WASHINGTON, July 8, 2015 – The Defense Department and a global coalition share the intent to deal the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant a lasting defeat, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday.
Carter, joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the department’s counter-ISIL strategy.
“The administration’s strategy to achieve [ISIL’s lasting defeat], as the Joint Chiefs’ doctrinal definition of strategy puts it, integrates all the nation’s strengths and instruments of power,” Carter said, describing nine synchronized lines of effort.
Seven of the nine are outside the department’s area of responsibility and include political, intelligence, financial, counterterrorism, humanitarian and homeland-defense efforts, he told the panel. DoD leads two interconnected lines of effort: denying ISIL safe haven and building partner capacity in Iraq and Syria, the secretary said.
To execute these efforts, he added, the department and coalition partners are conducting an air campaign, advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces on the ground, and training and equipping vetted local forces in Iraq and for Syria.
The U.S. and its and coalition partners have conducted more than 5,000 airstrikes that have limited ISIL’s freedom of movement, constrained its ability to reinforce its fighters and degraded its command and control, Carter said.
Coalition air support has enabled gains by local forces in Iraq and Syria, including Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces, who recently took the key border town of Tal Abyad from ISIL, cut one of its key lines of communication and supply and put ISIL on the defensive, pressuring its stronghold in Raqqah.
“Those examples demonstrate again that where we have a credible ground force working in a coordinated way with the coalition air campaign, ISIL has suffered,” Carter said.
“That’s what makes … developing the capacity and capabilities of local forces so important,” he added.
Success against ISIL requires capable local ground forces rather than putting U.S. combat troops on the ground as a substitute, Carter noted.
“That’s why we’re bolstering Iraq’s security forces and building moderate vetted Syrian opposition forces. But both of these efforts need strengthening,” he said.
In Syria, the department is three months into its train-and-equip mission. Training is underway and work is ongoing to screen and vet nearly 7,000 volunteers, he said, “to ensure they are committed to fighting ISIL, pass a counterintelligence screening and meet standards prescribed by U.S. law regarding the law of armed conflict and necessitated by operations.”
As of July 3, the department is training about 60 fighters, Carter told the panel, adding that vetting standards have whittled the expected numbers.
“But we know this program is essential,” he said. “We need a partner on the ground in Syria to assure ISIL’s lasting defeat.” In Iraq, the department is working to equip vetted local forces and expediting delivery of equipment and materiel to Iraqi security forces, Carter said.
The department is working with the Iraqi government to make sure it quickly passes the equipment to Kurdish peshmerga and Sunni tribal forces, the secretary added, noting that forces in Syria will be equipped as they complete training.
“We’re constantly assessing this approach,” Carter said. “The strategy is the right one,” he added, “but its execution can and will be strengthened, especially on the ground.”
In Iraq, the effort is focused on increasing participation in and the throughput of training facilities. In Syria, the goal is to capitalize on recent successes in Kobane and Tal Abyad and continue striking ISIL’s nerve center in Raqqah, Carter told the panel.
“Achieving ISIL’s lasting defeat will require continued commitment and steady leadership from the United States and our global coalition,” the secretary said, “hard work by our men and women in uniform, essential … efforts along the other seven lines of effort, and most importantly, commitment and sacrifice by Iraqis and Syrians.”