By Cheryl Pellerin
Iraqi fighters, supported by the U.S.-led coalition formed to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have retaken 70 to 80 percent of eastern Mosul from the terrorists, Task Force Strike Commander Army Col. Brett Sylvia said Wednesday.
Sylvia is commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Strike, which is part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Task Force Strike is the roughly 1,700-person unit responsible for the advise-and-assist mission in Iraq. Sylvia briefed the press this morning during a video conference live from Baghdad.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Task Force Strike advisory teams have advised the Iraqi security forces through operations in Fallujah, Sharqat, Qayyarah and the occupation of Qayyarah West Airfield, and are now advising during operations to retake Mosul.
Task Force Strike’s role is critical in setting the conditions for the inevitable military defeat of ISIL in Iraq, Davis added.
Progress in Eastern Mosul
The Iraqis “believe [the fight is] between 70 and 80 percent complete with eastern Mosul. And really, in terms of kind of the doctrinal definition of defeat, you can say that there has been a defeat there because they have certainly broken [ISIL’s] will to fight … in earnest in eastern Mosul,” Sylvia told reporters.
But the battle for Mosul isn’t over, he said.
“There’s a lot of fight that’s left to do in western Mosul,” Sylvia noted, adding that the Iraqis have done extensive defensive work in western Mosul and in some cases have greater defenses in western Mosul than they did in the eastern part of the city.
“The Iraqi security forces … have a tremendous capability,” he said. “That capability has grown. They’ve gotten better at this urban fight. They know what they’re getting themselves into and they know that they have in many cases broken the will of many of these [ISIL] fighters.”
Supporting Iraqi Forces
Sylvia said that over the past nine months task force members have found ways to deepen their involvement with their Iraqi counterparts.
Describing the model of their advise-and-assist mission, he said, “The Iraqis do the ground maneuver and we support them with all the capabilities at our disposal. We work as one team to accomplish the mission.”
Task Force Strike uses the model at various echelons and it has become more effective over time and has yielded increasing success.
Over the past nine months, he said, Iraqi fighters assisted by Task Force Strike have liberated hundreds of villages and cities, including Fallujah, Qayyara, Sharqot and Qaraqosh, and helped nearly 250,000 displaced persons, 100,000 of whom left refugee camps and went back to their homes.
The Iraqis, under fire, put an assault bridge over the Tigris River, the task force commander said, “and then three more bridges were constructed over the Tigris and the Qaza Rivers and a major airfield was liberated and then restored at [Qayyara] West.”
And together, he added, the task force and the Iraqis have measurably reduced the effectiveness of ISIL’s main weapon system, the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and destroyed nearly a dozen of ISIL’s makeshift attack drones.
Vehicle Bombs, Drones
When Iraqi forces were fighting on the outskirts of Mosul they’d see what Sylvia described as “Mad Max-looking VBIEDs.” He was referring to the main character in a 1979 Australian film that took place in a post-apocalyptic world and whose adversaries waged war using patch-worked, but deadly vehicles.
“[ISIL] had taken vehicles [and] put steel plating all around these things and just had a small little porthole that the driver would be able to see through, and they would try to ram these things into the Iraqi defenses,” Sylvia said.
Today, he said, those are gone, but ISIL is using other vehicles that are much more crude.
ISIL’s drones, he said, are small commercial off-the-shelf unmanned quadcopters that can stay up for about 45 minutes and can be made to carry small munitions that are dropped on Iraqi security forces and their positions.
“While I won’t go into any of the technical capabilities that we use on these ISIL drones, what we have found is that we’re able to bring to bear some of our technical capabilities and then the Iraqis are able to couple that with much of their direct-fire weapon systems” Sylvia said.
“As a result of us working together hand-in-hand, he said, “we’ve been able to bring down these ISIL drones and have made them much less effective than they were in the beginning.”
Improved Iraqi Forces
Sylvia said that over the past nine months he’s seen a great transformation in the Iraqi security forces.
“When we first began these operations, the first village that we liberated together was a small village,” he said, and the ISF sent a brigade to attack 30 to 40 ISIL fighters in the village, thinking that’s how much combat power would be needed.
“What we’ve witnessed now … since that day back in May is that they have increased their ability to conduct combined arms maneuver,” Sylvia continued. “It has been a growing capability.”
He added, “Today in Mosul, what you’ll see is the Counter Terrorism Service advancing on one axis; you’ll see the Federal Police advancing on another axis, and you’ll see the Iraqi army advancing on a third axis — each one of them now able to operate inside a dense urban environment and to continue to make … progress every single day against ISIL.”