Shaping Operations Continue in Iraq, Syria as ISIL Leaders Targeted
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A Navy pilot assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 131 taxies an F/A-18C Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower at sea in the Persian Gulf, Sept. 9, 2016. The Eisenhower and its carrier strike group are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard
The past three weeks has seen continued shaping and clearing operations in Iraq, continued reduction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s ability to move fighters in and out of northern Syria, and sustained pressure on ISIL’s command and control, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian briefed the Pentagon press corps via teleconference on OIR operations, describing work being done to remove ISIL leadership figures.
Over the past 60 days coalition precision air strikes have targeted and struck more than a dozen ISIL leaders in Mosul alone, he said.
Strikes on ISIL Leaders
“These strikes have a disruptive effect on the enemy command and control, which is important in setting conditions for Mosul's liberation,” Dorrian said, noting that the strikes have been against military commanders, safe houses, weapons facilitators, vehicle-borne bomb attack coordinators, security commanders and operations and communication leaders.
On the precision strike announced last week against Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, widely known as ISIL’s No. 2 leader, Dorrian said coalition forces had been tracking him for a long time, knowing it was important to remove him from his role as ISIL's senior plotter for external terror attacks.
“Adnani was … responsible for spying, internal messaging and discipline as well as planning and directing the murder of innocent men, women and children in terror attacks around the world,” he added.
It has been widely reported that Adnani was killed in the strike but Dorrian said the coalition is still assessing the results of the strike.
“It's a rigorous process of intelligence gathering and analysis before we confirm the strike had its desired effect. When the professionals have gone through the relevant intelligence and that process is completed, we will inform you at once,” he added.
Over the past several weeks east of Mosul, Iraq, coalition forces supported peshmerga forces who were conducting Operation Evergreen II. The effort was designed to seize and control key terrain near the Gwer River Bridge, which crosses the Great Zab River, Dorrian said, adding that the operation was executed with 1,500 to 2,000 peshmerga with support from coalition and artillery strikes.
“The coalition used helicopters to lift the artillery into position and then exfiltrated the guns when the operation was complete. The firing solutions this offered provided maximum flexibility for the commander on the ground,” he said.
The operation was conducted Aug. 14-16 and took less than 48 hours to achieve its main goals, Dorrian said. It also liberated 12 villages and, he added, “a lot of people who were living under miserable conditions” under ISIL.
Also in Iraq, Iraqi forces and Counter Terrorism Service forces added Qayyarah to the list of cities liberated from ISIL, Dorrian said.
“In the last two weeks alone the [Iraqis] liberated an additional six villages in the area. The significance of these liberation battles is that the Iraqi security forces continue to gain control of key terrain and lines of communications, while [ISIL] continues to lose freedom of movement and the resources that come from controlling terrain,” he explained.
Qayyarah West Airfield, which will be a stepping stone and staging area for Iraqi forces, has been cleared and efforts are underway to develop the area to support upcoming operations to liberate Mosul, Dorrian added.
Partners in Syria
In Syria, after taking Jarabulus with its partnered forces, Turkey has announced that they've cleared the remaining border region from further infiltration by ISIL, Dorrian said.
This terrain was important as an route into and out of the region, he added, noting that ISIL’s loss of freedom of movement in this area improves security in Europe and around the world and severely impacts their ability to reinforce fighters in Syria and Iraq.
“ISIL is an adaptive and determined enemy,” the OIR spokesman said, “and the coalition will continue to support Turkey as our NATO ally, and their partner forces, as they continue to strengthen their lines and secure that border. The coalition will also continue working with our Syrian Democratic Forces partners in Syria to assure the latest progress continues to build momentum for a lasting defeat of [ISIL] in the region.”
The latest progress along with continuous airstrikes to dismantle ISIL command and control, financing and resupply routes set conditions for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, the city that ISIL considers its capital, he added.
Part of setting those conditions is continued work to assure that all counter-ISIL forces operating in Syria have opened their lines of coordination to deconflict operations in what has become a very crowded battle space, Dorrian said. “Unity of focus on [ISIL] over the coming days and weeks is imperative,” he added.
“Our allies, our coalition members and all of our partners have a unifying interest in defeating [ISIL],” Dorrian said. “We believe the improved coordination of armed activities in northern Syria will improve the safety of our forces.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)