WASHINGTON, March 23, 2016 —
While not complacent about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s capabilities, Defense Department leaders are confident that momentum against the terror group is firmly in the hands of the coalition arrayed against it.
“As far as the campaign is … concerned, I’m confident that we will defeat ISIL and that we have the momentum of the campaign in Iraq and Syria,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.
ISIL claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attacks in Brussels, Belgium, that killed 31 and wounded more than 190 people in the city’s airport and the rapid transit system. An American airman and his family were among those hurt.
Carter told the lawmakers that DoD will continue to look for opportunities to accelerate operations against ISIL. “We’re looking for more opportunities to do so,” he said. “We’ve found opportunities. I expect to find more opportunities in the future. We want to accelerate the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.”
ISIL in Iraq and Syria is the “parent tumor,” the secretary said, and actions against the group there strike to the core of its claim of legitimacy. “If we can expel ISIL from Raqqah and Mosul, that will show that there’s no such thing as an Islamic state based upon this ideology,” Carter said.
The combat against the terror group stretches from Syria and Iraq to West Africa to Afghanistan to Brussels and to California. “I'm not complacent about the threat of ISIL, and I recognize the spread of ISIL, particularly over the last 15, 18 months, transregionally or globally,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said to the committee yesterday. “With regard to Syria and Iraq, in October, I appeared before the committee and at that time, I think it was fair to say that ISIL had the momentum.
“Since that time, they not only have less territory, they have less resources, they have less freedom of movement,” he added.
The actions against the group have resulted in fewer foreign fighters, and the chairman said believes the terror group’s narrative is less effective than it was some months ago.
Combating ISIL and like groups is a long war, the chairman said. “This is a long fight, and I’m confident in telling you that we have the momentum today,” Dunford said.
The fight will require not only the military effort to deny sanctuary to the enemy in Syria and Iraq and to build the capabilities and capacity of regional allies, but also will require much greater cooperation among intelligence organizations of countries involved in counter-ISIL efforts, Dunford told the panel. The chairman estimated that more than 100 nations have foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, with more than 30,000 foreign fighters.
Actions against ISIL in Iraq and Syria will require intelligence cooperation, law enforcement communications, diplomatic efforts, economic pressures – the whole gamut of efforts to strangle the group and others like it, Dunford said.
And that is happening, he said. Belgian authorities have launched a manhunt in Brussels to find bombing accomplices and the suspected ISIL bomb maker. U.S. aircraft struck an al-Qaida training camp in Yemen yesterday, killing or wounding scores of fighters. American aircraft have also struck terrorists in Libya and Somalia.
U.S. European Command has finished a 100-percent accountability check following the attack, officials in Stuttgart said.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to our military family, the people of Brussels and all those impacted by these horrific terror attacks,” said Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Eucom’s commander. "We will assist Belgium in any way our military can. We strongly condemn these attacks and will continue to stand by our NATO allies and partners to defeat these terrorists who threaten our freedoms and our way of life.”
Speaking to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, today, Carter said the Brussels attacks were "a grim reminder of how serious are the dangers we face, how dangerous, the dangers that civilization and our country face, the challenges of this complex world.”
The secretary noted a U.S. military family was directly affected by the attacks.
“No attack, no attack can shake our resolve to accelerate the defeat of ISIL,” he told the cadets. “I know that yesterday's news only galvanizes our determination – yours, too -- to serve our nation and join those who came before you in this mission of defending our people of the values were share."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)