By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity
BRUSSELS, January 21, 2016 — The effort to isolate the Syrian city of Raqqa in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is producing some success, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Isolating Raqqa, ISIL's stronghold and administrative capital, entails finding moderate Syrian opposition forces, supporting them with ammunition, and having them take action on the ground to cut access, Marine Corps Gen. James F. Dunford Jr. told reporters here yesterday ahead of today’s NATO military chiefs of staff meeting.
"We are comfortable that the relationship that we have right now with moderate Syrian opposition forces is allowing us to move the campaign forward in the way that we envisioned," Dunford said.
The fight in Syria is intertwined with the fight in Iraq, the general noted. He added that the efforts for Raqqa are complemented by the success of the Kurdish peshmerga operation around the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar.
The fight against ISIL, he said, involves cutting the lines of communication and hindering freedom of movement between Raqqa and the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest city captured by the terrorists.
'Decisive Operations' for Mosul
The efforts are putting pressure "360-degrees" on ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the chairman commented. He highlighted positive developments, including the peshmerga consolidating large swaths of northern Iraq.
"We're in the process of planning with the Iraqis the next phase of Mosul," Dunford said. "In some point in the future, we'll conduct more decisive operations to isolate Mosul."
Success in Mosul depends on the local population rejecting the terrorists and their brutality, Dunford said, noting that ISIL gained support of the populace through "fear and intimidation."
U.S. Objectives Not Changed By Russia
Russian involvement in Syria has not changed the U.S. objectives, the chairman said. He said he is satisfied that the flight safety mechanisms put in place in October have allowed the campaign to continue as planned.
"On balance, when you look at the last three months, we've been continuing to prosecute the campaign in a manner that we've envisioned and been able to address the safety-of-flight issues," he said.
The chairman said he has talked with his Russian counterpart twice on a wide range of issues. That dialogue is important, he said, because it will help "mitigate the risk of miscalculation."
Military-to-military relationships should be "enduring, even during challenging periods," Dunford said. "I think that we have experience of that throughout the Cold War, and I think it was useful then, and I think it to be useful now," he added.
The United States and Russia have different goals in Syria, he pointed out.
"Not sharing those objectives prevents us from doing what we would call coordination," he said. "We are able to, with the dialogue that we have, address safety issues, and we have a formal mechanism in place."
Russian Efforts Aid Syrian Regime
Russia's involvement in Syria has "stabilized" the situation for the regime of President Bashar Assad, Dunford said. The regime has regained a small amount of ground in that time, he said.
"My assessment is that the Russians have been helpful to the regime in consolidating their control over the area that is [an] arc in the western part of the country," he said.
The chairman added, "I think the regime was in a worse place back in September, and I think as a result of the support the Russians have provided, the regime is in a better place today."