The U.S. military killed several key Islamic State of Iraq
and the Levant terrorists this week, including a senior ISIL leader and finance
minister who led certain external affairs and plots, Defense Secretary Ash
Carter said here today.
During a Pentagon press briefing, joined by Marine Corps
Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Carter said the
coalition is systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet, including Haji Imam.
“He was a well-known terrorist within ISIL's ranks, dating
back to its earliest iteration as al-Qaida in Iraq when he worked under [the
group’s leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi as its liaison for operations with
Pakistan,” the secretary said.
Hampering ISIL Operations
“The removal of this ISIL leader will hamper the
organization's ability … to conduct operations both inside and outside of Iraq
and Syria,” he said.
Carter said Imam is the second senior ISIL leader the
coalition has killed this month. Earlier this month defense officials confirmed
the death of ISIL's so-called minister of war, Abu Omar al-Shishani, known as
Omar the Chechen.
When the fight against ISIL accelerated a few months ago,
the secretary said, the coalition began with storage sites where ISIL holds its
cash, and now the leader who oversees all funding for ISIL operations is dead,
hurting the terrorist army’s ability to pay fighters and hire recruits.
“Our campaign plan is first and foremost to collapse ISIL's
parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, focusing on its power centers in Raqqa and
Mosul,” he added.
In Syria, coalition-supported local forces recently took the
town of Shaddadi, repelled ISIL's counterattacks and ultimately severed the
main artery between Syria and northern Iraq, making it harder for ISIL's
leaders and forces to travel between Raqqa and Mosul, Carter said.
Iraqi forces have moved from their staging base at Makhmur
and are advancing to new positions as part of the early stages of operations to
collapse ISIL's control over Mosul, the defense secretary added.
U.S. Marines near Makhmur now are providing artillery fire
there at Iraq’s request, he said, to help protect and support the Iraqi advance
“In both Syria and Iraq we're seeing important steps to
shape what will become crucial battles in the months to come,” Carter said.
As local partners move forward, the coalition continues to
bring relentless pressure on ISIL commanders in Mosul, the secretary added.
Along with killing Imam, U.S. forces targeted Abu Sara, a
top ISIL leader charged with paying fighters in northern Iraq, and several ISIL
associates who were directly involved in external plotting and training, he
“These precise actions came after recent strikes that
destroyed a significant quantity of improvised explosive devices and
bomb-making equipment that could have been used against our partners headed for
Mosul,” Carter added, noting that the actions are believed to be successful and
damaging to ISIL.
The defense secretary said the momentum of the campaign
against ISIL is clearly on the coalition’s side.
“The United States military will continue to work
intensively with our coalition partners to build on this progress, as our
counterparts throughout our governments work to defend our homelands at the
same time,” he said.
Carter also announced that yesterday he and his Saudi
counterpart, Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman,
agreed to convene a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation defense ministerial on April 20 in
Riyadh ahead of President Barack Obama's participation in the U.S.-Gulf
Cooperation Council leaders’ summit there the next day.
“This will be an important forum to build on our
counter-ISIL defense ministerial in Brussels last month,” Carter said.
The meeting also will strengthen U.S.-GCC defense
partnerships by allowing participants to review and discuss the way ahead for
joint regional defense initiatives that all committed to during the 2015 US-GCC
Camp David Summit last May, the secretary added.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)