News / Middle East

    Islamic State Caliphate Crunched by US-Backed Forces

    Iraqi security forces sniper looks through rifle scope while guarding position in the city of Ramadi, Jan. 16, 2016.
    Iraqi security forces sniper looks through rifle scope while guarding position in the city of Ramadi, Jan. 16, 2016.

    The borders of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria are steadily eroding, but it will likely be months before U.S. and coalition-backed forces are ready to take on the terror group’s strongholds in Mosul or Raqqa.

    New estimates from U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) show Islamic State (IS) fighters have lost 40 percent of the territory they once held in Iraq and five percent of the territory they once held in Syria.

    “We’ve seen small dust-ups in both the Euphrates and Tigris River valleys but no significant tactical action,” OIR spokesman Col. Steve Warren told Pentagon reporters from Baghdad regarding IS activity in Iraq.

    U.S. Defense Department map shows Coalition and Ground Forces in Syria and Iraq fighting Islamic State, or Daesh, fighters in the Anbar Corridor from Hadithah to Ramadi. (Courtesy: United States Central Command)U.S. Defense Department map shows Coalition and Ground Forces in Syria and Iraq fighting Islamic State, or Daesh, fighters in the Anbar Corridor from Hadithah to Ramadi. (Courtesy: United States Central Command)
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    U.S. Defense Department map shows Coalition and Ground Forces in Syria and Iraq fighting Islamic State, or Daesh, fighters in the Anbar Corridor from Hadithah to Ramadi. (Courtesy: United States Central Command)
    U.S. Defense Department map shows Coalition and Ground Forces in Syria and Iraq fighting Islamic State, or Daesh, fighters in the Anbar Corridor from Hadithah to Ramadi. (Courtesy: United States Central Command)

    Warren said in Syria, IS fighters were carrying out limited offensive operations along the so-called Mara line in the country’s northwest, making some small gains against regime forces in Aleppo.

    The U.S.-led coalition has also been pressuring IS from the air, focusing the majority of its airstrikes in and around Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq and around the terror group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria.

    Waiting for Mosul

    Since Iraqi forces retook Ramadi from Islamic State fighters last month, there have been growing expectations that Mosul would be next, with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters moving on the city from the north while Iraqi forces attacked from the south.

    Yet despite the progress, Col. Warren cautioned a move on Mosul is not imminent.

    “Nobody’s ready to really slap the table yet and say, ‘This is it. We’re moving out,’” he said. “This is going to be many months before we’re going to see actual operations for Mosul begin.”

    The Pentagon estimates it will need 10 brigades with 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers each to retake Mosul from Islamic State. Two of the brigades are likely to be Kurdish Peshmerga and some will come from the force used to recapture Ramadi. But the others need to be built from scratch, with soldiers going through an average of eight weeks of training before they would be ready for combat.

    FILE - U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq.
    FILE - U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq.

    Another factor behind the wait to retake Mosul: U.S. military officials have recommended that the brigades that helped retake Ramadi go through another cycle of training before taking part in what is expected to be a bigger and more complex battle.

    In the meantime, U.S. officials say they are ramping up efforts to degrade Islamic State’s capabilities by continuing to target the terror group’s oil facilities, its cash reserves and also key officials, especially in and around Raqqa.

    Slow approach to Raqqa

    Col. Warren said U.S. and coalition-backed forces have also slowly been moving on Raqqa, taking key points to the west and east of the city, forcing Islamic State fighters to expose themselves to airstrikes.

    “It’s a process right now of isolation and degradation,” Warren said. “It is certainly feasible that Raqqa can be pressured or even assaulted in the next year.”

    But Warren cautioned a lot still depends on the ability to build relationships with anti-Islamic State forces on the ground.

    Destroyed buildings are seen in the city of Ramadi, Jan. 16, 2016.
    Destroyed buildings are seen in the city of Ramadi, Jan. 16, 2016.

    “We have to see how rapidly we can develop some of these partner forces, some of these moderate Syrian opposition forces."

    Pentagon officials say the U.S. currently has 3,700 troops in Iraq as part of the ongoing train, advise and assist mission. U.S. special forces, including a specialized expeditionary targeting force, are also on the ground in Iraq and Syria, helping to gather intelligence and to target high ranking Islamic State leaders.

    U.S. President Barack Obama recently instructed his national security team to intensify efforts to destroy Islamic Sate cells no matter where they are.


    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    January 29, 2016 10:05 PM
    IS is folding like a house of cards. They still blow up mosques once in a while and kill innocent muslims. Such an accomplishment! We could blow up mosques in the US, but we haven't lowered ourselves to those standards. The cowards are all running off to Libya to blow up and burn more stuff. We'll just widen the area of air support to there. Those bombers and fighters are fast and the 24/7 satellite surveillance makes it easy. IS, say your prayers.
    In Response

    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    January 30, 2016 8:56 PM
    We should read history who created Daesh or IS and what was the purpose.
    Daesh or IS created with the help of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Israel, Turkey and USA. Main aim was to make destruction in Syria as to remove Asad & Co. To achieve their target they are ready to Kill 350,000/- poor and helpless Syrians and same nos become homeless.
    Daesh still getting ALL types of help from Saudi Arabia. So this is good dream that we will defeat one day to Daesh. I can challange USA, You cannot defeat Terrorist organisation Daesh or IS as long as they have support from Saudi Arabia.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 29, 2016 10:54 PM
    Under Obama's watch, the terrorists have become a real world power with a standing army that's conquered more landmass than the whole country of Syria, and the terrorists are undefeated and attacking everybody all over the world now, and on the verge of becoming a super power if not checked? .. You talk about what the US can do to defeat the terrorists, [but], you can't show where the US ever defeated any terrorist group (even the smallest) anywhere in the world in the last 15 years of trying? .. On paper the US can defeat the terrorists, but proving they can do it in actuality (with the president we have) has become an impossible task? .. hasn't it?

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