US-backed forces have recaptured more land from ISIS: Pentagon

An ISIS militant firing at an Iraqi army position in Beiji. File photo

ARA News 

The Pentagon said that the US-backed forces in Iraq have recaptured over 45 percent of territory in Iraq from the radical group of Islamic State (ISIS). Last December, the percentage of Iraqi territory regained from ISIS had reached some 40 percent, according to the Pentagon, which shows a gradual decline of ISIS and the shrinking of its self-declared Caliphate. 

“Again, we’ve had numbers both for Iraq and Syria previously.  But I think the number right now is — in Iraq, about 45 percent of the territory they once held has been recovered.  And I think the number in Syria is anywhere from 16 to 20 percent,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

The US says it’s happy with the progress of the war against the Islamic State. 

“And the [Defence] secretary is satisfied that that progress is being made, that the pieces are being put together in such a way as to support the Iraqi forces.  Remember, this is the Iraqis fight. These are supportive capabilities that may be needed in the future, particularly in the fight for Mosul [ISIS main bastion in Iraq].  And we always anticipated there would be some sort of lag time between decisions and ultimately implementation,” Cook stressed. 

“These are decisions that the government in Baghdad will have to make, but there are Iraqi forces out right now, taking the fight to ISIL [ISIS] in various parts of the country.  You’ve seen activities in Anbar Province; you’ve seen what’s going on in Makhmur; you’ve seen what’s going on in the Euphrates River Valley,” he added.

John Kirby, the US State Department spokesperson on Monday said they are also collecting better intelligence from the ground, now that the operations are starting to take place in and around Mosul.

“We have for some time now been conducting what we call shaping operations in and around Mosul. Everybody recognizes the importance of Mosul and taking it back,” he said.

“As we have conducted shaping operations we’ve gained a better sense, a heightened sense of situational awareness about what’s going on in Mosul. And we obviously want to see that information continue to flow and continue to help inform what would be future operations there. But again, I’m just reticent to get into the details of what we’re learning and how we’re learning it.”

ISIS Weaker Than Before 

Major General Gary J. Volesky, commander of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that radical group of the Islamic State (ISIS) is weaker that before, but said the fight will become more difficult once it moves closer to Mosul–ISIS major bastion in northern Iraq. 

“As we’ve seen, as the enemy loses more and more terrain, they resort to some of these desperate acts,” the general said about the recent Baghdad attacks that killed more than 150 people. “The security forces in Baghdad have the situation under control, but our condolences go out to those families,” he added.

“As we’ve said, the enemy [ISIS] is getting weaker and weaker. And so, you know, as we look and we assess this with our Iraqi partners, I mean, they’re the ones that are going to do that mission,” the general said about future operations in Mosul.

“When we used to see, you know, 50, 60, 70 fighters, now what we’re seeing is five to eight, maybe 15, with a VBIED [a car bomb]. But even that generation is based on the local area they’re at. If they’re in an area near Mosul, where they have had two years to build up and they’ve got a larger force there, then they can project it in the local area much quicker than they can at other areas like Qayyarah,” he said in a press release on Wednesday.

“So what we have seen is a clear degradation in their ability to reinforce and conduct offensive operations. So I think that’s probably more telling than talking about numbers of enemy fighters,” Volesky added.

However, the general admitted although they are focused on accelerating and getting to Mosul as quickly as possible, they still have challenges of force generation, and the closer they will get to Mosul, the harder the fight gets.

“(…) generating a force to get through training, get ready to go up to Mosul, it requires them to move that piece out of another location that’s been cleared. And so they want to make sure that they’re doing that very deliberately,” he said. “This confrontation is going to have a pace that it will get harder the closer we get to Mosul.” 

“As you saw Ramadi, it took about six months to get that city cleared. And they had only been there for a few months. They’ve been in Mosul for two years. And, you know, as you know, Mosul is about three times larger than Ramadi. And so, you know, as we talk — talk to them, we just need to be prepared to ensure we’re going the right enabling and we’ve got the right conditions up,” he added.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said that the Mosul will not be captured this year, and that the struggle will take more time.

“They’ve lost a lot of territory,” he told Washington Post’s David Ignatius last Monday. “We’re killing a lot of their fighters. We will retake Mosul, but it will take a long time and be very messy. I don’t see that happening in this administration.”

US analysts say the delay has to do with the lack of local Sunni Arab fighters.

Speaking to ARA News, Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, said: “The Mosul operation is delayed as result of the harsh reality that the U.S.-led Coalition and Baghdad are at odds over how to attract more Sunni Arab Iraqis to join the Iraqi Security Forces to fight ISIS.”

“The U.S. does not want Shia militias under the Hashd Sha’abi to play any role in the Mosul campaign, while many influential actors in Baghdad disagree. The U.S. wants to have a plan in place for holding Mosul once ISIS is displaced from it, the U.S. fears the reemergence of ISIS, especially if there isn’t a local, Sunni Arab force in place from Day 1,” he added.

The Iraqi government still opposes the involvement of a bigger Sunni force, according to Heras.

“Baghdad will not authorize a Sunni National Guard force to hold Mosul, so that makes it more difficult for a hold force post-ISIS to be mobilized,” he told ARA News.

“Mobilizing Sunni Arab fighters for the Iraqi Security Forces is part of the ongoing Iraq Train and Equip program that the Pentagon is conducting, working within the Iraqi military rather than building out a force parallel to it,” he added.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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