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Dempsey: Future of ISIL Increasingly Dim

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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BERLIN, September 9, 2015 — The future of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is "increasingly dim" as more nations join the anti-ISIL effort, according to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Although the fight against ISIL is, for now, "tactically stalemated," with no "dramatic gains on either side," Iraq will move at the "speed of its governance, not at the speed of its military capability," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said.

Dempsey spoke to reporters here today at the start of his final foreign tour as the nation’s top military officer. He also met with U.S. embassy officials and has talks with German officials on Thursday.

Dempsey applauded Germany for taking the lead in helping thousands of refugees who are streaming over its borders fleeing the violence in Syria. But the causes of the mass migration must be resolved, he said.

The refugee crisis has "galvanized Europe," Dempsey said. "There's an awakening of sorts that this refugee crisis has roots and those roots have to be addressed."

The chairman travels later in the week to Istanbul, where he is scheduled to meet with fellow chiefs of defense at a NATO meeting before making his way to Estonia. He said he plans to press his counterparts on addressing state threats, such as those from an "assertive Russia," and non-state threats such as ISIL.

There has been a "rising sense of urgency about ensuring that we were collaborating to the degree necessary" on those two "distinct problems," he said.

ISIL Fight Requires Long-Term, Transregional Approach

The general said ISIL could be defeated on the battlefield by an introduction of NATO or U.S. forces, but unless the root causes of its ideology are addressed, the problem of extremism will resurface.

A lasting solution against ISIL includes good governance, inclusiveness, education and the creation of jobs, the chairman said.

"This is one where we have to ensure that we've achieved both tactical success and strategic success," he said.

"We've been effective in slowing, and in fact in preventing them regaining any momentum," Dempsey said, but the effort will be long-term and requires a dedicated, transregional approach at a sustainable level of effort.

"ISIL is today's manifestation of a much deeper and broader and longer-term issue,” he said, “which is pervasive instability, disenfranchised groups, ethnic conflict, [and] religious conflict in the Middle East and North Africa that will take a decade or more to resolve."

The underlying issues that allowed ISIL to be created are "not going to be resolved in the near term," the chairman said.

"We have to look at it over time and achieve a sustainable level of effort that the military instrument can be used and integrated into other lines of effort that relate to diplomacy, economics and information," he said.

Turkish Antiterrorism Efforts

Turkey recently began participating in the air campaign against ISIL. "I don't at all worry that Turkey hasn’t been a good, solid ally of the United States and NATO," Dempsey said, pointing to that country's involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

"We may have run through a bit of a rough patch there but I think we're through it and now we're working on the problem," he said.

Recent Turkish attacks on the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, a militant nationalist group, may have been "unhelpful" diplomatically, but "militarily it didn’t distract from what we were trying to accomplish with them against ISIL in northern Syria -- and they certainly have the resources to be able to confront both threats," the chairman said.

Over the last six months, the Turks' understanding of the ISIL threat has "probably moved a bit closer to ours,” Dempsey said. “As a result of that, they've give us some accesses and entered into some of the strike operations," he said, adding the sides are now in military-to-military discussions with Turkey about the "next steps."

Governance is the Problem in Iraq

The withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Ramadi earlier this year was due to poor leadership, the chairman said. The forces, he said, didn’t have confidence the central government would provide them with the logistics support they needed.

"Ramadi was, no doubt, a setback, at least to the confidence and morale of the Iraqi security forces," Dempsey said. The popular mobilization forces left some holes in the battlefield that ISIL exploited, he explained. "It's recoverable because the leaders have been replaced and some of the shortcomings have been identified and we're working with them to address them."

"It's mostly an issue of governance right now in Iraq," the chairman said.

The Iraqi security forces are on their way to being a "credible force for the central government," while the popular mobilization forces are trying to figure out what they are going to be, with some elements that have "responded to Iran's call."

There is "internal debate, discussion and dissent about who's going to be the prominent force in Iraq," Dempsey said, adding "That's a very important debate and how that debate turns out will probably determine the future of Iraq."