Washington: The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS had a series of meetings hosted by Brett McGurk, the US President’s special envoy to the Coalition, in Washington this week.
Briefing media-persons here on Thursday, on the latest in the campaign to defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk said the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which welcomed Ethiopia as a new member is one of the largest coalitions in history. Besides Ethiopia, there were countries from the Lake Chad Basin in a very special session to talk about the unique aspects of counter-ISIS and counter-extremism in West Africa.
The sessions during the series of meeting in Washington this week were also focused on the recent events in Iraq and Syria. There was a very detailed discussion Thursday morning (US time) about Mosul and what comes after Mosul
McGurk told journalists that this has been a year long campaign in Mosul; it kind of culminated just over the last few days. In Syria, the Raqqa campaign now gets underway. Raqqa and Syria is much more complicated than Iraq, but fairly similar model. There the coalition is working by and preparing the ground for basic humanitarian and stabilization relief efforts.
Brett McGurk went on to underscore:
Almost 2 million Iraqis – 1.9 million Iraqis to be more precise – most of these Sunni Arabs – have returned to their home after ISIS was pushed out of their communities. Reconciliation from the bottom up is whats now happening and whats critical is that people are returning home.
On Return of ISIS
In terms of the return of ISIS, there will be political difficulties in Iraq for the rest of our lifetimes. That’s something that they will deal with through their political system. Very important meetings have been there with the Kurds over the past couple days. There has also been an important ministerial delegation from Baghdad that went to Erbil earlier this week to discuss issues of oil, electricity, bank exchanges – all sort of things.
What fueled ISIS
What really fueled ISIS and fueled the rise of ISIS were 40,000 foreign fighters poured into Syria over the course of about four years. These are the foreign fighters, the hardcore terrorists, the suicide bombers. And so you had in Iraq a situation in which 2010, ’11, ’12, about five to ten suicide bombers a month, which still – I mean, that’s kind of extraordinary to think about. That went up last year almost to a hundred suicide bombers a month, and even in 2014, it went up to 60, 70 a month. Any country, if you have all these people coming from all around the world to blow themselves up in mosques, ice cream parlors, killing children, killing children in soccer games – this is what was happening in Iraq. So long as you have that going on, from all these people from all around the world, it’s very difficult to talk about political progress, quite frankly.
We defeated ISIS on the ground and we pushed them out of their territory, we have also worked to shut down the flow of those foreign fighters. And the foreign fighters are not coming into Syria anymore, and those who are already in Iraq and Syria we’ve been working very hard to make sure that they can never get out.
Mosul is a huge city of 1.5 million people. The ambassador of Iraq to the United States, Fareed Yasseen, Ambassador Yasseen spoke addressed a session. His father is from Mosul, where the ISIS blew up the Grand Nuri mosque which stood there for 700 years. He said it would be like in France if terrorists took down the Eiffel Tower or here if they took down the Washington Monument, trying to put ourselves in the shoes of what that is like, and you can compare it to the Twin Towers on 9/11, waking up – anyone who lived in New York, you wake up every day and the towers are no longer there. That’s what’s happening in Mosul right now, so a tremendously traumatic experience for 1.5 million people who lived under these terrorists, and the city and its landscape changed forever.
East side of the city, where the battle ended about five months ago – and I discussed this today – we have 220,000 people are back in their homes. We have over 300,000 children that were living under ISIS are back in schools.
The Mosul campaign, this was one of the most difficult military operations since World War II. This was a campaign in a city of one and a half million people with an enemy that has barricaded themselves amongst the population. In the Old City of Mosul, in these final weeks of the battle, we had hundreds of foreign fighters from all around the world. I mentioned in my comments this morning we heard on the radios ISIS talking, speaking Chinese, French, Arabic with non-Iraqi dialects, Dutch, Russian – barricaded, killing civilians, in high-rise buildings.
Throughout the campaign in Mosul, we have seen – and our people have been on the ground advising Iraqi forces – we have seen them put protection of civilians at the top of their campaign plan, and Iraqi soldiers have died because of that focus on protecting civilians.
65,000 square kilometers have been cleared of ISIS. Four million people have been freed from ISIS. In Iraq alone, 1.9 million people back in their homes. We have never seen anything like that in a post-conflict environment.
The liberation of Nadia was delayed for a couple days as the ISIS terrorists were holed up in a building, and they had a number of civilians trapped in the basement. The Iraqi Security Forces could drop a bomb on that building, and it decided to work methodically to try to root out the terrorists from that building to save the civilians.
Anbar province was a major war zone a year ago but now a million people are back in their homes. There is a ton of problems in Iraq and Syria, but the record where the coalition is operating by with and through local partners, not only ISIS has been defeated, but they are not able to come back, and people are returning to their communities to restore their life..
In Tabqa, a town liberated two weeks ago, the landmines have been cleared from the roads only days earlier. There we have a devastated community where people had been living under ISIS for over three years. They talk about the children and the brainwashing and all that has to happen for these communities to recover. There’s a very long way to go, but there is this global coalition to do all it can to help.
End of the road for ISIS
ISIS has not retaken a single square kilometer that has been freed in coalition-enabled operations. This is not a situation in which we have a military campaign, we’re going to clear territory, and then it can’t be held. Every single speck of land that has been retaken in coalition-enabled operations has held. ISIS has not retaken any of it. Other extremist groups have not come back to retake any of it.
The objective is to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria under Security Council Resolutions 2254. But you cannot take Syria as just one problem set, because there are different problems in different areas. So if you take the southwest, what we did there – and I think quite successfully – is a very painstaking negotiation with Jordan and with Russia and with us trilaterally to map out a very detailed – we call it a line of contact – between opposition and regime forces. And everybody agreed on that line of contact, and that is the ceasefire line.
The Russians have made clear they are very serious about this and willing to put some of their people on the ground to help monitor from the regime side. They do not want the regime violating this ceasefire, and President Putin and President Trump in Hamburg had a very important meeting to kind of lock all this down. So what has been done in the southwest is different than what has been tried in other areas.
Shooting down of Syrian plane
Since the shooting down of that Syrian plane, by necessity given what that plane was doing, there have been constructive military-to-military discussions – with the Russians about de-confliction arrangements.
There is an ISIS presence in the southwest. It’s right in the corner called the tri-border. It is – it’s an extremist group called Jaysh Khalid bin Walid and they have moved into part of this area, some months ago, and committed terrible atrocities, which ISIS does. There is need for a ceasefire in the southwest to root out those extremist remnants.
Syria is far more complicated than Iraq. There the US does not have a government to work with and that’s not going to change anytime soon. What the global coalition is trying to do vis-a-vis Syria is make sure that in areas in which it is operating and working with democratic forces, there are de-confliction arrangements in place so that there’s a clear delineation of territory to avoid incidents like the recent shooting down of a Syrian plane. The coalition is working hard with the Russians on those types of arrangements. It is also working with the Syrian Democratic Forces, to ensure people start returning to their communities and the forces continue to hold areas they have taken from ISIS.
The goal is to defeat ISIS and de-escalate the overall civil war. And that’s through arrangements of ceasefires, of de-confliction areas, so you can then begin a real, credible process to actually have a political settlement. So this will not happen in the immediate term, but that’s kind of the phased approach being taking.
GCC and coalition against ISIS
In terms of the situation within the GCC, there has been no impact on the counter-ISIS campaign. When it comes to professional military relationships within the GCC, there has been no impact. On political disagreements that are ongoing there, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now working on that.
Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Shabaab and their connections to ISIS
As a military coalition, the focus is in Iraq and Syria. The Interpol is also there, as one of the newest members of the coalition. They’ve built a database now of 19,000 names. When a foreign terrorist fighter and his phone on the battlefield is found, there is a whole system to analyze that, confirm the names, share them with host – with coalition partner nations. A database for these people is being built. So any of these guys that came into Syria and slipped out before the noose was really tightened, all efforts are there to make sure that not only now but in the years ahead they can be tracked; they can be stopped at border posts; they could be stopped on a routine traffic stop.
Coalition session on Libya
A little bit of focus is also on West Africa. There were coalition sessions focused on Libya. In Libya there was kind of this hockey-stick-like growth of ISIS in Libya. The coalition has helped root out those areas and would continue to work with the Libyans on that.