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Spokesman: Expeditionary Targeting Force Could Accelerate ISIL Defeat

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2015 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s plan to deploy an expeditionary targeting force to help in putting pressure on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Iraq and Syria adds a capability that can accelerate ISIL’s defeat, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.

Speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, Army Col. Steve Warren reiterated the secretary’s announcement before Congress yesterday, in which Carter outlined deploying about 100 personnel.

“As [the secretary] said, these special operators will be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders,” Warren said.

The expeditionary targeting force will conduct operations in consultation with the Iraqi government, Warren said, adding that the partnership will strengthen Iraq’s special forces capability, and help to secure the Iraq-Syria border from ISIL.

Raids More Precise Than Before

Many of the raids will focus on high-value individuals and targets in the border region, he said. Capturing and interrogating ISIL terrorists is what the combined forces hope to do, Warren said, adding that capturing them “allows us to collect some intelligence and gain additional information and insights into our enemy's operations.”

Though they’re considered combat operations, the colonel said, raids differ vastly from those during the war in Iraq, and are not considered major ground-combat operations,

“These ... are a small number of highly skilled commandos conducting very precise, very limited operations,” he explained. “They enter an objective area, conduct the operation and exit the objective area.”

Russian S-400 in Syria Confirmed

Warren also confirmed Russia's S-400 air defense missiles are operating near Latakia in Syria.

“We assess no change in Russian intent toward coalition aircraft, and we expect Russia will continue to abide by the memorandum of understanding,” he said, referring to the recent U.S.-Russian agreement to protect the airspace safety of U.S. and coalition aviators.

While the United States focuses on defeating ISIL and supporting opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, the Russians’ vow to fight ISIL terrorists doesn’t appear to have merit, Warren said.

Everything they are doing is to support Assad, to keep Assad in power,” he said. “This is strategically shortsighted. Every time the Russians conduct an operation that extends or helps extend Assad's hold on power is yet another day that Syrian civilians will suffer under the boot of Bashar al-Assad.” he said.

Iraq, Syria OIR Update

Warren said Iraqi forces have militarily isolated the city of Ramadi after seizing the Palestine Bridge on Nov. 25, and are now poised to begin the clearing phase. The coalition yesterday conducted 37 engagements and nine strikes that killed 47 ISIL fighters, he added.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, spearheaded by the Syrian-Arab coalition, retain Hawl, Syria, against local counterattacks and are clearing out pockets of resistance, he noted.

In Mara, vetted Syrian opposition forces and new Syrian forces maintain their defensive positions and are planning future offensive operations. “Our goal is to see these efforts mature as forces continue to push south and put increased pressure on the enemy,” Warren said.

Airstrikes Shown on Videos

ISIL uses a tunnel-and-trench network, which includes shallow trenches with aluminum overhead cover to larger, more elaborate underground tunnel systems for its fighters’ protection, concealment and movement, Warren said, showing reporters a video of airstrikes that struck a tunnel’s entrance, exit and length.

“These tunnels don't provide the protection ISIL believes they do,” he said. “We've destroyed multiple tunnel complexes, trenches and bunkers. We have got the ability to detect and …destroy them at will.”

A second video showed an airstrike on an ISIL vehicle-borne bomb factory and staging area near Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province that Warren said reduced ISIL’s ability to produce improvised explosive devices.

The coalition’s strikes comprise the “most precise air campaign in the history of air campaigns, [and] in the history of warfare, frankly,” the colonel said. “Never has such precision been brought to bear in a situation.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)