NEWS | Jan. 22, 2016

CENTCOM official calls aerial assault on ISIL the most precise in history

WASHINGTON (Jan. 22, 2016) — The aerial assault on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is the most precise in history, but there are still some civilian casualties, a U.S. Central Command official said here today.

Air Force Col. Pat Ryder told Pentagon reporters that “the preponderance of evidence indicates five separate U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria, between July 4 and July 17, 2015, have likely resulted in the death of two civilians and injuries to an additional four civilians.”

Since Operation Inherent Resolve began in August 2014, coalition forces have dropped almost 35,000 precision-guided munitions on ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria, Ryder said. “We take great care, from analysis of available intelligence to selection of the appropriate weapon to meet mission requirements to minimize the risk of collateral damage, particularly any potential harm to civilians,” he said.

In that same period, indications are that the coalition “likely killed” 16 civilians and injured nine, Ryder said. “Since the beginning of the campaign we’ve received 120 allegations of civilian casualties, 87 of which were deemed not credible,” he said. “We currently have 14 allegations which remain open, nine of which are pending credibility assessments and five pending investigation. We have closed 19 allegations.”

ISIL makes avoiding civilian casualties more difficult by operating in civilian areas and using civilians, essentially, as shields, Ryder noted.

Progress on the Ground

On the ground, Iraqi forces are making slow, but steady progress along the Anbar corridor out of Ramadi, the colonel said. “There is still some tough fighting happening in the Hit [and] Haditha areas, but we are seeing successful operations by Sunni tribes supported by [Iraqi security forces],” he said.

ISIL is trying to break through the combined front, but is not succeeding, Ryder said, noting that Iraqi forces have repelled a dozen attacks. “The coalition continues to support these indigenous forces through our advise and assist efforts as well as our air support,” he added.

In Ramadi, Iraqi forces continue to clear the city of improvised explosive devices and have extricated thousands of Iraqi citizens from harm’s way, Ryder said. This area is important to ISIL, he said. It was an important al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold and a central node of the supply line that runs along the Euphrates River valley between Raqqa, Syria, and Baghdad, he said.

Clearing the valley will make it much more difficult for ISIL to infiltrate into Baghdad, the colonel noted.

Attacking ISIL’s Economy

Ryder also briefed on the continuing operation against ISIL’s economic infrastructure. Ongoing Tidal Wave 2 airstrikes against the illicit oil infrastructure and its financial hubs have meant the terror group had to halve the pay of its adherents.

Thus far, the strikes have hit 34 modular refineries, 138 oil collection points and 399 tanker trucks and millions of dollars in cash, he said. The strikes will erode ISIL’s ability to govern and finance itself in the long term, the colonel said.

Russian airstrikes continue and still seem to be aimed at supporting the Bashir al Assad regime, Ryder said. “This has been the trend since the beginning of Russia’s presence in Syria,” he said. “The vast majority of their targets are opposition groups vice ISIL.”

Russia’s involvement only prolongs the suffering of the Syrian people, he said.

“It enables groups like ISIL to take advantage and to expand into areas where opposition groups are being impacted,” the colonel said.