The number of munitions dropped by coalition aircraft in Iraq last week was the lowest since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) in 2014, Air Force Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.
Croft did not give statistics but said the low number of airstrikes, combined with the shift of air assets to the war in Afghanistan, is another indication that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is close to defeat, although remnants of the group retain footholds mostly in the lawless desert areas of the Iraq-Syria border region.
"It's an open desert with not a lot of population, and so ISIS has remnants or fragments out there," he said.
However, "Coalition airpower in support of the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF] has been extremely successful in the destruction of ISIS in Iraq," said Croft, the deputy air commander for OIR's Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command.
The success of the campaign has been such that airmen no longer needed for the ongoing training mission will be rotated out and sent back to the states, he said.
At one point in the video briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon, Croft embellished on his initial assessment and said the air campaign had been "wildly successful," enabling the U.S. and coalition partners to focus more on training the Iraqi air wing to act independently with its own forward air controllers on the ground.
Croft, the primary adviser to the Iraqi air forces, said that in a live-fire training exercise earlier this month, Iraqi JTACs, or Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, for the first time successfully called in an airstrike from a coalition aircraft.
"Our goal [is] to make them better as a partner in mission areas such as border security, protection of critical infrastructure, and the ability to defeat violent extremist organizations," he said.
To that end, the coalition in February set up a Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training team, or CAAT, that will work with the Iraqi Air Force Academy, which re-opened in February, Croft said.
He said that about 350 U.S. service members will be involved in the CAAT, along with about 100 to 120 coalition members -- all of them from in-country.
"What we're doing is, instead of bringing people in, we repurpose current airmen that are doing jobs in support of the combat operations," Croft said. "And as those combat operations drop off, we repurpose those airmen into that -- into that training environment. Or if they're no longer required, we take them out of Iraq and send them home."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.