigris River canal, Ryder said.
"We've seen these efforts help isolate ISIL fighters who are in the town, and this has helped choke off their lines of communication," he said, adding that from an operational perspective, such gains help to secure ISIL approaches to Baghdad.
There have been no significant changes from last week's operations in Ramadi, a city in western Iraq, where Iraqi forces continue to hold onto key ground while ISIL forces try to keep territory they captured in the eastern part of the city. "We expect Ramadi to remain contested," Ryder said.
ISIL also continues to contest the Iraqi forces' hold on Beiji's oil refinery, he said.
"ISIL has shown that Beiji and Ramadi are strategically important to them, and they are committing a significant amount of limited resources to secure these locations," Ryder said.
ISIL wants to "score a win" after suffering numerous recent setbacks, most notably in Tikrit, he added. "Because of this, both cities are expected to remain contested for some time," he said.
ISIL forces temporarily seized the Thar Thar, or Takseem, sub-dam north of Habbaniyah earlier this week, but Iraqi forces ultimately were able to repulse ISIL and re-secure the sub-dam.
"As it has elsewhere, ISIL employed this attack as a propaganda opportunity, and afterward posted online they killed 140 Iraqi soldiers, a number grossly over-exaggerated," he said. CENTCOM's information indicates the actual number of Iraqi forces casualties was five to 15, he told reporters.
Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq have continued to clear additional territory from ISIL and strengthen forces there, Ryder said, adding that ISIL attacks against Kurdish forces in the region can be best characterized as "harassing attacks."
Similarly in eastern Syria, Kurdish fighters continue to expand and hold the territory they've taken, but ISIL is trying to contain the Kurds' gains, Ryder noted.
"As the Kurds take territory from ISIL, they're having an effect on the group's lines of communication into northern Iraq," he said.
"This development, along with continued coalition air strikes, has put further pressure on ISIL and it is inhibiting their ability to flow additional resources or freely operate in this region," he said.
CENTCOM officials expect ISIL to continue its limited-scope attacks to exploit their propaganda value and give the false impression they're able to conduct major offensive operations, Ryder said.
And while the fight against ISIL is "by no means over," he added, CENTCOM officials are confident ISIL ultimately will be defeated.