As U.S-led coalition forces enter the second phase in Iraq and Syria to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command today discussed operations to dismantle the extremist group.
In a teleconference with Pentagon reporters, Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder gave an overview of this year’s three operational approaches: coalition-enabled pressure on ISIL to isolate Raqqah, Syria; isolating and eventually seizing Mosul, Iraq; and stabilizing Iraq’s Anbar province.
ISIL’s ‘Last Route’
In Syria, the Manbij pocket near the Mara line comprises complex terrain and large numbers of mixed groups of people to whom the territory is important, Ryder said, but he added that the area is the final route available to ISIL.
“[That] is ISIL’s last route to move people, money and supplies into Syria and Iraq, and the territory continues to go back and forth,” Ryder said. “This will be one of the most difficult fights going forward,” he said.
Farther east, the Syrian Democratic Forces’ forward line of troops continues to move closer and apply pressure on ISIL fighters who hold Raqqah, Ryder said.
The SDF also has made “fairly good progress” in northeastern Syria to liberate ISIL-held territory near Shaddadi, he said.
ISIL Movement Narrows
“Operations are working to isolate Raqqah from Mosul and deny ISIL freedom of movement between the two important cities,” Ryder said.
In the Hit and Hadithah corridor, Iraqi security forces are working with local tribes to clear the Euphrates River Valley and hold liberated territory, which will help to set conditions to stabilize the province in the future, he added.
Particularly encouraging is the progress Iraqi security forces have made, Ryder said, noting that they are becoming better at holding terrain they’ve taken back from ISIL, “even against an occasional complex ISIL attack.”