Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded Thursday that Kurdish leaders cancel the results of its independence referendum
Dillon said the situation has had a negative impact on operations against ISIS
Armed clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq are undermining the fight against ISIS, even as Iraqi troops launch an operation to capture what the US-led military coalition has called the terror group’s “final stronghold” in Iraq.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition, US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, told CNN Thursday that the coalition was “aware of tensions and actions among Iraqi Security Forces, Popular Mobilization Forces and Peshmerga units in Iraq’s Kurdish Region.”
He said that the number of clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi security forces in recent days had remained steady despite the Kurdistan Regional Government’s recent offer to “freeze” the results of the September referendum on independence, a vote that was opposed by the coalition.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded Thursday that Kurdish leaders cancel the results of its independence referendum, rejecting a proposal from the semi-autonomous region to “freeze” the outcome instead and begin talks over the future of the region.
Dillon said the situation has had a negative impact on operations against ISIS, impeding the coalition’s ability to transfer arms and equipment to its allies in Syria and Iraq as it seeks to oust ISIS from its last bastions of control in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, which connects Iraq and Syria.
“These events have negatively impacted coalition efforts to defeat ISIS, specifically the inability to move military equipment and supplies to our partners both in Iraq and Syria,” Dillon said.
It has also forced the coalition to divert intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to monitor the situation between Iraqi and Kurdish forces. These “ISR” assets, which can include drone aircraft, are therefore not being used to identify ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.
The coalition believes that the terror group’s “final stronghold” in Iraq, al Qaim and Rawa, contains about 1,500 to 2,500 ISIS defenders. The operation to recapture the area was confirmed by the coalition in a statement Thursday.
The US military assesses that there are also approximately 3,000 ISIS fighters just across the border in Abu Kamal, Syria and there are concerns that those operatives could be used as a “reserve” in the battle for al Qaim.
The coalition also believes that much of the surviving ISIS leadership has left Mayadin, Syria in the wake of its capture by Russian backed pro-regime forces and have now relocated to Abu Kamal.
ISIS has faced multiple defeats in Iraq in the wake of the recapture of Mosul.
The “massive amount of resources and effort” ISIS put into defending Mosul and Raqqa largely sapped the terror organization of its ability to mount robust defenses elsewhere in Iraq,” US Army Col. Pat Work, who led advisers in Iraq, told reporters earlier this month.
He contrasted the fall of Tal Afar and Hawijeh in a matter of days with Mosul and Raqqa, where fighting lasted for months.