NEWS | Feb. 23, 2016

U.S. general reports Iraqi forces’ successes, progress

By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News

WASHINGTON (Feb. 23, 2016) — Over the past nine months, Iraqi security forces have had significant successes and have made noticeable progress that will lead to the eventual defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the commanding general of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command for Operation Inherent Resolve said Tuesday.

Army Maj. Gen. Richard D. Clarke, with responsibilities only in Iraq, briefed Pentagon reporters by video teleconference from Baghdad.

Clarke said that about 400 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division have formed the nucleus of the ground effort in Iraq for more than nine months from their headquarters in Baghdad. Marines, Air Force, Navy and 20 different coalition nations also are helping with the mission, with more than 4,100 personnel, he added.

Three Main Missions

When he and members of his division head back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in a couple of weeks, the general said, members of the 101st Airborne will take over three primarily missions: to train and equip the Iraqi security forces, to provide advice and assistance to Iraqi forces mainly at leadership levels, and to coordinate airstrikes in direct support of the Iraqi government.

“The enemy is under simultaneous pressure here in Iraq as well as in Syria, and what we've seen are great victories in Sinjar and Ramadi and Beiji,” Clarke said.

In addition to taking back those key towns, he added, there have been at least three significant attacks by ISIL -- two in Haditha, and one in Mosul in December -- where the enemy put concentrated forces against Iraqi security forces, who held their ground.

Clarke noted that the Iraqi forces have not lost any ground since May 19, when Ramadi fell to ISIL.

Destroying ISIL

Iraqi security forces and coalition airstrikes continue to destroy ISIL fighters, Clarke said.

“For example, in the past two days we've had horrendous weather here, lots of rain, lots of clouds. Usually that's an opportunity for [ISIL] to attack,” the general said. “We've seen nothing. [ISIL] right now is pressurized to prioritize against over-extended resources in money, equipment and manpower.

In a summary of mission accomplishments, Clarke said the coalition has trained more than 16,000 Iraqi security forces and 4,000 Kurdish peshmerga forces. As part of the train-and-equip mission, he said, the Iraqi fighters receive advanced equipment, such as Humvees and mine rollers, which helps them defeat ISIL and boosts their confidence and will.

“Two of the Iraqi army brigades that we've trained were directly involved in the fight in Ramadi,” the general said. “That's the 73rd and the 76th brigades. … As I talk to the Iraqi generals, [they] will say those are the two best Iraqi brigades in their army.”

Police Training

The coalition has taken on training for the local and federal police, and Clarke said they have trained more than 2,000 police, with 1,000 more in training right now.

“I want to give a big thanks to Task Force Carabinieri, who answered the call when we needed trainers back in June and continue to uptick the amount of trainers and … trainees that they can put through,” Clarke said. The Italian Carabinieri Corps has a dual role as the nation’s police and armed forces, according to the organization’s website.

The coalition advises and assists at multiple levels, the general said, including for the three-star Iraqi Ground Forces Command at command and joint operations command levels.

Advise and Assist

The coalition also advises five operations commands, including the Anbar operations command, a corps-level three-star command that was responsible for Ramadi, Clarke said.

The coalition has advisors in five Iraqi divisions, and with an army colonel they advise the Combined Joint Coordination Center in Irbil. Kurds and Iraqis who are beginning future operations planning man the center, he said.

“Throughout our advise-and-assist mission … and with the full support of the Iraqi security forces, we show that this is one fight by one team,” Clarke noted.

ISR and Airstrikes

To date, the general said, the coalition has flown more than 20,000 hours of intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aircraft flights that helped to develop the intelligence picture as the Iraqi forces planned and then recaptured Ramadi. In Irbil, the general said, the coalition helped peshmerga forces liberate Sinjar through airstrikes, cutting the vital Highway 47 between Raqqa and Mosul.

“This [Iraqi forces have] enabled about 4,000 Iraqi-approved airstrikes that have been done in direct support of the Iraqi security forces providing direct assistance to those in the fight,” Clarke added.