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Iraqi Forces Building Momentum Against Islamic State, Dunford Says


By Jim Garamone

Iraqi forces have momentum against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Saturday.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. spoke to reporters following a two-day visit to Iraq. During the visit he met with U.S. and Iraqi leaders including Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones and Army Gen. Sean McFarland, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

Dunford also met U.S., coalition and Iraqi troops in Baghdad, Asad and Irbil. He last visited the country in October, just after taking over as chairman.

“I believe the Iraqis now have the momentum,” the general said. The seizing of Ramadi, the operations that have been conducted in Anbar province, the recapture and continued control of the oil refinery in Beiji, and the successful operations cutting ISIL’s main supply line south of Sinjar make him “comfortable saying the Iraqis have the momentum.”

Attitude Shift

The big takeaway from the trip, the general said, is the psychology of the Iraqis. The general met with senior Iraqi leaders, but he also met with Iraqi special operators, soldiers in training, and wounded warriors. The mood is more upbeat across the board, he said.

They are more confident in their capabilities. The Iraqi operation in Ramadi, especially, was Iraqi-planned, Iraqi-resourced and Iraqi-executed. “I felt the Iraqi leadership was pretty proud of their guys,” Dunford said.

And the Iraqis are continuing with the battle. Iraqi forces are moving north into Haditha and they are moving to the east. “They feel it in terms of pressure on ISIL, and they realize they have to keep moving to provide that pressure,” the general said. “They are kind of pumped up about it.”

Iraqi, Syrian and coalition forces have put increasing pressure on Raqqa, Syria, the nominal capital of the so-called caliphate, and Mosul, Iraq, the largest city captured by the terrorists, the general said.

Simultaneous, Increasing Pressure

“We have to continue to do things across all of Iraq and Syria simultaneously,” he said. While coalition forces are isolating the two important cities, Dunford said, “it’s not Ramadi, it’s not Mosul, it’s not Raqqa — it’s all of those and all of it happening at the same time.”

Iraqi forces are becoming more proficient in a new style of warfare for them. Iraqi leaders have learned the true power of combined arms and harnessed coalition airpower with their ground forces, “It’s not just about using aviation and waiting until it’s done,” he said. “It’s about using aviation as a cover so they can move and fire and clear. They are better able to integrate effects.”

And Iraqi security forces now have the success of Ramadi to use in planning further operations. Success breeds success, the general said. This is important, because as Syrian anti-ISIL groups move south they are moving into traditionally Sunni Arab lands, Dunford said.

“I don’t want to overstate this, but when we went to Anbar, you could see the tribes are much more interested in talking to our special operations forces,” and momentum builds, he said.

Dunford was not the only American official to congratulate Iraqi leaders this week. President Barack Obama also told al-Abadi that the coalition wants to help the Iraqis exploit the success they are having.

Iraqi military leaders will put together their plan and present it to McFarland, and his team will look for the best ways to support the anti-ISIL effort.

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