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.
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.
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)