ISIS lost only 1% of captured territory in Iraq since US-led air strikes: Pentagon

Militant Islamist fighters hold the flag of Islamic State (IS) while taking part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Militant Islamist fighters hold the flag of Islamic State (IS) while taking part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants have lost only a tiny fraction of captured territory in Iraq after five months of US-led air strikes, the Pentagon said on Friday.

Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iraqi government troops have retaken 700 sq km of ground mostly in northern Iraq, but ISIS still holds 55,000 sq km, spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

That amounts to roughly 1 per cent of ISIS-held territory changing hands since the US launched air raids in Iraq on Aug 8.

Rear-Admiral Kirby acknowledged that not much ground had been gained back so far but said that the air strikes had halted the momentum of the terrorists and bought time for the training of Baghdad government forces.

"I think we all recognise that it's a small percentage of the total right now. But we're only six, seven months into this thing, too," he said.

The US military has made clear the campaign against ISIS "is going to take time, to uproot these guys and to really get at them," he said.

The Pentagon provided the figures after announcing recently that Iraqi and Kurdish troops had regained 700 sq km, without explaining what percentage that represented of all territory held by ISIS militants.

By comparison, the Iraqi government held about 77,000 sq km and the Kurdish forces controlled roughly 56,000 sq km, he said.

Those numbers did not represent the entire territory of Iraq, but only populated, "relevant" areas, according to Rear-Adm Kirby.

US commanders have said that the Iraqi army needed to be reorganised and armed before staging a major counter-offensive to roll back ISIS from large swathes of territory it seized last year.

The officer overseeing the US-led campaign against ISIS, General Lloyd Austin, head of Central Command, told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that Iraqi forces would be ready to launch a counter-offensive to recapture the northern city of Mosul by the summer.

Since Aug 8, there have been nearly 2,000 air strikes in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, with American warplanes carrying out more than 1,600 of those raids, defence officials said.