Defense Secretary Ash Carter discussed the “two I’s” – ISIL
and Iran -- with U.S. airmen at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates
Defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is the
highest priority for American forces in the region, the secretary told the
But the region is complicated, he said, and countering
Iran’s malign influence is a concern not only in the region, but also around
The main mission for the UAE-based airmen is destroying ISIL
in Syria and Iraq. “If you think about cancer, that's where the parent tumor
is,” Carter said.
ISIL leaders continue to call the area they have captured in
Iraq and Syria the new caliphate, but Carter said the 66-nation coalition
opposing the terror group will not let that happen.
“There isn't going to be a state based on this ideology,” he
said. “That’s what you are up to here, and we also secondly need to go after
every place [where ISIL has] spread around the world. We're doing that, too.”
But the United States wants to accelerate the destruction of
ISIL, the secretary told the airmen, and he asked them to think of ways that
can happen. “We're limited only by our own ingenuity and our ideas,” he said.
The strategy, he said, is to enable capable, motivated local
forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria to take on ISIL. Special operations
personnel are working with Iraqi and Syrian forces against the terror group.
U.S. and coalition partners are training these local fighters and working with
But they can’t do this without U.S. and coalition support
from the air, Carter said.
There has been progress. Iraqi forces have retaken the key
cities of Ramadi and Beiji, and they are
fighting ISIL around Hit. Syrian forces took Shaddadi and severed the lines of
communication between ISIL’s alleged capital of Raqqa in Syria and the largest
city the group holds: Mosul in Iraq.
“But we’re looking to do more,” Carter said. “We’re looking
for opportunities, in essence, to get this over with faster. So if you see something, say something to
Even with the defeat of ISIL, there are still problems in
the region, the secretary said. The United States has a nuclear deal with Iran,
he said, calling it “a good deal, in the sense that it took the nuclear weapons
out of the picture.”
But that does not mean Iran won’t try to disturb the peace
in other ways, the secretary said, adding that Iran is capable of “outright
aggression or the kind of malign activity” that has worried many nations of the
He noted that President Barack Obama will be visiting Saudi
Arabia later this week for the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting. Carter told
the airmen he is in the region to pave the way for the president as the region
discusses ISIL and Iran.
Carter arrived in the United Arab Emirates yesterday on the
latest leg of an extended overseas trip.