By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, November 24, 2015 — Forces fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continue to make progress in Iraq and Syria, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.
"We're starting to see changes in the way ISIL operates every day on the ground here. That doesn’t mean this is over. We're a long way from over," Army Col. Steve Warren said.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad, Warren said indigenous ground forces continue to consolidate gains across the battlefield.
"We're seeing the impacts of our operations to defeat ISIL," he said.
Vetted Syrian opposition forces and New Syrian Forces successfully seized the towns of Harjala and Dalha after a tough fight last week, he said.
"This is important because it’s the first successful offensive operation since June along the Mar'a line," he noted.
Weakening Vehicle Bomb Effectiveness
Warren said the effectiveness of vehicle bombs used by ISIL is at five percent.
He said Iraqi forces have improved their ability in identifying and destroying such bombs, and targeted strikes by coalition and Iraqi aircraft have destroyed vehicle bomb factories.
"Taking out their oil today won't necessarily make something change tomorrow, but it will make something change downstream," he said. "But hitting these ... factories, we are seeing an impact."
There are fewer vehicle bombs on the battlefield, Warren said. The ones that remain are not well-made and will often self-detonate before they reach their target, he said.
"They're softer for us, so they're easier for us to kill, or for the [Iraqi security forces] to kill," the colonel said.
U.S. Takes Out Bridge, Oil Tankers
On Nov.18 in Ramadi, U.S. forces struck a bridge that was the primary route used by ISIL to send vehicle bombs to attack Iraqi forces south of the city, he said.
"As you'll see here in a moment, ISIL can no longer use this road to attack the [Iraqi forces]," he said, before showing a video of an American airstrike taking out the bridge.
In Syria, on Nov. 22, U.S. airstrikes destroyed 283 oil tanker trucks, he said. That mission was part of Operation Tidal Wave, which is targeting ISIL's illicit oil activity. “These trucks are an integral link in the revenue stream that is providing revenue ... to ... ISIL,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said yesterday.
Ruthless Enemy, Changes in Battlefield
The changes in the battlefield, Warren said, include a reduction of personnel at ISIL checkpoints. That is an indication, he said, that perhaps ISIL can't get as many people out to the posts and "maybe things aren't as good as they could be in ISIL-land."
Other changes, he said, include ISIL sending out civilians as bait to get Iraqi Security Forces to respond.
Warren said Iraqi forces in Ramadi observed 22 civilians trying to get away from the fighting on Nov. 18.
"As the civilians neared the [Iraqi forces], ISIL opened fire at the crowd. In the process, they shot and wounded a nine-year-old, little boy," he said, adding Iraqi forces safely evacuated the civilians. The boy was stabilized and taken to a hospital.
It appeared, Warren said, that ISIL was using the civilians as bait to get the Iraqi forces to come out so they could fire on them.
"This enemy has no regard for human decency, even for the people they claim to be protecting under their so-called caliphate," he said.
Russia Plane Downed
Warren said the Turkish government announced that two of its F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets on border patrol engaged two Russian Su-24s, and one Russian aircraft was shot down.
No American personnel or planes were in the area, he said.
"This was purely an action that took place between the Russians and the Turks," Warren said.
It is not an issue that involves the Combined Joint Task Force or Operation Inherent Resolve, he added.
Warren dismissed Russia's recent claim that it destroyed 500 fuel tankers used to transport ISIL's illicit oil.
"We took a look at the reports. We saw the video they released," he said. "From what we saw, the battle damage assessment they issued seems to us to be exaggerated."
Russian actions, Warren said, are at odds with what Russian officials said they wanted to accomplish in Syria.
"It flies directly in the face of what they said they would do. They have said that they are here to help fight ISIL. In fact, they're here striking moderate Syrian opposition groups," he said.
Only a fraction of Russian attacks targeted ISIL, he said.
"The Russians have said that they're here to fight terrorism, but the Russians have routinely now demonstrated that their goal is to prop up and prolong the Assad regime," he said.
A majority of Russian strikes, he said, have had a direct benefit to the Assad regime.
"It's the Assad regime, in our view, that's the problem here," Warren said. "It's the Assad regime that has brought suffering and misery to the Syrian people, which in turn has led to the growth of ISIL itself. It's the whole reason we're here."