Three top Islamic State leaders were killed in a series of targeted airstrikes in Iraq, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday.
The official said the recent killings, conducted between mid November and early December, will reduce the militant group's ability to command and control areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria.
The Islamic State officials were identified as Haji Mutazz, administrative deputy in Iraq to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and Abd al Basit, the IS military emir in Iraq - both described as high-ranking IS members - and Radwin Talib, a mid-level official serving as the IS emir of Mosul.
The news came as U.S. military officials said more than 1,300 airstrikes and a stronger Iraqi security force is having a “significant effect” on the ability of the Islamic State group to operate in Iraq.
But the fight is far from over a top commander warned, adding that it might take a minimum of three years to rout the militants.
U.S. and coalition forces have conducted over 1,000 airstrikes agains IS positions across Iraq and Syria since August.
The commander of the Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve said those strikes are taking a toll.
“Daesh [the Islamic State] has been halted and is transitioning to the defense and is attempting to hold what they currently have,” he said, referring to the Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.
U.S. (Army) Lieutenant General James Terry called the group’s strategic shift a clear departure from what it was doing before airstrikes began in August.
“They’re [Islamic State] having a hard time in terms of communicating right now, in terms of resupply,” he said.
Terry said that is hurting IS's ability to push out propaganda, recruit new fighters and even spread fear.
“You can go to social media and see some of the stuff that’s coming out of places like Mosul in relationship to the inability of the self-declared caliphate to govern,” Terry noted.
Another authoritative source, Jane's Intelligence Review, reported last week there has been no significant change in the tempo of Islamic State operations since airstrikes began. According to Jane's IS advances in Samarra indicate the group's offensive capabilities and control of Sunni areas have not been degraded.
In Sinjar, where coalition air support has been backing Kurdish fighters there is optimism.
"With the help of our friends and the alliance, we will evict them from all Iraq," a Peshmerga colonel said.
But coalition officials are cautious - and the challenge remains of bringing more of Iraq’s Sunni tribes back into the fight on the side of a government that once alienated them.
There are also questions about the Islamic State’s hold in Syria, where U.S. plans to find and train a moderate opposition force has yet to get underway.
Lieutenant General Terry says all in all, the fight has a long way to go.