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Counter-ISIL Campaign Continues, President Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2016 — Even if there is a cessation of hostilities to get food and medical aid to besieged civilians in Syria, there will be no letup against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, President Barack Obama said yesterday evening at the State Department following a meeting of the National Security Council.

“If implemented -- and that’s a significant ‘if’ -- this cessation could reduce the violence and get more food and aid to Syrians who are suffering and desperately need it,” the president said. “It could save lives. Potentially, it could also lead to negotiations on a political settlement to end the civil war so that everybody can focus their attention on destroying ISIL.”

The United States will do all in its power to ensure the success of the cessation, Obama said. “At the same time, I want to make totally clear that there will be absolutely no cease-fire with respect to ISIL,” he said. “We remain relentless in going after them.”

Coalition Increases Strength

The president directed the national security team to continue accelerating the campaign against ISIL on all fronts. The coalition against the terror group is stronger, he said. He praised Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s efforts to get more contributions from coalition partners. “Just about all of our military partners have agreed to increase their contributions, buying into our conception of how we ramp up the pressure on ISIL,” the president said.

He noted that Dutch aircraft are now striking ISIL targets in Syria, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are expanding their roles in the air campaign. And the president thanked Canada for tripling its personnel dedicated to helping train and advise forces in Iraq.

“Every day, our air campaign -- more than 10,000 strikes so far -- continues to destroy ISIL forces, infrastructure and heavy weapons,” Obama said. “ISIL fighters are learning that they’ve got no safe haven. We can hit them anywhere, anytime -- and we do.”

Taking Ground from ISIL

Iraqi and Syrian ground forces, working with coalition special operations forces, are pushing back ISIL’s forces, he said. “After intense block-by-block fighting, Iraqi forces recently succeeded in pushing ISIL out of Ramadi,” Obama said. “ISIL has now lost a series of key Iraqi towns and cities -- more than 40 percent of the areas it once controlled in Iraq.”

The next phase in the campaign will target ISIL-controlled Hit in Iraq’s Anbar province, he said, with the ultimate goal of retaking Mosul -- Iraq’s second-largest city.

In Syria, local forces continue their gains against ISIL. The ultimate goal there is to squeeze the terror group into its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa and crush it, Obama said. “Raqqa is not the capital of a growing caliphate; it’s increasingly under stress as ISIL territory shrinks,” the president said.

“This remains a difficult fight,” Obama said. “The situation in Syria and Iraq is one of the most complex the world has seen in recent times. ISIL is entrenched, including in urban areas, using innocent civilians as human shields. Even in places where ISIL has been driven out, it leaves behind utter devastation.”

The president said the fight in Syria has become a proxy war between regional powers.

“Beyond Syria and Iraq, I want to point out that we continue to go after ISIL wherever it tries to take root, working with partners from Nigeria to Afghanistan,” Obama said. “As we showed last week with our strike on an ISIL training camp in Libya, which targeted a senior ISIL operative, we will continue to use the full range of tools to eliminate ISIL threats wherever they are.”

He noted that the United States will continue to work with Libya to establish a functioning government there.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)