In a joint press conference conducted with Denmark’s Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen, American Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that the coalition will begin accelerating its campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“We will further accelerate this fight to free people from ISIS’ crushing occupation and [the] enemy’s terror threat to Europe and beyond,” Mattis announced in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Mattis is in Copenhagen as a part of a three-nation European trip that will see stops in Denmark, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. Mattis and Frederiksen co-hosted a meeting of senior leaders from 15 different nations on Wednesday regarding ISIS.
When asked what would be discussed at the meeting, Mattis explained, “We’re going to look to the future, determine what more is needed, if anything, and how we are going to determine that is based upon an update with the enemy situation.”
After the meeting, Mattis seemed encouraged by the discussion he co-chaired.
“We are committed to working together — all of us — and that was reinforced today in our meeting with many partners: to defeat [ISIS] wherever it attempts to establish its roots,” Mattis said.
During the press conference, Mattis explained that coalition forces near Raqqa, Syria are rapidly getting into position to surround the city. Raqqa is the last remaining urban stronghold ISIS maintains in the country, and is considered to be the unofficial capital city for the Islamic State.
“The idea, ladies and gentlemen, is that the foreign fighters not be allowed to escape and return to constitute a threat against free and innocent people elsewhere, whether it be in the Arabian Gulf, North Africa, and certainly Europe,” he said.
The Defense Secretary went on to describe the losses, both in terms of troops and territory, ISIS has suffered in recent months. According to his statement, ISIS has given up more than half of the territory they once controlled in Iraq and Syria to the U.S. backed coalition, as well as two-thirds of the organization’s strength in Afghanistan.
“In our anti-ISIS campaign, we are dealing that group one more significant blow with the loss of their leader,” Mattis said in reference to the death in Nangarhar province of the ISIS-Khorasan emir on April 27th.
“And the fight will go on,” he emphasized. “We continue to integrate our military and nonmilitary efforts. You have to remember the battlefield we are fighting on is also a humanitarian field where innocent people live [and] are sometimes forced to stay on a battlefield by ISIS. We’re doing everything humanly possible to limit the suffering and any casualties among those innocent people.”
From there, Mattis shifted his attention to the nation hosting him and the international talks, Denmark.
“Denmark has always been a stalwart ally and friend of the United States, and the close defense relationship between our two countries reflects the enduring strength of NATO’s transatlantic bond, [with us] having stood by each other in good times and in bad,” Mattis said.
Of course, no meeting with a NATO ally would be complete without the Defense Secretary reminding the rest of the alliance that the cost of defending the organization is a burden that must be shouldered by all member states, as many nations have repeatedly failed to meet their financial obligations to the alliance. Each nation is required to spend two percent of its overall GDP on defense, a feat only five nations accomplished in 2016. Denmark barely paid half of its obligation into the alliance last year.
“The American people are truly heartened by your government’s commitment to share the cost of the common defense through a substantial increase in defense spending,” Mattis said to Frederiksen. “Times have changed; 2014 was an eye-opener for all of us, minister, and we have to change with the times.”
He concluded his remarks by once again reaffirming the United States’ commitment to Denmark, who may play an increasingly crucial war in countering Russian aggressions in the arctic, as not only a member of NATO, but also a member of the European Union and the Arctic Council.
“We stand together, minister, visible and indivisible, in the face of any threats to international law or to a peaceful, international order,” Mattis concluded.
Image courtesy of the Defense Department