By Karen Parrish
U.S., coalition and partner forces are edging toward victory in the campaign to defeat Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists in and around Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian, speaking by teleconference from Baghdad, provided an update on the fight in both countries.
Progress in Syria
“The Syrian Democratic Forces and their Syrian-Arab coalition continue advancing as they further isolate Raqqa city,” Dorrian said. “They continue to make progress in clearing ISIS fighters from the territory in the vicinity of Tabqa, having cleared territory east and north of Raqqa, where they are now nearing positions to enable their assault to liberate the city.”
The Syrian and Arab forces have repelled a “significant number” of ISIS attacks as they have advanced on Raqqa, he said. ISIS is using vehicle-borne bombs, direct and indirect fire, and human shields to slow that advance, he added.
Fight to Retake Mosul ‘Incremental’
In Iraq, Iraqi forces are making incremental progress on the west side of Mosul, Dorrian said, in large part because of the need to protect against civilian casualties. “The enemy has intensified their exploitation of civilians by moving them in large numbers into harm’s way,” he said.
The enemy’s use of civilians as human shields is “a despicable tactic, and unfortunate, and heartbreaking,” he said. “But it is something that we’re seeing.”
Since the effort to take Mosul back from ISIS began Feb.19, Iraqi forces supported by coalition airstrikes have cleared nearly 200 square miles of territory, Dorrian reported.
He noted that there have already been some positive results for the people of Iraq as the fight against ISIS goes on.
“One of the things it’s very important to understand is that millions of people have been able to return to their homes because of the rollback of ISIS territorial gains,” he said. “And a lot of the reason for that is the coalition airstrikes that have supported our partners as they’ve taken that territory back.”
ISIS Can ‘Surrender or Be Killed’
Iraqi forces control both main routes west of Mosul, limiting ISIS fighters’ freedom of movement, he said. Iraqi has been encircled for “quite some time,” he said. The Iraqi counterterrorism service and federal police are pressing more deeply into the dense, urban terrain along the Euphrates River and the old part of the city, Dorrian said, while elements of the Iraqi army continue clearing territory to the north and west of the city center.
There is only a “shrinking cordon” in Mosul where ISIS can operate, Dorrian said.
“This enemy in Mosul is not going anywhere,” he said, later adding, “They’re not going to be able to leave to the west; they are cut off. … They have really two choices: they can surrender to the Iraqi security forces, or they’re going to be killed.”
While progress continues, the colonel said, it’s still a slow, tough fight.
“In reality, it’s very, very slow and very, very hard, and it’s gut-busting, difficult fighting between our forces and theirs,” he told reporters. “But our forces and the Iraqi security forces continue to make progress. It’s very slow, it’s very tough. One of the reasons for that is because we want to do it in a manner that protects civilian life. Prime Minister [Haider] Abadi’s been very clear on that, and it’s been an enduring principle of the campaign throughout.”