In the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the center of gravity remains the coalition network of allies and partner nations, the commander of U.S. Central Command told Pentagon reporters today.
“Without them, we are unable to achieve the pressure against ISIS that is required for their defeat,” Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel said via videoconference from CENTCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
The coalition of 77 nations and international organizations remains committed to achieving the lasting defeat of ISIS and its pervasive and negative ideology, Votel said. And as major combat operations near completion in Iraq, the fight to defeat ISIS is not over, he added.
“We must work with our Iraqi partners to set the conditions that will prevent their resurgence,” the general said. “With the newly elected government of Iraq taking shape, we will continue our efforts to support the Iraqi security forces in their transition from major combat operations to the wide-area security force that the Iraqi people want and deserve, and that will be necessary to consolidate their hard-won gains.”
The addition of the complementary NATO training mission in Iraq, which will achieve operating capability this fall, will be key to the effort, Votel added.
Syrian Democratic Forces: Steady Progress
With the coalition and U.S. partners on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces are making steady progress in Syria against ISIS, Votel said.
“This week's liberation of the Dashisha area along the Iraq-Syria border is an important milestone, but military success against ISIS requires continued international cooperation to promote regional security and stability, and [to] identify governance, security and economic solutions that will ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS,” the CENTCOM commander said.
While consolidation of military gains is likely the most important and often the most difficult aspect of the U.S.-led campaign, it is also the phase that the coalition is quickly moving toward, Votel noted. “There is certainly more fighting to do,” he said, “but I am confident our partners and the coalition will prevail.”
As the defeat of ISIS in Syria becomes more imminent, the other long-standing underlying issues that have led to Syria's instability are coming back to prominence, the general emphasized.
“Russia's support and protection has allowed the Syrian regime to escape full accountability for their use of chemical weapons and the horrendous violence against their own people, and has exacerbated the human suffering for hundreds of thousands [of people] in the western part of the country in particular,” Votel said.
The United States continues its communication and deconfliction with Russian commanders to ensure safety of U.S. and coalition forces and compliance with U.S. international obligations, he noted, adding that deconfliction continues to be a largely professional military exchange.
Iran's continued malign presence in pursuit of its unilateral objectives threaten not only Syria, but also Syria's neighbors, and it prolongs resolution of the conflict, the general said.
“To ensure long-term stability, security and effective governance for the people of northeast Syria, we recently began conducting independent, coordinated patrols with our NATO ally Turkey near Manbij [in Syria], to implement a diplomatically agreed arrangement that addresses our mutual security interests,” Votel said.
As part of the diplomatic roadmap, “we will soon begin the necessary training to conduct joint combined patrols along portions of the demarcation line in this extremely complex environment,” the CENTCOM commander said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)