The Iraqi Security Forces are now much less likely to quit fighting and becoming much more aggressive and consistent in their ongoing combat against ISIS, Pentagon and U.S. Coalition officials said.
Responding to questions about numerous reports citing large desertions of Iraqi troops not wanting to fight, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Steve Warren said that circumstance has been rapidly shifting for the better.
Many observers said large numbers of Iraqi soldiers simply refused to fight or put up any kind of defense when ISIS first seized territory in Iraq; that equation has now changed, U.S. officials say.
Warren said recent victories in Ramadi and villages near Makhmour have emboldened and empowered Iraq forces to fight, despite reports that many were still laying down their weapons and taking off from the battlefield.
"Small units confidence and morale is growing and strengthening. The training, advising and equipping that we have done is having an effect," Warren told reporters.
Citing that the U.S. has trained 20,000 Iraqis over last 20 months to elevate their performance levels and instructed them how to better conduct operations in Tikrit and Ramadi, Warren added that Iraqi force have favorable responded to recent combat success.
"They have tasted victory and they want to taste more of it," he said.
As evidence of increased Iraqi combat aggression, Warren pointed to a specific M1 Abrams tank crew in Hit, Iraq, which has earned the knickname "beast" for its ceaseless activities against ISIS. The one tank has been systematically and aggressively attacking enemy defenses, maneuvering and blasting enemy IEDs, Warren explained.
Hit is a city along the Euphrates river where U.S. Coalition forces continue to make substantial gains against ISIS, Warren said.
There are still some problems with Iraqi soldiers quitting, particularly in areas around Makhmour, Warren explained.
"Iraqi senior leaders have noticed this (Iraqi soldier quitting) and have fired some commanders. They have been replaced with more aggressive commanders," he added. "Broadly speaking across the board we are seeing their level come up. As this Army drives closer to Mosul the fighting will only get harder."
Warren added that Iraqi and U.S. Coalition combat tactics involved combined arms maneuvers on the ground along with air attacks and efforts to dismantle ISIS' finance operations, cyber abilities and overall command and control.
"An enemy that is shattered and scattered has significantly reduced ability to mass combat power. We believe that by shattering them, fragmenting them and dismantling them, we move ourselves closer to the ultimate goal," he said.
Although there has been widespread reporting quoting senior U.S. military officials saying there will likely be more U.S. combat outposts in Iraq, Warren emphasized that the U.S. Coalition strategy is grounded in the priority of having Iraqi forces make gains on the ground.
"The Iraqis are the only ones who can defeat ISIS in a way that is a lasting defeat," Warren proclaimed. "Our intent here is to deliver them a lasting defeat. We believe that by degrading them in phase one and then dismantling them in phase two – we will be set up for phase three which is to defeat them."
The U.S. Coalition's recent killing of several ISIS senior leaders has had a substantial negative impact upon ISIS, Warren said.
"Any organization that has lost three of its most senior leaders in a span of 30 days – is going to suffer for it; the organization then turns in on itself. We've seen an increase in a number of executions (ISIS killing members of its own group). It creates confusion, paranoia and ultimately weakens the enemy," Warren said.
Warren expressed confidence in the ultimate defeat of ISIS, in part due to the resolve of a 66-nation coalition that, he said, "understands that this is an enemy that needs to be defeated."