In teleconference remarks from Baghdad today the commander of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve reported progress and success in the U.S.-coalition forces’ campaign to bring lasting defeat to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend described a decidedly different situation in Iraq and Syria today since the U.S.-led counter-ISIL campaign began in 2014. What started with helping the international coalition halt ISIL’s offensive, he said, has evolved into helping Iraq’s government and U.S. partners in Iraq and Syria defend territory, and then reorganize their forces and mount a counterattack.
America’s partners in Iraq and Syria have made progress and achieved success against ISIL forces since 2014, Townsend said, “when the terrorist group “seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq with masked terrorists and long columns of vehicles all flying the black banner of ISIL.”
The general added, “In 2016, our campaign is all about the counter-offensive -- liberating terrain and the population in Iraq and Syria from the clutches of ISIL's brutal control.”
ISIL has “brutalized its own people -- and what few services they did provide were financed through the seizure and taxation of peaceful cities and the illicit sale of stolen oil,” the general said, describing the group as “bent on destroying our way of life and imposing their own twisted ideology, plain and simple.”
Reducing ISIL’s Finances, Fighters
The coalition has degraded ISIL's military capacity, and dismantled their finances,, destroying the terror group’s discovered bank and cash reserves, Townsend said.
“We have conducted hundreds of strikes to destroy ISIL oil infrastructure; we assess these efforts have cost ISIL between $4.5 million and $6.5 million a month,” the general said. “The liberation of key population centers and oil fields has further limited the enemy's access to taxes and oil revenue.”
Coalition forces have killed or seriously wounded more than 2,500 ISIL members since mid-October, Townsend said.
“We have captured or killed 180 ISIL leadership figures and hundreds-more lower-level commanders,” he added. “Such strikes disrupt the enemy's ability to plan and conduct operations here, or conduct external attacks around the world.”
Targeting ISIL Propaganda
ISIL also has experienced less-effective propaganda as of late, Townsend said. He cited an ISIL magazine, "Dabiq,” named after a northern Syrian town, where the terrorists had said would be the site of an apocalyptic confrontation with counter-ISIL forces.
“It used to feature articles about a utopian Islamic state, now the name of their magazine is ‘Rumiyah,’ because thanks to Turkey and our Syrian partners, Dabiq is under new management, no longer in ISIL's control,” the general said.
As U.S. and partner forces’ capabilities and resources continue to grow, ISIL as an organization shrinks, Townsend said. To date, the coalition has trained over 66,000 Iraqi security forces and over 3,000 Syrian partner forces, he said.
“These forces have taken the fight to the enemy; they have encircled and are assaulting ISIL in Mosul and are marching to liberate Raqqah as we speak,” the general said.
In Mosul, Iraqi security forces have seen a remarkable turnaround from just two years ago, Townsend said. “Today, they're conducting a multiple-division, combined-arms assault on a major city 400 kilometers from their capital -- this operation would challenge any army,” he said.
In Syria, Turkey and their partner forces have made tremendous progress in securing their border, liberating a large number of towns and villages, and they are now driving to eject ISIL from the city of Al-Bab, Townsend said.
“In August, our Syrian partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces, liberated tens of thousands of people from ISIL in the strategically important city of Manbij,” he said. Last month, the general added, the partner force started operations to isolate Raqqah, ISIL's self-proclaimed capital in Syria.
“So far, they have liberated more than 800 square kilometers on their march toward the city,” he said. “All told, almost three million people and more than 44,000 square kilometers of territory have been liberated from ISIL in 2016.”
The coalition is working to remove ISIL’s grip on the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqah, Townsend said.
“The liberation of these cities will largely dismantle ISIL's physical ‘caliphate,’ which is a necessary step in the group's ultimate demise,” he said.
The general said more needs to be done to defeat ISIL, noting that sustaining the focus of the 60-plus-nation counter-ISIL coalition remains critical.
“Our Iraqi and Syrian partners have made tremendous sacrifices to free their land from ISIL …and improve security in all of our nations,” the general said. “We look forward to continued progress in the coming year.”
Townsend commended the counter-ISIL coalition’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians, who he said have “brilliantly” supported a spectrum of efforts.
“They have provided training, equipment, intelligence, fire support and advice from the ministry level in Baghdad all the way down to battalion formations at austere and dangerous forward locations on the dusty battlefields of Iraq and Syria,” he said. “All Americans, other members of our coalition and the entire world should be grateful and proud of what their sons and daughters are doing to make our nations and the world safer from this evil scourge.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)