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News | June 30, 2016

Local forces in Iraq, Syria increase pressure on ISIL

By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News

WASHINGTON (June 29, 2016) — Iraqi forces have begun working toward Mosul after their victory in Fallujah this week against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and the Syrian Democratic Forces are tightening a cordon around Manbij in an operation led by the Syrian Arab coalition, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said Wednesday.

Speaking live via videoconference from a command post in the Middle East, Army Col. Christopher Garver gave an update on the ISIL fight after offering condolences on the U.S.-led coalition’s behalf after deadly attacks yesterday on the Istanbul Ataturk International Airport in Turkey’s capital city.

Also this morning, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called Turkish Minister of Defense Fikri Isik to express his deep condolences following the attack.

Carter strongly condemned the attack as a cowardly assault on a stalwart NATO ally and enduring partner in efforts to confront the threat of terrorism, according to a statement by DoD Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Trowbridge. The defense secretary also reaffirmed that the department will work closely with Turkish allies to defeat terrorists of any kind.

Victory in Fallujah

Beginning with Iraq, Garver said the world watched as Iraqi fighters raised the Iraqi flag over Fallujah June 17, and Iraqi military leaders announced the city’s full liberation June 26.

“Since that time we have seen rapid clearing operations within the city as [Iraq] consolidates its gains and prepares for future operations, which will include handing over the security of Fallujah to the holding force” of local police and Sunni tribal fighters, the colonel added.

The assault phase of the ground campaign began May 21, and during that time the coalition conducted 106 strikes in support of Iraqi operations, he said.

“We know there is interest in the physical state of Fallujah after the battle,” Garver said, adding that press reports indicate that the city is in better shape than Ramadi was last year after its liberation.

“If initial reports [are] accurate, we hope this will bode well for getting the residents of Fallujah back into their homes as quickly as possible. We do not have an estimated timeline from the Iraqi government yet but all parties involved in the care of the displaced citizens are working to develop that now,” he said.

In the Tigris River Valley, Iraqi forces are conducting shaping operations to prepare for the eventual liberation of Mosul. On the western access, Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces and 9th Iraqi Army Division brigades continue to push the attack north out of Beiji, Garver said.

Fighting on the western access has ranged been between light and moderate, but Iraqi forces continue to make steady gains toward Qayyarah. Over the past week, the coalition has conducted 34 strikes in the Qayyarah region in support of these operations, the colonel added.

Toward Manbij

In Syria, in addition to progress made by Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition toward Manbij, SAC forces are fighting to establish footholds on the southern and western edges of the city, Garver said.

“They’ve seized the entrances to an intricate tunnel complex on the southern edge, which will reduce [ISIL’s] ability to relocate fighters inside the city,” he added, noting that SAC forces have seized more than 10,000 documents from the outlying edges, including textbooks, propaganda posters, cell phones, laptops, maps and digital storage devices.

“Exploitation of this information is ongoing to better understand [ISIL] networks and techniques, including the systems [used] to manage the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq,” the colonel said.

To protect citizens inside the city, Garver said SAC leaders have assumed a slower and more deliberate rate of advance to clear booby traps and homemade bombs and to avoid civilian casualties, although ISIL continues to establish fortified defenses in the city.

“We expect the fighting to continue to be intense and progress slow but deliberate due to the strategic importance [ISIL] places on this city for keeping lines of communication between Manbij, Raqqa and outside Syria open,” he said.

Increasing Pressure

In southeastern Syria, Garver said that partner opposition forces running the Tanf Garrison launched an attack in the past 48 hours to seize the town of Abu Kamal in the Euphrates River Valley.

“The announced purpose of this attack by the New Syrian Army, also known as the … KAA, is to liberate Abu Kamal and cut [ISIL’s] military supply lines in the Euphrates Valley between Syria and Iraq,” he said. “Cutting these supply lines will impact the flow of foreign fighters and supplies between the upper and lower Euphrates Valley.”

Garver said that as local fighters with coalition support have worked to interdict lines of communication between Iraq and Syria in the north near Sinjar Mountain on Highway 43 and in the south near Rutbah on Highway 10, “we are now working to interdict the last major line of communication between the two countries.”

Doing so, he added, will better isolate ISIL operations in the two countries, limit high-speed routes to reinforcements, resupply and foreign fighters flowing between the countries, and increase pressure across the so-called caliphate.

Tidal Wave II

Operation Inherent Resolve continues to target ISIL illicit oil and natural gas activities in an operation called Tidal Wave II, Garver said, whose targets include oil sites, equipment and vehicles for transporting oil and natural gas.

Since September 2014, the coalition has conducted about 300 strikes against oil-related facilities, infrastructure and equipment, he said, and last week the coalition conducted eight strikes in support of Tidal Wave II near Raqqa in Syria and Mosul and Qayyarah in Iraq.

Coalition airstrikes have attacked ISIL oil tankers, oil and gas separation plants, wellheads and pumping infrastructure, he said, and the self-proclaimed ISIL ministry of oil headquarters in Mosul, affecting management of illicit oil operations.

“The Tidal Wave strikes affect ISIL’s ability to fund governance activities and terror operations,” Garver added.