By Terri Moon Cronk
WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 – Vowing to achieve a lasting defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces, Defense Secretary Ash Carter outlined the Defense Department’s counterterrorism strategy today in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
The secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey discussed the latest developments in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where U.S.-led coalition allies and partners are assisting and advising local forces.
The United States will not let up until it has destroyed ISIL and al-Qaida affiliated terrorists that pose dangers to the homeland, friends and allies in the region, the secretary said.
“The past few weeks serve as a reminder to terrorists bent on harming the United States and our interests … [that] we have the capability to reach out and strike them,” Carter said.
Today, 35,000 U.S. forces are postured in the region, allowing the military to “strike ISIL and al-Qaida terrorists and check Iranian malign influence,” Carter noted.
U.S. core interests also assure Israel’s “continued qualitative military edge, and why we’re working with our Gulf partners to make them more capable of defending themselves against external aggression,” he added.
Those interests also are why the United States is supporting efforts for political settlements to crises throughout the region, from Yemen to Libya to Syria, the secretary said.
ISIL presents a “grave threat” to U.S. friends and allies in the Middle East and around the world, from Africa and Europe to parts of Asia, he said, because of its “steady metastasis.” It also threatens the U.S. homeland, he added, based on its avowed intentions to strike and recruit in the United States.
“ISIL must be — and will be — dealt a lasting defeat,” Carter told the committee.
Strategy Involves All National Security Agencies
President Barack Obama’s counter-ISIL strategy draws from all U.S. national security agencies to degrade and defeat ISIL, Carter said. The strategy and military campaign make up a global coalition that reflects a worldwide consensus to counter the ISIL threat, he added.
The counter-ISIL strategy is based on nine lines of effort that reflect the “breadth of this challenge and the tools needed to combat it,” the secretary said:
— First, the crucial political effort to build more effective, inclusive, multisectarian governance.
— Second and third are the DoD-led efforts to deny ISIL safe haven and build partner capacity in Iraq and Syria. DoD, alongside coalition partners, is conducting a bombing campaign from the air, advising and assisting Iraqi security forces on the ground, and training and equipping trusted local forces.
— Fourth is enhancing collection of intelligence on ISIL.
— Fifth is disrupting ISIL’s finances.
— Sixth and seventh are to counter ISIL’s messaging and disrupt the flow of foreign fighters to and from the extremists.
— Eighth is providing humanitarian support to people displaced by or vulnerable to ISIL.
— Ninth is protecting the homeland by disrupting terrorist threats.
“The effective execution of all nine of these lines of effort by the United States and its coalition partners is plainly necessary to ensure overall success,” Carter said.
DoD Lines of Effort
DoD’s airstrike campaigns in Iraq and Syria have “produced some clear results in limiting ISIL’s freedom of movement, constraining its ability to reinforce its fighters, and impeding command and control,” Carter said.
Airstrikes also helped local forces make key achievements, such as the success of anti-ISIL forces that took the key town of Tal Abyad over the weekend, he said.
“The airstrikes are also buying critical time and space required to carry out DoD’s second line of effort — developing the capacity and capabilities of legitimate local ground forces,” Carter said.
Calling the ground campaign a “work in progress,” Carter said a combination of disunity, deserters and “ghost soldiers” — who are paid on the books but don’t exist — have greatly diminished the capacity of Iraq’s security forces.
Local Forces Must Be on Ground
Given such challenges, ISIL’s lasting defeat requires local forces on the ground, which Carter said the U.S. military will continue to develop and enable.
“Putting U.S. combat troops on the ground as a substitute for local forces will not produce enduring results,” he said. Both anti-ISIL campaigns in Iraq and Syria require capable, motivated, legitimate, local ground forces to seize, clear, and hold terrain for a lasting, enduring defeat, he said.
Carter said ISIL’s takeover of Ramadi last month was “deeply disappointing,” but it highlights how important capable and motivated Iraqi ground forces are in the anti-ISIL campaign.
After Ramadi’s fall, DoD and White House officials determined that the existing strategic framework was still the correct approach, but enhanced training of the security forces was needed and the process to equip them was too slow, Carter said.
Expedited Equipment Deliveries
Essential equipment deliveries, such as anti-tank capabilities and equipment to counter improvised explosive devices have since been expedited to Iraqi security forces and Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces, he said.
“We also determined that we could enable Iraqi security forces with more tailored advice and assistance, including critical outreach to local Sunni communities,” the secretary said.
And based on DoD recommendations, the president authorized deployment of 450 personnel to Iraq’s Taqqadum military base in Anbar province to establish an additional site for advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces, Carter noted.
U.S. forces will also provide much-needed operational advice and planning support to the Iraqi security forces Anbar Operations Center, he said.
“We expect that this move will open a new dimension in our and Iraq’s efforts to recruit Sunnis into the fight and to help the Iraqis coordinate and plan the critical effort to roll back ISIL in Anbar province,” Carter said.
Lack of Recruits Slowed Training
But the lack of Iraqi security forces recruits has slowed training, the secretary said, adding that while 24,000 recruits were anticipated by this fall, only 7,000 were trained, in addition to 2,000 counterterrorism service personnel.
All sectors of the Iraqi government must make a greater commitment to the recruitment and training effort, he said.
Positive Signs Showing
Despite the challenges, positive signs exist, the secretary said, noting that he has met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani, and last week with Speaker Salim al-Jabouri of Iraq’s parliament. “They fully understand the need to empower more localized, multi-sectarian Iraqi security forces and address persistent organizational and leadership failures,” the defense secretary told the House panel.
Because a sovereign, multisectarian Iraq is more likely to seal a lasting defeat of ISIL, the United States must continue working with and through the Iraqi government in all actions, including Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces support, he said.
U.S. efforts must reinforce inclusivity and multi-sectarianism and not fuel a reversal to sectarianism, which would make the lasting defeat of ISIL harder, not easier, Carter noted.
ISIL in Syria a Bigger Challenge
Syria’s battle with ISIL extremists is more complex, Carter said, citing the lack of a legitimate government partner and many competing forces in that country.
“Our train-and-equip mission in Syria has been challenging,” he said, “but the requirement for a capable and motivated counter-ISIL ground force there also means we must persist in our efforts.”
Carter vowed to continue airstrikes against ISIL forces in Syria, and to work with Syrian neighbors to impede the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria and Iraq.
“Success in this campaign can and must be assured,” Carter said. “It will take time and require consistent effort on everyone’s part — the entire U.S. government, our entire international coalition, and most importantly, the Iraqi and Syrian peoples.”
“Together, and with your support, including your support for America’s troops and their families, for which I, and they, are ever grateful — we will achieve ISIL’s lasting defeat,” the defense secretary told the committee.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)
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