US Central Command Says Iraqis Making Progress Against ISIS

U.S. Central Command gave another upbeat assessment Friday of the situation in Iraq despite the fall of Ramadi to ISIS and increasing suicide attacks in Baghdad.

"We do assess ISIL (another acronym for ISIS) is on the defensive compared to where they were a year ago," said Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, chief CentCom spokesman. "If you look at the bigger picture, we do believe ISIL is on the defensive writ large."

Ryder made similar statements last week in an audio briefing to the Pentagon before Ramadi fell under ISIS assault.

Ryder noted that about 800 fighters from two Sunni tribes had reported for training this week with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in a possible sign that the Sunnis of Anbar province might be willing to join with the Shia Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) to move against ISIS. "That certainly is a positive development," Ryder said.

Ryder also cited successful airdrops this week to besieged ISF units in the "very contested" oil refinery city of Baiji and the medical evacuation of ISF casualties as other signs of progress. Overall, ISIS has "lost territory, lost large amounts of equipment, lost combat power" since the U.S. began airstrikes last Aug. 8, Ryder said.

However, Ryder said "the past week has been a tough one for the Iraqis. The outcome was certainly disappointing," he said of the fall of Ramadi as the ISF fled and left behind their equipment. On Thursday, several truck bombs went off near Baghdad luxury hotels, killing at least 15.

Ryder echoed previous statements from the Pentagon that the ISF appeared to be mobilizing in an effort to retake Ramadi but he declined to give a timeline for an offensive.

"We hope they do so in the near term but, look, the Iraqis are fighting a tough enemy. In the interim, we expect ISIL to achieve temporary successes."

Separately, the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq operating under CentCom reported conducting four airstrikes in Syria and 20 in Iraq on May28-29.

Five of the airstrikes were around Baiji and destroyed five ISIS vehicles, two ISIS excavators, an ISIS armored personnel carrier and an ISIS armored vehicle, the Task Force said. Near Ramadi, one airstrike destroyed two ISIS fighting positons.

In his own assessment of the situation in Iraq, Army Chief of State Gen. Ray Odierno appeared to support the statements last Sunday by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who questioned the Iraqis' will to fight.

"I'll be frank, it's incredibly disappointing to me personally what I've watched happen" in Iraq, Odierno said Thursday at a breakfast session with defense writers.

"I felt in September 2010 when I left that we were on the right track and I really believed that at that time in five years or so Iraq would be doing very, very well. But frankly, they've fallen apart," Odierno said.

The Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities must come together behind the central government in Baghdad before there can be battlefield success against ISIS, Odierno said.

"Until you get everyone supporting the government," Odierno said, "you're always going to have this problem. Until you solve that problem, it's very difficult to be successful."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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