U.S. says ISIS made ‘substantial gains’ in Iraq

ISIS have scored important advances in Iraq despite a sustained U.S.-led air campaign

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Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have scored “substantial gains” in Iraq despite a continuous U.S.-led air campaign, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The group “has made substantial gains in Iraq,” and it will take time to build up local forces that could defeat them in Syria and Iraq, John Allen, a retired four-star U.S. general, told reporters, according to AFP.

Although the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces succeeded in halting or pushing back ISIS in some key areas including around Mosul dam, the militant group had “tactical momentum” in other areas, Allen said.

He acknowledged the United States and its allies were most concerned with the situation in Iraq, where the U.S. army had to call in Apache helicopters last week to prevent ISIS from seizing Baghdad’s international airport.

In an interview on ABC’s “this week” on Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said: “They were within 20 or 25 kilometers [of Baghdad airport] and had they overrun the Iraqi unit, it was a straight shot to the airport. So we’re not going to allow that to happen; we need that airport.”

Allen said “the emergency in Iraq right now is foremost in our thinking,” admitting that it was too early to say which side has the upper hand.

“I’d be careful about assigning a winner -- winner or a loser,” said Allen, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Speaking after a tour of the Middle East in which Allen spoke to coalition partners and Iraqi leaders, the presidential envoy emphasized that military power alone would not be enough to defeat ISIS -- a point often made by the White House.

Allen said “the key and the main takeaway from this trip was that we all agree that while the military side is important to the outcome, it is not sufficient in and of itself.”

At the moment the plan was “to take those steps that are necessary, with the forces that we have available and the air power that we have at our fingertips” to buy time to train and arm Iraqi security forces.

The goal was to give Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi “the opportunity to build a stable government that is inclusive.”

Speaking about the air campaign around the Syrian city of Kobane, which ISIS militants have been battling to take, Allen said it was “for humanitarian purposes” only to relieve defenders of the town and give them time to organize.

“We are striking the targets around Kobane for humanitarian purposes. I’d be very reluctant to attempt to assign ... a term like ‘a strategic target,’ or ‘a strategic outcome,’” Allen said.

“Clearly ... given the circumstances associated with the defense of that town, there was a need for additional fire support to go in to try to relieve the defenders and to buy some white space, ultimately, for the reorganization on the ground,” he added.

“We have picked up the tempo and the intensity of the air strikes in order to provide that white space.”

The Pentagon said Wednesday that those airstrikes have killed “several hundred” ISIS fighters in and around Kobane, but that ISIS could still seize the besieged strategic Syrian town.

“We believe that we have killed several hundred ISIL fighters in and around Kobane,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, adding that the majority of the city’s population has fled as jihadists continued to pour into the region in an attempt to take the town.

[With AFP and Reuters]

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