WASHINGTON – Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II assumed command of Operation Inherent Resolve Tuesday, to lead what may be the final phase in the now three-year effort to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Funk was previously commanding general of the Army’s Fort Hood and III Armored Corps, which has also deployed to Iraq. It’s the Corps’ sixth deployment in 14 years; it had previously led operations against ISIS in Iraq from September 2015 to August 2016.
Funk assumed command from outgoing commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend.
“When III Corps was here last, they were instrumental in greatly increasing the pressure on ISIS and setting conditions by training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian opposition groups,” said Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, who oversaw the transfer of authority.
In the year since III Armored Corps was last in Iraq, U.S.-trained and U.S.-equipped forces have made significant gains against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Brigades of Iraqi Army and Iraqi special operations forces, and a coalition of Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces, with U.S. advisers embedded with them, have driven ISIS from Mosul and recaptured 60 percent of Raqqa. Mosul, located in Iraq, and Raqqa, in Syria, were used as ISIS’ de-facto capital.
As a whole, since U.S. forces returned to Iraq fight ISIS in 2014, they have trained and equipped 115,000 Iraqi Security Forces and more than 11,000 vetted-Syrian counter-ISIS forces; recaptured over 82,000 square kilometers of territory previously held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria and conducted over 26,000 strikes against ISIS in support of partner forces in Iraq and Syria, Townsend said.
Significant pockets of ISIS still remain in both countries, along the Euphrates River valley, but ISIS has been driven out of most all of the other cities it formerly controlled, Funk said.
“ISIS is on the run,” Funk said.
U.S. troops had fully withdrawn from Iraq in December 2011 but returned in late 2014 to retrain and re-equip the Iraqi Army, which had lost a large swath of territory to ISIS.
Funk assumes command of at least 5,700 U.S. forces total in Iraq and Syria.
DoD officially reports there are 503 troops in Syria and 5,262 in Iraq, however there are likely many more than that because forces on temporary duty are not counted in that official figure.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.