WASHINGTON, June 1, 2017 —
Iraqi forces are closing in on the final terrorist-held areas in western Mosul, while partnered forces in Syria are just a few kilometers from the key city of Raqqa, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said today.
The Iraqis are making steady progress as they approach the last three western Mosul neighborhoods that are held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Army Col. Ryan Dillon told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference from Baghdad.
"The remaining ISIS fighters hold less than 10 square kilometers of the city," he said, adding, "Liberating these final neighborhoods will be among the most difficult fighting the [Iraqi forces have] faced in their campaign to defeat ISIS."
The coalition conducted 21 strikes in the past week in support of the Iraqi security forces' efforts, hitting mortars, machine guns, multiple vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and factories where they're made, he said.
The coalition has struck more than 120 vehicles in the past week alone, he said, describing vehicle-borne bombs as the terrorists' weapon of choice in Mosul.
The Iraqi government has instructed civilians to evacuate Mosul's Old City. However, the terrorists are targeting fleeing civilians, Dillon said.
"Citizens have been herded and forced into buildings, being trapped to be used for ISIS' sinister tactics," he said. "They have been shot by ISIS snipers while trying to evacuate, and we have seen them victims of ISIS-emplaced bombs and bobby traps as they attempt to flee."
Iraqi forces have established safe passages along the forward line of troops to get civilians to muster points and screening sites outside of the city, he said.
Partnered Forces Make Gains in Syria
Syrian Democratic Forces continue to close in on ISIS around Raqqa, gaining about 350 square kilometers in the last week, Dillion said. "The SDF is poised around Raqqa -- they're within 3 kilometers of Raqqa city from the north and the east, and are about 10 kilometers from the city to the west," he added.
The coalition conducted 59 strikes in support of the isolation of Raqqa this past week, hitting fighting positions, construction equipment, artillery systems and command-and-control nodes, he said.
The coalition continues to engage ISIS targets wherever they are found, Dillon said. Throughout the combined joint operations area, he said, the coalition struck multiple ISIS revenue-producing targets this week, including fuel trucks, fuel tanks, oil stills and wellheads.
'Unacceptable' Presence Inside Deconfliction Zone
The coalition has observed pro-regime forces patrolling in the vicinity of the established deconfliction zone around the Tanf training site in southern Syria, he said. Coalition forces have operated there for months, training and advising vetted partnered forces in the fight against ISIS, Dillon explained.
"Pro-regime patrols and the continued armed and hostile presence of forces inside the deconfliction zone is unacceptable and threatening to our coalition forces," he said. "We are prepared to defend ourselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the deconfliction zone."
The coalition has communicated its position through the deconfliction line with the Russians and dropped leaflets to the force inside the deconfliction zone, he noted.
"The coalition is dedicated and focused on the defeat of ISIS. Our partnered forces are dedicated and focused on the defeat of ISIS," Dillion said. "We think all parties in southern Syria should remain focused on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to the region and worldwide peace and security."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter @FerdinandoDoD)