WASHINGTON, Dec. 09, 2015 —
Defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant globally and at home requires leveraging the militant organization in its “parent tumor” of Syria and Iraq, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
The secretary, joined by Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, said defeating ISIL requires using all components of the nation's might -- diplomatic, military, law enforcement, homeland security, intelligence, economic and informational operations.
That’s the right approach, he said, for three reasons: It takes the fight to the enemy; it seeks to develop capable, motivated, local ground forces to can assure a lasting victory, and it sets conditions for a political solution to the civil war in Syria and inclusive governance in Iraq.
The U.S.-led military campaign “must and will deny ISIL any safe territorial haven, kill or capture its leadership and forces, and destroy its organization” while enabling motivated, local ground forces to defeat ISIL and ensure victory remains, he said.
The secretary said new military steps are taken every week to build momentum on the battlefield, such as applying multiple pressures on multiple fronts simultaneously to accelerate enemy defeat.
Recent Operations in Syria
In a brief overview of recent operations, Carter said local forces in Syria, with coalition help, are battling ISIL in the last remaining pocket of access into Turkey.
Syrian Arabs the U.S. military helped to equip in northeastern Syria are fighting alongside Kurdish forces and have recaptured important terrain, such as Hawl and about 900 square kilometers of surrounding territory, he noted, adding that forces are moving south to isolate ISIL's claimed capital of Raqqa, with the objective to collapse its control over the city. And U.S. Special Forces recently ordered to Iraq and Syria by President Barack Obama create “force multipliers” based on their capabilities in intelligence gathering, targeting and enabling local forces, he added.
Recent Operations in Iraq
With U.S. air power, local forces have retaken Sinjar in Iraq, cutting the main line of ISIL communication between Raqqa and Mosul, Carter said. “To move people and supplies,” he added, “ISIL must now rely on backroads, where we will locate and destroy them.”
Some 3,500 troops in six locations support the Iraqi security forces with increased lethal fire and are augmenting the training, advising and assisting program, Carter told the senators. As Iraqi troops show capability and motivation, “we’re prepared to do more,” he added.
While the secretary acknowledged that retaking Ramadi from ISIL control has been frustrating, efforts to recapture the city are evident as well-equipped Iraqi troops enter the city from multiple directions.
“In the last 24 hours, [the Iraqi forces] re-took the Anbar operations center on the northern bank of the Euphrates River across from Ramadi's city center,” he said. “This is an important step, but there's still tough fighting ahead.”
The U.S. military is ready to help the Iraqis retake Ramadi with greater capabilities if circumstances dictate and if requested by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, the secretary said.
Adapting with Successes
Recent operations show “how we've adapted,” Carter said. “We will do more of what works going forward,” he added.
While overall progress in Iraq’s Sunni-populated areas has been slow, the secretary acknowledged, “we are urging the Iraqi government to do more to recruit, train, arm, mobilize and pay Sunni fighters in their communities.”
The specialized expeditionary targeting force recently assigned to assist the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces will pressure ISIL with more raids and more intelligence gathering, he said, noting that the force also can conduct unilateral operations in Syria.
Intelligence and understanding ISIL operations have allowed the U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign to destroy ISIL’s oil infrastructure, its financial source, Carter told the committee. And as anti-ISIL airstrikes kill more key ISIL leaders, he said, the strikes “serve notice to ISIL that no target is beyond our reach.”
More Effort Needed
While the adaptions made in six weeks show U.S. acceleration in the anti-ISIL campaign, Carter said, other nations must step up in the fight before another Paris-type attack occurs.
In the past week, he said, he’s reached out to 40 countries in the coalition to ask for contributions such as special operations forces, strike and reconnaissance aircraft, weapons and munitions and training assistance.
Commending the committee’s budget deal passed last month, the secretary asked members to release the hold on the final tranche of $116 million in the Syria equipping program.
“We need the funds to provide and transport ammunition, weapons and other equipment to further enable the progress being made against ISIL in Syria by partners like the Syrian-Arab Coalition,” he said. “We should not be impeding the very momentum we are trying to build.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)