Carter: Coalition Must Stay Focused on Counter-ISIL Campaign
By Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2016 – While the coalition is collapsing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's control over Mosul and Raqqa, it must stay focused on the continued execution of the campaign plan into 2017, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today in opening remarks at a meeting in London of defense ministers participating in the campaign to defeat ISIL.
Carter and U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon each also stressed that the coalition must remain engaged militarily.
"We need to continue to counter not only the foreign fighters trying to escape ISIL, but also ISIL's attempts to relocate and reinvent itself," Carter said. "Destroying the fact and idea that there can be an Islamic state based on this ideology will help us in several ways to destroy ISIL's external operations ambitions."
He added, "To do so, both the United States and the coalition must remain engaged militarily. And in Iraq in particular, we must be prepared to provide sustained assistance to the Iraqi security forces to consolidate security over the rest of the country, and to carry on our work to train, equip and support local police, border guards, and other forces to hold areas cleared from ISIL -- as always, in partnership with the Iraqi government."
Beyond security, there will be towns to rebuild, services to re-establish and communities to restore, Carter said, which is why the international community's stabilization and governance efforts must not lag behind the military campaign.
"We have a vital role across our coalition … that is going to demand greater operational coordination, greater intelligence and information sharing and greater alignment of weapons, and I hope by the end of our conference today, we will have agreed that a military approach for 2017 to build on the real progress that has already been made," Fallon said.
The defense secretary's travels in the past week included stops in Iraq and Kurdistan to discuss the latest operational results with leaders there and to thank coalition and U.S. service members for their efforts.
"I met with some of the brave Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga who have been engaged in the tough fight to take Mosul," he said. "And after being in Iraq, I see that while this complex mission will take time to accomplish, I was encouraged during my visit that this operation is proceeding according to the plan, and I'm confident that ISIL's days in Mosul are numbered."
Simultaneously, in Syria, Carter said, "We're now helping tens of thousands of local, capable, motivated forces to isolate and systematically envelope Raqqa, from which they are only 15 miles away."
The secretary said the U.S. took additional actions to accelerate its efforts by adding 200 additional U.S. forces to Syria to join the 300 U.S. Special Operations forces already there.
Fallon said it's worth noting that "thanks to the immense efforts of the Iraqi fighters and the Kurdish fighters, supported by our armed forces, [ISIL] is now being pushed out of Iraq. It controls less than 10 percent of Iraqi territory; 11 former [ISIL] strongholds have fallen and a million Iraqis are now being able to return to their homes."
In Syria, the U.K. defense secretary said ISIL has lost a quarter of the territory it once held, and more than 25,000 of its fighters have been estimated to have been killed.
"In 2017, we look to finish that job and bring greater safety and security not just to Iraq but to all our citizens," he added.
The U.S. and the coalition are combating ISIL everywhere they emerge around the world and they must continue to do so, Carter said.
"We've been doing so successfully in Libya and also in Afghanistan," he said. "Destroying ISIL's parent tumor in Iraq and Syria and combating its metastases are critical to destroying both the fact and the idea that there can be an Islamic state based on ISIL's barbaric ideology."
These efforts are critical to stopping plots against the nations of the coalition, "which is the most important objective, for our people, of our campaign," Carter said.
Working with intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement partners, coalition forces are conducting operations to gather intelligence with a particular focus on destroying ISIL's external operations network, the defense secretary said. As a result, he said, "We've not only killed the chief of ISIL's external operations, we've also taken out dozens of its external plotters -- including three last week in Raqqa who were directly involved in attacks and the plotting of attacks against our European allies."
Carter added, "The counter-ISIL coalition has been decisive and effective, with over a third of the forces coming from non-U.S. partners. We all came together, deliberately, as a coalition to defeat ISIL, and today, I look forward to discussing how the coalition will continue to endure, to work together, to contribute together and to operate together to make sure ISIL's defeat is lasting."
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