(CNSNews.com) – With at least 15 targeted airstrikes so far, the U.S. military has “helped check the advance of ISIL forces” near Erbil – but the gains are just temporary, said Lt. General William Mayville, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL's operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil. However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL's overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria,” Mayville told a news conference on Monday.
“ISIL remains focused on securing and gaining additional territory throughout Iraq and will sustain its attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and their positions, as well as target Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities," he added.
Later in the news conference, Mayville said again that the U.S. air strikes have had "a very temporary effect," in slowing ISIL's decisions to "move further east to Erbil."
“What I expect the ISIL to do is to look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL."
Mayville said the terrorists used to operate openly, but “they are now starting to dissipate and to hide amongst the people,” which means targeting them will become more difficult.
Mayville also said he’s “very concerned” about the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq and in the broader region: “They’re very well-organized,” he said. “They are very well-equipped. They coordinate their operations. And they have thus far shown the ability to attack on multiple axes. This is not insignificant.”The military’s main task (as directed by President Obama without congressional authorization) is to protect U.S. facilities, citizens, and aircraft – and to target jihadists who are laying siege to Mt. Singar.
“There are no plans to expand the current air campaign beyond the current self-defense activities,” Mayville said.
A reporter asked the general if the effort to create a safe corridor for the thousands of people stranded on Mt. Sinjar would require boots on the ground – something President Obama has ruled out:
”You raise the challenge that we're facing right now,” Mayville replied. “And we're currently assessing what we can and can't do and trying to understand, for example, the numbers that are on the mountain itself. The numbers vary. I've seen reports of numbers in the thousands, and I've seen reports in the numbers of tens of thousands.
“What is most important right now is that we deliver the much-needed water, shelter, and food to those stranded on the -- on the mountain. And as for what we might do next, we'll have to wait and see and get a better assessment on the ground before we can offer some options to the president.”
Mayville added that the U.S. is still assessing the humanitarian situation and cannot offer any “specific plans” on how to get the persecuted Christians and other minorities off the mountain.
The general said the U.S. is not acting alone in its humanitarian efforts:
“[W]e've been contacted by many of our friends,” Mayville told reporters. “As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the French and U.K. have already started helping. Others have joined us. And, of course, we're enjoying the support from the region for overflight and for basing. So, increasingly, we are expanding the number of folks that are involved with this immediate crisis.”