The United States will deploy approximately 200 additional forces to combat Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces in Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during his speech today at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain.
The additional U.S. troops, which will include special operations forces, trainers, advisors and explosive ordnance disposal teams, will assist in coalition efforts to eject ISIL from Raqqa, the terrorist group’s self-styled capital in Syria, the secretary said.
“These uniquely skilled operators will join the 300 U.S. special operations forces already in Syria, to continue organizing, training, equipping and otherwise enabling capable, motivated, local forces to take the fight to ISIL, and also bringing down to bear the full weight of U.S. forces around the theater of operations like the funnel of a giant tornado,” Carter said. “This latest commitment of additional forces within Syria is another important step in enabling our partners to deal ISIL a lasting defeat.”
Carter said the Middle East region is home to a strong U.S. military posture comprising more than 58,000 American personnel ashore and afloat — including more than 5,000 on the ground in Iraq and Syria — along with air, ground, maritime and ballistic missile defense assets. These forces, he said, are not only countering terrorists like ISIL and al-Qaida; they are deterring aggression and protecting U.S. interests and allies.
The U.S. has reached a critical milestone in the counter-ISIL coalition’s military campaign plan, the secretary said.
“As we meet today in Bahrain, American and coalition forces are engaged in an intense effort to help isolate and collapse ISIL’s control over Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, bringing the great weight of our entire range of capabilities to bear in the enabling of capable and motivated local forces,” he said. “The seizure of these two cities is necessary to ensure the destruction of ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria — the primary objective of our military campaign — and put ISIL on an irreversible path to a lasting defeat.”
Reaching this point is the result of deliberate actions taken since last year, Carter said. Back in 2015, Carter said h consolidated the war efforts for Iraq and Syria under a single, unified command — first led by Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, and now by Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend.
Last October, Carter said, he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford developed, and President Barack Obama approved, the first in a series of recommendations to accelerate the counter-ISILcampaign —
“Since then, President Obama has approved every recommendation for additional forces and capabilities that the chairman and I have taken to him as we saw opportunities to accelerate the campaign — including just last week,” Carter said.
The overall coalition military campaign plan devised last year had and continues to have three objectives, Carter said. The first, he said, is to destroy the ISIL cancer’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, “because the sooner we crush both the fact and the idea of an Islamic state based on ISIL’s barbaric ideology, the safer we’ll all be.”
The second objective, he continued, is to combat ISIL’s metastases everywhere they emerge around the world: in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. The third objective, he said, is to work with U.S. intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement partners to help protect the U.S. homeland and its people from attack.
“The strategic approach of our military campaign in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere is to leverage all the tools at our disposal to enable capable, motivated, local forces to deal ISIL a lasting defeat,” Carter said. “IT was necessary to recommend this strategic approach because the only way to ensure that once defeated ISIL stays defeated is to enable local forces to seize and hold territory rather than substitute for them. Consistent with this approach, we have employed some of the U.S. military’s and our coalition partners’ most unique and exquisite capabilities, and some of our most specialized personnel — from air power and special operations forces, to train, advise, assist capabilities on the ground, to logistics and mobility, to intelligence and cyber tools.”
Carter added, “These assets have been able to not only help directly enable local forces on the ground; they can also bring to bear the full weight of American and coalition military might.”
By combining U.S. capabilities with local partners, they have been squeezing ISIIL with simultaneous pressure from all sides and across domains through a series of deliberate actions to continue to build momentum, the secretary said.
“For example, when U.S. and coalition special operators conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders, it creates a virtuous cycle of better intelligence,” he said. “This, in turn, generates more targets, more raids, more airstrikes and more opportunities that can be seized to generate even more momentum.”
Carter said countries from across the counter-ISIL coalition, including some in the region, are contributing to these military efforts. Many in the Middle East host coalition forces, enabling the U.S. to bring to bear force more efficiently, he said.
“Some are contributing on the ground or have contributed in the air campaign. And countries closest to the fight are making a key difference — including Jordan and Turkey,” Carter said. “Turkey, for example, hosts coalition strike aircraft at Incirlik, as well as a High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, at Gazientep. And Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield is helping to seal the Turkish-Syrian border so that ISIL can no longer exploit it.”
He added, “As a result of all of this, since last year — play by play, accelerant on top of accelerant, town after town, from every direction and in every domain — the campaign has delivered significant results.”
In Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces have been helping the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces to systematically dislodge ISIL from city after city, such as Ramadi, Hit, Rutbah, Fallujah, Mahkmur and Qayyarah, Carter said. With the help of the U.S., the coalition is now taking back the neighborhoods in eastern Mosul and moving west, he said.
“This is a complex mission that will take time to accomplish, but I am confident that ISIL’s days in Mosul are numbered,” the secretary said.
Carter said the U.S. and local partners put an end to ISIL’s expansion in Syria, and began to systematically roll it back toward Raqqa. That, he said, is “an important objective, since it is the so-called capital of the so-called caliphate, and a hub for plotters of external attacks.”
The secretary added, “After helping capable, motivated, local Syrian partners defend Kobani, we enabled them and other local forces to retake Shaddadi, the Tishrin Dam, Manbij, Jarabulus and Dabiq — not only denying ISILcontrol over those areas, but also cutting off some of its primary lines of communication into Iraq and Turkey.”
The U.S. is now helping tens of thousands of local Syrian forces isolate Raqqa, from which they’re now only 15 miles away, Carter said. The U.S. is helping them generate the additional local forces necessary to seize and hold the city of Raqqa, he said.
In addition to taking back territory, the campaign is yielding results in denying ISIL the finances, supplies, freedom of movement, and command and control it needs to survive, the secretary said.
“As a coalition, we’ve systematically targeted ISIL-controlled oil wells, trucks for smuggling the oil — including, just on Thursday, 168 trucks in a single strike, the largest airstrike of this kind to date — and we’ve also targeted revenue repositories as well. We’ve deliberately focused on severing the territory ISIL controls in Syria from the territory it controls in Iraq,” Carter said. “Leaders of the terrorist group can no longer travel between Raqqa and Mosul without the risk of either being struck from the air or hunted down by the coalition’s Expeditionary Targeting Force. In fact, since we began accelerating our campaign last year, we’ve killed the majority of ISIL’s most-senior leaders.”
Carter said while these results in Iraq and Syria are encouraging, the coalition must stay focused on the continued execution of the plan.
“The inevitable collapse of ISIL’s control over Mosul and Raqqa will certainly put ISIL on a path to a lasting defeat, but there will still be much more to do after that to make sure that, once defeated, ISIL stays defeated,” he said.
Meeting With Bahrain’s King
Also today in Manama, the secretary met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of the Kingdom of Bahrain, according to a DoD news release.
The two leaders discussed the strength of the U.S.-Bahraini defense relationship, the enduring nature of the U.S. presence in Bahrain, and the steadfast U.S. commitment to regional security, the release said.
During the meeting, Carter noted his appreciation for Bahrain’s continued support for U.S. personnel and especially for the long-standing support for U.S. Naval Support Activity – Bahrain, according to the release.
Carter also briefed Bahrain’s king on the counter-ISIL coalition’s progress toward Mosul and Raqqa, the release said. The secretary pointed out that Bahrain’s support of the coalition was a critical component of the campaign’s successes.
Carter and Bahrain’s king also agreed on the need to focus not only on battlefield victories, but also on winning the peace by focusing on reconstruction, stabilization, and reconciliation after ISIL is driven from Iraq and Syria, the release said.
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)