November 4, 2015
By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, November 4, 2015 — Two successful military actions this week in Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant show that U.S. efforts to train and supply friendly Syrian forces are paying off, the Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said today.
Army Col. Steve Warren briefed Pentagon reporters live this morning via video conference from Baghdad.
He said that during one of the operations, on Oct. 31, vetted Syrian opposition groups and Syrian forces trained in Turkey by U.S. forces pressured ISIL fighters on the Turkish-Syrian border.
“These are the very forces that we exfiltrated out of Syria months ago, trained in Turkey and infiltrated back in,” Warren said, noting that the Syrians are from the first two classes that took place over the summer.
“I’m highlighting that because we’ve heard so much discussion of how this was a failed program and … a program that we’ve discontinued. But the results of that program are out there on the battlefield right now,” he said.
Turkish Air Support
Turkey provided synchronized air support for the mission using F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, and conducted several airstrikes that destroyed enemy fighting positions and killed more than 20 enemy fighters, the OIR spokesman added.
The action took place along the Mara line in northwestern Syria, Warren said.
“We’re very pleased by the fact [that the Turks] were able to provide close air support to vetted Syrian opposition forces that were in direct contact with ISIL,” he added.
Further east in Syria near Hawl, the Syrian Democratic Forces conducted an attack from the northeast to the southwest, driving ISIL back and reclaiming about 255 square kilometers of ground, Warren said.
“It was a fairly straightforward, conventional offensive operation, where we estimated … several hundred enemy [fighters] were located in that vicinity. There was a substantial friendly force — well over 1,000 participated in the offensive part of this operation. And they were able to very deliberately execute the plan that they had made themselves,” he said.
Supported by coalition air power, Warren said, they were able to take more than 250 square kilometers of territory.
The Syrian Arab Coalition, or SAC, was able to conduct the assault as part of the Syrian Defense Force, he added, “because we supplied the vetted … SAC with [50 tons of] ammunition on Oct. 12. This is important because [Hawl] is predominantly an Arab area and the SAC is the Arab component of the SDF.”
The SDF is a large force made up of Syrian-Arabs, Christians and Kurds, Warren said, calling it a group of groups from various sects, religions and organizations “that have come together under a single purpose, which is to defeat ISIL.”
In early October, Warren said, he told the press that U.S. forces would keep an eye on the initial 50 tons of ammunition to validate that it was distributed and used properly.
“We have seen that,” he said. “We believe that the … 200-plus kilometers of ground that the Syrian-Arab coalition has managed to take, to some extent validates this program. … So I think you will see continued resupply of these forces [to] … reinforce the successes we’ve already seen.”
Coalition aircraft supported this advance with 17 air strikes and destroyed ISIL vehicles, fighting positions and weapons systems, and killed 79 enemy fighters, Warren noted.
“While this is not a large tactical action, we believe the operation demonstrates the viability of our program to provide support to these forces and further demonstrates our operational effort to pressure ISIL from multiple directions at the same time,” he said.
Both actions tie into an intensification of the anti-ISIL campaign in Iraq and Syria announced by the White House this week and the Defense Department Oct. 30, he added.
“Friday’s announcement mentioned deploying A-10 [Thunderbolt II]’s and F-15s to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Those A-10s, along with an [AC-130] Spectre gunship, were among the platforms that provided the air power for this action,” Warren said.
Being able to position more assets in Incirlik made a difference, he said, “where we were able to bring both A-10s and a Spectre gunship to bear and … it can only be described as devastating …. It killed nearly 80 enemy fighters and wounded many more. And the Syrian-Arab coalition … fought with valor. They showed us something here and we’re pleased by that.”
Warren said the actions he described in Syria illustrate how “the whole of this effort can equal more than the sum of its parts.”
He added, “Much as a pack of wolves will hound, pursue or wear down and ultimately kill its prey, local forces in Iraq and Syria are pressuring ISIL from the ground and multiple areas simultaneously while the coalition provides devastating air power all along the way.”
This week ISIL lost ground, Warren said.
“We’re going to continue to operate this way as long as it works well. If needed, we’ll adjust,” he added.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)