The Pentagon on Wednesday declared that the first phase of military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is over and the second phase is underway.
“Our enemy has been weakened, and we are now working to fracture,” said Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS. “Phase one of the military campaign is complete, and we are now in phase two, which is to dismantle this enemy.
“We believe that by degrading them in phase one and then dismantling them in phase two, we believe that that will set us up for phase three, which, of course, is the ultimate defeat of this enemy,” he added.
Phase one focused on stopping ISIS from advancing and eliminating the group's ability to operate as a conventional force, Warren said.
Successes in the first phase include the recapture of about 40 percent of the territory ISIS once held and the elimination of leaders and income sources, he added.
“While ISIL can still put together some complex attacks, they have not been able to take hold of any key terrain for almost a year now,” Warren said, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.
The second phase now underway is focused on fragmenting ISIS and liberating strategically important territory, he said.
In Iraq, that means operations to retake Mosul. In preparation for Mosul, Iraqi forces retook Hit, raising the Iraqi flag there Monday. The coalition estimates the city is 75 percent cleared of ISIS fighters, Warren said.
Fighting in the Tigris River Valley is intense now, Warren said, because ISIS knows territory there is essential to protect Mosul.
“The enemy knows that once they lose this territory, the Iraqi Security Forces will be able to posture for the eventual liberation of Mosul,” he said.
In Syria, the second phase is centered on isolating Raqqa, he said. Recent developments in that effort include liberating more than a dozen small villages that take away ISIS’s “last, best” route to move people, money and supplies in Syria and Iraq, he said.
Warren pushed back on the idea that fracturing ISIS in the second phase will cause fighters to scatter into other areas, such as North Africa and Europe.
“This idea that somehow by beating them that they're becoming more dangerous is, in my view, ludicrous,” he said. “I mean, it's stupid. Nobody is really thinking about it. As we continue to dismantle and defeat this enemy, they become automatically less capable. They become less effective.
“If they don't have a place where they can sit around and plan their external attack, if they don't have funds coming in that allows them to fund their external desires, if they don't have the command and control, the ability to talk to each other and synchronize their external operations, they are by definition less effective.”