War on Terrorism

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

'Continued Commitment' Needed in ISIL Fight, Defense Official Says

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2015 — The coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has made gains, but it will take "more than the military campaign to be successful," the undersecretary of defense for policy said today.

Christine E. Wormuth appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the commander of U.S. Central Command.

The coalition campaign has degraded ISIL's military capacity, removed some of its key leaders and enabled gains by local forces in Iraq and Syria, Wormuth said.

Iraqi forces regained control of Tikrit earlier this year, she said, while Syrian Kurds and Sunni Arab partners recently took the key Syrian border town of Tal Abyad.

"Achieving a lasting defeat against ISIL is going to require a continued commitment, strong leadership from the United States and the global coalition, as well as commitment and sacrifice from local forces in Iraq and Syria," the undersecretary said.

In addition to the military operations, Wormuth said, other lines of effort are also important.

"We also need to dry up ISIL's finances," she said. “We need to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria in particular, protect the United States from potential attacks from ISIL, provide humanitarian assistance in areas that we are taking back from ISIL, and find a way to more effectively counter ISIL's very successful messaging campaign.”

Progress in the Fight

Iraqi forces have experienced some "setbacks," but that is to be expected in a fight "as complex as this one," Austin said.

The Iraqi forces continue to make progress with the help of coalition airstrikes and the advise and assist in building partner capacity efforts, he said.

The general said the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq has "performed exceptionally well."

The Kurdish-Arab coalition in northeast Syria is "achieving substantial effects," taking back more than 17,000 square kilometers of terrain, he said.

Austin said that despite "some slow movement at the tactical level, we continue to make progress across the battlespace in support of the broader U.S. government strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL."

The general said sustained pressure on ISIL, both from the air and on the ground, is key to the enduring success of the military campaign.

Russian Involvement in Syria

The United States is "closely tracking Russian efforts to deploy additional military equipment and personnel to Syria," Wormuth said.

"Both Russia and Iran have continued to support politically and militarily the Assad regime, which has systematically murdered its own people and helped create the conditions of the current conflict and the rise of ISIL," she said.

What is needed urgently in Syria, the undersecretary said, is a political solution to the conflict through a transition away from Assad.

"Any actions that empower the regime to escalate the conflict are unwelcome and would be destabilizing and counterproductive," Wormuth said.

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