Gen. Joe Dunford arrived here today for talks with Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve leaders on the status of the counter-ISIL campaign.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is making his fifth visit to the region since he was confirmed in October 2015. Combatting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been on of the focuses of Dunford’s tenure.
Dunford is meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones and his country team and with Army Lt. Gen. Sean McFarland, the OIR commander. The Army’s 3rd Corps — a significant part of the OIR forces — is turning over responsibility to the XVIII Airborne Corps next month.
The chairman will also meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Defense Minister Kahlid al-Obeidi and Iraq’s chief of defense Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ganimi.
The counter-ISIL situation has changed since Dunford’s first trip to Iraq as chairman. In October 2015, the Iraqi military was still in the process of planning to retakeRamadi, a key city in Anbar province, and fighting to retake Beiji, a key city north of Baghdad. No one knew how Iraqi security forces, Shiia militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga would work together, or even if they could cooperate. Last year, ISIL had some momentum.
Yet even then, Dunford was working to find ways for indigenous forces to apply pressure on ISIL at multiple points in Iraq and Syria. Coalition aircraft provided support to Iraqi forces on the ground and coalition trainers worked to ensure Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga had the training and equipment needed to do their jobs.
By his April visit, Dunford said the momentum had shifted. Iraqi forces had taken Ramadi, had taken Beiji and had pushed on to take Hit and areas up the Tigris River Valley. “The momentum has swung and … my experience tells me once you’ve got somebody in a headlock, you don’t let them go,” Dunford said following his April visit.
And it appears coalition forces haven’t let up. Iraqi forces retook Fallujah and pushed further up the Tigris valley, taking the key airfield of Qarayya. Iraqi and Peshmerga forces are now aimed directly at retaking Mosul — the second largest city in Iraq. Coalition aircraft continue operations against ISIL and are increasingly effective with the better intelligence they are getting from successes on the ground.
In a recent Pentagon news conference, Dunford said the success of the counter-ISIL military campaign can be measured using three metrics: territory retaken, resources taken from ISIL and cutting the number of foreign fighters trying to join ISIL. All those measurements are trending the right way for local forces and the coalition, he said.
By Jim Garamone