Pentagon: Phase One, the Effort to 'Degrade' ISIL, 'Is Complete'

By Susan Jones | April 13, 2016 | 11:53 AM EDT

In this Monday, April 11, 2016 photo, Iraqi Security forces and allied Popular Mobilization forces fire towards extremist's positions in the Islamic State group held town of Besher, during a military operation to regain control of the small town, outside the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

( - President Obama's stated mission to "degrade and defeat" Islamic State terrorists is partially complete, a Pentagon spokesman announced on Wednesday.

"Phase one of the military campaign is complete. And we are now at phase two, which is to dismantle this enemy," Col. Steve Warren told a Pentagon news briefing.

"Phase one was to degrade the enemy, focused on stopping ISIL from advancing and degrading their military capabilities, both in Iraq and in Syria. This was an effort to eliminate ISIL's ability to operate as a conventional force.

"We are in the second phase of this operation now, and our task is to dismantle the enemy."

That means fragmenting enemy forces in Iraq and Syria by eliminating their command and control systems, communications, financing, and liberating terrain, he explained.

Warren said phase three is "defeat."

Warren noted that in the 20 months since U.S. troops returned to Iraq in an advise-and-assist capacity, Islamic State terrorists have lost more than 40 percent of the territory they controlled in Iraq and Syria, and they have not taken any "key terrain" for almost a year.

Current operations in Iraq are focused along the Tigris River Valley, leading up to the eventual re-taking of Mosul.

And in Syria, the effort will be to pressure and isolate Raqqa. Both of those cities are central to ISIL's self-declared caliphate.

'The Beast'

Iraqi troops raised the Iraqi flag over the city of Hit on April 1, Warren told reporters. "We estimate that 75 percent of the city is now cleared, and that ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) will push ISIL completely out of the city in the coming days."

Warren said the effort to liberate Hit has been assisted by a "motivated" American-trained Iraqi tank crew:  

"There's an Iraqi Army M1 Abrams tank that's operating inside the city of Hit," he said. The tank has been "handing it to the enemy" for several days.

According to Warren, the tank "has been driving all around Hit, crazy, and blasting IEDs, punching holes in enemy defenses, and maneuvering between multiple engagements."

Warren said the tank has been so successful, the American advisers who have watched it in action "have given it the hero of the day award for, like, several days running."

"And our guys will sit in the ops center there and will track this tank, and in fact, at one point, they thought there were multiple tanks..."

Warren said the tank has "become a little bit of a folk hero in Iraq," and it's been nicknamed on social media as "the beast."

Warren used the tank as an example of how the Iraqi Army is stepping up, but later, in response to a question, Warren admitted that three tanks were sent to Hit, but two broken down, leaving only "the beast" to do the work.

He admitted that "we're still working with them (the Iraqis) on their maintenance."

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