By DoD News
By Terri Moon Cronk
The global coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has offered its congratulations to Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Iraqi security forces on their historic victory against an evil enemy, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters Monday. At the same time, the commander was unable confirm whether ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive or dead.
Iraq declared Mosul’s liberation Sunday, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said Townsend, in a teleconferenced briefing from Baghdad.
“The Iraqis prevailed in the most extended and brutal combat I have ever witnessed, while making extraordinary efforts to safeguard civilian lives, even at the cost of their own,” he said. “The list of martyrs is painfully long.”
ISIS Lost Largest ‘Capital’
The OIR commander noted when ISIS lost Mosul, it lost its capital in Iraq and the largest population center they held anywhere in the world.
“Iraqi militia forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and the global coalition also deserve a share of the credit for their sacrifices to achieve this hard-won victory,” Townsend said.
But Iraq’s victory does not eliminate the presence of ISIS, he cautioned, adding that tough fighting against the rogue terrorists remains.
“There are still pockets of resistance in Mosul, hold-outs, and hidden [improvised explosive devices] that will take weeks to clear, as well as remaining ISIS enclaves [in places such as] western Anbar,” Townsend said.
Additionally, humanitarian and stabilization efforts are desperately needed to ease the suffering of Mosul citizens and start the city on the road to recovery, he said. “Though the Moslawis have suffered greatly, the east side is already springing back to life less than six months after its liberation. And Moslawis have already started to return to their neighborhoods in the west.”
But still, he added, the loss of one of ISIS’ twin capitals and a jewel of their so-called caliphate is a decisive blow to ISIS and certainly something for the Iraqis to celebrate.
“They can also celebrate the remarkable turnaround their security forces have made in the course of the past three years,” the general said.
Raqqa Liberation Closer
Turning to Syria, the Syrian Democratic Force began its assault to liberate Raqqa on June 5, and 37 days later, they have completely surrounded the city and made good progress on both their eastern and western axes of attack, Townsend said..
The SDF breached into the ancient citadel of Old Raqqa in the central part of the city, he said.
“We should not forget that ISIS has had more than three years to prepare the defense of Raqqa,” Townsend said. “While SDF operations are off to a good start, resistance has been stiffening, and we know this is not going to be an easy fight. We said that about Mosul, but many seem to be surprised when it turned out to be true.”
ISIS Leader Status Unknown
With varying reports on the whereabouts of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the general said he is unable confirm or deny where he is or whether he is alive or dead. “Let me just say for the record, my fervent hope is it is the latter,” he added.
With the battle against ISIS not over, the terrorist group remains a threat, and an evil enemy that will resort to any lengths to maintain its hold on territory it claims as their caliphate, the general said.
“But make no mistake, it is a losing cause,” Townsend said of the organization. “Our partners in the international coalition against ISIS will stand side-by-side against ISIS until they’re defeated in both Iraq and Syria.”