By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, April 20, 2015 – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s tentacles are spreading beyond Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan and Libya, but the pressure of coalition air and ground power has weakened the terrorist group, a Defense Department official said here today.
The focus on ISIL is to fight them now in Iraq and Syria, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters.
But he also discussed the increasing danger posed by ISIL in Afghanistan and Libya, and coalition and ground-force efforts against ISIL fighters in the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Beiji.
“Ramadi remains highly contested -- it's a tough fight there right now,” said Warren, adding that Iraqi security forces continue to hold there but are under pressure from ISIL fighters in the area.
Operation Inherent Resolve
In coalition military airstrikes against ISIL near Ramadi, the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve reported that five airstrikes hit three ISIL tactical units, one large and two small. The attacks destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL armored vehicle, the task force said.
“We’re hopeful,” Warren said, “that coalition airpower along with the resolve of the Iraqi ground forces will be able to hold.”
The city of Beiji, a major industrial center with the largest oil refinery in Iraq, is under ISIL control but the refinery is secure, the colonel said.
“In Beiji, [Iraqi forces] successfully linked up with forces on the ground in the refinery and … have thus far been able to secure the refinery,” Warren said.
He added, “We are dedicating some air power to that fight and it remains a contested situation.”
Coalition Air Power
In coalition strikes reported by the task force today, eight airstrikes near Beiji hit four ISIL tactical units, destroying two ISIL vehicle bombs, an ISIL machine gun, an ISIL artillery piece, an ISIL ammo storage facility and an ISIL vehicle.
In Afghanistan, where the spring fighting season has begun, Warren said the department is concerned about and is watching for the potential emergence of ISIL there.
“We don't necessarily believe that conditions in Afghanistan are such that ISIL would be welcome,” he said.
“In fact, the Afghan government has been very clear that ISIL is certainly not welcome [and] it's interesting to note that apparently even the Taliban has indicated that they don't welcome an ISIL presence in Afghanistan,” Warren added.
Rebranding as ISIL
Still, he said, disaffected members of the Taliban and other terrorist groups have been rebranding themselves as ISIL, most likely to achieve greater notoriety or to gain access to more resources.
“We don’t see this yet as a cause of increased violence in Afghanistan,” he said, “but it is certainly something we're going to continue to watch.”
In Libya, the department is beginning to see what Warren characterized as “more than a rebranding effort.”
He added, “I think Libya is probably where ISIL most wants to gain a foothold. At this point they have gained at least a toehold in Libya based on an extraordinary amount of unrest [there] and an almost completely deteriorated security situation.”
Significant Blows to ISIL
ISIL has made its own aspirations very well known, Warren said, and a clear uptick in violence attributed to ISIL or claimed by ISIL in Libya are causes of concern for the department.
But, he said, coalition efforts continue to inflict significant blows to ISIL.
“Nearly every one of the press releases that we issue every day indicates damage to tactical units –- that’s fighters being killed. So I would submit to you that we've delivered several punishing blows to ISIL over the last six months,” Warren said.
“We've started to see cracks in ISIL's ability to bring on new forces. ISIL is turning now to conscription, to forcing people into their armed forces and in some cases to [using] child soldiers,” he added, “so the pressure that the combination of air and ground power we’re applying to ISIL is having an effect.”