General: ISIS Fight ‘At The End Of The Beginning’

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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The U.S. commander of the ongoing fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria claims that “we are at the end of the beginning” in the fight, but warns that victory against the group will be difficult.

Speaking to reporters in the Pentagon over live video, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), noted that recent successes against ISIS in areas like Ramadi are a positive sign, but there is still significant work to be done in the fight against ISIS.

“[The] enemy is resilient and dug in,” said Macfarland, noting that there will be “good days and bad days for a while longer.”

MacFarland began by pointing out the progress CJTF-OIR has made in the 18 months since strikes against ISIS began. The general pointed out that there have been around 10,000 strikes against ISIS, two-thirds of which have occurred in Iraq. He also noted that ISIS now controls 40 percent less territory than it did at its “zenith.”

MacFarland said that last December’s victory over ISIS in Ramadi, a key city less than 100 miles from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, was crucial in that it showed Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as “capable of defeating Daesh.”

According to MacFarland, re-shifting ISF’s focus from counter-insurgency operations (COIN ops) to combined arms operations has been a crucial step in helping Iraqis secure their country. Combined arms operations involve the integration of various military units such as infantry, armor and air power in order to defeat an enemy, whereas COIN ops focuses on countering enemies from within communities and raiding key leadership.

Regarding the Ramadi offensive, MacFarland claims that reports of Iraqi prime minister Hader al-Abadi denying U.S. offers of air coverage have been inaccurate.

“[The] prime minister didn’t turn it down flat,” said MacFarland in response to a question from a journalist in attendance. According to Macfarland, al-Abadi turned down the offer in the case of Ramadi but may take it up again in future operations against ISIS. “[We] can’t inflict help on somebody,” he noted.

Borrowing a quote from former British prime minister Winston Churchill, MacFarland was quick to point out the fight against ISIS is currently “at the end of the beginning,” however, it seemed reporters were more curious as to what the beginning of the end would be. According to MacFarland, the “beginning of the end” will be when Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital in Syria, has been retaken.

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