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Coalition, Local Forces Making Gains Against ISIL

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, December 22, 2015 — Coalition and local forces have inflicted a "recent string of defeats" on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said today in Baghdad.

Army Col. Steve Warren, speaking in a phone conference with reporters at the Pentagon, said Iraqi security forces in the southern access crossed the Tharthar Canal south of the Euphrates River today.

Despite ISIL destroying Ramadi's bridges, the Iraqi forces were able to access the city using an Improved Ribbon Bridge, Warren said. The Iraqi security forces are beginning to push north into downtown Ramadi, he said.

The colonel said coalition airpower delivered 33 munitions in direct support of offensive operations in Ramadi in the last 24 hours. "We're encouraged by this tactical development, which is a continuation of the progress we've seen over the last several weeks," he said.

Warren estimated there are between 250 to 350 enemy fighters remaining in the Ramadi city center, and several hundred in the area around the north and west of the city. He said there is expected to be "tough fighting ahead in Ramadi's dense urban terrain." However, he added, "I think the fall of Ramadi is inevitable."

Other progress in Iraq, Warren said, includes coalition airstrikes that supported Iraqi forces who were clearing through the Makhoul Mountains north of Beiji.

That strike on Sunday killed a "fairly large number" of enemy fighters who were gathering perhaps for an attack on the Beiji oil refinery area, he said.

'Significant Blow' to ISIL Oil Operations

In Syria yesterday, forces successfully seized from ISIL a town along the Mara Line, Warren said. That operation was aided by four strikes against four separate ISIL tactical units, he said.

Coalition airstrikes continue in the eastern Syrian deserts against the ISIL oil network as part of Operation Tidal Wave II, Warren said. The coalition "dealt a significant blow" to ISIL's oil revenue by striking five gas and oil separation points, as well as two crude oil collection points near Raqqa on Dec. 19.

"This strike was the largest deliberate or pre-planned strike that the coalition has conducted since the start of the operation," the spokesman said.

Twenty fighters, bombers and other attack aircraft from three nations were involved in the strike and dropped more than 140 munitions, he said. The strike is a reminder that the United States and its partners "continue to apply pressure to ISIL across the breadth and the depth of their so-called caliphate," Warren said.

ISIL Behavior Turning 'Desperate'

ISIL documents recovered around Fallujah indicate the terrorists are "beginning to feel some of this pressure that we've been applying to them," Warren said. Iraqi security forces obtained a document from an ISIL unit that appears to be a formal order directing ISIL fighters to impersonate Iraqi security forces, Warren said.

The fighters are directed to bomb mosques, kill and torture civilians, and break into homes, before withdrawing from Fallujah, he said. They are directed to film their actions and distribute the videos, in an effort to discredit the Iraqi forces and the government of Iraq, Warren said.

"Clearly, this isn't the behavior of a legitimate government or of a legitimate military force," he said. "It's the behavior of thugs, it's the behavior of killers and it's the behavior of terrorists."

A separate ISIL document recovered bans people from watching television or from buying, installing or repairing satellite systems, the spokesman said.

"The reason I bring this up is to illustrate where ISIL is right now," Warren said. "I would submit to you that we're starting to see a change in their behavior that may be related to some desperation."

Warren said ISIL appears to be trying to hide information regarding the "recent string of defeats" as the United States and its partners kill ISIL leaders, increase the security capacity of regional partners, and strike the terrorists "across the battlefield and all of their formation."

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)