By DoD News
By Cheryl Pellerin
With 50 percent of Raqqa, Syria, now under the control of Syrian Defense Forces and holding forces in place in Mosul, Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has no safe haven left in either country, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said Thursday.
Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon, briefing the media live from Baghdad, gave an update on operations in Syria and Iraq, noting that determined SDF fighters continue to make progress against ISIS as they fight block by block in Raqqa.
“The SDF has now cleared more than 50 percent of the city from terrorists,” Dillon said.
“The SDF are in a fierce urban fight and have almost managed to link up their forces along the eastern and western axes as they conduct deliberate clearance operations of areas under their control,” he added.
Fighting in the tightly packed old city is difficult because buildings and even corpses are rigged with improvised explosives by ISIS to stall the SDF advance, the colonel said.
In the past week, ISIS has used car bombs to attack evacuating civilians and working journalists. In attacks two days in a row, ISIS used armored vehicles packed with explosives to kill six noncombatants and wound five reporters, he said.
The Raqqa Internal Security Force, otherwise known as the RISF, now more than 1,000 strong and composed mainly of Arabs from the Raqqa area, is filling in behind the SDF to provide security and prevent ISIS from returning to cleared neighborhoods, Dillon said.
In southern Syria, near the Iraq-Syria border, there were clashes Monday between ISIS and militia groups, he said, noting that there were initial allegations of coalition strikes on Iraqi popular mobilization forces.
“We verified that the coalition did not conduct air or ground artillery strikes in that location at that time,” the colonel said. “This has since been confirmed and corroborated by Iraqi security forces and Iraqi popular mobilization forces.”
Holding forces are in place in Mosul, Dillon said, and the federal police, the 16th Iraqi Armored Division and some Counter Terrorism Service battalions remain in eastern and western Mosul to provide security as the cleanup begins and civilians start rebuilding their lives.
“We have seen the resilience of the Moslawis in East Mosul and we are beginning to see it in the west as markets open and people begin to return … to their neighborhoods. The coalition continues to support the [Iraqis] as they reset and prepare for follow-on operations in Tal Afar,” he said.
The coalition conducted more than 50 strikes in the past week against ISIS defensive positions, headquarters, weapons caches and vehicle bomb and road bomb factories in Tal Afar and Kisik Junction, which is about 30 kilometers east of Tal Afar, Dillon said, where ISIS is defending the approach to the city.
The coalition estimates that about 2,000 ISIS fighters are in and around Tal Afar, and the colonel said the fight to root them out from one of ISIS’ last Iraq strongholds is expected to be difficult, he said.
“In former ISIS strongholds, where local Iraqis are back in control and taking care of their people, we see continued progress,” Dillon said.
In Tikrit, liberated in April 2015, more than 95 percent of those who fled the city have returned, the colonel said. In Ramadi, liberated in February 2016, more than 300,000 displaced persons have returned, and 20 schools, 18 health centers and 250 houses are rehabilitated, he added.
In Fallujah, liberated in June 2016, 400,000 displaced persons have returned, clean water is pumped to 60 percent of residents, and projects have begun to rehabilitate more than 10,000 houses over the next 18 months, Dillon said.
After ISIS is removed from an area, it is cleared of hazards, international aid and local governance resumes, he said.
Degrading ISIS Finances
Highlighting success in degrading ISIS financial resources, Dillon said the coalition conducted precision airstrikes on five ISIS financial centers in Iraq and Syria over the past two weeks.
“In southern Syria, two airstrikes in Abu Kamal destroyed an ISIS financial headquarters and a bulk cash depository, and another ISIS financial headquarters was destroyed in Deir ez-Zor. Two airstrikes in Iraq destroyed ISIS financial centers in Huwayjah and al-Muthanna,” the colonel said.
The coalition is disrupting ISIS financing across Iraq and Syria to keep the terrorist organization from raising, moving and using the resources to pay for fighters and fund terrorism around the globe, Dillon said.
The coalition has struck about 30 ISIS banks and financial centers over the past three years, destroying tens of millions of dollars, and Iraqi government has cut off more than 90 bank branches inside ISIS territory from global financial systems, he added.
ISIS also is under significant pressure because the coalition is targeting its oil and other revenue streams, the colonel said.
“They have been forced to cut fighter pay by half, and having lost Mosul, and with the SDF making steady progress in Raqqa, ISIS has lost much of its revenue base,” Dillon explained.
ISIS is becoming increasingly desperate and resorting to more arbitrary taxation and extortion, undermining credibility with the local population and attractiveness to recruits, he added.
These efforts along with ISIS battlefield losses, leader deaths and degraded propaganda all contribute to a losing organization, Dillon said.
“ISIS does not have the same level of leadership it once had. They do not have the same level of grandeur. People just no longer want to come and join these terrorists. And they do not have the resources they once had,” he noted.
“ISIS is losing [and] it will continue to lose under the pressure of our partner forces and the coalition until they are defeated in Iraq and Syria,” Dillon said.