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NEWS | March 25, 2019

Statement from Maj Gen Christopher Ghika on the end of Daesh-held territory

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

On Saturday 23 March, after more than four years, we reached a significant milestone in the campaign against the so-called Islamic State. The last area of territory held by the group in Syria has been liberated, marking the end of its physical “caliphate."

In the turbulence and pace of events in both the UK and US, it is easy to forget that Daesh, the Arabic pejorative name for the Islamic State, dominated the front pages in 2014 and 2015. Few, however, will have forgotten its evil ways: the appalling atrocities which captured the world’s attention stand today with the group’s abject failure to deliver on its promises of governance and military victory. At its height, Daesh controlled land in Iraq and Syria roughly equal to the size of Great Britain, albeit at the end of a knife. Today, it controls nothing.

This reversal has taken time to achieve. In 2014, Daesh’s evolution outpaced the efforts to contain and reverse its growth. We were not prepared for its evil and aggressive ambition but were determined to take action. Since then, the international community has acted with purpose and resolve. 74 nations and 5 international organisations have joined the largest coalition of modern times – a unique and remarkable achievement. This coalition has taken action not only against Daesh in military operations, but across the span of its activity. Targeted programmes have challenged its aspirations to generate income, recruit fighters, communicate its legacy and frustrate stabilisation efforts. For the military component, the bedrock of progress since operations began in 2014 has been the alliance between local partners and coalition forces. In Iraq and Syria, the Iraqi Armed Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces have been steadfast allies, as determined to rid their country of Daesh as the coalition nations are to prevent the group’s spread. But the operation has not been without cost: thousands of the Iraqi Armed Forces and Syrian Democratic Force, as well as 43 coalition members, have given their lives in this cause. This sacrifice has allowed 7.7 million people to return home to liberated towns and cities, including Mosul, Raqqa and Kobane, ensuring that Daesh no longer controls any territory and lending a lie to its aspirations to be a caliphate. We can reflect on the success of this achievement, but must not lose sight of the fact that Daesh remains a virulent and dangerous group.

As Daesh has been systematically defeated, its fighters have fled out of Syria into Iraq. They are now seeking to re-establish themselves and conduct a deadly insurgency. They have already launched a series of attacks targeting community leaders, security force personnel, critical infrastructure and government sites. All this aims to chip away at the pillars of the state and create the instability in which Daesh can continue to survive. To allow this aspiration to flourish would place Iraq and the region in a precarious position; Daesh has changed its approach and the coalition must be prepared to do the same.

As the US reduces its numbers in Syria, the coalition remains committed to the enduring defeat of Daesh. The partnership with the Iraqi Armed Forces continues to deepen, with 31 nations assisting in developing their ability to secure Iraq against the continued threat from Daesh. Since 2014, nearly 200,000 Iraqis have been trained, from foot soldiers to fighter pilots, who are now contributing to their country’s internal security. Operations against Daesh are now in areas the group had previously regarded as its safe havens, in Nineveh, Salah ad Din and Anbar. This accomplishment, however, should not hide the fact that a military campaign alone cannot bring lasting peace. The areas liberated from the yoke of Daesh need security, stability and inclusive governance in order to thrive and ensure that the conditions which led to the rise of Daesh can never return. This relies, to a large degree, on the Government of Iraq quelling threats to security by rival militias, supporting stabilisation and addressing manifestly the grievances of the Sunni population. To deepen this approach, the international community must remain committed to the region at this critical juncture. There must be no hasty rush for the exit using the territorial defeat of Daesh as an excuse; we will be judged as much by this new phase of the campaign as by our reaction in 2014.

We have reached a significant milestone on a hard-fought journey. We must applaud the efforts and recognise the sacrifice of all those who have played a part in this fight, but we must not be complacent. Daesh’s dispersal from its physical caliphate will continue to pose a threat to Iraq, the region and the wider world. There is more to be done to ensure the lasting defeat of this evil organisation: the global coalition must remain united in its purpose.

Major General Christopher Ghika is the Deputy Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, based in Baghdad.