SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good afternoon, everyone. It is great to be back in Baghdad today, and I just wanted to say a few words about our ongoing work here.
I just concluded a productive meeting with Prime Minister Sudani and Minister of Defense Abbasi. This was just the latest high-level contact between our governments. And all of these engagements underscore the U.S. commitment to expanding our partnership with the people and the government of Iraq. We're deeply committed to ensuring that the Iraqi people can live in peace and dignity, with safety and security and with economic opportunity for all.
Now, our defense cooperation against Daesh is a key pillar of our bilateral relationship, and the United States remains committed to this fight in support of Iraq's security and the security of the entire region. Prime Minister Sudani and I both reaffirmed that commitment today.
You know, just a few years ago, Daesh was marching across Iraq, terrorizing its citizens and threatening the stability of the entire region. In response, the United States convened the global coalition of 80 countries, and that coalition responded to the request of the sovereign government of Iraq to work alongside them to defeat this ruthless terrorist enemy.
And we'll continue to listen to our partners and rally together with them in this fight. We'll continue to harness the professionalism of the coalition's diplomats and assistance experts and warfighters, as well as the incredible professionals in the NATO mission here. We'll continue to increase interoperability among our allies and partners, and we'll continue working to accomplish this mission together.
Through the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, we liberated more than 50,000 square kilometers from Daesh and we freed more than 4.5 million Iraqis from their cruel grip. Now, the Iraqi Security Forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, have made huge strides in increasing their counterterrorism capabilities, and today they are in the lead.
But military action alone won't ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh, so let me recognize the Iraqi government's ongoing repatriations of Iraqi citizens from northeast Syria. As I discussed with Prime Minister Sudani today, all countries with citizens in the detention facilities and displaced person camps in northeast Syria must take similar steps, and the United States stands ready to continue supporting Iraq and all countries working to repatriate their citizens.
Now, looking forward, U.S. forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq. These forces are operating in a non-combat advise, assist and enable role to support the Iraqi-led fight against terrorism. This is a critical mission, and we're proud to support our Iraqi partners. But we must be able to operate safely and securely to continue this vital work. So I want to thank Prime Minister Sudani and Minister of Defense Abbasi for their commitment today to ensure that the coalition forces in Iraq, at the Iraqi government's request, will be protected from state and non-state actors. We're focused on the mission of defeating Daesh, and we are here for no other purpose, and threats or attacks on our forces only undermine that mission.
Now, we also talked today about the long-term vision for our defense partnership with Iraq, which will outlast Daesh. We continue to believe that Iraq's greater integration with its Arab partners in the region will deliver increased stability, security, and prosperity, and it will pay dividends not only for Iraqi citizens, but for all people of the region. And so I look forward to continuing to consult with our valued Iraqi partners and to advance our shared interests and to improve the lives of the Iraqi people. I am optimistic about the future of our partnership, and the United States will continue to strengthen and broaden our partnership in support of Iraqi security, stability and sovereignty.
So once again, I want to express my gratitude to Prime Minister Sudani and Minister of Defense Abbasi for their hospitality today, and again, it's really good to be back in Iraq. Thanks, everyone.