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American Forces Press Service

OIR Spokesman: ISIL Now in Defensive Crouch in Iraq, Syria

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, January 6, 2016 – Since May, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has steadily lost ground to Iraqi security forces and Syrian Democratic Forces, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said today.

Briefing the Pentagon press corps via video conference from Baghdad, Army Col. Steve Warren offered battlefield updates and a status report on coalition efforts.

In Iraq, ISIL has lost 20,000 to 22,000 square kilometers, or 40 percent of its taken territory, he said, and in Syria it has lost more than 310 square kilometers, or about 10 percent of its territory.

Coalition members so far have trained and equipped 17,541 Iraqi security forces, Warren said, and the coalition continues to increase the pace and intensity of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

Airstrikes and Ground Ops

"When our airstrikes are coupled with local ground operations, we see ISIL having to react and move around the battlefield. This just makes it easier for us to strike them," he said.

An estimated 2,500 enemy fighters were killed in coalition airstrikes across Iraq and Syria in December, Warren added.

"We believe that ISIL is now in a defensive crouch. … May is when they reached their culminating point of offensive operations. Since then, all they've really managed to do is lose ground," he said.

In an update on Operation Tidal Wave II, which targets ISIL's illicit oil infrastructure in Iraq and Syria, Warren said that coalition aircraft struck six gas and oil separation points and two ISIL crude oil collection points on Jan. 2 near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria.

Pressuring the Enemy

"Since we began Operation Tidal Wave II the coalition has conducted 65 strikes against oil targets. We assess that this operation has reduced [ISIL] revenue by about 30 percent," the colonel said, noting that ISIL's production dropped from 45,000 barrels of oil a day to 34,000 barrels a day.

"In addition to chipping away at their so-called caliphate and killing their leaders," he said, "we're also hitting them in the pocketbook."

The operational objective is to put pressure across the entire breadth and depth of the battlefield, to pressure the enemy wherever he is, Warren said.

Syrian Democratic Forces

Over the past 10 days in the Tishreen area northeast of Aleppo, Warren said Syrian Democratic Forces have killed about 140 extremists while liberating dozens of villages and reclaiming more than 310 square kilometers of terrain.

"Soldiers of the Shams al-Shamal battalion, a prominent Arab fighting group in the SDF, are holding the west side of that dam, demonstrating the continued integration between Arabs and Kurds within the Syrian Democratic Forces," the colonel said.

The SDF consists of groups of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and other ethnic groups in northern Syria, all of whom are collectively determined to defeat ISIL, Warren added.

"As the Shams al-Shamal battalion holds the [Tishreen] dam, other forces are advancing to the south in the vicinity of Ein Isa. These troops have experienced some counterattacks west of Tishreen," he noted.

To the north, the SDF are receiving harassing mortar fire, but in each case they have repelled all of ISIL's attempts to regain territory or strongholds, Warren said.

"We're seeing reports of ISIL fighters shaving their beards and trying to hide among the civilian population," he added, "as they continue to lose ground in Syria and run back to Raqqa, Manbej or Jarablus."

Controlling Ramadi

After a fight for control of Ramadi, which ISIL captured in May, the Iraqi army took back the city's government complex on Dec. 27, incurring around 1,000 casualties and 100 deaths, Warren said.

Last week, Warren told the Pentagon press corps that skirmishes continued in the city with small groups of enemy forces -- from five fighters to perhaps a dozen -- centered around a machine gun or several rocket-propelled grenades.

"We see these squad-sized elements still able to operate in some of the neighborhoods that have not yet been cleared," he said today, "and we still see that."

More than 60 ISIL fighters were killed inside Ramadi in the past 24 hours, Warren noted.

"Counterterrorism Service forces continue clearing eastward into the core of the inner city," the colonel said. "They've encountered enemy contact consisting of [bombs], machine gun fire, [rocket-propelled grenades] and sniper fire. Coalition airstrikes continued to enable their advance."

Decisive Battle

Warren said ISIL's defensive techniques include using tunnels and holes in the walls between buildings as cover and for attacks.

"This is why the Iraqi security forces have to be very deliberate, very methodical and very carefully move through these neighborhoods to clear them," he added.

ISIL can still strike in spots and conduct raids, ambushes and [bomb] attacks and they still hold large swaths of territory, Warren said.

"But the Iraqi security forces are now on the offensive," he said. "The Iraqi security forces will pick where the next significant battle is [and] ISIL is now reacting to the Iraqi security forces."

In response to a question about the rules of engagement against the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria, Warren said, "If you're part of ISIL we will kill you. That's our rule."

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