Pentagon War Report: When Does Raqqa Fall?

Speaking live via video conference from Baghdad, Air Force Col. John Dorrian said airstrikes are accelerating in Raqqa on ISIS fighters and resources in support of the Syrian Defense Forces' offensive, and 300 such strikes in the past month enabled liberation of more than 270 square miles of territory from ISIS.

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2016 — The U.S.-led coalition and local ground forces continue to progress against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s self-proclaimed capitals of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker in support of a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve mission over Iraq, Dec. 7, 2016. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling capabilities as the task force supports the Iraqi security forces and the partnered forces in Syria as they work to liberate territory and people under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks
A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker in support of a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve mission over Iraq, Dec. 7, 2016. The KC-135 provides aerial refueling capabilities as the task force supports the Iraqi security forces and the partnered forces in Syria as they work to liberate territory and people under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks

Speaking live via video conference from Baghdad, Air Force Col. John Dorrian said airstrikes are accelerating in Raqqa on ISIL fighters and resources in support of the Syrian Defense Forces' offensive, and 300 such strikes in the past month enabled liberation of more than 270 square miles of territory from ISIL.

Liberating territory in northern Syria has freed up thousands of civilians from ISIL’s grip, but many remain displaced, the colonel said. “Many of those people are moving into Manbij,” he added, “but unfortunately, as they move in that direction, and even as they find refuge in and around the city, they're being targeted by ISIL small arms and [improvised explosive device] attacks.”

The SDF and its Arab elements established a governance representing the local population, and it’s begun to supply services to Manbij, including opening more than 240 schools since the city’s liberation, Dorrian said, adding that a similar system is expected for Raqqa once it is liberated.

“As the SDF isolates Raqqa, the number of SDF fighters continues to grow, as another Arab brigade joins the SDF with more than 1,000 citizens, men and women, joining to reclaim and protect their homes,” he said.

More than 1,500 new SDF fighters also are in training to liberate Raqqa and defend the forward line of troops, he said, noting more than 90 percent of the graduates are Arab, which he said is critical to the liberation and to setting up governance for the city’s residents.

Talks With Turkey Planned

“This week we're facilitating joint discussions with Turkey, the SDF and other coalition partners to promote de-escalation in the area,” Dorrian said. “Diplomacy and continued coordination will ensure ISIL's lasting defeat.” The meetings are starting points to address a challenging situation, said he explained, and he noted that every party in the discussions has an overriding, common interest to defeat ISIL.

Incremental Progress Made in Mosul

In Mosul, Iraqi security forces continue to make incremental progress in clearing the city, with the counterterrorism service clearing added areas in eastern Mosul, while the 9th Division of the Iraqi army penetrated the city on the southeast axis.

“The opening of a new axis forces ISIL to react to that advance, reducing their ability to concentrate combat power on the eastern axis,” Dorrian said. “Coalition air and artillery strikes continue to damage this enemy, engaging tactical units on the battlefield, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, supply routes, and excavating equipment in the past few days.”

U.S.-led coalition airstrikes reflect more strikes in and around Mosul on supply routes, key terrain, and excavating equipment, Dorrian said, to reduce ISIL’s ability to rotate its forces, resupply, and use vehicle-borne IEDs against the Iraqi security forces.

No Casualties in Hospital Airstrike

Dorrian also updated reporters on a coalition airstrike yesterday that struck a hospital in Mosul.

“Last night, the coalition conducted a precision strike on ISIL fighters who had seized part of the Al Salam hospital complex in southeast Mosul and were using the facility to fire heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at the Iraqi security forces in the area,” the spokesman said. Iraqi forces requested the strike to facilitate their ability to move to a safer and defensible position, he added.

“We don't take lightly any decision to strike a target that would normally be a protected facility,” the colonel told reporters. The Operation Inherent Resolve commander has directed a review of the facts leading up to the decision to strike the hospital, Dorrian said, adding that coalition officials at this point have no reason to believe that procedures were not followed properly or that unintended effects were achieved.

“We've not seen any indications at this point that civilians were harmed in the strike,” he said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)

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