Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), which oversees the coalition to defeat the Islamic State, warned today that “much work remains to defeat” Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization in Iraq and Syria. The US-led coalition’s statement is at odds with the Trump administration’s stated position earlier this week.
The White House claimed on Apr. 4 that the “military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed.” The remaining ISIS presence in Syria is “small,” according to the White House’s statement, which did not mention Iraq.
But CJTF-OIR’s latest press release makes it clear that the US and its allies are still targeting ISIS locations and assets in Iraq. Six of the nine airstrikes carried out between Mar. 30 and Apr. 5 were in Iraq. Three of the six were conducted between Baghdad and Mosul, near Bayji and Qayyarah. Two were in western Iraq, in the vicinity of Rutbah and Al Qaim. The sixth was near Baghdad. The targets included an ISIS “supply route,” a “cave,” three “tactical unit[s],” and a vehicle.
“All Coalition air strikes are carried out with the consent of the Iraqi government,” Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi said on Apr. 1, CJTF-OIR noted.
Three other recent airstrikes were conducted in northeastern (near Shadaddi) or eastern (Albu Kamal) Syria, with all the targets being ISIS tactical units and vehicles. The US-led coalition has previously described Shaddadi “as a critical node for training, logistics and revenue and was the main supply artery between the ISIS capital Raqqa and the Iraqi city of Mosul.”
According to CJTF-OIR’s new statement, the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria are intended to “exert pressure” on ISIS “senior leaders and associates in order to degrade, disrupt and dismantle” the group’s “structures and remove terrorists.” “This will prevent the terrorist group’s ability to resurge and resume its capacity to threaten and destabilize the international community.”
While the US-led coalition is bombing ISIS locations in Albu Kamal, the so-called caliphate’s men are battling forces loyal to Bashar al Assad’s regime in and near the town. The Syrian Army, backed by its “axis of resistance” allies, such as the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, claimed to have defeated ISIS in Albu Kamal late last year. “The Syrian Army and its allies in the axis of resistance have expelled Daesh from its last stronghold on Syrian soil,” a Hezbollah news service said in Nov. 2017, according to Reuters.
However, ISIS retained an operational capacity in and around Albu Kamal, as well as the surrounding towns in eastern Syria. The organization continues to advertise its operations against Assad’s forces and their comrades. ISIS claims to have used SPG-9s, assassinated Syrian soldiers and conducted other operations on the outskirts of Albu Kamal in recent days.
CJTF-OIR says the coalition’s airstrikes inside Syria are targeting ISIS locations within “SDF-held areas,” meaning the turf held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). But ISIS continues to fight in areas controlled by the Assad regime and its allies as well, with the two anti-ISIS ground coalitions occupying adjacent territory.