WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2014 —
U.S. airstrikes and military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have stalled the advance of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist forces around Irbil, Iraq, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today.
This assistance helped the Iraqis retake and hold the Mosul Dam, which, if breached, would have threatened the lives of thousands of Iraqis as well as American personnel and facilities, Hagel said during a joint news conference with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
“The United States led an international effort to address the humanitarian crisis that unfolded at Mount Sinjar,” the secretary said. “As there continues to be an acute humanitarian need elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. appreciates the partnership of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia and the United Nations in helping provide relief. I expect more nations to step forward with more assistance in the weeks ahead.”
While the airstrikes and other assistance created an opening for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to snatch back the initiative from ISIL forces, air attacks will not be enough to remove the terrorist organization from Iraq, Hagel said.
“...Addressing the threat posed by ISIL to the future of Iraq requires political reform in Iraq,” he said. “The country's peaceful transition of power last week was important, and the United States will continue urging Iraq's new prime minister to establish an inclusive government that is responsive to the needs of all Iraq's citizens. A united Iraq will be a more secure and prosperous Iraq.”
The Defense Department continues to explore all options regarding ISIL, the defense secretary said, including continued assistance to moderate forces in Syria. President Barack Obama’s request to Congress for $5 billion to establish an antiterrorism fund included $500 million for moderate Syrian opposition forces who are also battling ISIL, Hagel noted.
The murder by ISIL forces of reporter James Foley is just one example of the ruthless, barbaric ideology of the group, he said.
“ISIL militants continue to massacre and enslave innocent people and persecute Iraq's Sunni, Shia and Kurdish and minority populations,” the defense secretary said.
The U.S. doesn’t have the luxury to write ISIL off just because they’re operating in far-off countries, Hagel said. The organization is absolutely an imminent threat to the safety of America and Europe, he added.
Some of that immediacy comes from the numbers of westerners who have flocked to the region to join the terror group, Dempsey said.
“When we look at what they did to Mr. Foley, what they threatened to do to all Americans and Europeans, what they are doing now -- I don't know any other way to describe it other than barbaric,” Hagel said. “They have no standard of decency, of responsible human behavior, and I think the record's clear on that.”
ISIL is the most sophisticated and well-funded terrorist organization the department has ever seen, the secretary said.
“They're beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology [with] a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess,” he said.
To meet that threat, Hagel said, the department must prepare for everything.
“And the only way you do that,” he said, “is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it and get ready.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)