Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with trainers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve at Besmaya Range Complex in Iraq, April 21, 2016. There are 3,782 Iraqi and peshmerga soldiers being trained at five sites across Iraq. Trainers come from the United States, Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro (Photo by Dominique A. Pineiro)
Moves made last year in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have proved effective and U.S. officials have capitalized on that success to accelerate the counter-ISIL campaign, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee April 28, 2016.
The decisions to base additional aircraft in Turkey and field advisors have paid off, he said, through increased counter-ISIL indigenous force capabilities, improved intelligence on ISIL, regained territory and increased ISIL isolation.
“Based on the results we’ve had, and our desire to continue accelerating ISIL’s lasting defeat, we are conducting the ‘next plays’ of the military campaign,” Carter said.
Next Moves Against ISIL
The next moves in the counter-ISIL campaign include stabilizing Iraq’s Anbar province, generating enough Iraqi forces to envelop Mosul, and identifying and developing more local forces in Syria able to isolate and pressure Raqqa, the secretary said. Coalition forces, he added, will also provide more firepower, sustainment and logistical support to partners to enable them to collapse ISIL’s control over both Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa.
The United States will place advisors with Iraqi forces down to the brigade and battalion level, Carter said. “We’ll be leveraging Apache attack helicopters to support ... efforts to envelop and then retake Mosul,” Carter said.
U.S. artillery units will support the Iraqi ground offensive against Mosul, and the United States will provide up to $415 million to the Kurdish peshmerga, “one of the most effective fighting forces against ISIL,” he said.
In Syria, U.S. actions are aimed at helping indigenous forces isolate and pressure Raqqa -- ISIL’s self-styled capital. “We’re increasing U.S. forces there six-fold, from 50 to 300,” the secretary said.
“These additional 250 personnel, including special operations forces,” Carter said, “will help expand our ongoing efforts to identify, train and equip capable [and] motivated local anti-ISIL forces inside Syria, especially among the Sunni Arab community.”
Local Forces Fight ISIL
The additional U.S. forces will also serve as a hub to incorporate special operators from Europe and the Persian Gulf states, who “will augment our coalition’s counter-ISIL efforts there,” the defense secretary said.
U.S. strategy looks to begin training counter-ISIL forces inside Syria, he said, keeping the focus “on battle-hardened, proven anti-ISIL leaders whom we can make more capable as enablers and amplifiers of our effects.”
Iraq and Syria represent the most dangerous portions of ISIL, Carter noted, but the terror group has spread to other areas and the U.S. military is addressing it in those areas as well.
“In Afghanistan, since we authorized our forces to conduct targeted strikes against ISIL there, we’ve been able to degrade the terrorist group’s elements in the country,” he said. “And in Libya, we have continued to follow ISIL activities closely, undertaking a successful strike last year in which we took out ISIL’s key leader in the country, and another strike in February against an ISIL training camp.”
As Libya’s new government gains strength and credibility, the United States will support its fight against ISIL, the secretary added. “We will counter ISIL and work with partners wherever ISIL has or tries to gain a foothold, whether in Yemen, West Africa, or South and Southeast Asia,” Carter said.
Yet, all is not suddenly rosy in Iraq and Syria, the secretary told the senators. The Iraqi government is feeling political and economic pressures that may influence the pace of the military campaign, he said.
“In Iraq, as the proximity of the ISIL threat against Baghdad has diminished, political ambitions have created discord, and, in some instances, ethno-sectarian competition has increased -- creating an added burden and distraction for Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi’s] government before the task of defeating ISIL is complete,” Carter said. “This, of course, is occurring while Iraq struggles with significant fiscal challenges due to the lower price of oil and a huge reconstruction bill as it retakes cities from ISIL.”
In Syria, competing agendas for the future of the political transition inhibit generating and coalescing anti-ISIL forces, he said.
“I’ve articulated a clear strategy with the end-state being a lasting defeat of ISIL -- and that means it must be achieved by local forces,” the secretary said. “Our strategic approach is therefore to enable such forces to collapse ISIL’s control of Mosul and Raqqa by bringing to bear in support of them the full might of the U.S. military through some of our most cutting-edge capabilities.
“Enabling local forces -- not substituting for them -- is necessary to ensure a lasting defeat [of ISIL],” he continued. “And sometimes, that means our pace is predicated on the speed at which local forces can absorb our enabling.”
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