Feb. 1, 2016 —
WASHINGTON, (Feb. 1, 2016) — Airstrikes in Syria and Iraq are wearing down the forces of
the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the commander of Combined Joint Task
Force Operation Inherent Resolve said today while describing the coalition air
campaign and the evolving train-and-assist mission.
Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland
briefed Pentagon reporters here via a live video feed from Baghdad on the
progress of continuing efforts in Iraq and Syria to help local troops win
The task force is the
operational-level headquarters charged with synchronizing combat operations and
supporting coalition efforts against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
MacFarland said the coalition
conducted its first airstrike in Iraq in August 2014 and its first in Syria a
month later. Since then, the coalition has conducted more than 10,000 strikes
-- two-thirds in Iraq and a third in Syria.
Grinding Down the Enemy
“The cumulative impact of our
airstrikes has ground the enemy down. When applied in support of our partners,”
the general said, “we've forced the enemy to give up terrain.”
Since ISIL's May 2015 seizure of
Ramadi, Iraq, Iraqi forces -- supported by the volunteer "popular
mobilization forces" -- ejected ISIL from Beiji and the nearby oil
refinery, he added. Then, more recently, Iraqi forces, with Sunni tribal forces
fighting alongside, recaptured Ramadi -- which MacFarland called
"symbolically and operationally important."
“Make no mistake, the recapture of
Ramadi was a turning point in this campaign,” he said.
ISIL suffered devastating losses,
and the ISF proved itself capable of defeating them, even when ISIL had the
advantage of prepared defense in an urban area, the general added.
Rebuilding a Force
Coalition forces have trained more
than 17,500 Iraqi soldiers and about 2,000 police since training began slightly
more than a year ago, he said. And more than 3,000 soldiers and police are in
coalition training sites, MacFarland noted.
“The Iraqi security forces have been
rebuilt into a force capable of defeating the type of enemy we are now facing,”
The coalition has been flexible
enough to modify training and equipping along the way, the general said, so
they’re providing the most needed skills and gear.
In particular, he said, “we have
shifted from a pure counterinsurgency focus and are now preparing the ISF to
conduct what we refer to as combined arms operations.”
The ability to integrate infantry,
armor, artillery, air power, engineers and other assets on the battlefield
gives the Iraqis an advantage over a static enemy dug in behind complex
obstacle belts, MacFarland said.
Iraqi forces proved the value of
modified training and equipping during the liberation of Ramadi, he added, “and
we've learned some important lessons from that battle and are already adjusting
our approach as a result.”
In Syria, partnered with multiple
groups willing to fight ISIL, the coalition also has seen progress, the general
“The Syrian Democratic Forces have
made dramatic gains against the enemy in northern and eastern Syria, while the
vetted Syrian opposition and other groups are holding the enemy back along what
we call the Mara line in northwest Syria,” he said.
Effective Syrian Force
“It's very complex, very complicated
up there,” MacFarland said. "Many people would like to lay claim to that
area, and we're trying to come up with the right approach to block the enemies’
access to that important corridor.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces, which
include Syrian Kurds, Syrian Arabs and others, have been an effective force in
northern Syria and have put the enemy on its “back foot,” the general said.
“They would not have been able to do any of that
without coalition air support. They know that … They owe their existence really
to the support that we are providing," MacFarland said. "And that's
why they continue to work with us. And so far as I can tell, they have not
turned away from us toward the Russians,” MacFarland said.