The deputy commander of operations and intelligence for Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters via video from Baghdad Tuesday that ISIS fighters have been seen trying to flee in women’s clothes along with waves of refugees.
Major Gen. Peter Gersten (USAF) said the U.S. has “now begun to use our exquisite cyber capabilities in this fight against Daesh.”
“And those standing capabilities, again, just another precision arrow in our arsenal, aimed directly at the heart of the Daesh enemy, in an effort to eradicate this vile cancer,” he said.
Gersten stressed that “not enough” ISIS fighters are being taken off the battlefields, but they are seeing defections driven by cash problems and low morale.
“What we’re seeing is through our intelligence capabilities, we’re seeing the morale of the enemy beginning to deteriorate at a fairly increasing way. As we went further out to the Euphrates River Valley, we saw Daesh trying to defect coming into playing themselves as refugees, playing themselves dressed as women. That’s the kind of cowardice we’re dealing with,” he said.
“We are seeing, through other sources, that Daesh cannot pay their foreign fighters,” while some are “digging in” and “go into the fabric of society and wrap themselves around civilians because that’s the kind of cancer they are.”
Gersten said when he first arrived in Iraq “we were seeing somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters entering the fight” per month.
“Now that we’ve been fighting this enemy for a year, our estimates are down to around 200. And we’re actually seeing an increase in the desertion rates in these fighters. We’re seeing a fracture in their morale. We’re seeing their inability to pay,” he said. “We’re seeing the inability to fight. We’re watching them try to leave Daesh. In every single way, their morale is being broken. In every single way, their capability to wage war is broken. In every single way, we will continue to take this fight and eradicate this cancer.”
The general stressed that as operations step up against major cities occupied by ISIS the military has “a very precise system” to lessen the incidence of civilian casualties.
“We recently were engaging with some of the bulk cash storage facilities in order to go after counter finance. And we saw in this particular facility, which also had a finance amir in the southern section of Mosul, he was the major distributor of funds to Daesh fighters. We watched him come and go from his house, we watched his supplies, we watched the security that was involved in it,” Gersten said. “And we also watched occasionally a female and her children in and out of the quarters.”
“We actually saturated that with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, RPAs, to get a pattern of life study. And then we formulated a plan to ensure that that particular, women and children and the non-combatants were clear of that objective,” he continued. “We went as far as actually to put a Hellfire on top of the building and air burst it so it wouldn’t destroy the building, simply knock on the roof to ensure that she and the children were out of the building. And then we proceeded with our operations.”
“That’s an example of exactly how we do this. But we have to understand that Daesh is into the fabric of the people. They are using the civilian force as human shields, and we will fight and do everything possible we can to keep those civilian casualties to an absolute, absolute minimum.”
Gersten added that “the men that were in that building, multiple men, literally trampled over her to get out of that building. And we watched her and observed her leaving the building. And she cleared the building, and we began to process the strike.”
“It’s a difficult situation, I would tell you, in this particular event, because it was — it ended — it ultimately ended up in a civilian casualty,” he said. “So, as much as we tried to do exactly what we wanted to do and minimize civilian casualties, post-weapons release, she actually ran back into the building. That’s a — we watched, very difficult for us to watch. And it was within the final seconds of the actual impact.”