By Terri Moon Cronk
US-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have recently killed several prominent leaders of that organization, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, said Wednesday during a news briefing.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad, Dorrian said precision coalition airstrikes in Mosul and other areas around Iraq have continued attacking ISIL leaders who facilitate and command and control the terrorist network.
“The latest examples are three ISIL facilitators and terrorist leaders from occupied cities,” he said, confirming the deaths of Ahmad Abdullah Hamad al-Mahalawi, Abu Turq, and Falah al-Rashidi.
“Al-Rishidi, struck on Dec. 4 in Mosul, [Iraq,] was an ISIL leader who was involved in ISIL’s use of [vehicle bombs] in Mosul,” Dorrian said. “His removal further degrades ISIL’s [vehicle bomb] threat, which has been the enemy’s weapon of choice for attacking Iraqi security forces and civilians.”
Al-Mahalawi, the spokesman said, was struck Dec. 21 in Qaim, Iraq, and was a “legacy” al-Qaida in Iraq member serving as an ISIL leader in Qaim. “His removal will disrupt ISIL’s ability to conduct operations along the Euphrates River Valley,” the colonel said. “This is significant because as ISIL continues to lose population centers, they want to transition toward spoiler attacks in the outlying areas of Iraq and Syria. The loss of Mahalawi degrades ISIL’s ability to make that transition.”
Abu Turq was killed Dec. 4 in Sharqat, Iraq. Dorrian described him as an ISIL financial facilitator in Qanfusah, Iraq — about 50 miles southwest of Irbil — who had connections to ISIL leaders and ensured money reached the terrorist group.
“He was killed by an airstrike while fighting from a rooftop position in Sharqat, where he and several other fighters were moving a heavy weapon to fire upon partner forces. His removal increases pressure on the ISIL financial network, which is already severely disrupted by several hundred strikes on oil infrastructure and bulk cache sites,” he said.
In Syria, more than 100 airstrikes have occurred in the Tabqa Dam area, about 25 miles west of Raqqa, killing many ISIL fighters, including Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti, Dorrian said, adding, “Kuwaiti, a prominent foreign fighter and leader, had been sent to improve ISIL’s control in the region in the face of [the Syrian Democratic Forces’] advance.”
ISIL Unable To Replace Fighters, Supplies
Overall, the spokesman said, the coalition-backed battles to regain Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq from ISIL control have weakened thee enemy’s ability to bring in replacement fighters and supplies.
“In Syria, [the SDF], led by their Syrian Arab Coalition, are continuing their advance to isolate Raqqa along two axes, supported by coalition forces, providing advice and assistance, and coalition air power delivering counter-ISIL strikes to Raqqa’s north and west,” the colonel said.
Since this phase began Dec. 9, the SDF have liberated more than 500 square miles of Syrian land, home to tens of thousands of people who have been brutalized by ISIL’s rule, Dorrian said.
“Coalition airstrikes removed a significant number of ISIL fighters, more than 70 vehicles, and 200 fortifications from the battlefield. This degrades ISIL’s ability to maneuver and defend the occupied cities,” he added.
And recovering the Tabqa Dam from ISIL will return Syria’s largest dam to its people, Dorrian noted, helping them reclaim their homes and liberty.
“We’re working with our SDF partners to ensure the dam is effectively and safely recovered,” he said. “ISIL has used the dam as a headquarters, a prison for high-profile hostages, and a training and indoctrination area for leaders since they seized control of it in 2013. Loss of this key terrain will damage the enemy’s prospects and legitimacy as they continue to lose territory.”
Fight in Mosul Stepped Up
Iraqi forces have made significant progress since beginning phase two of their operation to liberate Mosul on Dec. 29, Dorrian noted.
In this phase, Iraqi forces synchronize simultaneous attacks from three axes into the city, with elements of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service, the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Federal Police conducting the operation, he explained.
“What we’re finding is that the synchronized attacks present the enemy with more problems than they can solve, and the Iraqi security forces are making progress with the continued benefit of coalition strikes and advisers, Dorrian said. “The axes are beginning to converge as the Iraqis make progress toward the Tigris [River].”