By Terri Moon Cronk, DoD News, Defense Media ActivityMarch 3, 2017
WASHINGTON -- Iraqi security forces have taken back Mosul International Airport in Iraq after a couple days of difficult fighting to liberate western Mosul from the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said Wednesday.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said Iraqi forces attacked the city's west side northward along the Tigris River, where they captured high ground, enabling them to move quickly to the airport.
MOVING TO MOSUL'S OUTSKIRTS
"Now, they've begun breaching into the outskirts of the city, with the Iraqi counterterrorism service, federal police and army moving along three axes of advance that clear the enemy from neighborhoods inside the city, but also enveloping the city to the west," the general said, adding that presenting multiple dilemmas to the enemy proved to be effective.
"This enemy's been preparing for this battle for some time, and they've done an extensive amount of work to dig and build barriers to complicate the Iraqi advance," Townsend said. "We've seen them use … tunnels, shipping containers and vehicles in the streets to slow the [Iraqi forces] down, and they've rigged many of these barriers with explosives."
The U.S.-led coalition strikes those barriers with precision fire to help the Iraqis advance, Townsend said. "We'll also continue to remove leadership figures from the battlefield, attack their command-and-control and logistics nodes, enemy weapons caches and fighting positions. Our coalition of advisors [is] also with the Iraqi command elements. Their support accelerates the Iraqi advance even more."
BAB LIBERATION STRIKES BLOW TO ISIS
ISIS has been dealt another significant blow in Syria, where Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated Bab, the last significant ISIS-controlled population center in the Aleppo district, Townsend said, noting that freeing Bab closed the door to ISIS' supply line of new fighters and its ability to export terrorists around the world.
"The coalition supported Turkey and their partner-force efforts in al-Bab with more than 50 airstrikes, taking fighters off the battlefield, destroying [vehicle-borne homemade bombs], mortar and artillery pieces and denying the enemy use of dozens of vehicles, buildings, excavation equipment and weapons caches," he said. The liberation of Bab also means Turkey now has secured its border from ISIS, the general noted.
The United States, Turkey and coalition partners also are working together to support stabilization and local civilian governance in the Syrian town of Manbij, Townsend noted. "The coalition is committed to the security of Turkey and will continue to work in close coordination with partner forces and allies to deliver a lasting defeat to ISIS, which remains the greatest terrorist threat to the region and the world," he added.
FREEING RAQQA EXPECTED TO CRIPPLE ISIS
The coalition continues planning for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, ISIS' self-proclaimed capital, Townsend told reporters. "We are confident that the [Syrian Democratic Forces] that are isolating Raqqa will continue their recent successful clearance operations and set the stage for the liberation of the city. This would be a major setback for the enemy," Townsend said.
Friendly forces have cleared more than 6,000 square kilometers of territory -- or nearly 2,317 square miles -- in the countryside of Raqqa since the operation began Nov. 5, he added.
"We've continued discussing how Turkey and their partner forces might contribute to the liberation of the city," Townsend acknowledged. "The liberation of Raqqa will bring an end to the enemy's mythology that they were ever more than a brutal, murderous terrorist group. And then, we will continue working with our partners to deal them a lasting defeat," he said.
Coalition efforts by, with and through partners in Iraq and Syria have made significant progress, the general said.
"I continue to be encouraged by the bravery and commitment of our partner forces that have fought hard and made many sacrifices in their efforts to liberate their land," Townsend said. "Their efforts protect the people of Iraq, Syria, the region and the world from a threat that needs to be eliminated for the good of all."
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)