WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2015 – The more than 60-country coalition that stands against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has aided recent progress on the ground and in the air in Iraq and Syria, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Killea told the Pentagon press corps Friday.
The chief of staff of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, or CJTF-OIR, spoke from Southwest Asia to members of the media during a live digital video conference. CJTF-OIR is the U.S.-led coalition’s response to ISIL.
During the briefing, Killea described overall coalition operations to help defeat ISIL and coalition support for the Iraqi Security Force fighting to liberate Ramadi.
The 17 countries involved in the training or advise-and-assist missions include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and Hungary.
“This is not the same fight as it was when it started, and I look at that based on the effects that we have had on ISIL,” Killea said.
“[ISIL is] much more territorial, meaning they're defending more than they’re on the offensive. Their attacks are smaller, they're more focused, and they're less enduring,” he noted.
“All you have to do is look at the gains that have been made on the ground recently to see that there is an effect and there is progress,” the general added.
In Iraq, more than 1,200 coalition personnel from the 17 partner nations are working on training and advise-and-assist missions, and more than 11,000 Iraqi security force personnel have completed individual specialty courses through a program called building partner capacity, Killea said.
Coalition military trainers and advisers work at five separate sites where they train Iraqi and Kurdish security forces for four to six weeks to prepare them for anti-ISIL operations, he added, noting that coalition commitments eventually will total 1,500 members.
Killea said Iraqi security forces and about 1,100 Sunni tribal fighters have attended training and subject-matter exchanges at Taqaddum.
“Most recently,” he added, “more than 400 Peshmerga fighters attended the training program in Erbil. The coalition works in coordination with the government of Iraq, who manages the throughput of trainees for all these programs.”
Killea also reported progress in Syria. Anti-ISIL fighters have gained more than 5,300 square kilometers since May, and in one day alone this week they advanced more than 45 km. along their forward line of troops, he said.
“This is important, as any territory taken back from ISIL means their freedom to maneuver and their access to supply lines gets reduced,” the general said.
The air campaign continues to strike ISIL facilities, vehicles and equipment, he said, and to enable the ISF in Iraq and anti-ISIL fighters in Syria.
Airstrikes have degraded ISIL's ability to mount large offensive attacks and reduced their ability to openly control towns and cities, Killea said, adding that more than 5,600 airstrikes have been conducted since the beginning of operations.
On Ramadi, the general said supporting the Iraqis' fight to retake that city is a high priority for the coalition, “and we will continue to support Iraqi security force ground maneuvers with airstrikes against ISIL targets in direct support of the government of Iraq objectives.”
He added, “Momentum is a better indicator of success than speed, and the [Iraqi security forces] have momentum in Ramadi.”