Islamic State fighters did not capitalize on a recent break in U.S. operations to significantly reconstitute their ranks in Iraq, according to a top general.
After a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the U.S. briefly suspended coalition training activities in Iraq on Jan. 5. The move came during a heightened state of alert to protect facilities housing U.S. troops amid unpredictable retaliations from Iran’s proxy forces.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve at U.S. Central Command, told an audience at a Mitchell Institute event outside Washington, D.C., that U.S. and coalition troops have not observed a compelling uptick in ISIS activities throughout Iraq and Syria recently.
He added that targeted strikes on ISIS fighters have waned in recent months to about “two to three airstrikes per week.”
“[But] we certainly want to get back to providing that overall pressure” to keep ISIS at bay for the foreseeable future, Grynkewich said Wednesday.
He credited Iraqi forces with keeping the pressure on ISIS during the break. The U.S. announced it was resuming operations against the Islamic State on Jan. 15.
Lower-level training and advising activities with Iraqi partner forces continue, Grynkewich said, but “some of the-higher level advisory efforts have stopped” amid tensions with Iran.
He said the majority of attacks by Iranian proxies in recent days have remained largely unsophisticated, with a reactionary approach versus a well-planned one.
“My personal assessment is, there’s more continuity in that approach. … Most of them are a couple of fighters running out of a parking lot and setting up [a rocket launcher] from there,” Grynkewich said.
With the help of Iraqi forces, the U.S. has been able to identify the origin points of attacks fairly quickly with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, he said.
In the case of the more elaborate Iranian missile attack on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Jan. 8, Grynkewich credited “lower-level commanders, soldiers and airmen, primarily” who made the right call as they were given advance notice to shelter during the strike, saving lives.
“I just couldn’t be more proud. In a time like that, you really don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
Last week, defense officials confirmed that 11 U.S. service members were flown from Iraq to U.S. medical facilities for additional evaluation and treatment of concussion-like symptoms. The Associated Press on Tuesday reported that more troops are now being evaluated in Landstuhl, Germany, for similar injuries.
Grynkewich said officials now estimate that the total number of troops who will need evaluation is “in the teens.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, President Donald Trump on Wednesday downplayed the injuries as “headaches.”
“I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things,” he said during a press conference. “But I would say, and I can report, that it is not very serious.”
When asked about possible traumatic brain injuries and whether the president mischaracterized their severity, Grynkewich demurred.
“I haven’t seen [the president’s] remarks and, even if I had, I wouldn’t comment on them,” he said.