Homeland Security

General: Iraqi Forces, SDF Get Credit for 'Astounding Reversal' of ISIS Fortune

Iraqi Special Forces soldiers gather before advancing against Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on July 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Canadian Armed Forces Brig. Gen. D.J. Anderson, who directs partner force development for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, credited Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces for leading the “astounding reversal” of ISIS’ caliphate territorial occupation.

Via video from Baghdad today at a Pentagon briefing, Anderson said in the past 14 months he’s witnessed the “incredible transformation” in local forces that have been steadily defeating the Islamic State.

The SDF, a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian coalition of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Circassians, Yazidis and other ethnic minorities, both male and female fighters, took nearly 28 square miles from ISIS in and around Raqqa this week. The operation that began far from the city in November culminated Monday night in SDF fighters entering the old city of Raqqa by breaching the ancient al-Rafiqa Wall, “and they are now progressively pushing further into the city,” the general said.

“The SDF are exerting pressure on ISIS from four different fronts throughout the city,” he added. “With a push to the east along the southern portion of the Euphrates River, ISIS is now completely encircled by SDF forces.”

In Mosul, where the operation began in October, Anderson said Iraqi forces “have pushed into the final 500-meter pocket of ISIS-held ground in the old city.”

“Iraq forces are within sight of the Tigris river from the west, and are facing an enemy on its absolutely last legs,” he said. By this evening, some Iraqis were reporting full liberation of Mosul.

“…These forces have liberated more than 4 million civilians throughout Iraq and Syria. They have fought and they have sacrificed dearly, and I honor their martyrs. And I am — and more importantly, I am confident that they will win this fight.”

Anderson stressed that after ISIS is “all but vanquished from its holdings” the critical next step is “laying the groundwork that prevents the rise of ISIS 2.0.”

“Things won’t unfold in a sequential manner. There’s no monolithic element of Iraq. And so in some places, there’s still Daesh 1.0. They’re holding ground. They’re holding terrain and they need to be defeated in the conventional sense. In other places, they’ve already reverted into a terrorist-insurgent organization,” he said. “…The fall of Mosul, the inevitable and imminent fall of Mosul does not mean that Daesh is defeated. There are still some conventional battles that have to happen, specifically in Tal Afar, in Hawija, and in western Anbar, the sequencing of which, of course, will be up to the government of Iraq.”

East Mosul, which was liberated in January, is “nothing short of a miracle,” the Canadian general emphasized, with markets springing back to life and residents back in their homes. Local police and the army are acting as the hold force.

“Eastern Mosul and western Mosul are very, very different. Western Mosul is different in its structure and its architecture. It’s almost biblical in its architecture. It’s very narrow streets. It’s very old buildings. ISIS is, as it’s got more desperate, has left more of a trail of destruction behind them. And so that will be a different challenge in terms of people coming back to their homes, restoring normalcy, etc.”

Anderson said it would be “almost unfair” to compare the Iraqi forces that let territory fall to ISIS years ago, forces that were being trained in dealing with counterinsurgents, to the Iraqi forces of today. “Then, they faced a completely different threat, which was to be invaded by a massive army that holds ground,” he noted.

“The Iraqi Security Forces and our partners in Syria have been nothing short of amazing in their ability to continue to keep the pressure on ISIL to the point where it’s incapable of reinforcing from one side to another,” he said of the terror groups’ bases in Raqqa and Mosul. “The simultaneity of this has been pretty awesome.”

The “extraordinary” SDF, the general said, has fought “with a high degree of inventiveness.” The 50,000-strong force has yet to lose a battle to ISIS.

Anderson also noted he’s been “incredibly moved by the passion and dedication” of Iraqis, and have “met an inordinate number of Iraqi nationals and nationalists who believe in Iraq for Iraqis.”

“And they’ve caused me to believe in that too,” the general added. “And I honor their martyrs and the hard work that they go through.”