The U.S.-led coalition will accelerate its campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today in a joint press conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen.
“We will further accelerate this fight to free people from ISIS’ crushing occupation and [the] enemy’s terror threat to Europe and beyond,” Mattis said.
The secretary is on his first stop of a three-country trip to Europe. In Copenhagen, he and Fredericksen co-chaired a 15-country defense ministerial on defeating ISIS, officials said.
The Danish defense minister described the effort to defeat of ISIS as one of Denmark’s highest priorities. Denmark agreed during the ministerial to substantially increase its defense budget to aid in the counter-ISIS campaign.
“We are committed to working together -- all of us -- and that was reinforced today in our meeting with many partners: to defeat [ISIS] wherever it attempts to establish its roots,” Mattis said.
ISIS Won’t Escape
The secretary said the coalition in Raqqa, Syria, is getting into position to surround the city.
“The idea, ladies and gentlemen, is that the foreign fighters not be allowed to escape and return to constitute a threat against free and innocent people elsewhere, whether it be in the Arabian Gulf, North Africa, and certainly Europe,” he said.
ISIS has lost a significant amount of territory that it once held -- more than half in Iraq and in Syria, Mattis said.
“ISIS has lost two-thirds of its strength in Afghanistan,” said the secretary, who also noted the death in Nangarhar province of the ISIS-Khorasan emir over the past weekend.
“In our anti-ISIS campaign, we are dealing that group one more significant blow with the loss of their leader,” Mattis said.
And the fight will go on, he emphasized.
“We continue to integrate our military and nonmilitary efforts,” Mattis said. “You have to remember the battlefield we are fighting on is also a humanitarian field where innocent people live [and] are sometimes forced to stay on a battlefield by ISIS. We’re doing everything humanly possible to limit the suffering and any casualties among those innocent people.”
Mattis said he and Frederiksen also conducted a “substantive” bilateral meeting in Copenhagen.
“Denmark has always been a stalwart ally and friend of the United States, and the close defense relationship between our two countries reflects the enduring strength of NATO’s transatlantic bond, [with us] having stood by each other in good times and in bad,” Mattis said.
“The American people are truly heartened by your government’s commitment to share the cost of the common defense through a substantial increase in defense spending,” Mattis said to Frederiksen. “Times have changed; 2014 was an eye-opener for all of us, minister, and we have to change with the times.”
Mattis said he and the Danish defense minister also recognized that Denmark occupies a “rather unique role” as a member of NATO, as a member of the European Union and as a member of the Arctic Council.
“In our NATO affiliation, I affirmed that the U.S. commitment to Article 5 [of the North Atlantic Treaty] is ironclad,” Mattis said. Article 5 established the alliance in 1949, and states that an attack on one allied country is an attack on all.
“We stand together, minister, visible and indivisible, in the face of any threats to international law or to a peaceful, international order,” the secretary said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)