Posted: May 19, 2017 5:00 PM

Mattis, Dunford: Coalition Surrounding ISIS Strongholds, Cutting-off Fleeing Foreign Fighters

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. — The coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is systemically surrounding and destroying its stronghold in Iraq and Syria in a change in tactics to prevent ISIS fighters, including foreigners, from escaping to fight elsewhere.

Referring to a review of the campaign against ISIS ordered by President Donald J. Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, briefing reporters May 19 at the Pentagon, said “the president ordered an accelerated operation against ISIS. Two significant changes resulted from President Trump’s review of our findings.

“First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities,” Mattis said. “Secondly, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of these locations in attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS. The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.”

Mattis emphasized that there has been no change to rules of engagement and “our own extraordinary efforts to avoid innocent civilian casualties.”

He said that the coalition against ISIS includes 68 members — “65 nations plus more joining as we speak, plus Interpol, the European Union and [the] Arab League — united in opposition, sharing intelligence, providing troops and funds for combat and, of no less importance, for the post-combat recovery.”

He said that 26 coalition nations contribute militarily, including more than 4,000 non-U.S. troops on the ground and in the air.

“While ISIS remains dangerous, they are no longer carrying an air of strength,” he said.

Coalition forces have reduced two-thirds of ISIS’ strength in Nangahar Province in Afghanistan, he said. West Mosul in Iraq now is surrounded and Iraqi forces are pressing the fight in that city.

“There is no escape for ISIS, even while we do all that is humanly possible to shepherd the innocent out of harm’s way,” he said.

Mattis said that parts of Iraq are returning to normal after liberation from ISIS. More than 4 million people have been liberated and ISIS has been prevented from recapturing any territory it has lost.

Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also briefing reporters, said “our partnered approach has brought significant progress,” reducing the flow of foreign ISIS fighters into region and undermining “the credibility of the narrative that there is a physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.”

Dunford said the flow of foreign fighters into ISIS in the region has slowed from 1,500 per month to less than 100. He also that praised the performance of Iraqi forces in combat.

Also briefing was Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, who said that 55,000 square kilometers of territory had be recouped from ISIS control and that 1.7 million Iraqis were back in their homes.

Mattis said he defined success against ISIS in Iraq and Syria as when “the local security forces, the police, can handle [the situation] and it’s no longer a trans-national threat.”

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