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Coalition Airstrikes Decline By More Than 50% As ISIS Crumbles in Iraq, Syria
By Jim Michaels

WASHINGTON -- Coalition airstrikes have declined by more than 50% as U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria have largely destroyed the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate and surviving militants have been killed or fled.

The number of coalition bombs and other weapons dropped to about in 850 in October, down from an average of 1,800-2,600 in previous months, Air Force Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Croft, a coalition official, told Pentagon reporters in a telephone briefing from Iraq Tuesday.

"You're going to see (the) number of strikes drop even further," Croft predicted.

The Islamic State, also called ISIS, has been pushed out of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and more recently Raqqa, the terrorist group's de facto capital in Syria.

The coalition ramped up airstrikes dramatically earlier this year as U.S.-backed forces went to battle against militants in both cities.

As ISIS lost its grip on strongholds, the militants scattered, presenting fewer targets for coalition pilots.

But Croft said the demand for surveillance and reconnaissance drones and manned aircraft remains strong as U.S.-backed forces continue to pursue militants into their desert hideaways.

When ISIS first emerged as a major threat in Iraq and Syria in 2014 the militants were riding around in tanks and gathered in large formations, presenting visible targets for the coalition.

The challenge now is finding remnants of the group, many of whom have scattered to the far reaches of Iraq's western desert.

Croft said the U.S. military has not shifted aircraft out of the region yet, despite the reduction in a need for airstrikes.

"We need to steel ourselves against declaring victory and walking away," he said. "That means a relentless pursuit of these folks."

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