As the White House mulls sending more troops into Iraq to support the fight against Islamic State fighters, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said existing efforts to counter the extremists, including airstrikes, were increasing in effectiveness.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said better intelligence enabled U.S. forces to hit targets affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, with more accuracy than they had just a year and a half ago.
His remarks came days after he told reporters that more U.S. troops were likely headed to Iraq to support an effort to take back the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.
"As our intelligence has developed over time, we've been more effective in conducting strikes against [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] leadership as well as going after their resources, particularly in the north," he said, using another term for the extremist group. "Moving forward, we're going to look for ways to reinforce success as the Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga prepare for operations in Mosul, which we think is a strategically significant operation."
In the fight against ISIS forces in Iraq, Dunford noted that victory was dependent on successfully developing Iraqi security forces and Kurdish fighters and advising and assisting them as they prosecuted the fight. The dynamics on the ground, he acknowledged, were complex, complicated by sectarianism and the political landscape.
Some reports suggest a continued struggle to keep Iraqi troops committed to retaking ISIS-held regions. The Daily Beast reported that Iraqi security forces had recently fled Fire Base Bell, a small artillery base in northern Iraq where Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin was killed by indirect fire earlier this month. The Iraqis retreated, according to the report, despite the arrival of the Marines -- a move intended to give them courage to remain.
Despite challenges, Dunford said he was encouraged by Iraqi and Kurdish victories against ISIS in population hubs including Baiji, Sinjar, Ramadi and Anbar province, all of which had fallen to extremists and were retaken.
"To me, those operations actually indicate what's in the art of the possible," the general said.
U.S. leaders continue to look for ways to increase the tempo and effectiveness of Iraqi security force operations, Dunford said.
In Syria, coalition forces have also seen gains against ISIS through partners on the ground, Dunford said. The Kurdish and Sunni-dominated coalition known at the Syrian Democratic Forces in February recaptured the ISIS-held town of Shadadi, cutting off a supply artery between the city of Raqqa and Mosul.
Now, he said, the focus was on improving the capacity of the Syrian Democratic Forces and see more gains.
"I believe, on balance, the pressure we've put on ISIL in Syria has degraded their capabilities and freedom of movement and reduced their resources," he said.