Commander Of US Forces In Iraq Outlines New Details In The Fight Against ISIS

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The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq participating in Operation Inherent Resolve gave a rare insight Monday into the new strategy and tactics being employed to retake territory from the Islamic State.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland said that U.S. military’s role in the most recent phase will be somewhat similar to what it has been in the past, but with closer contact with Iraqi commanders and some added capabilities.

“So the advisers are going to be doing largely what we’ve been doing all along, which is providing the kind of military advice and access to enablers that help our partners on the ground against the enemy,” said MacFarland during a media availability in Baghdad. He noted that troops will “not necessarily” be closer to the front lines, but they would be “closer to the [Iraqi] commanders who are making the critical decisions on the ground.”

The U.S. role in Iraq has been both expanding and somewhat unclear in recent months, and the operation to retake Mosul in particular has been shrouded in mystery since its inception. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford first hinted toward the start of the operation when he said “operations against Mosul have already started” during a joint press briefing Feb. 29 with Secretary of Defense Carter. Just over a week later, there were signs that the operation was faltering, by April, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were fleeing and the operations was effectively halted.

“Right now what were focused on is getting the Iraqis and the Peshmerga and all the forces that are available in and around Mosul to complete its isolation, to cut it off from the rest of what the [Secretary of Defense] refers to as the ‘parent tumor.'”

He noted that while the goal is to be eventually fully liberate Mosul, current operations are focused on cutting off the city and preparing for its eventual invasion.

MacFarland noted that the Mosul fight is unique to the December victory against ISIS in Ramadi. Unlike the “non-contiguous” battle for Ramadi, MacFarland said the current fight, like the one for Mosul, is more “linear.”

“[In Ramadi] we were operating out of bases, forward operating bases like Taqaddum and Al-Asad.  And the [ISF] is located in … those facilities which were largely surrounded by enemy-held territory and received occasional indirect fire as a result,” said MacFarland. “Well, now it’s more of a linear type of an operation, more contiguous and therefore those headquarters are pushed out of those bases and in order to continue to provide the kind of assistance that we have been providing, we have to be able to go to them.”

MacFarland said since the fight against ISIS has now evolved into more of a “maneuver fight,” it will require “more flexibility” on the part of U.S. forces. In particular, he believes that the U.S. will have to engage in further logistical support for the ISF.

MacFarland also responded to the Pentagon’s Monday announcement that 200 troops and a contingent of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to provide greater flexibility in the support of the ISF.

“There’s a range of ways that we employ attack helicopters in the U.S. military. And we can employ them in singles, pairs, groups of four, eight, and on and on,” said MacFarland. “And how we employ those depends very much on what the mission is and what the enemy situation is.”

MacFarland did not say how many Apaches would be operational in Iraq, saying only “I don’t want to get specific on numbers.” He noted that concern over exact numbers is not as important as recognizing the capability U.S. personnel bring with them.

On the Syrian front of the fight, MacFarland said U.S. Army Special Forces have continued to build local relationships to help Syrians, particularly Syrian Arabs, resist ISIS. He cautioned that the new relationships have been positive, but that they are still in their infancy and expectations should be tempered.

Ministers from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) recently made a public plea for increased funding for their Peshmerga forces. According to one of the ministers, the KRG is running a monthly deficit of $100 million per month. Not only have the soldiers in the Peshmerga not been paid for months,  MacFarland noted they do not even have enough food to keep fighting ISIS on the northern front. He noted addressing this issue is a key priority.

MacFarland said that the operation to retake Mosul is a “step-by-step approach.”

“We’re on the first step right now.  We’re moving up to Mosul.  We’re setting the conditions around it, towards liberation,” said MacFarland. He noted that the U.S. plans to utilize the new and current forces to their maximum extent. Should the forces not prove as effective as required once they are employed against the enemy, MacFarland said there will be “another assessment” to determine what more is needed.

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