- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2015

President Obama’s top adviser overseeing the coalition fighting the Islamic State said Wednesday that “significant gains” have been made against the Islamist group, and claimed that Kurdish Peshmerga as well as Iraqi military forces will be able to defeat the group on the ground despite skepticism in Washington about their readiness.

The group, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL is “defeatable and is being defeated by Iraqi forces, defending and taking back their towns, villages, and cities with the support of the United States and the coalition,” retired Marine Gen. John Allen said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But the general did not specifically address the question of whether the Iraqi forces will be prepared to engage in a high-stakes offensive to retake Iraq’s second most populous city, Mosul, this coming spring. Pentagon officials revealed plans for the offensive last week, claiming that it could involve the deployment of as many as 25,000 Iraqi troops.

Gen. Allen stuck instead to broad-stroke assessments during his testimony Wednesday, asserting that the “aura of invincibility” that surrounded the Islamic State after its fighters swiftly seized Mosul and declared the establishment of a Muslim caliphate last June has since been “shattered” by the increasing ground gains being made by Iraqi forces.

“Peshmerga have taken control of Mosul Dam, the Rabiya border crossing, Sinjar Mountain, Zumar, and the Kisik road junction, which eliminated a supply route for ISIL from Syria to Mosul,” he said. “Iraqi security forces with popular volunteers have secured the routes to Baghdad, and the capital is now seeing the lowest levels of violence it’s seen in years.”

“ISIL’s advance has been largely blunted, and has been driven back away from the regional capitals of Baghdad and Erbil,” the general added. “It has also lost half of its Iraq-based leadership and thousands of hardened fighters, and is no longer able to mass, maneuver, and communicate as an effective force.”

Despite such developments, Gen. Allen acknowledged the existence of recent intelligence reporting that shows the the number of foreign fighters flowing into Syria and Iraq to join the extremist group is actually on the rise — although he sought to downplay the intelligence.

“The numbers are up because we’re now tracking the numbers in ways we haven’t before,” he said. “I think the numbers are also up because of the so-called ‘caliphate,’ [which] has created in some respects a magnetism for those elements that want to be part of this.”

While Gen. Allen also acknowledged that “ISIL will remain a formidable foe,” he asserted that the U.S.-backed ground war against the group only in its beginning stages and that the gains already being made should not be discounted.

“Just last week, under the cover of bad weather, ISIL launched an attack the town of Al-Baghdadi, near al Asad airbase, where our forces are located with the Danes and Australians to help train Iraqi soldiers and tribal volunteers,” he said. “ISIL, as it has done over and over again, rampaged through the town, killing civilians, and driving hundreds of families into exile on the airbase. But the Iraqis did not sit idle. They organized, and fought back.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi went to the coalition’s Joint Operations Center in Baghdad and ordered a counterattack, Gen. Allen said, adding that Iraq’s defense minister then flew to Al-Asad to organize ground forces.

With support from an armored column from Baghdad, as well as from Sunni tribal volunteers in the area, a ground assault was quickly lauched to retake the town.

“Today, much of Al-Baghdadi is back in the hands of these local tribes and security forces,” Gen. Allen said.

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