Counterterrorism: Coalition Efforts Against ISIL
Washington DC: US President’s Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk said in a special briefing Friday that after Ramadi fell about 90 days ago ISIL wanted to sweep east down the Euphrates River and, again, pressure Baghdad, basically collapse the Iraqi Security Forces.
After the fall of Ramadi, McGurk said that the US has made an immediate decision and working with Prime Minister Abadi and on his and the Iraqi Government’s invitation, the US sent some of its Special Forces units into Taqaddum Air Base to help the Iraqis regroup, reorganize, recruit local fighters, and begin to push back. They halted that ISIL advance entirely, and now they are moving on Ramadi. But given what ISIL tried to do and given where they are now, that is now going the right away, although it’s extremely, extremely difficult. Iraqi Security Forces in this operation to retake Ramadi have already suffered about 1200 casualties; about 200 dead. They are fighting, they’re dying to retake their country, and that’s something that we are very much going to help them do.
Briefing the media, McGurk further said going up the Euphrates River Valley there is Haditha. It has been a focus for ISIL. They’ve poured everything they possibly could at it and they have failed. The US, Danes and Australians have worked with the coalition at Al Asad Air Base They are not only working with Iraqi Security Forces but also working with local tribal fighters, and they have now gone from defensive maneuver to actually expanding their presence and defeating ISIL and doing offensive operations.
Finally, McGurk said, Al-Raqqa is where the US backed coalition thinks the ISIL leaders are, where a lot of their planning cells exist. The coalition is going to do all it possibly can politically, diplomatically, and across the economic line of effort, to isolate and entrap ISIL in al-Raqqa
About 98-kilometer area is the last area of the border that ISIL still controls with Turkey. On the top left, there’s a town called Mar’a – the Mar’a line – that is the extent of ISIL’s westward advance. They have tried, now, for a number of months to move further west. The US has worked very hard with the Turks diplomatically, extremely close cooperation with Turkey, and with groups that are on the ground to ensure that this is going to be the extent of ISIL’s western advance, and now the US backd forces are going to start pushing them back.
When it comes to the Incirlik Air Base, the US has significantly increased its presence with F-16s, with A- 10s, and most recently with F-15s. This is a result of an agreement that the US negotiated with the Turks about three or four months ago.
The US is coordinating closely with Turkey about their activities on the ground going on now with the fighters on the Mar’a line against ISIL, and also when it comes to the Turks and action by them on their side of the border to shut off the last stretch of territory to ISIL.
On the East where the Euphrates River bisects Syria, the entire eastern side of the Euphrates River, which a year or so ago was almost all entirely under ISIL, is now entirely inhospitable to ISIL. That, of course, started in the town of Kobani. At one point, a few hundred of the fighters in Kobani were defending the town. The US made a decision about a year ago to help them, starting with an airdrop and then military support.
McGurk pointed out that a very significant defeat has been inflicted to ISIL. Their main border entry point, Tal Abyad, which was their hub; it was their economic hub; it was their – where they processed all their foreign fighters, has been taken away. It is no longer an area in which they can do anything. And this expansion of the fighters in this part of Syria continues. In the East of Syria in Hasakah, south of there, Al-Hawl — the US has been working diplomatically trying to get the forces on the ground to work together. Cooperation with some of the Iraqi Kurds to make this all work has been very difficult. But over the last about 30 days, they’ve launched a series of operations against ISIL and has been quite successful taking that town of Al-Hawl and then pushing south.
Then a lot is happening in Sinjar. Sinjar. The US is coordinating with the Kurdish Peshmerga to help set up the conditions to do this. And that operation launched about two weeks ago, and the Kurdish Peshmerga retook the town of Sinjar.
The US is also focusing on the lifeline for Daesh, ISIL, in its core between Raqqa and Mosul – the I-95 corridor. It is a highway called Highway 47. And they’ve been able to traverse it only getting pressure on the air; they’ve not gotten pressure on the ground. Now, with the Kurdish Peshmerga retaking Sinjar, the main highway has been cut and simultaneous efforts are ongoing in Syria to constrict. This is part of the suffocation plan of the US that wants to isolate them in Raqqa; in Mosul; and then continue to strangle and increase the pressure, and that’s going to continue.
Mosul. We have worked with the Iraqi Peshmerga diplomatically and with the Government of Iraq to set up in Makhmour a joint headquarters where planning the operation of Mosul. Make no mistake, that’s going to take some time. But we are already now – there’s a new governor in Nineveh Province and working with him to recruit local fighters and organize them to begin to put pressure, constrict, and suffocate, and that’s something that will continue.
South towards Baghdad and the Tigris River, in the summer of 2014, ISIL was pouring down the Tigris River Valley, pressing on Baghdad. Now the dynamic is complete opposite. The Baiji oil refinery – something that I think historians will look at the fight for the Baiji oil refinery – and the Iraqis fought quite heroically there. We, of course, helped them. 14 months with air drops and military support, and Iraqi forces ultimately now have secured the Baiji refinery, secured Baiji and that is really now the extent of ISIL’s southern advance.
South to Baiji in Tikrit. Tikrit is very important because it’s where everything came together – the economic, political, and diplomatic. Extremely difficult situation at first. In terms of the retaking of Tikrit, there were a lot of Shia militia groups involved in that operation in the beginning. The Iraqi Government came to the US and asked for help. The US worked very closely with them diplomatically and politically to set the conditions in place to help them. They ultimately retook Tikrit. But since Tikrit has been retaken, what’s most important – this of course is an iconic Sunni city. And working with the global coalition, with the United Nations, with the Government of Iraq, the US heled in setting up an international stabilization fund to help get refugees back into the city of Tikrit. And now about 75 percent of the population has returned to Tikrit. That’s significant because in most areas here in Iraq and Syria the population is not returning to their homes.