- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Basking in Iraq’s pre-Christmas takeover of Ramadi, the U.S. military on Wednesday made bold claims about the war against the Islamic State, saying the terror army is on the defensive, is losing territory and faces rejuvenated government forces.

Meanwhile, Islamic State supporters have taken to social media to rationalize the defeat as an actual victory and a “planned retreat.”

“An organized retreat was tantamount to a military victory,” said the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors jihadi communications, summarizing the postings.

Army Col. Steve Warren, the top American military spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters that Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led air bombardment, have now taken back 40 percent of the land the Islamic State took in 2014-15 in northern and western Iraq.

“The Iraqi forces have the initiative,” he said. “The Iraqi Security Forces are now on the offensive. The Iraqi Security Forces will pick when the next significant battle is.”

He also said the coalition has killed thousands of Islamic State terrorists — 2,500 in December alone in Iraq and Syria. The spokesman was perhaps responding to complaints from lawmakers that the air campaign is too limited, sparing obvious targets so as to avoid killing civilians or creating hardships for them.

“If you’re part of ISIL, we will kill you. That’s our rule,” he said, referring to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, by an alternative name.

Explaining how the U.S. task force counts the dead, he said that a joint command center looks at overhead camera feeds and counts the number of fighters at a target. Perhaps there are six. Then a bomb is dropped and the counters look at new camera feeds for movement.

“Nobody’s moving. Scratch six,” he said.

Of Islamic State, he said, “all they’ve managed to do is lose ground.”

Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, said on Tuesday that the air campaign is focusing on terror leaders in Raqqa, the group’s self-proclaimed capital. A strike last month killed a planner of the Paris massacre that killed 130.

“As they come under pressure, they do stupid things,” Mr. McGurk said.

Iraqi officials and the U.S. are now meeting about how to retake Mosul, the second-largest Iraqi city, he said. Right now the plan is to isolate Mosul, restrict movements in and out and decide on the best way to attack.

Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer, said the Obama administration claims do not change the fact that Islamic State is growing globally.

“That’s spin,” he said. “Like a mole. Slap it in Ramadi and it will pop up in Libya, Afghanistan or elsewhere. The fundamentals that motivate ISIS and led to its successes haven’t changed.”

On the oil war to squeeze the group’s main source of money, a concentrated air campaign to hit truck tankers and processing sites has reduced Islamic State’s daily production from 45,000 barrels to 34,000.

“We’re also hitting them in the pocketbook,” Col. Warren said.

If one target set illustrated frustration with the Obama administration’s restricted rules of engagement, it was Islamic State’s moneymaking oil industry. Until recently the U.S. would not target oil trucks for fear of killing drivers and harming the environment.

Now drivers are warned with leaflets to run away before the trucks are struck.

Meanwhile, pro-Islamic Internet platforms sent messages to buck up the troops.

“Do not grieve,” said one platform user, Abu Al-Qa’aw Al-Zubaidi, according to a MEMRI translation. “I say this not to boost your morale, which is, Allah willing, already high, nor as an emotional reaction. I say this from a military perspective to those who have no military knowledge and understanding of military operations, basing [my analysis] on the worst-case scenario.

“A basic principle of military theory, which is taught in military academies, is that there are two types of military operations: offensive and defensive. Defensive operations include many actions such as retreat and blocking, and withdrawing from sites,” he said on Dec. 30, as Iraqi officials celebrated inside Ramadi and raised the Iraqi flag.

An article by the pro-Islamic State media company al-Battar said, “If the mujahedeen are removed from a piece of land, this does not mean that they lost all land. Every setback is directly linked to the abundance of sins, the lack of mentioning Allah and reliance on human power, while we should devote ourselves entirely in every matter to the power of Allah.”

With Ramadi in Iraq’s column, there remains much fighting to be done if Anbar province is cleansed of Islamic State. The terror group still holds Fallujah, the site of two major battles by U.S. Marines to take the town from insurgents during the 2003-11 Iraq War.

In Ramadi there are still pockets of resistance as Iraq counterterrorism troops move east to west to clear a city held by the enemy since May.

“What we see are small groups of enemy forces,” Col. Warren said. They are typically operating a machine gun or firing grenades.

“We killed almost 60 fighters in Ramadi over the last 24 hours,” he said.

Col. Warren said the Islamic State committed atrocities as it exited. Iraqis “discovered civilians killed execution-style” and shot while fleeing, he said.

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