WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2016 —
Defense Secretary Ash Carter presented awards for valor to Iraqi soldiers and thanked U.S. and coalition troops engaged in the campaign to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant during his visit to Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq, yesterday.
“I had the opportunity today, along with [Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi] to award and recognize a number of Iraqi security forces for their bravery, for their gallantry in carrying forward this fight,” Carter told reporters during a joint news conference with Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. “This hasn’t been an easy fight, won’t be an easy fight, but today I discussed it with [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi], … and we agreed it’s playing out pretty much according to the plan that he and I have been discussing together for these many months.
Importance of Mosul
The defense secretary said taking back Mosul is key to the fight against ISIL, because it’s where the group began. “ISIL needs to be destroyed because it’s a group that, in addition to having torn through Iraq with great savagery, also threatens directly the American people, the American homeland and our friends and allies around the world, as well as civilization and common decency in terms of the ideology that they espouse,” Carter said. “So ISIL must be destroyed. And because this was the place from which it began and from which it sprang, it must be destroyed here, as I said a moment ago, in both fact and idea.”
He said the goal is to destroy ISIL and restore sovereignty to the Iraqi government.
The defense secretary said that as the battle for Mosul will kick off in Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces in Syria will enter a new phase in the campaign to expel ISIL from Raqqa, the so-called capital of its caliphate in Syria. President Barack Obama approved Carter’s request for 200 additional special operations forces for the Syria mission.
“They play a vital role in helping to identify, build and then enable the force that will expel ISIL from Raqqa and be a critical part of destroying ISIL here in Iraq and Syria, which we must do and which we will do,” he said.
Carter said U.S. and coalition forces are having a substantial impact on ISIL’s combat effectiveness. “So a significant part of their leadership has been killed,” he said. “And the rest of it, knowing that they're being hunted, are therefore forced to behave like hunted men. And that by itself also adds a benefit in the sense that their freedom to communicate, their freedom to move, their freedom to instill confidence in their forces is also reduced as we wipe out some of them, because the rest of them have to lie lower.”
“So it's an important part of what we're doing out here to attack leadership,” the defense secretary said. “And we do it. And thanks to General Townsend and the entire team out here, they're having an enormous amount of success.”
Carter is in the midst of an around-the-world trip to thank deployed U.S. troops for their service over the holidays, meet with important regional partners, and advance U.S. priorities, including the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and the lasting defeat of ISIL. The trip has included visits to Japan, India, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Israel.