WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter today told troops readying to deploy to Iraq that they must build on the momentum to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The secretary addressed service members set to deploy with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The unit will replace the III Corps as the American portion of Operation Inherent Resolve with Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland passing command to Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend.
Carter called on the troops to help accelerate the defeat of ISIL.
“Last fall we introduced an initial series of accelerants to help us gather momentum,” the secretary said. The United States, he said, deployed additional strike aircraft and aimed them at new targets and new categories of targets illuminated by refined intelligence.
“We deployed an initial contingent of special operations forces to Syria, and expanded equipping of Syrian Arab forces engaged in the fight against ISIL, as well as training and equipping of the Iraqi security forces, including the Kurdish peshmerga,” Carter said. “We introduced an expeditionary targeting force. And we started to expand our military campaign to every domain, including cyber.”
The secretary continued, “We also asked all our coalition countries to make additional contributions to the campaign, which they did — contributing strike aircraft, special operations forces, trainers, engineers, logisticians, lift capabilities and other critical enablers.”
Carter said these efforts have worked, as Iraqi and Syrian forces have retaken territory from ISIL.
“As a result, play by play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqa and Mosul,” the secretary said.” By isolating those two cities, we’re effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them.”
More needs to be done, the secretary told the soldiers.
“We’ve seized opportunities, reinforced success and taken the fight to the enemy,” Carter said. “But we are not going to rest — and that’s why you’re going to build on those results, continue to take the fight to the enemy, gather more momentum and help deliver ISIL a lasting defeat. I have every confidence that you will.”
STOPPING ISIL’S MOVEMENTS
In Syria, indigenous and coalition forces will work to shut down the last remaining paths for ISIL fighters to move in and out of the country along the border with Turkey, the secretary said.
“In Iraq, we will continue enabling the dedicated Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga led by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and supported by Kurdish Regional President Masoud Barzani — working by, with, and through the Iraqi government, as we always have,” he said.
U.S. service members will focus on helping Iraqi forces pursue mopping-up operations along the Euphrates River Valley, Carter said.
“In the north, we will continue to help the Iraqi security forces clear the remaining pockets of ISIL control along the Tigris River Valley,” he said. “Simultaneously, we will help the Iraqi security forces — including the Kurdish peshmerga — to refit and generate the forces and logistical footprint necessary to isolate and pressure Mosul.”
This strategy will culminate in the collapse of ISIL’s control over the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, Carter said.
The coalition is doing more in the region with President Barack Obama ordering an additional 560 troops to support Iraqi forces in their offensive to retake Mosul, Carter said.
“Other nations are following our lead, and making commitments as well,” he added. “France is sending back the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to carry out airstrikes against ISIL. Australia will be expanding their training of Iraqi police and border guards, which will be vital for security in Iraq after ISIL’s defeat. And the United Kingdom recently announced it would deploy more trainers and engineers to Iraq, as well.”
Taking the territory is the first move, holding it will be crucial, the secretary said.
“There will be towns to rebuild, services to reestablish and communities to restore,” Carter said. “Such progress is critical to ensuring that ISIL, once defeated, stays defeated, so that our partners’ gains are made irreversible.”
The international coalition’s stabilization and governance efforts must keep pace with security gains, he said.
“Destroying the fact and the idea of an Islamic state based on ISIL’s barbaric ideology will not be easy,” Carter said. “The more ground ISIL loses in Iraq and Syria, the more they’ll do whatever it takes to cling to their perverse veil of legitimacy.”
The coalition must stop ISIL wherever it rears its head, the secretary said.
“We must keep systematically eliminating every key leader we find,” he said. “And we must deny them every safe haven, wherever they may seek it — from physical terrain to cyberspace, because that is what’s necessary to keep our country safe.”
Carter said he knows there will be tough days ahead.
“But we have the right campaign plan, the most capable commanders, motivated partners who are growing in strength, and — most importantly — we have you,” he said