WASHINGTON --- U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant are forcing the terrorist group to change the way it communicates, moves, reinforces and resupplies, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.
Army Col. Steve Warren briefed Pentagon reporters live from Baghdad via digital video conference, describing operations and highlighting their effects on ISIL leaders and fighters.
“In addition to enabling local forces to fight ISIL, coalition airstrikes are killing leaders that ISIL relies on for command and control, financing, logistics and propaganda,” Warren said, noting that the coalition so far has conducted 7,440 airstrikes, with 4,798 in Iraq and 2,642 in Syria.
When coalition fighters strike an enemy leader, they call it a high-value individual, or HVI, strike, he said.
Depleting the Bench
Coalition HVI strikes are depleting ISIL's bench, and recent HVI strikes have eliminated key enemy leaders, including Haji Mutazz on Aug. 18 and Junaid Hussain on Aug. 24, Warren added.
Mutazz was ISIL's second in command, responsible for operations in Iraq and Syria, he said, and Hussain was a top recruiter. Coalition airstrikes also have killed several ISIL members who used social media to recruit Westerners.
“HVI strikes have killed approximately 70 senior and mid-level leaders since the beginning of May. That equates to one HVI killed every two days. In the last two months, strikes near Mosul have killed eight of ISIL's top leaders in that city, including Haji Mutazz,” Warren said.
Such strikes force ISIL to use second- and third-tier leaders, he said, adding that HVI strikes “make ISIL leaders reluctant to communicate and afraid to move around the battlefield for one simple reason -- they fear sudden death.”
Warren said that in Ramadi, Iraqi security forces continue to move to isolate enemy forces who are occupying the capital of Anbar Province.
“We've conducted 292 strikes against ISIL in and around that city since operations there began. We've conducted 52 strikes just in the last 10 days,” he said.
The strikes have killed hundreds of fighters, destroyed mortar positions, vehicle bombs, explosive facilities, heavy machine guns and sniper positions, Warren added.
Helped by the strikes, Iraqi ground forces have advanced 15 kilometers over the last seven days, he said.
“Last week, for the first time, Iraqi F-16s provided direct support to maneuvering Iraqi ground forces. Over the past week, the CTS – the counterterrorist service -- in particular stood out in very tough fighting along the western approaches to Ramadi,” Warren said.
Coalition-trained and -equipped Iraqi ground forces have been deployed around Ramadi in time for the decisive phase of the operation, he said.
“We now believe battlefield conditions are set for the ISF to push into the city,” Warren said.
In Northern Iraq, a recent peshmerga operation returned more than 400 square kilometers to government control and liberated 23 villages, he said.
And in Syria, Warren added, where coalition air operations continue and the coalition recently conducted an aerial resupply, friendly forces have liberated hundreds of square miles and cut ISIL off from all but 68 miles of the 600-mile-long border with Turkey.
Warren said the Russians so far have conducted about 80 strikes in Syria, including the recently reported cruise-missile strikes from the Caspian Sea.
“These strikes have been clustered around Homs and Hama,” he added, “and we’ve assessed that only a fraction of the strikes have been against ISIL or in ISIL-dominated areas.”
Over the weekend, Warren said that U.S. C-17s dropped about 50 tons of small-arms ammunition into northern Syria to help a group called the Syrian-Arab coalition.
“This is a group of smaller Syrian-Arab fighters who have, on their own, joined together to form a coalition,” Warren said. They have about 5,000 fighters and the United States learned about the group as part of ongoing operations in Syria, he said.
“We got to know the leader, we vetted the leader, we gave that leader some specific training on some of our specialized equipment, and now we have provided that leader and his forces with the 50 tons of ammunition,” Warren added.
Warren said the connection is not a major shift in how the United States has conducted operations in Syria, noting that an airdrop in Kobani nearly a year ago delivered 23 bundles of ammunition. This weekend’s airdrop consisted of more than 100 bundles, he said.
“This is part of our program to train and equip forces who are fighting ISIL,” Warren said. “In this case, these Syrian-Arab coalition fighters … have been fighting ISIL in the vicinity of Raqqa … and have been fighting ISIL now for months.”
He added, “We're looking for forces who are pursuing the same objectives that we have, which is the defeat and ultimate destruction of ISIL.”