WASHINGTON -- U.S. forces are establishing observation posts in Northeast Syria to further deny escape routes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.
Army Col. Sean Ryan, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, updated reporters on ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.
The spokesman said the observation posts will be set up to deter ISIS fighters that try to flee the middle Euphrates River valley into Turkey to the north.
"These observation posts will provide additional transparency and will better enable Turkey's protection from ISIS elements," Ryan said.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced the observation posts last week in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters.
The move follows close consultation and collaboration with Turkey, both at the military and State Department levels, according to a DOD News report.
ISIS OPERATIVE ARRESTED
Also in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces arrested a senior ISIS official accused of involvement in the assassination of Sheikh Bashir Faysal al-Huwaidi, an Arab chieftain in Raqqa, Ryan said.
"This targeted operation undermines the enemy's ability to operate in the shadows, and allows the SDF to ultimately eliminate sleeper cells that continue to threaten civilians and prolong their demise," the spokesman added.
The U.S.-led coalition and its partners will continue to fight the terrorists and degrade their capabilities, he said.
"It's important to take the fight to the enemy [and] we must continue to consolidate our considerable gains," Ryan said.
Near Manbij, the alliance between Turkish and U.S. forces in the Combined Joint Patrols allows forces to continue to deny terrorists access to the area, he added, and noted that over time, it has become a community that is thriving.
"This stability is the direct result of the focus of our NATO ally Turkey and through cooperation with local officials from Manbij," the spokesman said.
ISIS remnants are fortifying their positions and digging in for a protracted campaign, Ryan said.
"We should remain patient [because] fighting will continue to be intense as we continue to pressure the enemy into smaller and smaller spaces," he said. "This is the last real physical terrain held by enemy forces, and they will continue to wage a resistance as they steadily lose relevance."
IRAQ BORDER SECURITY
Along the Syria-Iraq border, the 8th Iraqi Army Division continues to reinforce border security by engaging and repelling ISIS militants as they try to flee the offensive in the middle Euphrates River valley, Ryan said.
"Iraqi units continue to conduct coordinated strikes even as ISIS elements probe border positions with vehicle-borne [improvised explosive devices], motorcycles, small-arms fire and mortars," he added.
The Iraqi air force on Nov. 20 launched two airstrikes targeting an ISIS weapons facility and a building that housed 30 ISIS fighters, Ryan said, adding, "This operation also signifies the ability of the Iraqi security forces to protect its border and uproot cells."
In Mosul, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air support carried out a security operation in Menkar village that resulted in five enemy fighters killed.
"[This] operation demonstrated ISF are strengthening their intelligence gathering to disrupt enemy operations and protect the Iraqi citizens from bombings and kidnappings," the spokesman said.
Another successful ISF operation resulted in the death of an ISIS senior leader, code-named Katkut, Ryan said, adding that the operative was known to have planned and conducted attacks in Hadr, southwest of Mosul. He was killed in Saladin province after fleeing from the scene of an attack earlier in the week.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDOD)