WASHINGTON (April 28, 2016) —
Moves made last year in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
have proved effective and U.S. officials have capitalized on that
success to accelerate the counter-ISIL campaign, Defense Secretary Ash
Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.
The decisions to base additional aircraft in Turkey
and field advisors have paid off, he said, through increased
counter-ISIL indigenous force capabilities, improved intelligence on
ISIL, regained territory and increased ISIL isolation.
“Based on the results we’ve had, and our desire to continue
accelerating ISIL’s lasting defeat, we are conducting the ‘next plays’
of the military campaign,” Carter said.
Next Moves Against ISIL
The next moves in the counter-ISIL campaign include stabilizing
Iraq’s Anbar province, generating enough Iraqi forces to envelop Mosul,
and identifying and developing more local forces in Syria able to
isolate and pressure Raqqa, the secretary said. Coalition forces, he
added, will also provide more firepower, sustainment and logistical
support to partners to enable them to collapse ISIL’s control over both
Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa.
The United States will place advisors with Iraqi forces down to
the brigade and battalion level, Carter said. “We’ll be leveraging
Apache attack helicopters to support ... efforts to envelop and then
retake Mosul,” Carter said.
U.S. artillery units will support the Iraqi ground offensive against
Mosul, and the United States will provide up to $415 million to the
Kurdish peshmerga, “one of the most effective fighting forces against
ISIL,” he said.
U.S. actions are aimed at helping indigenous forces isolate and
pressure Raqqa -- ISIL’s self-styled capital. “We’re increasing U.S.
forces there six-fold, from 50 to 300,” the secretary said.
“These additional 250 personnel, including special operations
forces,” Carter said, “will help expand our ongoing efforts to identify,
train and equip capable [and] motivated local anti-ISIL forces inside
Syria, especially among the Sunni Arab community.”
Local Forces Fight ISIL
The additional U.S. forces will also serve as a hub to
incorporate special operators from Europe and the Persian Gulf states,
who “will augment our coalition’s counter-ISIL efforts there,” the
defense secretary said.
U.S. strategy looks to begin training counter-ISIL forces
inside Syria, he said, keeping the focus “on battle-hardened, proven
anti-ISIL leaders whom we can make more capable as enablers and
amplifiers of our effects.”
Iraq and Syria represent the most dangerous portions of ISIL,
Carter noted, but the terror group has spread to other areas and the
U.S. military is addressing it in those areas as well.
“In Afghanistan, since we authorized our forces to conduct
targeted strikes against ISIL there, we’ve been able to degrade the
terrorist group’s elements in the country,” he said. “And in Libya, we
have continued to follow ISIL activities closely, undertaking a
successful strike last year in which we took out ISIL’s key leader in
the country, and another strike in February against an ISIL training
As Libya’s new government gains strength and credibility, the United
States will support its fight against ISIL, the secretary added. “We
will counter ISIL and work with partners wherever ISIL has or tries to
gain a foothold, whether in Yemen, West Africa, or South and Southeast
Asia,” Carter said.
Yet, all is not suddenly rosy in Iraq and Syria, the secretary
told the senators. The Iraqi government is feeling political and
economic pressures that may influence the pace of the military campaign,
“In Iraq, as the proximity of the ISIL threat against Baghdad
has diminished, political ambitions have created discord, and, in some
instances, ethno-sectarian competition has increased -- creating an
added burden and distraction for Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi’s]
government before the task of defeating ISIL is complete,” Carter said.
“This, of course, is occurring while Iraq struggles with significant
fiscal challenges due to the lower price of oil and a huge
reconstruction bill as it retakes cities from ISIL.”
In Syria, competing agendas for the future of the political
transition inhibit generating and coalescing anti-ISIL forces, he said.
“I’ve articulated a clear strategy with the end-state being a
lasting defeat of ISIL -- and that means it must be achieved by local
forces,” the secretary said. “Our strategic approach is therefore to
enable such forces to collapse ISIL’s control of Mosul and Raqqa by
bringing to bear in support of them the full might of the U.S. military
through some of our most cutting-edge capabilities.
“Enabling local forces -- not substituting for them -- is
necessary to ensure a lasting defeat [of ISIL],” he continued. “And
sometimes, that means our pace is predicated on the speed at which local
forces can absorb our enabling.”