CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, Deputy Commander-Stability, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, held a press briefing for the Pentagon Press Corps from Baghdad, May 14, 2019.
What follows were his opening remarks. Video of complete statement can be viewed at https://www.dvidshub.net/webcast/19911.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your time today.
I would like to give you an update on where we are currently in our mission to secure the enduring defeat of Daesh.
The most significant recent milestone for us was the defeat of Daesh in Baghuz, Syria, on 23rd March, which saw the end of the group’s control of any physical territory. We must reflect on this great achievement by our partner forces and the Coalition: for five years, Daesh’s reign of terror instilled unbounded fear into innocent Iraqis and Syrians. Today, it has been reduced to an underground organization, forced out of population centers and into hiding, in caves and in the mountains: its aspirations for a global caliphate have been destroyed.
However, we cannot be complacent: this is not the end of Daesh or operations against Daesh. Although it is now on the back foot, Daesh foresaw the fall of its physical caliphate and has been reorganizing itself into a network of cells, intent on striking key leaders, village elders and military personnel to undermine the security and stability in Iraq and Syria. Daesh fighters are still ambushing security patrols, detonating IEDs and conducting kidnappings. Despite its territorial setbacks, Daesh is still having successes. And its ideology still inspires people around the world: we saw this on Easter Sunday with the devastating attacks in Sri Lanka. Last month, Daesh’s leader, Baghdadi, appeared online for the first time in over five years, conceding defeat in Baghuz but rousing Daesh supporters to continue their fight.
Globally, we must stop the spread of this message and prevent the violent jihadist ideology resonating with a new generation of recruits. This is a unique challenge in the information environment: in our Combined Joint Task Force, we are doing everything we can to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and the Global Coalition and the international community must continue its work to prevent the evil brand from spreading worldwide and terrorising our communities back home.
In Iraq, we are working at the invitation of the Iraqi Government, helping to train their security forces, enabling their operations and striking Daesh fighters, leaders, facilitators and financiers wherever and whenever we find them. The Iraqi Army, supported by the Coalition and by Iraqi F-16 fighter jets and C-130 transport aircraft, are disrupting the network of Daesh cells across Ninewah, Salah ad Din, Anbar, Diyalah and Kirkuk Provinces. Recent operations in Wadi Ashai and the Hamrin Mountains have cleared successfully hundreds of miles of territory in which Daesh groups were hiding: Daesh commanders and fighters have been killed or captured, and weapons, ammunition and IED-making equipment have been seized. We must congratulate the Iraqi Security Forces on their successes but not forget the huge sacrifices they have made in the last five years.
Central to their success is the Coalition’s Build Partner Capacity program, which seeks to enhance Iraqi security capabilities through training, mentoring and equipping our Iraqi partners. And as they improve, our focus will switch from training the Iraqi troops directly to mentoring the Iraqi trainers, as they take greater responsibility for training their troops themselves.
In North East Syria, there are ongoing discussions at the political level to ensure stability in the region. From our military perspective, we must continue working with our partners to create the conditions in which Daesh cannot thrive again and to ensure a secure environment in which our partners in the international community can operate. Having defeated Daesh’s physical holdings in Baghuz, our partners are now progressing steadily back up the Euphrates River Valley, clearing the remnants of Daesh. The pace is slow and methodical, with the ground and buildings seeded with IEDs and booby-traps, but progress is being made.
On the humanitarian side, you will be aware of the tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees in North East Syria. Local and international humanitarian organizations are managing the situation, but we must be mindful that there is a large concentration of radicalized individuals in these camps who will want to return to their homes in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. We need to assist with deradicalization and education to prevent a new generation of Daesh emerging when these people go home.
Militarily, we continue our campaign to ensure the lasting defeat of Daesh. But we cannot do it ourselves: campaigns cannot be won by fighting alone. Instead it requires a whole-of-government approach, with the support of the international community – assisting the Government of Iraq and the Syrian Civil Councils to set the conditions for the stability and prosperity they crave.
Any instability will create opportunities for Daesh to thrive: Daesh will exploit the divisions in society and fragile governance to become the organization to whom the population turns to provide security. We cannot allow this to happen: Daesh’s widespread killings, the brutal executions, the destructions of towns, cities and ancient monuments must remain a thing of the past.
Daesh still poses a significant threat in Iraq and Syria and to the wider world. It has morphed into an underground network that we must root out and destroy. We will continue to work with our partner forces to achieve this militarily.
Our partner forces are improving daily, but they still need our assistance.
Strong governance and effective stabilization will be the long-term key to providing security and prosperity; the international community must do all it can to help.