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Funk Takes Charge of US Forces in Iraq, Syria

Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II took charge this week as the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria in the ongoing fight to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Funk succeeded Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who led Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in supporting the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in prolonged offensives that culminated with the liberation of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.

Townsend also oversaw the equipping and training of the U.S.-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces, who have retaken an estimated 60 percent of Raqqa, ISIS' self-proclaimed capital, in eastern Syria.

In a briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad on Wednesday, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a task force spokesman, said the headquarters of the U.S. Army's 18th Airborne Corps, led by Townsend, completed its deployment as the headquarters of CJTF-OIR on Tuesday and returned home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

"The mission now continues under the leadership of III Armored Corps out of Fort Hood, Texas," under Funk's command, Dillon said.

"So while some of our personnel have changed, what has not changed is the coalition's mission, and that is to defeat ISIS through our partners in Iraq and Syria," he said.

Funk is on his second deployment to CJTF-OIR, and his sixth overall combat deployment since Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

He deployed twice for Operation Iraqi Freedom and once for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

His awards and decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with three bronze oak leaf clusters, and Bronze Star Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters, according to the Army.

Funk's father, retired Lt. Gen. Paul "Butch" Funk, led III Corps and Fort Hood in the 1990s.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, presided at a change of command ceremony in Kuwait earlier this week.

"When III Corps was here last, they were instrumental in greatly increasing the pressure on ISIS and setting conditions by training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian opposition groups," Votel said in a statement.

"Their hard work led to the recapturing of Fallujah and the airfield at Qayyarah, posturing the ISF to begin clearing Mosul, the ISIS stronghold in Iraq," he said.

In a statement at the ceremony, Funk said the brutality of ISIS "forces us to look deep into the heart of darkness. They condone the systematic murder of women and children, the enslavement of religious minorities, and the torture and execution of captured prisoners."

"As a result of the magnificent work of this strong coalition, real change is happening. ISIS is on the run," he said. "We must defeat them, and our collective effort will defeat them."

Funk is expected to focus on the retaking of Hawija, the last ISIS stronghold in central Iraq bordering Kurdish territory, and on eliminating ISIS pockets in Al Qaim and other areas in western Anbar province.

One of Funk's immediate concerns in Syria is likely to be the bus convoy of ISIS fighters and their families stranded in the eastern Syrian desert.

U.S. warplanes have bombed roads in the path of the convoy to prevent the buses from reaching areas controlled by ISIS but have avoided hitting the buses themselves, Dillon said.

The Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia guaranteed safe passage to the armed ISIS fighters to get them to leave areas along Lebanon's border.

Dillon said the buses had been resupplied with food and water as recently as Tuesday night. "We are not helping with that, nor are we hindering that from getting there," he said.

He said 11 buses remain in the open desert, about 130 miles south of Raqqa.

"The coalition was not party to this agreement [with Hezbollah], and we will not allow this armed terrorist convoy to link up with fellow ISIS fighters in the Euphrates River valley," Dillon said.

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