SOUTHWEST ASIA – The Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) reflects on 2019 and looks forward to 2020.
Overview: One Mission, Many Nations
As 2019 began, CJTF-OIR operated in Iraq and Syria at the nexus of strategic influence in the Middle East. Throughout the year, regional state and non-state actors impacted the Coalition mission and threatened international efforts to restore peace and stability in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition faced numerous challenges to our resolve in 2019 ranging from a convergence of military force in northern Syria, to increased rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting Coalition troops. However, we persevered and continued the mission to defeat Daesh and improve regional stability.
Since the establishment of CJTF-OIR in 2014, the Coalition and security partners liberated more than 110,000 square kilometers of Iraq and Syria, and freed 7.7 million innocent civilians from ISIS’ murderous rule. CJTF-OIR enabled the continued growth, capability, and operations of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and partner forces in Syria. The Coalition supported our partners as they captured or killed many thousands of ISIS fighters, destroyed vast quantities of weapons and explosive devices, and disabled propaganda and command networks – all of which led to the March 2019 defeat of Daesh’s physical territory.
“In 2019, the CJTF and our partners in Iraq and Syria made great progress in our mission to eliminate ISIS and ensure peace and stability for the people of this region,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Pat White, CJTF-OIR commanding general. “This proves the value of international cooperation against terrorism, both regionally and globally.”
This year the Coalition welcomed two new members, the Democratic Republic of Congo in June, and Yemen in September. CJTF-OIR, comprised of 76 nations and five international organizations, remains committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS.
January – March: Defeat of the Physical Caliphate
Early 2019 opened with Daesh terrorists confined to a small pocket of territory in Syria’s Middle Euphrates River Valley. CJTF-OIR continued 2018’s Operation Roundup, supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they fought ISIS fighters. The Coalition conducted precision airstrikes and artillery fire to support SDF ground maneuver as they cleared villages in Deir ez-Zor province. Meanwhile in Iraq, the ISF employed their aviation platforms to conduct a series of air assault operations, clearing ISIS from the Anbar desert, and blocking ISIS fighters fleeing the SDF advance in Syria.
March 23, 2019, was a historic day. In Baghouz, Syria, the last ISIS holdouts were defeated – as partner forces, assisted by Coalition airstrikes and artillery, destroyed the last physical refuge of the so-called “caliphate.”
This historic achievement did not come without loss. During the five-year fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, tens of thousands of our partner forces were wounded or perished. They will always be remembered by the Coalition, and by their countrymen, for sacrifice in defense of their nations.
As the Coalition and partners defeated the Daesh physical caliphate, a new challenge emerged. Certain Shia Militia Groups (SMG), such as Kata’ib Hezbollah, became increasingly non-compliant with legitimate Iraqi authorities as they conducted an escalating series of indirect fire attacks against Iraqi bases hosting Coalition members. These groups would later launch dozens of mortars and rockets throughout 2019, wounding innocent Iraqi soldiers and civilians in its efforts to intimidate Coalition Forces and weaken its resolve.
April – June: Period of Transition
April marked a historic moment, as Iraqi Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft flew a defensive counter air mission above the Iraq-Syria border – the first time Iraqi Air Force fighter aircraft and Coalition aircraft flew together on a combat mission.
Between April and June 2019, CJTF-OIR shifted our primary focus from supporting combat operations, to consolidating gains in Iraq and Syria. Coalition efforts focused on enabling partner forces to target ISIS sleeper cells and clandestine networks, as a decimated Daesh transitioned to an insurgent force. In Iraq, CJTF-OIR and the ISF partnered to eliminate Daesh targets. In Syria, the Coalition continued training and providing logistics support for our partners, as they conducted back-clearance operations to root out Daesh sleeper cells.
July – September: A Will of Victory
On July 1, Iraq’s prime minister issued an Executive Order directing “... all Popular Mobilization Forces are to operate as an indivisible part of the armed forces and be subject to the same regulations,” by July 30, 2019.
Throughout the summer of 2019, the Coalition continued our main effort of advising and assisting partner forces. Most notable was the beginning of the ISF-led “Will of Victory” (WOV) series of operations, which lasted into autumn. WOV operations involved units of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Popular Mobilization Forces, Iraqi Border Guard, Iraqi Air Force, Coalition air support, and Task Force-Iraq advisors. Missions included clearing Daesh caches, safe-houses, and hideouts throughout the mountains, rivers, and deserts of Iraq. The Iraqi Security Media Cell reported WOV covered more than 75 villages and cities, over 300,000 square kilometers, and the arrests or deaths of dozens of terrorist fighters.
During this same period in Syria, the Coalition’s partner forces maintained pressure against the remnants of Daesh, detaining thousands of ISIS terrorist fighters. CJTF-OIR provided training, military advice, and equipment to the SDF, who held thousands of Daesh fighters in detention facilities while the international community sought a solution for the prisoners’ repatriation and final justice. The Coalition also worked with international governments, non-government, and other partner organizations to help ensure the safety of approximately 250,000 internally displaced persons at more than 50 camps across Iraq and Syria. Throughout August and September, U.S. and Turkey conducted joint air and ground patrols in northeastern Syria, intended to reduce regional tensions.
September brought a change in leadership at the Coalition headquarters. Sept. 14 marked the CJTF commander’s transfer of authority between the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the III Armored Corps from Fort Hood, Texas. The mission continued with more than 30 of the 76 total nations contributing troops to CJTF-OIR.
October – December: Changes in Iraq and Syria
The last three months of 2019 were marked by civil unrest in Iraq, regional competition in northeastern Syria, and continued success against ISIS remnants.
At the beginning of October, tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens filled the streets, protesting against perceived government corruption, and in favor of government reform. Malign actors took advantage of the civil unrest, instigating political violence and murders.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Air Force conducted airstrikes against ISIS hideouts, weapons caches and vehicle storage facilities. Through ISF partnered operations coordinated by Joint Operations Command-Iraq and advised by Task Force-Iraq, ISIS holdouts remained under constant pressure.
As winter temperatures cooled, regional tensions and competition simmered in northeastern Syria. U.S. forces repositioned from the Syria-Turkey border and northwest Syria, to the Eastern Syria Security Area. There, we continued supporting partner forces in providing security and denying Daesh-remnants access to vital infrastructure such as roads, water facilities and the oilfields which once provided critical revenue and resources to ISIS. In Deir ez-Zor province, the Coalition provided support to local Kurdish and Arab commando partners as they continued operations to capture ISIS terrorist fighters in the Badiyah Desert and Middle Euphrates River Valley.
As October closed in Syria, elite U.S. Special Operations Forces killed Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a daring raid on his final hideout.
“For five years, the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve and our security partners in Iraq and Syria have fought to defeat ISIS and liberate nearly eight million people,” said Lt. Gen. Pat White, CJTF-OIR commanding general. “The success of the raid, to eliminate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his henchmen, was only possible because of the tremendous resolve, sacrifice, and commitment of dedicated military, intelligence, and security professionals in Iraq and Syria – many of whom were martyred or wounded in combat operations to crush Daesh.”
As 2019 turned to 2020, the Coalition and partnered forces continued operations in Syria to target Daesh smuggling, finance, media, and logistics networks. In the Syrian airspace and along highways, the Coalition de-conflicted operations with regional military forces.
Turning back to Iraq, throughout December the Coalition endured an escalatory string of events with global repercussions. Non-compliant SMGs’ rocket attacks against Coalition bases caused the death of Nawres Hamid, a U.S. civilian contractor working with U.S. forces in Kirkuk. In response to U.S. defensive air strikes, several hundred non-compliant SMG members and sympathizers attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, in clear violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This led to the deployment of U.S. Marines to reinforce the world’s largest embassy.
Over the past year, CJTF-OIR supported Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian partner operations to defeat Daesh by conducting 2,393 strikes.
2019: A Year of Building Partner Capacity – Transitioning from Training to Mentoring
Throughout 2019, the Coalition focused on our Build Partner Capacity program to enhance Iraqi security capabilities through training, mentoring and equipping our partner security forces. In the past 12 months, more than 50,000 personnel with the Iraqi Army, Federal Police, Border Guard, Kurdistan Security Forces, and Emergency Response Battalions completed training delivered by multiple Coalition troop-contributing nations across multiple Build Partner Capacity sites.
To develop the Iraqis’ aviation proficiency, CJTF-OIR’s Task Force-Air advised the Iraqi Air Force and Iraqi Army Aviation resulting in over 20,000 flight hours. The Iraqi Air Enterprise will ultimately provide Iraq with the self-sufficient air capabilities – including planes, helicopters, and drones – to protect its borders and defeat terrorist threats.
November marked yet another historic moment for the Coalition and our partners. The Iraqi School of Infantry Non-Commissioned Officer II, in Taji, Iraq, became the first military training establishment to reach full operational capability under ISF control. As Iraqi training capacity and output continues to increase, Coalition scale-of-effort will correspondingly reduce.
As we transition to 2020, CJTF-OIR brings elite trainers and mentors from more than 30 Coalition nations to conduct training requested by ISF for the purpose of defeating ISIS remnants and we anticipate additional cooperation with NATO Mission-Iraq in the future. We remain resolute as partners of the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi people who have welcomed us into their country to help defeat ISIS.
January 2020: CJTF-OIR Shares Security Goal with Iraqi Partners and Stands Ready to Resume Defeat ISIS Mission
CJTF-OIR operates at the invitation of the Government of Iraq to assist the ISF and other regional security partners in their mission to defeat ISIS. Attacks against Iraqi military bases hosting Coalition Forces obliged us to temporarily pause training and counter-Daesh operations, to focus on protecting our personnel. As our operations resume, we look forward to strong partnership with the ISF and Iraqi government, to ensure a lasting defeat of Daesh.
"Force protection has always been our first priority. Now, it's time for CJTF-OIR, and our security partners, to get back to the work of building our Iraqi partner's lethality and capacity to crush ISIS remnants," said Lt. Gen. Pat White, CJTF-OIR commanding general. “We share the goal of a secure Iraq and regional stability."
“While we reflect on 2019, let us also reflect and remember those CJTF members who made the ultimate sacrifice this year in the fight against ISIS. We are indebted to those brave men and women, and their families who endure the unbearable weight of loss on their shoulders,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex, CJTF-OIR command sergeant major. “You are not forgotten, the Coalition and your nations are forever grateful.”
CJTF-OIR remembers those we lost in between January 1, 2019 – February 1, 2020: Ms. Ghadir Taher; Mr. Scott Wirtz; U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Shannon M. Kent; U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer; U.S. Army Spc. Ryan Dennis Orin Riley; U.S. Army Spc. Michael Travis Osorio; U.S. Army Pfc. Michael A. Thomason; Mr. Saif A. Rasheed; U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer; Italian Navy Chief First Class Roberto Morfé; U.S. Army Sgt. Nathaniel G. Irish; Mr. Nawres Waleed Hamid; and U.S. Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore.