In a Defense Department press briefing yesterday, Lieutenant General Bill Mayville, the Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided an update on the US air operations to relieve ethnic minority Yazidis in the Sinjar area in northern Iraq, as well as airstrikes against Islamic State forces threatening the Yazidis and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
Mayville was clear that US air operations so far have had minimal impact on the Islamic State’s operations in northern Iraq. He gave a “ballpark figure” of the number of sorties a day as “between 50 and 60.” Mayville is clear that he does not believe the US air campaign in its current form will have a strategic affect on the Islamic State’s operations in northern Iraq, let alone elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, where the group has made significant gains over the past year.
The general notes that the Islamic State forces in areas where the US is operating have begun to change their tactics somewhat by dispersing their fighters and hiding among the local population. This has made US targeting of the group even more difficult, he notes.
“[O]ne of the things that we have seen with the ISIL forces is that where they have been in the open, they are now starting to dissipate and to hide amongst the people,” he said.
Mayville also gives grudging praise of the Islamic State’s tactical prowess, stating that the jihadist group’s “ability to attack on multiple axes … is not insignificant.”
Two questions and answers are reproduced below. The entire briefing can be read here.
Q: (OFF-MIC) retreating (OFF-MIC) seeing signs of retreat or picking up chatter that they’re panicking or wondering…
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: You’re talking about ISIL forces? Look, I think, in the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect. And — but I — and — and we may have blunted some tactical decisions to move in those directions and move further east to Erbil. What I expect the ISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.
Q: Beyond the limited scope of this operation, how do you assess the military capabilities of ISIL throughout Iraq and Syria? And, also, are you concerned about the political — internal political conflict in Baghdad? As you may know, there’s a new prime minister. The current prime minister, Maliki, has refused to step down. Do you think this conflict could affect your mission in Iraq?
LT. GEN. MAYVILLE: Yeah, I’m very concerned about the threat posed by ISIL in — in Iraq and in the region. They’re very well-organized. They are very well-equipped. They coordinate their operations. And they have thus far shown the ability to attack on multiple axes. This is not insignificant.