It is our mission to ensure that any foreign fighter that joins this organization in Iraq and Syria dies in Iraq and Syria. We are not just going to push them from one area to another.
Special Envoy of the US President for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS
Baghdad: The Iraqi forces, backed by the US and the global coalition to counter ISIS, are in the final stages of the Mosul campaign.
“About 250 meters or so are now left in Mosul against a suicidal enemy that is barricaded with civilians in buildings.”
This is how Brett McGurk, Special Envoy of the US President for the Global Coalition to counter ISIS described in a nutshell how the ISIS fighters now holed up in Mosul at a press conference here on Saturday (8 July 2017).
McGurk said almost every ISIS fighter we are finding now has a suicide vest on. They are killing civilians to defend themselves. This has been ongoing for months. So even 250 meters will remain difficult, but this will culminate soon.
Here in Iraq, we are in the final phase of the Mosul campaign, so that’s the immediate focus. But this campaign against ISIS is global, McGurk pointed out. The objective is not just about defeating ISIS. It’s about defeating the ideology that ISIS represents, it’s about liberating the population, and it’s about working with local actors to return people to their homes after ISIS. Restoring these communities, reconstructing these communities, is something that will take many years, he observed.
Even after Mosul, McGurk said, the fight against Daesh will not be over. It is the mission of the Government of Iraq to restore all of its sovereign territory, and reclaim all of its sovereign territory from Daesh. We are committed to helping Iraq reclaim all of its sovereign space. So we will help the Iraqi Security Forces in future operations. There is Tal Afar, there is al-Qaim, there is Western Anbar, where ISIS still retains a presence, and there is Hawija. So the one thing I will guarantee — and I think our record now speaks to this — ISIS will lose. Any territory they are still holding they will lose.
Describing the hurdles being encountered in the Mosul campaign, McGurk said the fighters in Mosul — almost all of them in ISIS — are wearing suicide vests. There is a large concentration of foreign fighters: Chechens, Uighurs, others from all around the world that came to Iraq to terrorize the Iraqi people are now holed up in this last section of Mosul. They are using civilians as human shields.
Further, McGurk explained, what mainly fueled ISIS, particularly in Iraq, was the injection of foreign fighters. Almost 40,000 foreign fighters from all around the world came into Syria. Many of them came into Iraq. These are mostly the suicide bombers, the snipers, the very hardened kind of units that we see on the battlefield. Many of these are foreign fighters. We have largely stopped the flow of foreign fighters flowing into Syria, and Turkey has been quite instrumental in that. And we continue to work very closely with them.
The effective tactics against Daesh require intelligence, local knowledge, a very good military plan on the ground to root them out. You don’t fight this enemy with ballistic missiles, the prsidential envoy observed.
In McGurk’s words: “The Mosul campaign has been a political campaign, a military campaign, a humanitarian campaign, and a stabilization campaign. The military campaign, I think at this point, speaks for itself. This has been a year-long campaign. It really started when the Iraqi Security Forces recaptured the Qayyarah West Air Base south of Mosul. That was about a year ago, and that has proceeded almost precisely on the plan that the Iraqi commanders and Prime Minister Abadi laid out, and laid out for our generals. And we have been very proud to help them. Step by step, this has proceeded almost according to plan.”
The Iraqi military has put civilian protection at the top of its campaign plan. This is one of the most difficult urban battles—and I defer to my military experts, many of whom are combat-hardened veterans. One of the most difficult urban campaign battles we have seen since World War II, particularly in the western side of the city, in these last phases of the campaign. Many of my military colleagues were recounting last night they have never seen anything like it. The heroism of the Iraqi Security Forces, which are fighting to liberate people in Mosul, taking casualties to liberate their citizens, and continuing to advance, has been remarkable and heroic, and we are proud to work with them.
McGurk spoke about the global coalition, almost 73 members, scheduled to gather in Washington, D.C. this week, with a focus on continuing to support the Government of Iraq in this very difficult effort. He also disclosed that he held discussions with the Prime Minister on Tuesday night on “their Vision 2030” about economic reform, about critical reconstruction needs. The US is working under the Strategic Framework Agreement that it has with Iraq to support those efforts, he added.
In Syria, McGurk said, the campaign to liberate Raqqa is now underway. Syrian Democratic Forces have penetrated into the old City of Raqqa. Similar to Mosul, step by step, block by block, ISIS is being defeated and is now totally isolated and surrounded in Raqqa.
On engagement with Russia on Syria, McGurk said this is something that nearly all of the coalition partners in the region have encouraged. Hence that engagement will continue. The US has worked out de-confliction arrangements with the Russian Federation, which is helping to enable and speed up the overall campaign against ISIS, and that is going fairly well. After the very important meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Hamburg, an arrangement for a ceasefire in Southwest Syria has been concluded, together with close partner Jordan,. This is the first step in a process for a more durable arrangement in Southwest Syria.
Inside Syria, McGurk said, it is our mission to ensure that any foreign fighter, anyone that came around the world thinking they would be able to sit here in Iraq or in Syria and terrorize the Iraqi people or the Syrian people, or plan and plot attacks against the United States, against our partners, against concert-goers in Manchester, against people trying to take a train, against people eating ice cream here in Baghdad, if they thought they were going to come here and then be able to go back to their home and live a safe life, they are mistaken.
On referendum, McGurk said the US has made its opposition to holding this referendum on September 25th quite clear. We have called on the Kurdistan Regional Government to reconsider the decision. And we urge on the pursuit of dialogue with the Central Government on the basis of the Iraqi constitution. All eyes right now must remain fixed on the enemy of Daesh, which is not defeated.