The cease-fire agreement between government and rebel forces in Syria’s civil war is set to take effect tomorrow at midnight Damascus time -- 5 p.m. EST, the public affairs officer for Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters in a teleconference from Baghdad today.
During the weekly OIR operational update, Army Col. Chris Garver said task force officials encourage military or paramilitary fighters in the hostilities to honor the cease-fire in Syria as agreed Feb. 22.
Brokered by the U.S. and Russia, the cessation of hostilities includes the Syrian government, Russia, and several rebel factions. The OIR task force will not have a role in the cease-fire, Garver said. OIR’s mission continues to militarily defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq, he said, and the coalition will strike the enemy with “precision and concern for mitigating civilian casualties.”
“This is an opportunity to reduce the violence which the Syrian people have unnecessarily endured for far too long, and to reduce the chaos which has provided [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] the opportunity to fester and grow,” he told reporters.
In the past week, Iraqi security forces have been continuing to clear Ramadi eastward toward the Hamariyah and Albu Bali districts while also defeating ISIL “harassing” attacks, including one Garver called “complex,” which involved direct and indirect fire and suicide-vest-wearers.
Since Feb.17, the Iraqi forces found and cleared more than 145 improvised explosive devices and 21 booby-trapped houses in Ramadi, he said.
Coalition-taught tactics, including “the integration of ground forces -- such as infantry and armor -- with airstrikes, artillery, engineers and other assets provide the Iraqis a distinct advantage over a dug-in enemy behind complex obstacles and IEDs used as minefields,” Garver said.
Iraqi forces continue to isolate Fallujah from the southeast, east and north, he said, adding that while progress is slow, they are occupying defensive positions in preparation for future offensive operations.
The Iraqis are moving troops to Makhmour to posture for future Mosul operations, with seven coalition airstrikes in the past week against ISIL tactical units, rocket positions, weapons caches and assembly areas, Garver said.
Along the Hit and Haditha corridor in the Euphrates River valley, “We continue to disrupt [ISIL’s] command and control and the flow of reinforcements and supplies inside the [valley],” he noted.
Vetted Syrian opposition forces with the New Syrian Forces continue to hold positions on the Mar’a Line, and recently repelled two ISIL attacks with coalition air strikes, Garver said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces control Tishreen Dam, and continue to secure the area and block ISIL from passing through north of Lake Assad, preventing the enemy from bringing foreign fighters and supplies through the region, he noted.
In just six days, the SDF liberated Shaddadi from ISIL, a town that was strategically important to ISIL as a logistics hub and waypoint for rapid movement between Syria and Iraq, Garver said.
When the offensive kicked off with six coalition airstrikes Feb. 15, SDF fighters gained more than 120 square kilometers of ground, and began a three-pronged ground movement the next day, the spokesman said.
“The coalition supported the advance with eight coalition air strikes that resulted in the destruction of three [ISIL] vehicles and five fortifications,” Garver said, noting the SDF seized nearly 370 square kilometers of terrain in three days of operations.
The SDF encountered heavy resistance from ISIL Feb. 20, as the Syrian fighters moved to connect their eastern and western flanks to engulf Shadaddi, he said, adding, “ISIL attacked the SDF formations with a vehicle IED, rockets and small arms and sniper fire.”
“The SDF repulsed ISIL’s heavy contact Feb. 21 and encircled Shaddadi, sealing the southern approach,” Garver said, adding that the next day, its troops continued to block southern entrances while also advancing from the northeast.
The SDF is clearing Shaddadi of IEDs and “enemy remnants,” he said. The coalition conducted more than 70 airstrikes during the operation, destroying 15 enemy vehicles, six heavy weapons systems and 62 fortifications, Garver noted.
The OIR spokesman said the coalition continues to attack ISIL in Mosul with “dynamic and deliberate strikes,” to disrupt its operations and attrit its fighters. Since last week, there have been 21 airstrikes on an ISIL weapons storage facility, assembly areas, mortar position, tactical units and vehicles, Garver added.
Operation Tidal Wave II, targeted operations against oil transport, refining and distribution facilities and infrastructure, continues to disrupt ISIL’s flow of reinforcements, supplies and communication at key points near the Iraqi-Syrian border, with “a total of 105 strikes in support of the operation, which is having an effect on ISIL, he noted.
“We continue to attack [ISIL] across the breadth and the depth of their so-called caliphate while enhancing the lethality of our partner forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria through training, equipping, advising, and assisting,” Garver said.
(Follow Teri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)