FORT HOOD — The ground once held by the Islamic State has been mostly retaken and the main threat remaining in Iraq and Syria from the terrorist organization is the improvised explosive devices they left behind, according to the commander tasked with the destruction of ISIS.
Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, updated local news media Monday on how the fight against ISIS is going during a video conference from Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve headquarters in Baghdad.
Funk and about 350 III Corps soldiers left for a yearlong deployment in August to serve as the headquarters for more than 70 nations that are part of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, the global coalition to defeat ISIS.
The coalition provides training, advice and assistance to Iraqi and Syrian forces, to include direct artillery and airstrikes on enemy forces.
“There has been a tremendous increase in the confidence and will of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Funk said. “In 2015, ISIS had over 7 million people under their evil control. Now, at almost Christmas-time 2017, about 6.8 million of those people have been liberated.”
Funk said the training provided by coalition military forces to the Iraqi army and allied Syrian forces has crippled the terrorist caliphate in the two nations, with Iraq completely free of ISIS and only small pockets of Syria still held by the Islamic State.
Roughly 20 of the terrorist organization’s leaders were captured or killed in recent weeks and about 70 foreign fighters were captured trying to escape from those areas still controlled by ISIS.
One of the largest problems facing the coalition at this time is counter-IED training, he said.
“In one section of Raqqah (Syria), ISIS left 8,000 IEDs — and that’s just one neighborhood,” Funk said. “The (IED) problem is significant and will take years to fix.”
The commander said external interference from various opposition groups and nations that don’t want the local Iraq and Syrian governments to succeed have hampered the ability of regional and city governments to return to normal after the ouster of ISIS.
The interference comes from locals sympathetic to the ISIS ideology and nations such as Russia and Iran, which attempt to discredit the American presence in the region by discrediting the coalition.
“There is a big counter-IED mission in West Mosul (Iraq) right now, but there are forces out there trying to stop them,” Funk said. “We are winning here, but we have to act now and we will need the international community to assist.”
The counter-IED mission is to locate and destroy all devices left in the territories formerly held by ISIS, he said.
Central Texans should be proud of the job Fort Hood soldiers, along with coalition and local partner forces, are doing to defeat “pure evil,” Funk said.
“Since 9/11, the community hasn’t batted an eye (when asked) to support III Corps and Fort Hood,” he said. “I’m immensely proud to call (the Fort Hood area) home.”