Iraqi security forces operations backed by the US-led coalition are progressing toward liberating the key Iraqi city of Fallujah from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant control and killed the city’s ISIL commander, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told Pentagon reporters today.
Briefing from Baghdad by teleconference, Warren said Iraqi forces have cleared Karmah, 10 miles northeast of Fallujah, but have not yet entered the city of about 50,000 Iraqi residents.
“The Iraqi government has been clear that protecting these civilians is their priority,” he said. To communicate with Fallujah’s residents, coalition aircraft dropped leaflets telling those who cannot leave the city to affix white sheets on their rooftops to mark their locations, Warren said.
The Iraqi army is working on evacuation routes for Fallujah residents, while the Anbar provincial government has set up camps for the displaced people, he added.
The combined operation includes thousands of forces — the Iraqi army and federal police, Sunni tribal fighters and the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, in addition to Iraq’s popular mobilization forces that are taking part outside the city, Warren said.
Coalition airstrikes from Taqqadum with some artillery fire are also supporting the operation to retake Fallujah, the colonel said, but he added it’s still early in the fight, “so it’s unclear how long this battle will last.”
ISIL fighters have performed in one of two ways the past the last several months, Warren said. “In Ramadi, we encountered an enemy that chose to stand and fight,” he explained. “More recently in Hit and in Rutbah, ISIL hid behind women and children before throwing down their weapons and running away. In both cases, they lost.”
Warren said a local newspaper reported ISIL leadership arrested some of its fighters who had fled from Rutbah and executed them by cooking them to death in bakery ovens.
Counter-ISIL Forces on Operations in Raqqah
Syrian Democratic Forces battling ISIL control in that nation announced this week that they are conducting regular operations to liberate the countryside north of Raqqah, Warren said.
“We will continue to support the SDF, particularly the Syrian-Arab component, as they conduct ground operations to further isolate the city,” he said, adding that more than 200 Americans advise the Syrian-Arab coalition as they pressure ISIL across a broad front stretching from the Tishrin Dam to Shaddadi.
Remembering Fallen OIR Service Members
Warren said it’s important this Memorial Day to remember the three Americans who lost their lives supporting Operation Inherent Resolve: Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin and Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Keating IV.
“These men are American heroes and will not be forgotten,” he said. “Every warrior knows that when we speak the names of the fallen, they live on.”