The contributions of coalition partners in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are invaluable, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today at the opening of the counter-ISIL small group defense ministerial at Hexagone Balard, the new French defense ministry building in Paris.
The secretary, in prepared remarks, said the coalition defense ministers’ attendance at the ministerial is vital to the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.
“In a few weeks, everyone here in France and around the world will mark the anniversary of the 13 November Paris attacks,” Carter said. “In the year since, the French people have stood resolute in the face of terror. And the United States is proud to stand with France, … and I know each member of this coalition feels the same.”
The secretary told the ministerial members tomorrow marks another important anniversary. “A year ago, President [Barack] Obama approved the first in a series of decisions to begin accelerating our campaign against ISIL,” he said.
In a news conference with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian following the talks, Carter said he and Le Drian an "excellent" meeting with 11 of their counterparts. The purpose of the conference, he said, was fourfold:
-- To review the results of the coalition's military campaign plan;
-- To identify what the coalition can do to continue to accelerate the accomplishment of the campaign;
-- To discuss how the coalition partners can better protect themselves; and
-- To address how to sustain and evolve the robust coalition.
Mosul Operation According To Plan
Carter, who visited Iraq last weekend, said he is encouraged to see the counter-ISIL campaign “proceeding according to the plan we laid out." Iraqi forces, he said, are fighting with skill, commitment and courage.
"Today, we as members of the coalition, resolve to follow through with that same sense of urgency and focus on enveloping and collapsing ISIL's control over Raqqa as well," he said, noting the groundwork has begun to commence the isolation of the Syrian city.
A core objective of the campaign, he noted, is to destroy ISIL's "parent tumor” in Iraq and Syria. "And we're on track to do just that," he added.
Mosul Battle 'Long Time Coming'
Ten days ago, Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake Mosul from ISIL’s two-year control, and are on their way to collapsing enemy control over the city, he said.
“This battle has been a long time coming, but it was important for our partners to take the time to build their capacity, to plan, prepare and posture the right forces and to incorporate lessons learned from previous battles in the campaign,” Carter said in his remarks opening the counter-ISIL conference. “It’s also critical that the Iraqi security forces are in the lead, with every country operating with full respect for Iraqi sovereignty.”
The secretary said his meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi in Baghdad and Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani in Irbil went well, and he commended both leaders for achieving unity and historic military cooperation as they lead their Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga security forces fighting ISIL.
“We could not ask for two better partners,” he said. “They’ve both kept their word. They’ve set aside their differences and united in shared resolve against their common enemy, ISIL. Since the start of this operation, the noose has been tightening around Mosul from multiple axes of attack.”
Enemy Defeat Is Accelerating
To accelerate ISIL’s defeat, the secretary pointed out, the coalition is providing a range of capabilities to enable the Iraqis to continue to shrink ISIL’s brutal hold over Iraq’s territory.
“The coalition is also eliminating ISIL’s leadership in Mosul -- targeting more than 35 ISIL commanders there, including many of the highest, in the last 90 days. In fact, you might say the most dangerous job in Iraq right now is to be the military emir of Mosul,” he said.
While he is encouraged by the results of the Mosul operation so far as it proceeds according to plan, Carter added the fight to liberate the city of more than 1 million residents will be tough.
“We’ll probably see more resistance as the fight goes on, and almost certainly as our partners approach the core of the city,” he said, adding, “I’m confident the Iraqi security forces will succeed.”
Local Forces In Raqqa, Syria Critical to ISIL Defeat
While the operation to retake Mosul continues, the operation in Syria to liberate Raqqa from ISIL control also is under way, Carter said.
“Our local Syrian partners will certainly collapse ISIL’s control [in Raqqa] as well,” he told the coalition defense ministers, adding, “As we meet here, we’re helping to generate the local forces that will commence the isolation of Raqqa because the force that takes Raqqa will have to be a local force. That’s vital to ISIL’s lasting defeat.”
Additionally, Carter noted, “We’re working with our Turkish partners and, importantly, local forces to seal the Turkey-Syria border between Jarabulus and the Ma’ra line. Our goal there is to cut off the flow of foreign fighters that could threaten Turkey and all of our countries.”
The ongoing and intensive effort to counter ISIL’s external operations is a critical issue for discussion at the ministerial today, Carter said.
“We are killing the ISIL terrorists who plot and would carry out such operations, impeding their movement across borders, and hindering their ability to use the Internet to spread ISIL’s hateful ideology and lure the lost to violence,” the secretary said. “But there’s more work to do, which is another reason why I look forward to our discussions today.”
Commending all coalition partners for their commitment to the defeat of ISIL, “Together with our local partners, we will deliver ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves,” Carter said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk and Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD and @FerdinandoDoD)