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Coalition planes strike most ever ISIS targets in May

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II departs after receiving fuel from a 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve May 31, 2017.

MICHAEL BATTLES/U.S. AIR FORCE

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 15, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S.-led coalition warplanes dropped more munitions on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria last month than in any previous month of the nearly three-year war against the terrorist group, according to Pentagon statistics released this week.

Operation Inherent Resolve aircraft released 4,374 bombs and missiles in May, the first time that the coalition delivered more than 4,000 munitions against ISIS in a single month since the operation began in August 2014, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, known as AFCENT, statistics show. The previous high occurred in March, when warplanes released 3,878 munitions against ISIS.

The increase in munitions fired can be “directly attributed” to the increased pace of operations by U.S.-backed ground forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to an AFCENT report on airstrikes.

It follows a pattern of increased munitions released from the air throughout 2017. Coalition warplanes have dropped at least 3,200 bombs on ISIS every month this year. The coalition had only exceeded 3,000 fired munitions in three previous months between August 2014 and December 2016.

Much of the increase in airstrikes last month occurred in Syria, according to the AFCENT report. Those strikes largely supported operations to liberate land around Raqqa, the major ISIS stronghold in Syria.

U.S.-backed local forces have driven ISIS militants into smaller pockets of land in Raqqa and Mosul, the terrorist group’s stronghold in Iraq now under siege. The coalition has increased its close-air support operations to protect those forces from the air, and increased the number of precision-guided munitions it fires to support them in those cities, according to the AFCENT report.

In West Mosul, ISIS fighters have been confined to two small, but densely populated districts, said Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, the commander of 1st Infantry Division and coalition land forces in Iraq.

Fighting between Iraqi security forces and what remains of ISIS in the Old City district and the Shifa district has been “tough,” Martin said Wednesday.

“Their progress has been steady,” he said. “It’s slow from time to time, but it’s metered by the diversity of the terrain and the stiff resistance they face, but each day there’s progress.”

Martin declined to provide an estimate of how many ISIS fighters remained in Mosul, but other officials have said they number in the hundreds.

The Pentagon believes there are about 2,500 ISIS fighters remaining in Raqqa, where U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have nearly encircled the city and began an assault into its western neighborhoods. The Pentagon expects a long, difficult battle for Raqqa, but observers have reported the Syrian Democratic Forces has swiftly liberated territory in the city’s western portion.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, reported Thursday that the Syrian Democratic Forces appeared to have opened a second front into the city and were facing only moderate opposition from ISIS fighters.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

Two French fighter jets receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve May 9, 2017.
MICHAEL BATTLES/U.S. AIR FORCE

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