WASHINGTON, December 17, 2015 —
The Kurdish peshmerga forces define the indigenous fighters needed to accelerate defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters in Irbil, Iraq, today.
After meeting with U.S. and coalition troops, and Iraqi government leaders, the secretary told reporters traveling with him that the Kurdish peshmerga comprise “a capable and motivated force [the U.S.] can enable.”
Carter is in the middle of a weeklong trip to the Middle East, where -- acting on President Barack Obama’s instructions -- he's exploring opportunities to hasten defeat of ISIL. The secretary has taken opportunities to meet with Iraqi leaders and thank U.S. and coalition troops for their service, especially during the holiday season.
Importance of Sinjar, Mosul
The secretary commended President Masoud Barzani of Iraq’s Kurdistan region on the Kurdish peshmerga troops retaking Sinjar from ISIL control; he said it’s important because it separates the Iraqi-Mosul side of the theater from the Syrian-Raqqah side.
“That was an important objective, and that couldn't have been accomplished without them,” Carter said.
An intense ISIL attack on the Kurdish side of Irbil last night demonstrates to area residents that ISIL extremists can and will strike at them, he said. But the peshmerga’s effectiveness was again proved when its forces repelled the attack while U.S. troops enabled, Carter said.
Carter and Barzani also discussed how to step up efforts to encircle and recapture Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, the secretary said. “[President Barzani] affirmed we would get the help of the Kurdish peshmerga,” Carter added.
U.S. forces are finding success on exploratory missions to identify and link up with Syrian-Arab forces and other locals willing to fight ISIL, he said. As indigenous forces increase, U.S.-coalition forces want them to move south and build strength with the objective of striking at Raqqah, “the nominal self-proclaimed capital of the ISIL caliphate,” Carter said.
By finding local anti-ISIL fighters in what he described as “some very dangerous places,” he said he anticipates finding more opportunities with indigenous forces.
“The point is [the U.S. mission] bore the fruit we had hoped to,” Carter said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)