Secretary of Defense
Opening Remarks at Counter-ISIL Defense Ministerial
Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London, United Kingdom
Thanks very much, Secretary Fallon – appreciate your hosting us today so that we can all receive an update on the execution of our counter-ISIL coalition military campaign plan we devised a year ago and are carrying out now.
It’s great to be here in London with all of you to discuss – to use Michael’s apt word – how to continue to build the momentum, accelerate our campaign to deliver ISIL the certain and lasing defeat it deserves. And I’m particularly pleased we’re joined by two special guests, staunch members of our coalition: Turkey’s Minister of Defense Isik – Fikri, good to see you – and Iraqi Security Forces Chief of Staff General Othman, with whom I was just in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. Thank you both for coming.
It was nearly a year ago when this core coalition first met in Paris to lay out the coalition military campaign plan that the world has watched unfold since. We were brought together then – as we are today – by our shared values, by our resolve to deal ISIL a lasting defeat, and by our unwavering commitment to seize every opportunity to accelerate the campaign. And over this past year, we’ve now met six times – each time more confident in the rightness of our cause, more certain of the outcome, and more determined to see this fight through to the end.
Today, we meet having reached a critical milestone in the campaign, as our forces are engaged in an intense effort to help isolate and collapse ISIL’s control over both Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria – the first, primary objective of our campaign.
While we’ll hear from our CENTCOM commander General Joe Votel about the latest operational results, and also from General Othman, I should note that I too was just in Iraq. And there, I met with Prime Minister Abadi, Kurdish Regional Government President Barzani, and our coalition commander Lieutenant General Steve Townsend. And in addition, I visited the strategically important Qayyarah West airfield, which the Iraqi Security Forces seized in July, and which has now become the critical launchpad for the Mosul operation. And I met with some of the brave Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga who have been engaged in the tough fight to take Mosul. And after being in Iraq, I see that while this complex mission will take time to accomplish, I was encouraged during my visit that the operation is proceeding according to the plan, and I’m confident that ISIL’s days in Mosul are numbered.
And simultaneously, in Syria, we’re now helping tens of thousands of local, capable, motivated forces to isolate and systematically envelop Raqqa, from which they are only 15 miles away.
As we’ve done before at critical junctures in our campaign, the United States is taking additional actions to accelerate our efforts. Just last week I announced that we’ll deploy some additional 200 – an additional 200 U.S. forces to Syria to join the 300 U.S. special operations forces that are already there. These 500 personnel represent some of our military’s most uniquely specialized warfighters. More importantly, they’re the connective tissue between our thousands of local partners and the great weight of American and coalition military might that we’re bringing to bear, through them, against ISIL. As they help to generate additional capable, motivated, local forces to seize and ultimately hold Raqqa, they will also continue working with our Turkish allies, both on this effort and to secure the border region in northern Syria, and we will also seek to deny ISIL a safe haven in southern Syria. And today, the United States continues to be committed to accelerate ISIL’s defeat everywhere we see opportunities – doing more – and we will discuss how others in the coalition can do the same.
Now, while we’re collapsing ISIL’s control over Mosul and Raqqa, and doing that is necessary to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat, it’s not sufficient.
Indeed, we must and are combatting ISIL – the ISIL cancer’s metastases everywhere they emerge around world, which is the second objective of our campaign. And we’ve been doing so successfully in Libya, and also in Afghanistan – where I also just visited a few days ago – to take two examples in particular.
Destroying ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria and combatting its metastases are critical to destroying both the fact and the idea that there can be an Islamic state based on ISIL’s barbaric ideology. But more immediately – and Michael made this point very well, it’s also critical – doing so is also critical to stopping plots against our homelands and our people, which is the third and really the most important objective, for our people, of our campaign. Here, working with intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement partners, coalition forces are conducting operations to gather intelligence with a particular focus on destroying ISIL’s external operations network. As a result, we’ve not only killed the chief of ISIL’s external operations; we’ve also taken out dozens of its external plotters – including three last week in Raqqa who were directly involved in attacks and the plotting of attacks against our European allies. And today we’ll discuss how we further counter this threat.
Now, going forward, we must stay focused on the continued execution of the campaign plan into 2017. That’s among the most important topics we’ll discuss today, because there’s more work still to be done.
In addition to putting ISIL on the path to a lasting defeat, we’ll need to continue to counter not only the foreign fighters trying to escape ISIL, but also ISIL’s attempts to relocate or to reinvent itself. Destroying, as I said, the fact and idea that there can be an Islamic state based on this ideology will help us in several ways to destroy ISIL’s external operations ambitions. So it’s important. To do so, both the United States and the coalition must remain engaged militarily. And in Iraq in particular, we must be prepared to provide sustained assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces to consolidate security over the rest of the country, and to carry on our work to train, equip, and support local police, border guards, and other forces to hold areas cleared from ISIL – as always, in partnership with the Iraqi government.
Beyond security, there still will be towns to rebuild, services to reestablish, and communities to restore. These aren’t military matters, but they’re part of how, after winning the battle, one wins the peace. That’s why the international community’s stabilization and governance efforts must not lag behind the military campaign.
There will also need to be continued political support for an inclusive, multi-sectarian Iraq. We’ve seen how the threat of ISIL has brought people together against it. In Iraq, for instance, thanks to the unity and the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi and Kurdish Regional Government President Barzani – both of whom I saw just a few days ago, once again – cooperation between the ISF and the Peshmerga in the battle for Mosul has reached a level that would’ve been unthinkable when we first met a year ago. And now the coalition is taking steps to help promote and maintain this unity, and we must, because that’s the only way to ensure that ISIL stays defeated.
The counter-ISIL coalition has been decisive and effective, with over a third of the forces coming from non-U.S. partners. We all came together, deliberately, as a coalition to defeat ISIL, and today, I look forward to discussing how the coalition will continue to endure, to work together, to contribute together, and to operate together to make sure ISIL’s defeat is lasting.
Let me close by thanking all of you around this table for your continued resolve and strength and wisdom in this fight. And while I can’t speak for the next presidential administration in the United States, I’m confident that based on the results we’re seeing and the strength of our coalition, the United States and its military will continue to be with you as a leading partner in this campaign. And by reflecting on the lessons we’ve learned to date and remaining focused on the execution of our plan, we’ll ensure that ISIL is delivered the lasting defeat it deserves.