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Defense Official: ISIS Now Has 'Too Many Problems for Them to Solve'

A Christian man erases the names of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi off the wall of Mar Behnam Monastery in Qaraqosh, 19 miles east of Mosul, Iraq, on Feb. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The spokesman for U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria said ISIS fighters are “completely surrounded in west Mosul, and those who do not surrender to the Iraqi security forces will be killed there.”

The Iraqis are preparing an assault on west Mosul, a smaller but more densely populated part of the city than that east of the Tigris, which is now under the control of Iraqi forces.

Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters via video from Baghdad today that the 16th Iraqi Army Division is “serving as a hold force in east Mosul to maintain pressure on any remaining ISIL sleeper cells and prevent the enemy from re-infiltrating the city.”

The offensive to retake Mosul began in mid-October, with Peshmerga forces participating in the advance but holding outside the city as just Iraqi troops entered.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Inherent Resolve, told the Associated Press that “within the next six months I think we’ll see both (the Mosul and Raqqa campaigns) conclude.”

Dorrian said coalition airstrikes “continue shaping the battle space in western Mosul,” destroying ISIS weapons caches, river boats, “construction equipment and command and control, as well as attacking fighters directly anywhere that they congregate.”

“The enemy continues using indirect fire, mortars and artillery fires into eastern Mosul, which continues unfortunately to cause damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “They also continue to use commercial off-the-shelf drones to observe and drop explosives on the Iraqi security force and civilian positions. Although dangerous and effective as a propaganda tactic, this has limited operational effect on the battlefield and will not change the outcome or significantly delay the inevitable.”

ISIS unveiled their weaponized drones striking Mosul targets in a video last month. The blasts produced by the IED drops in the video were akin to grenades, appearing to inflict some injuries when aimed directly at people but seeming to have little effect when dropped on tanks. Iraqi News reported today that one person was killed and 19 were injured by ISIS drone attacks on the liberated eastern part of the city.

On the Syrian Democratic Forces’ operation to take ISIS’ proclaimed capital, Raqqa, Dorrian said “within the next few weeks, the city will be nearly completely isolated” and forces will move in.

“We’re not gonna give the exact timing of the effort to seize the city, but we do believe that excellent progress is being made and we’ll continue to pressure the enemy on multiple fronts,” he said.

“…They’re completely surrounded in Mosul. So what we see is the enemy being overwhelmed anywhere that they are. It’s too many problems for them to solve at any given time.”

On America’s role, Dorrian said the coalition has trained “more than 70,000 forces of various types — army, police, tribal fighters, popular mobilization fighters — that we can vet and work with.”

“And we continue to do all of that as Mosul is liberated,” he said. “Because ultimately, when we talk about dealing ISIL a lasting defeat, it’s all these forces that go in behind our forces and the Iraqi security forces that are going to make sure that ISIL is not able to re-infiltrated; they’re not able to get any traction on any type of insurgency effort.”

The spokesman estimated “no more than 100 to 200” ISIS fighters “per month” were making it into besieged ISIS cities. About a year ago, he noted, that rate was around 2,000 per month; the number of foreign fighters coming to join ISIS has also been steadily declining over the past year-plus.

“There’s probably not a tremendous market of people that want to go and join that fight because the enemy is being annihilated in Mosul, and they will be in other areas as well,” Dorrian said, adding that the number of fighters leaving is “not going to be a significant amount, either.”

He said the coalition doesn’t have a “good nationality breakdown” of the foreign fighters, but they “continue to find passports from a lot of different countries.”

Reports that Iraqis are finding “there are fighters who don’t want to fight or who are making excuses and want to leave the country” are “indicators that are useful to us and they provide some insight into the state of the enemy,” Dorrian said.

“They are on the back foot. Their fighters are being killed very quickly in some cases. And they are completely isolated in west Mosul, and they’re awaiting their fate there. They’re either going to surrender or they’re going to be annihilated.”

Another threat ISIS in Mosul have had to deal with: residents emboldened by the army advance have been stabbing and strangling jihadists. Iraqi forces have also been leaving corpses of dead ISIS fighters in the streets to further erode the terror group’s morale.

ISIS has been executing civilians, including burning 20 people after accusing them of communicating with Iraqi security forces via cell phone. They’ve also been killing jihadists trying to flee the battleground.