The United States and its coalition partners remain unwavering in their commitment to Iraq in defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today in Baghdad.
Mattis spoke to reporters with Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, and Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
"We in the coalition will remain steadfast with our Iraqi allies -- all the way through the defeat of ISIS," Mattis said. "It's not over yet. There's hard fighting ahead."
The defense secretary commended efforts from U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces, lauding the positive gains since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took office in 2014.
"Today the security for the Iraqi people has been greatly improved," Mattis said, pointing out that Iraqi cities have been liberated, people freed from the terrorists' brutal rule, and the Iraqi economy is recovering.
Iraq is reengaging with the region, he said, and ISIS is "on the run."
The terrorists, he said, "have been shown to be unable to stand up to our team in combat and they have not retaken one inch of ground that they've lost."
Mattis said the United States is dedicated to the strategic framework agreement to stand with the Iraqi people and their military to help secure a better future and maintain stability and security.
'Very Promising' Regional Developments
McGurk highlighted positive regional developments, to include the Arar border crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia opening for the first time since 1990. In addition, he said, Iraqi and Jordanian officials are discussing the reopening of the Turaibil border crossing, a nearly $1 billion-a-month commerce route.
"We're looking very closely at the future beyond [ISIS] and we are encouraged by the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi with this regional engagement," McGurk said. "We think it is really delivering some results and a very promising development here on the ground."
Victory 'Assured' in Tal Afar, Raqqa
The coalition and partnered forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria are making significant gains, Townsend said.
"The fighting's tough, but the momentum was with our partners and the Iraqi security forces and in the Syrian Democratic Forces," he said.
The Iraqi city of Mosul was liberated after months of tough fighting, Townsend noted, adding the coalition is in its third month of operations to defeat ISIS in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
"A year ago the liberation of Mosul was just some ideas and some lines on paper. The liberation of Raqqa was not even that," the general said.
After the intense fighting in Mosul, the Iraqi forces regrouped, quickly refitting and transitioning their force into a new offensive in Tal Afar, west of Mosul, he said.
In Syria, the terrorists are surrounded and cut off, but continue to show their cruelty as they hide among women and children and show no regard for noncombatants, according to Townsend.
The U.S. remains united with its partners and committed in the lasting defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and to prevent the terrorists from "exporting their terror around the world and to protect our homelands," he said.
"Victory over ISIS is assured in Tal Afar and Raqqa," the general said.
The coalition, Townsend said, must continue to disrupt ISIS's ability to inspire new recruits, deprive the terrorists of sanctuary, interrupt their revenue streams, destroy their equipment, kill their fighters and deny their ability to attack the homelands.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)