By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2015 – The current situation in Iraq and Syria clearly indicates that the coalition, and not ISIL, now dictates the pace of operations, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said today during a telephonic press conference with Pentagon reporters.
“For the last twelve months of this multi-year effort, our campaign has focused on countering and effectively degrading ISIL’s overall capabilities, while enabling the efforts of the indigenous ground forces in both Iraq and Syria, and empowering the 60-plus nation coalition,” Air Force Col. Pat Ryder said.
ISIL’s Losing Ground
Ryder asserted that rather than ISIL forces “waving black flags and traversing Iraq and Syria in big convoys to capture large swaths of new territory,” the true situation shows a waning insurgency, losing ground steadily on nearly every front.
Currently, anti-ISIL forces now defend two-thirds of Syria’s northern border, and in Iraq, Ryder said he estimates as of this April, ISIL can no longer operate freely in roughly 25 to30 percent of the populated areas in which it could less than a year ago.
“Consistent and effective pressure against ISIL’s leadership has caused the organization to be more centralized and less flexible,” Ryder said. “Over the past year, we have removed several thousand ISIL fighters from the battlefield, as well as dozens of the organization’s senior leaders.”
The colonel also reported that ISIL has had to repeatedly replace leaders in key positions. “Every time they have to return to the bench, you can presume they’re having to put less experienced and less capable individuals into these leadership positions, thereby reducing the organization’s overall effectiveness in decision-making and command and control.”
But Ryder also noted that air power has played a key role in ISIL’s decline, as coalition air forces have conducted more than 6,000 air strikes in Iraq and Syria in support of anti-ISIL forces, destroying thousands of pieces of the enemy’s equipment, command and control nodes, training facilities, supply lines, and other military and economic resources.
“Our airstrikes in Syria against ISIL continue to deny them safe haven,” he said, “and disrupt their ability to project combat power into Iraq -- which, in turn, has bought the Iraqi forces much needed time and space to regenerate combat power and go on the offensive.”
And the Syrian Kurds in the northeast portion of the country have performed exceptionally well, according to Ryder.
“They’ve not only retaken significant swaths of territory from ISIL, but in doing so, they have significantly impacted the enemy’s key lines of communication between Syria and Turkey and between Syria and Iraq,” he said. “This means that ISIL will no longer be able to freely move fighters and supplies between the countries.”
Coalition Partners Step Up
Meanwhile, in support of that effort, approximately 1,200 coalition partners from 17 nations have enabled Iraqi forces through the DoD’s “Building Partner Capacity” sites and “Advise and Assist” programs, the colonel explained.
At five training locations in Iraq, Ryder reported the coalition has trained more than 11,000 Iraqi forces personnel, providing a wide range of training designed to aid Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga effectiveness on the battlefield, with similar consulting exchanges resulting in training for approximately 1,100 Sunni tribal fighters engaged in the counter-ISIL fight.
And U.S. military equipment provision includes 250 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, nearly 2,000 Hellfire missiles, more than 10,000 M16 rifles, body armor, helmets, and millions of rounds of ammunition, the colonel said. Coalition donations to the anti-ISIL effort, he added, include 22 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and 12,000 mortar rounds to the Iraqi army and Peshmerga.
On the Syrian front, the coalition continues to support and enable the efforts of anti-ISIL forces, to include Syrian Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman fighters to drive ISIL out of northern Syria border regions, Ryder said.
“These anti-ISIL forces, whose efforts have been supported by more than 2,200 coalition airstrikes, have made significant progress in northern Syria -- having regained more than 5,300 square kilometers from ISIL,” the colonel said. “As they continue to progress, they are building regional coalitions, specifically with local Arab forces committed to defeating ISIL and expelling them from their lands.”
Meanwhile, strides are being made in training vetted Syrian opposition force recruits as part of the coalition’s “Syria Train and Equip” program, designed to give training alumna the capabilities they need as New Syrian Forces to defend the Syrian people and go on the offensive against ISIL, the colonel said.
“The second class of recruits is currently in training,” he said, “and we continue to see significant interest in opposition forces volunteering for the program and have hundreds of additional fighters currently undergoing vetting for potential training in the future.”
Ultimately, Ryder said, success does not hinge on one fight or one event, rather in the continuous application of lessons learned.
“With Turkey’s decision to open bases for the deployment of U.S. aircraft conducting counter-ISIL operations, the coalition now has another strategic location from which it can conduct strikes if and when necessary,” the colonel said.
He acknowledged a long road ahead without illusions about the complexities of the fight against a determined adversary.
“Our combined military efforts can and will defeat ISIL,” Ryder said. “However, the effects achieved will be short-lived unless the leadership of the country of Iraq makes the right decisions and does the right things to ensure that all of that nation’s citizens are treated fairly and equally.”