By DoD News
By Cheryl Pellerin
The military campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is at an important juncture, with a new focus and steady progress by the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi and Syrian security forces partners, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland said.
MacFarland, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, spoke with reporters who are traveling with U.S. Central Command commander Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, who is meeting this week with coalition troops and local counter-ISIL partners in the Middle East.
“We’re at an important part in the campaign right now,” MacFarland told reporters. “When I first got here about eight months ago it was all about Ramadi and taking Ramadi back,” he said.
“Well, we’ve taken Ramadi back,” MacFarland said, “and now, the focus of the campaign is shifting more toward taking back the enemy’s centers of gravity in Iraq and Syria — Mosul and Raqqa. That’s what we’re about today.”
The coalition is supporting Iraqi and Syrian forces as they endeavor to take the two critical cities back from the enemy, and the ISF is making steady progress elsewhere in places like the Euphrates River Valley, where coalition members and local forces continue to push the enemy, MacFarland said.
Army Col. Steve Warren, OIR spokesman, said yesterday the Iraqis announced that the town of Rutbah in western Anbar province had been secured from ISIL.
MacFarland said taking the town from ISIL will reopen the main road between Amman, Jordan, and Baghdad that before the war generated more than $1 billion in revenue for the country of Iraq.
“Although it’s a small town,” MacFarland said, “it’s an important success for the Iraqi security forces.”
Blow to ISIL’s Leadership
Near Rutbah, on May 6, a coalition airstrike targeted Abu Wahib, ISIL’s military emir for Iraq’s Anbar province and a former member of Al-Qaida in Iraq, who has appeared in ISIL execution videos, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said during a May 9 press briefing.
The strike near Rutbah killed Abu Wahib and three other ISIL jihadists, Cook said, noting that Wahib’s death is another blow to ISIL’s leadership that will further degrade its ability to operate, especially in Anbar.
Today at the Combined Joint Operations Center in Baghdad, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bill Mullen, the target engagement authority for central Iraq, said the operations center had been looking at Rutbah for several weeks and that the Iraqis were using human intelligence sources to help develop information about Wahib, who was in Rutbah.
On May 6, Mullen said, the operations center authorized a strike with a Hellfire air-to-surface missile that hit a car the military emir was riding in.
Boosting Iraq Forces’ Morale
Mullen said he didn’t realize at first the impact of Wahib’s death on the Iraqis.
“We did the strike. I came walking in [and] they came running up,” he said, asking if the operations center had just done a strike in Rutbah and if Wahib was dead.
“They were very happy about it,” Mullen said. “We had one guy up here who was typically pretty grumpy … and he had two thumbs up and a big smile on his face. We knew [Wahib] was a bad guy, but we didn’t realize how much of an impact there would be.”
Mullen added that he thought the Wahib strike had a positive effect on Iraqi fighter morale.
During MacFarland’s interview, he said the Iraqi security forces have been recovering from a significant setback that occurred at the war’s outset with the taking of Ramadi by ISIL.
“We’ve had to … get them back into the fight, and we’re working with specific units,” he said.
The units that coalition partners have been spending more time with are further along than the units the coalition hasn’t yet had an opportunity to work with, MacFarland said.
“The ones that we’ve worked with have proven to be resilient and effective and certainly better than the enemy, and that’s the standard. They have to be better than the enemy and that’s really where they are now,” MacFarland said.
Iraqi forces“should be able to close with and destroy” ISIL wherever they find them, he said..
MacFarland said the coalition is trying to finish the counter-ISIL fight as fast as it can, “but we have to do it in a way that the local security forces, either in Iraq or our partners in Syria, can sustain. We don’t want to rush them … and achieve fragile victories. We want to make sure that their victories are irreversible.”
The Iraqi and Syrian-partner security forces working with the U.S.-led coalition are making progress against ISIL, MacFarland said.
“This is the Iraqi security forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces, it’s the moderate Syrian opposition,” he added, “and they have to move at their pace.”
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