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Iraqi Troops Advance Toward Mosul as ISIL Tries to Hide Movements

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2016 — Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga security forces are working together as they advance along several axes to liberate Mosul, Iraq, from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant control, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, director of Pentagon press operations, told reporters today.

“The level of coordination and cooperation we have seen between the Kurds and the [Iraqi security forces] has been very good,” Davis said. “They’re working together very well, collaborating just the way we would want them to.”

The U.S. military supports Iraq’s counter-ISIL fight with a wide range of capabilities such as air support, artillery, intelligence, advisors and air controllers, he noted. “To be clear, the thousands of combat forces that are going to liberate Mosul are Iraqis,” he added. “We have, to date, conducted tens of thousands of precision strikes to support Iraqi operations.”

And while the U.S.-led coalition has trained and equipped more than 54,000 Iraqi forces, it will continue to focus on the enemy and work diligently to minimize any impact on innocent civilians, Davis emphasized.

“We can’t predict how long it will take for the [Iraqi security forces] to defeat ISIL in Mosul, but we know we will succeed,” he said, citing other towns and villages they have liberated from ISIL’s grip since 2014.

ISIL Tries to Block Attacks

ISIL has lighted what Davis described as “obfuscation fires – giant pits with tires and oil they light quickly to create big, thick black clouds of smoke to conceal their movements and positions [and] make it harder for coalition aircraft to see and target them.”

The United States has seen reports of suicide bombers who try to attack the Iraqi forces as they move in, Davis said, as well as reports of civilians being forcibly dressed in Iraqi military uniforms and publicly executed for propaganda purposes by ISIL fighters.

While it’s an ugly fight, Davis said, “we’ve seen very good progress in day one.”

Long, Tough Battle Expected

And while a lot of movement must take place for the Iraqi forces to get into Mosul, Davis noted, “It is very much under way.”

An estimated 10,000 Kurdish security forces and 18,000 Iraqi security forces are involved in the effort, Davis said, and about 2,000 Iraqi federal police follow behind Iraqi fighters as towns and villages are cleared. Those numbers could increase as more Iraqis are trained, he noted.

On the high end, he said, the estimates of ISIL fighters in Mosul and around the surrounding Ninevah province could be as high as 5,000.

While the fight to liberate Mosul from ISIL’s two-year stronghold is anticipated to be a long and tough battle, Davis said, the Iraqi security forces are ready for it adding, “We will stand by them,” he added, “and we have given them the tools they need to succeed in this.”

Tidd Cautions Nations to Watch ISIL

Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters at the Pentagon today that nations around the globe must be mindful that the ISIL caliphate ideology has proven to be “damaging, destructive and has created [an] enormous security problem in the Middle East.”

“As it continues to morph and metastasize,” he said, “I think all around the world we must all be mindful of where it might it pop up, and we must [work] with our security partners around the world [to] take steps to prevent that from happening.”

The Southcom commander was in the nation’s capital to attend a chiefs of defense conference with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and his counterparts from more than 40 nations to discuss “the global possibility of what happens after Mosul -- what happens after the physical caliphate is reduced,” he said.

The conference was to put in place a more watchful global network to share information on what potential threats might exist, Tidd said.

“Many of our partners around the region now recognize that in the aftermath of attacks by self-radicalized individuals from Brussels, Paris, Nice, Ankara, Orlando and San Bernardino, that phenomenon can pop up almost anywhere and with very, very little advance warning,” Tidd said. “It is incumbent on literally all countries to recognize how that can happen, and to be able to share information as effectively as possible, so as we learn of potential sources of radicalization, we take steps that are consistent.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter:  @MoonCronkDoD)