Progress continues across the battlespace in Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremists, the U.S. Central Command spokesman said today, noting that ISIL is prioritizing resources as they continue to lose fighters and leaders at a high rate.
Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder told Pentagon reporters by teleconference that the ongoing fight against ISIL remains difficult and is expected to take a while to defeat it.
“The Iraqis are dealing with some tough challenges in certain areas but they also continue to do a lot of the right things,” Ryder said.
ISIL Operative Confirmed Killed in Airstrike
Centcom has confirmed the death of ISIL operative Junaid Hussain, a British citizen who was killed by a U.S. airstrike Aug. 24 in the ISIL stronghold of Raqqah, Syria, the colonel said.
“[Hussain] was involved in recruiting ISIL sympathizers in the West to carry out lone-wolf style attacks,” Ryder said, describing Hussain as very dangerous.
“He had significant technical skills and expressed a strong desire to kill Americans … He no longer poses a threat,” he said.
Ryder noted that Hussain also was responsible for releasing personally identifiable information of about 1,300 U.S. military and government employees, and he “specifically sought” to direct violence against U.S. service members and government employees.
“We have taken a significant threat off the battlefield and have made it very clear [to] ISIL leadership we are going to target them … just as we’re targeting their communications nodes, logistics nodes and military equipment,” he said.
Coalition Airstrikes Continue
“Coalition forces conducted 39 airstrikes this week near Tuz, which is south of Kirkuk city and east of Beiji, in support of Kurdish-Peshmerga ground operations,” Ryder said.
“The airstrikes destroyed 135 ISIL fighting positions and enabled the Peshmerga to retake close to a dozen villages and roughly 250-square kilometers of territory,” he said. “As the Peshmerga advance, they’re resetting and strengthening their forward line of troops.”
The isolation phase in Ramadi continues as coalition forces provide air support to Iraqi security forces in retaking the city, and its 11 airstrikes last week largely targeted enemy personnel, Ryder said.
Iraqi security forces have “made some gains in clearing routes and closing in on the city, but it remains a challenging fight and the Iraqis will have need to keep pressing the attack,” he noted.
Fights For Beiji, Refinery Remain Contested
Beiji and its oil refinery continue to be a center of fighting between Iraqi security forces and ISIL forces, and the area remains contested, Ryder said. The coalition’s 14 airstrikes the past week in the area have taken a “significant number of ISIL fighters and more than a dozen vehicles out of the fight,” he added.
While Iraqi forces hold on to their portion of the complex, ISIL has taken back some ground -- but the extremists are “paying a very heavy price for it,” Ryder noted.
“Our goal is to keep the pressure on ISIL while we enable the efforts of the indigenous ground forces in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)