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Iraqis Clear Areas Outside Mosul Before Advancing To Liberate City

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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In the operation to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city from the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue clearing and back-clearing areas around Mosul before they advance to the city, the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman told reporters today.

Air Force Col. John Dorrian briefed the Pentagon press corps via videoconference from Baghdad on Iraq’s progress to liberate Mosul.

A U.S. Air Force Airman with the 821st Crisis Response Group, signals a taxing Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
A U.S. Air Force Airman with the 821st Crisis Response Group, signals a taxing Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
A U.S. Air Force Airman with the 821st Crisis Response Group, signals a taxing Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
Iraqi Air Force Lands at Qayyarah West Airfield
A U.S. Air Force Airman with the 821st Crisis Response Group, signals a taxing Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
Photo By: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson
VIRIN: 161030-N-NG512-008

Coalition Strikes Extensive ISIL Tunnels

As Iraqi and Kurdish security forces clear formerly held ISIL territory, the U.S.-led coalition continues precision strikes to take out ISIL targets, Dorrian said.

One of those targets is ISIL’s extensive tunnel networks, which the enemy uses for tactical movement and to hide weapons.

“If left unabated, this [network] could present challenges for the Iraqi and peshmerga forces advancing on the city,” Dorrian noted. “Coalition strikes have taken out 46 tunnels since the liberation battle of Mosul started Oct. 17, reducing the threat from a favored enemy tactic.”

Diversionary Fires Under Control

Dorrian said one of the highest-profile tactics ISIL fighters have used since the battle of Mosul began is igniting toxic sulfur residue stored at the Mishraq sulfur factory, 28 miles south of Mosul, to deter Iraqi forces.

“The latest information I have is that those fires are largely under control,” he said, “but [they] continue smoldering and flaring up as the Iraqis continue to use water, sand and firefighting foam to combat the [blazes].”

Predominant winds were blowing smoke from the sulfur plant fire and from burning oil wells south toward Camp Swift and Qayyarah West Airfield. The coalition constantly assesses the risk to forces, Dorrian said, noting that protective masks that were required at those locations have not been necessary in the past two days.

“[ISIL’s] intention starting those fires was to divert and disrupt [Iraqi] forces going to Mosul, and those efforts have failed,” he said.

Since the campaign began Oct. 17, the U.S.-led coalition has delivered nearly 2,500 close-air support bombs and missiles, artillery rounds and rockets from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems on enemy targets, the spokesman said.

“Those weapons destroyed not only the tunnels, but 33 [vehicle-borne bombs], hundreds of enemy vehicles, fighting positions and artillery pieces,” he added.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Blaine Baker, left, director of tactical operations center operations, 821st Crisis Response Group, speaks with a pilot of an Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules after their landing at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from the Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. The Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Blaine Baker, left, director of tactical operations center operations, 821st Crisis Response Group, speaks with a pilot of an Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules after their landing at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from the Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. The Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Blaine Baker, left, director of tactical operations center operations, 821st Crisis Response Group, speaks with a pilot of an Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules after their landing at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from the Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. The Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
Iraqi Air Force Lands at Qayyarah West Airfield
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Blaine Baker, left, director of tactical operations center operations, 821st Crisis Response Group, speaks with a pilot of an Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules after their landing at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2016. This was the first time a fixed wing aircraft from the Iraqi security forces landed at Qayyarah West Airfield since the base was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2014. Coalition forces reconstructed the airfield as part of their effort to assist the Iraqi security forces as the seize territory from ISIL. The Qayyarah West Airfield serves as a logistics hub for ongoing operations in northern Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)
Photo By: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson
VIRIN: 161030-N-NG512-014

Qayyarah West Airfield Reopened

The airfield at Qayyarah West is open and supporting the resupply of troops in the area, Dorrian said. A team of Air Force engineers spent three weeks repairing the damage caused by ISIL, and the first aircraft, a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules, landed the evening of Oct. 21

The colonel said ISIL had largely destroyed the airfield in a manner they thought would prevent the Iraqis and the coalition from using it.

“The Iraqi and coalition forces that have swept the area to remove explosives -- plus 29 airmen who specialize in opening and repairing airfields -- used heavy equipment and more than 2 million lbs. of concrete to show [ISIL] once again that they are wrong. Five flights have gone into that airfield so far,” he said.

“The new airfield capability provides the coalition and the Iraqis, who have their own C-130s, the ability to resupply and reposition forces rapidly,” Dorrian said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)