Exclusive — Centcom: ISIS ‘Desperate’ but Still Controls Area in Iraq, Syria 10 Times Size of D.C.

The Islamic State group was flushed out of the Syria's Raqa in October, but much of the city was left in tatters

The U.S.-led coalition, under American President Donald Trump’s watch, has been “accelerating the defeat” of Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) remnants who still hold pockets of territory more than ten times the size of Washington, DC, in and around the Iraqi-Syria border, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) tells Breitbart News.

U.S. Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for CENTCOM, told Breitbart News in a email statement on Wednesday that the American-led coalition’s mission, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), noted that the American-led alliance “is conducting a military offensive to find and defeat a desperate enemy that is committed to remaining relevant, and frequently relocates for its own survival.”

Urban’s remarks suggest ISIS is on the run.

For more than six months, the U.S.-led coalition has insisted it has liberated “98 percent” of the territory originally held by ISIS, noting that Operation Roundup, launched in May, “is accelerating the defeat of remnants of ISIS’s conventional force,” Capt. Urban said.

However, in early June, Kurdistan 24 reported that ISIS has been pushing Kurds out of their homes in areas like the province of Kirkuk, where Baghdad no longer allows the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Peshmerga forces, which the United States considers an effective force against the jihadist group, to operate.

After the Kurdish forces cleared Kirkuk of ISIS jihadists, Baghdad pushed the Peshmerga out of the province and other disputed regions, citing Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum vote in favor of independence.

In 2014, soon after ISIS rose to prominence, Kurdish Peshmerga entered Kirkuk to try to push the jihadists out after the Iraqi army abandoned its posts as it lost control of swaths of the country.

Now, according to Kurdistan 24:

The security situation has deteriorated considerably in the provinces of Kirkuk and Diyala following the October withdrawal of Peshmerga from the area. Though militarily defeated in Iraq, IS has continued to wage an insurgency with increased regularity in the region, with a rise in kidnappings, ambushes by gunmen, and various kinds of explosions.

On July 9, the Kurdish news outlet added that Iraqi security forces in Kirkuk, where Peshmerga troops have been pushed clear, are struggling to “fight back the apparent resurgence of the militant group in the [northern Iraqi] provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk, and Salahuddin.”

Although CENTCOM acknowledged July 9 that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition led and chiefly made up of Kurdish fighters, “has continued to gain ground through offensive operations coupled with precision coalition strike support,” Central Command pointed out that the alliance has not been able to seize more territory:

The has been reporting amounts of land that have been cleared or back-cleared for months. This does not necessarily mean the SDF is seizing terrain held by ISIS — this is a military offensive to find and defeat a desperate enemy that is committed to remaining relevant, and frequently relocates and hides for its own survival.

The figure stands at 98%, and until we can finally say ISIS has been annihilated, we do not foresee moving from 98% to a “100% clear” figure. Between now and then, we do not intend to provide fractions of percentages as gains against the terrorists. We are more concerned with finding them and getting them off the battlefield.

The U.S.-led coalition and its allies have managed to liberate “98 percent,” or about 107,575 sq. km., of the estimated 109,770 sq. km that ISIS originally held, according to CENTCOM.

That means ISIS still holds 2,195 sq. km. — an area about 12 times the size of the U.S. capital (177 sq. km.).

“Much work remains to defeat ISIS, but we and our partners will continue to pursue ISIS and get them off the battlefield wherever they try to hide within our area of operations,” an unnamed CENTCOM spokesperson told Breitbart News, adding, “Through Operation Roundup [launched May 1], Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve [OIR] is working with Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] and Iraqi Security Forces to defeat ISIS remnants in the Iraq-Syria border, Middle Euphrates River Valley, SDF ground operations, coupled with intelligence, surveillance and fire support provided by the coalition, are destroying ISIS remnants.”

Pushing ISIS out of the remaining two percent is essential to dealing the jihadists a lasting defeat that would prevent the return of conditions under which the terrorist group rose to prominence, the anonymous CENTCOM spokesperson told Breitbart News.

“This includes the defeat of ISIS’s hateful, extremist ideology,” the spokesperson added, noting that it is “premature” to declare victory over ISIS at the moment.

U.S. military officials estimate that between 1,000 and 3,000 ISIS jihadis remain in Iraq and Syria.

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