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Coalition, Not ISIL, Dictates Pace of Operations

Fri, 2015-08-07 00:00

The current situation in Iraq and Syria clearly indicates that the coalition, and not ISIL, now dictates the pace of operations, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said today during a telephonic press conference with Pentagon reporters.

“For the last twelve months of this multi-year effort, our campaign has focused on countering and effectively degrading ISIL’s overall capabilities, while enabling the efforts of the indigenous ground forces in both Iraq and Syria, and empowering the 60-plus nation coalition,” Air Force Col. Pat Ryder said.

ISIL’s Losing Ground

Ryder asserted that rather than ISIL forces “waving black flags and traversing Iraq and Syria in big convoys to capture large swaths of new territory,” the true situation shows a waning insurgency, losing ground steadily on nearly every front.

Currently, anti-ISIL forces now defend two-thirds of Syria’s northern border, and in Iraq, Ryder said he estimates as of this April, ISIL can no longer operate freely in roughly 25 to30 percent of the populated areas in which it could less than a year ago.

“Consistent and effective pressure against ISIL’s leadership has caused the organization to be more centralized and less flexible,” Ryder said. “Over the past year, we have removed several thousand ISIL fighters from the battlefield, as well as dozens of the organization’s senior leaders.”

The colonel also reported that ISIL has had to repeatedly replace leaders in key positions. “Every time they have to return to the bench, you can presume they’re having to put less experienced and less capable individuals into these leadership positions, thereby reducing the organization’s overall effectiveness in decision-making and command and control.”

But Ryder also noted that air power has played a key role in ISIL’s decline, as coalition air forces have conducted more than 6,000 air strikes in Iraq and Syria in support of anti-ISIL forces, destroying thousands of pieces of the enemy’s equipment, command and control nodes, training facilities, supply lines, and other military and economic resources.

“Our airstrikes in Syria against ISIL continue to deny them safe haven,” he said, “and disrupt their ability to project combat power into Iraq -- which, in turn, has bought the Iraqi forces much needed time and space to regenerate combat power and go on the offensive.”

And the Syrian Kurds in the northeast portion of the country have performed exceptionally well, according to Ryder.

“They’ve not only retaken significant swaths of territory from ISIL, but in doing so, they have significantly impacted the enemy’s key lines of communication between Syria and Turkey and between Syria and Iraq,” he said. “This means that ISIL will no longer be able to freely move fighters and supplies between the countries.”

Coalition Partners Step Up

Meanwhile, in support of that effort, approximately 1,200 coalition partners from 17 nations have enabled Iraqi forces through the DoD’s “Building Partner Capacity” sites and “Advise and Assist” programs, the colonel explained.

At five training locations in Iraq, Ryder reported the coalition has trained more than 11,000 Iraqi forces personnel, providing a wide range of training designed to aid Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga effectiveness on the battlefield, with similar consulting exchanges resulting in training for approximately 1,100 Sunni tribal fighters engaged in the counter-ISIL fight.

And U.S. military equipment provision includes 250 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, nearly 2,000 Hellfire missiles, more than 10,000 M16 rifles, body armor, helmets, and millions of rounds of ammunition, the colonel said. Coalition donations to the anti-ISIL effort, he added, include 22 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and 12,000 mortar rounds to the Iraqi army and Peshmerga.

On the Syrian front, the coalition continues to support and enable the efforts of anti-ISIL forces, to include Syrian Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman fighters to drive ISIL out of northern Syria border regions, Ryder said.

“These anti-ISIL forces, whose efforts have been supported by more than 2,200 coalition airstrikes, have made significant progress in northern Syria -- having regained more than 5,300 square kilometers from ISIL,” the colonel said. “As they continue to progress, they are building regional coalitions, specifically with local Arab forces committed to defeating ISIL and expelling them from their lands.”

Meanwhile, strides are being made in training vetted Syrian opposition force recruits as part of the coalition’s “Syria Train and Equip” program, designed to give training alumna the capabilities they need as New Syrian Forces to defend the Syrian people and go on the offensive against ISIL, the colonel said.

“The second class of recruits is currently in training,” he said, “and we continue to see significant interest in opposition forces volunteering for the program and have hundreds of additional fighters currently undergoing vetting for potential training in the future.”

Ultimately, Ryder said, success does not hinge on one fight or one event, rather in the continuous application of lessons learned.

“With Turkey’s decision to open bases for the deployment of U.S. aircraft conducting counter-ISIL operations, the coalition now has another strategic location from which it can conduct strikes if and when necessary,” the colonel said.

He acknowledged a long road ahead without illusions about the complexities of the fight against a determined adversary.

“Our combined military efforts can and will defeat ISIL,” Ryder said. “However, the effects achieved will be short-lived unless the leadership of the country of Iraq makes the right decisions and does the right things to ensure that all of that nation’s citizens are treated fairly and equally.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter @LyleDODNews) 

Work, Kendall Visit Livermore Lab, Nuke Stockpile

Thu, 2015-08-06 00:00

With responsibility for surety of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is a “national treasure,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said today.

Touring the lab for the first time since he took office as the DoD deputy secretary, Work said Livermore is one of three such treasures that work with the nation’s nuclear program -- in addition to Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories in Washington, D.C.

The deputy noted the words of President Barack Obama, who said the United States needs to have a safe, effective and reliable nuclear deterrent.

Livermore Central to Safe Stockpile

“Livermore is central to making sure that stockpile is safe and reliable,” Work told reporters on his return from a two-day trip to Northern California.

The California facility, he added, is “responsible for the surety of the weapons we have in our stockpile … they do tests, designs and are training the next generation of nuclear weapons specialists.”

Work added that the Department of Energy’s Livermore employees are “unbelievably talented.”

Work and Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, were briefed by the lab’s senior leaders and took a classified tour of Livermore’s key sectors of interest to DoD, including weapons and complex integration in the National Security Weapons Vault, the National Ignition Facility, home of the world’s largest laser.

Talks With Perry

Following the lab tour, Work and Kendall had a working lunch with former defense secretary William J. Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton’s administration from February 1994 to January 1997.

“Secretary Perry is an unbelievable font of knowledge,” Work said, adding that the 19th defense secretary was a key figure in DoD’s 1970s technology -- from working on the second offset strategy, development of the stealth bomber, bringing cruise missiles to the Navy, and introducing guided munitions to the Army.

“We asked him, ‘What do you think is going on in terms of technology, where do you see the third offset strategy going, what’s he worried about in [technology], what trends does he see?’” Work said of the discussions with Perry. “Just being able to sit down and talk with him … he’s just a great American.”

The visit to the Livermore lab visit and the nuclear stockpile comprised one segment of the California trip, Work said, which also centered on private industry and government dual-use innovation, in addition to observing a large-scale exercise at Fort Irwin, as the Army shifts its focus toward hybrid threats in warfare to counter a range of contingencies the military could face in the future.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoDNews)

DoD Announces Transfer of Suspected ISIL Member

Thu, 2015-08-06 00:00

Earlier today, Nasrin As’ad Ibrahim, also known as Umm Sayyaf, a suspected member of ISIL who has been detained by U.S. forces in Iraq since May 15, was transferred to the custody of the government of Iraq, according to a Defense Department news release.

Umm Sayyaf is now being held by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Interior, the release said.

Umm Sayyaf was the wife of a senior ISIL leader, Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf was killed by U.S. Special Operations Forces during a raid in Syria, according to the release.

The decision to transfer Umm Sayyaf to the Iraqi government was based on the U.S. government determination that the detainee’s transfer would be appropriate with respect to legal, diplomatic, intelligence, security, and law enforcement considerations, the release said.

This transfer is consistent with DoD policy to detain, interrogate, and, where appropriate, seek the prosecution of individuals who are captured on the battlefield, the release said.

World War II Airman's Remains Identified

Thu, 2015-08-06 00:00

The remains of a serviceman, missing since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors, said the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in a DoD news release issued today.
U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Stephen V. Biezis of Chicago, will be buried Aug. 14, in Arlington National Cemetery, according to the release. His co-pilot, 1st Lt. James F. Gatlin of Jacksonville, Florida, was buried Jan. 30, in Bushnell, Florida.

On Dec. 23, 1944, Biezis and his crew of five were assigned to the 575th Bombardment Squadron, 391st Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force and were deployed to Germany, the release said. Biezis was the co-pilot of a B-26C Marauder that crashed after being struck by enemy fire while on a bombing mission against enemy forces near Ahrweiler, Germany. Biezis, Gatlin and three other crew members were reported killed in action. His remains were not recovered during the war.

One of the crew members parachuted from the aircraft but was captured and held as a prisoner of war by German forces, the release said. Following his release, he reported to U.S. officials that he had no knowledge of the fate of the remaining crewmen.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command conducted investigations on the loss of Biezis and his crew and successfully located the crash site, near Manderscheid and Bettenfeld, the release said. The remains of two crewmen were recovered.

On May 27, 1999, a U.S. team investigating World War II losses in Germany visited a crash site near Bettenfeld, according to the release. Two German nationals had researched the crash site and showed the team artifacts that were found and turned over remains collected from the site. Those remains were identified as Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Joe R. Sanchez, 20, of Los Nietos, Calif. He was accounted for in March 2011, and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Department of Defense teams traveled to Bettenfeld and conducted operations at the crash site, the release said.

To identify Biezis’ remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used forensic identification tools to include mitochondrial DNA, which matched his sister and cousin, according to the release.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died. Today, more than 73,000 are unaccounted for from the conflict, the release said.