Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explained the military portion of President Barack Obama’s strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning.
Hagel told the panel that military and civilian leaders agree that action must be taken to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and that the strategy is sound.
Hagel had a caution for the panel. “American military power alone cannot eradicate the threats posed by ISIL to the United States, our allies, and our friends and partners in the region,” he said. Iraq’s continued political progress toward a more inclusive and representative government is critical to the strategy. The coalition will need to use all its instruments of power -- military, law enforcement, economic, diplomatic, and intelligence -- in coordination with countries in the region.
The terrorist group poses a real threat to all countries in the Middle East, America’s European allies and to the United States, the secretary said. “ISIL has gained strength by exploiting the civil war in Syria and sectarian strife in Iraq,” he said. “As it has seized territory across both countries and acquired significant resources and advanced weapons, ISIL has employed a violent combination of terrorist, insurgent and conventional military tactics.”
Meanwhile, the world is uniting behind American leadership to take on ISIL, the secretary said.
“More than 40 nations have already expressed their willingness to participate in this effort, and more than 30 nations have indicated their readiness to offer military support,” Hagel said.
Hagel talked about the four pillars of the president’s strategy and gave a few more details.
First, he said, there will be a broader air campaign against ISIL in Iraq and extending into Syria.
The have been more than 160 airstrikes against ISIL. These have “killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons and equipment and enabled Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces to get back on the offensive and secure key territory and critical infrastructure -- including the Mosul and Haditha dDams,” Hagel said.
The new, broader air campaign, he added, will include strikes against all ISIL targets and enable the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to stay on the offensive and recapture territory from ISIL.
No safe haven for terrorists
“Because ISIL operates freely across the Iraqi-Syrian border, and maintains a safe haven in Syria, our actions will not be restrained by a border in name only,” Hagel said. “As the president said last week, ‘If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.’”
The second element is to increase support for Iraqi security forces and the moderate Syrian opposition, Hagel said.
“To support Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the president announced last week that we would deploy an additional 475 American troops to Iraq,” Hagel said. “Part of that number includes approximately 150 advisors and support personnel to supplement forces already in Iraq conducting assessments of the Iraqi security forces.
“This assessment mission is now transitioning to an advise-and-assist mission,” he continued, “with more than 15 teams embedding with Iraqi security forces at the headquarters level to provide strategic and operational advice and assistance.”
And, the president has asked Congress for $500 million to train and equip moderate opposition forces to confront terrorists operating in Syria. “We have now secured support from Saudi Arabia to host the training program for this mission, and Saudi Arabia has offered financial support as well,” Hagel said.
The package of assistance, he said, would consist of small arms, vehicles, and basic equipment like communications, as well as tactical and strategic training. “As these forces prove their effectiveness on the battlefield, we would be prepared to provide increasingly sophisticated types of assistance to the most trusted commanders and capable forces,” the secretary said.
This would require a vigorous vetting system, he added.
Preventing ISIL attacks on the United States and its allies is the third prong of the strategy, Hagel said. “In concert with our international partners, the United States will draw on intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic and economic tools to cut off ISIL’s funding, improve our intelligence, strengthen homeland defense, and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the region,” he said.
The United States also will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqis and Syrians driven from their homes by ISIL, the secretary said.
The campaign against ISIL is a complex effort that will take time, he said.
“This will not be an easy or brief effort,” Hagel said. “We are at war with ISIL, as we are with al-Qaida. But destroying ISIL will require more than military efforts alone: It will require political progress in the region, and effective partners on the ground in Iraq and Syria.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)