WASHINGTON, March 13, 2017 — Iraqi security forces are battling Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters in western Mosul’s government center complex in its operation to liberate their country’s second-largest city from ISIS control, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters today.
“The fighting is getting tough there,” he said, adding that the Iraqi forces have severed a section of Highway 1, which now ”sub-isolates” Mosul.
Stiff Enemy Resistance
As the battle to liberate western Mosul entered its 23rd day of operations yesterday, Davis said, the Iraqi counterterrorism service continued clearance operations against stiff enemy resistance while federal police conducted defensive operations.
To the north and east of the Tigris River, the 16th Iraqi Army Division retained the water treatment plant and continued clearance operations along the Euphrates River, he noted.
In the eastern and western sectors of the city, the Iraqi forces have retaken 4,000 square kilometers of territory -- nearly 2,500 square miles -- since overall Mosul offensive began Oct. 17, Davis said. The coalition conducted six strikes in last 24 hours in support of western Mosul operations, totaling 78 engagements and 213 munitions, he added.
Raqqa Isolation Deepens
In Syria, the city of Raqqa is increasingly isolated, the captain said. “It’s hard for ISIS fighters, equipment [and] leadership to be able to move freely in and out of Raqqa further down to the other parts of their ‘caliphate,’” he said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have cleared a large area north of the Euphrates River, and they are pressing up against Raqqa to the north of the city, Davis said.
“We have struck the Euphrates bridges across from Raqqa, and the SDF cut off the remaining road north of the Euphrates,” he said, adding that one route remains for ISIS to be able to have free communication down river to areas such as Dayr Az Zawr.
Davis said the SDF fighters have retaken more than 7,000 square kilometers -- more than 4,300 square miles -- since the operation to isolate Raqqa began. Syrian-Arab Coalition forces also made territorial gains yesterday, he added, with another 112 square kilometers -- about 69 square miles -- along the two axes east of Raqqa as they continue isolation operations in the southeast.
In northern Syria, Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces continue defensive operations to de-mine and disarm homemade bombs.
“Even as ISIS has moved further south, the clearance continues in Al-Bab with the Turkish-supported opposition forces,” Davis said. “We now have regime forces that have moved all the way across to the Euphrates River at Lake Assad in control of a continuous strip that starts in Aleppo.”
Army Rangers in Manbij
A small number of Army Rangers are in and around Manbij performing reassurance and deterrence missions,” Davis said. The Rangers were put in place when the U.S. military saw a situation developing where “the different parties on the ground were at risk of skirmishing with each other and fighting each other,” he explained
“We want to see all parties focused on the common enemy: ISIS,” Davis said. “Thus far, our presence there has achieved that.”
In the past 24 hours, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted four strikes consisting of six engagements and 40 munitions in support of operations in Syria against ISIS targets in support of SDF operations to isolate Raqqa, Davis said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)