A senior U.S. military official Monday said that American airstrikes have slowed the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s forces (ISIS or ISIL), but are unlikely to weaken the terror group’s overall capabilities.
“We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL's operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil,” said Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Joint Chiefs of Staff director of operations.
The U.S. began hitting ISIS targets last Friday, and has so far conducted 15 airstrikes using F-15Es, F-16s and F/A-18s fighter jets and MQ-1 Predator drones. The militant offshoot of al Qaeda had closed in on Erbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq. Their advance led to thousands of refugees from the Yazidi sect fleeing and seeking refuge on Mt. Sinjar without food or water and threatened U.S. personnel and interests in Erbil.
Mayville said the military would not expand its operations outside their current missions to protect U.S. citizens and facilities in Erbil, and end the siege of Mt. Sinjar.
It is unclear when that objective will be achieved, but Mayville said the airstrikes have “helped check the advance” of ISIS forces around Mt. Sinjar and in the area west of Erbil.
“U.S. airstrikes are also providing the Kurdish security forces with time to fortify their defensive positions with the supplies they're receiving from the central government of Baghdad,” he continued.
“As a result, the Kurdish security forces are holding territory in the vicinity of Erbil, and it has been reported in the media they retook key communities near Erbil itself."
Mayville stressed that the effect of the airstrikes was "temporary."
"What I expect [ISIS] to do is look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by [the group]," he said.
He also warned that ISIS fighters were starting to hide amongst Iraqi civilians, and would be harder to find.
"The targeting in this is going to become more difficult," he said.
The U.S. is also planning to arm Kurdish forces, Mayville said. Those weapons would include small arms, such as rifles and ammunition.
“In terms of what they need, principally ... they need weaponry that can meet — there's technical vehicles out there, so there's some weaponry that they need to have that can reduce technical vehicles,” Mayville added.
“Some of the [ISIS] forces have a longer-range weapons system, so we need to make sure that the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces are providing longer-range weapons themselves to the Kurdish forces."
This story was updated at 6:40 p.m.