WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2015 —
The coalition fighting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq has conducted 7,712 airstrikes since operations began, the majority in Iraq, an Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.
Army Col. Steve Warren, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon that 5,032 of those airstrikes were in Iraq, while 2,680 were in Syria.
In other developments, Warren recounted how 70 hostages were freed from an ISIL prison in Hawija, Iraq, during an Oct. 22 raid.
Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler was killed by enemy small-arms fire during the operation. "We're all thinking about the family of Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler. He is a hero," Warren said.
'Tough Fight' in Ramadi
Iraqi security forces are conducting "consolidation and reorganization operations" to retake Ramadi, Warren said. Iraqi forces face improvised explosive device attacks, but have "held the line," he added.
Coalition forces have conducted 26 airstrikes in Ramadi since last week, breaking several enemy counterattacks and providing maneuver space as the Iraqi forces continues to clear obstacles and IED clusters, he said.
Warren described the battle to retake Ramadi as a "tough fight," adding that he is confident Ramadi will be liberated. "But I'm not going to predict a timeline," he said.
Meanwhile, Warren said, in Beiji, the elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, federal police and the Popular Mobilization Forces are working to clear the city and the Beiji oil refinery.
New Counter-IED Tools for Iraqis
The United States has adjusted its training and equipping program, in light of the extensive IED clearance and obstacle reductions the Iraqi forces face, Warren said.
"We're teaching the Iraqis how to get through the types of obstacles that ISIL has emplaced around Ramadi, and we're giving them new tools to help," he said, adding that one example is the Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System.
The APOBS, as it is known, "is kind of an explosive rope attached to a little rocket that can be shot across a minefield and will explode and clear any of the mines or detonate the mines to create a lane that attacking forces can then rush through," he said.
Thirty-five APOBS have been distributed for training and have been issued to the Iraqi security forces, Warren said.
Syria Airstrikes Expected to Increase
Warren said while there has been a drop in airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria, he expects an increase soon as more sites are identified. The decrease has nothing to do with Russian involvement in air operations in Syria, he explained, but rather is related to the "ebb and flow of battle, the pace of battle and where our priority of efforts are."
As the United States and coalition partners gain intelligence, new targets are acquired, Warren said. "We have a willing, capable and consistent ground partner here in Iraq," he added.
Warren provided a graph showing 369 coalition airstrikes against targets in Syria in July, followed by 212 airstrikes in August and 120 in September.
"The intelligence in Syria continues to pile up, and we continue to sift through it and develop targets and nominate targets," he said. "We are continuing to make ties with forces on the ground in Syria -- that will spur target development as well."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)