During a Pentagon briefing on Friday, U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, laid out a series of coalition successes in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and explained how they lay the ground work for the continued “annihilation of ISIS.”
“Thanks to the leadership and authorities granted by President (Donald J.) Trump, thanks to the spirit of dozens of nations committed to this fight, thanks to the nations whose troops have gone toe-to-toe with this terrorist group … we have retaken over 55 percent of ISIS territory there in the core,” Mattis said while flanked by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Over four million people have been liberated. And not one inch of territory seized from ISIS has been … recaptured by them.”
According to Mattis, a great deal of that success has been as a result of small changes in policy brought about by President Trump. After a review of the ongoing effort against ISIS in January, the president permitted a delegation of authority to lower command levels as well as a shift in strategy away from pushing ISIS out of controlled territory and toward “surrounding the enemy in their strongholds, so we can annihilate ISIS,” Mattis said.
“The intent,” he said, “is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.”
Despite these shifts, Mattis emphasized that there have been no changes to the rules of engagement or in the priority level civilian lives have within the command structure. There subtle shifts were adopted by all 68 nations and organizations now participating in the coalition against ISIS. This large collective shares intelligence and provides the troops and funds necessary for combat and post-combat recovery. Per Mattis’ statement, 26 of those nations also directly provide more than 4,000 troops on the ground or in the air.
“Our recent coalition meetings in Brussels, Copenhagen and elsewhere reflect an energized campaign among contributing nations partnering with, of course, the Iraqi security forces in Iraq and the counter-ISIS forces in Syria,” Mattis said.
The coalition effort has “reduced ISIS-held territory, limited their freedom of movement, destroyed a great deal of their leadership, reduced the flow of foreign fighters into and from the region, diminished their financial resources and, I think, perhaps most importantly, we’ve undermined the credibility of their narrative that there is a physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria,” Dunford added.
Despite the incredible effort by coalition forces, Dunford made sure to point out that inside Iraq, it’s the local forces that have truly been paying the price of their success in blood. “In Mosul alone, they’ve suffered approximately 980 killed and over 6,000 wounded,” Dunford said of Iraqi losses in the fight against ISIS.
“Just as an aside, in addition to the competence that they’ve demonstrated Mosul, and the sacrifice, the one thing I’ve seen over time, in the 15 months I’ve been back and forth visiting in Iraq, in this particular assignment, is the confidence of the Iraqi leadership,” Dunford said. “Compare the fall of 2015 to today, it’s very clear … who is in charge, and the level of confidence of the commanders in their ability to lead and in their soldiers’ ability to fight is remarkably different than it was a short time ago.”
In order to continue to advance the fight against ISIS, Dunford looked toward increasing cooperation in the future, particularly in regard to defending the American homeland from retaliatory attacks.
“I’m working very closely with more than 60 of my counterparts to expand the coalition that we have in dealing with ISIS, and our priority clearly is to prevent attacks against the homeland,” he said. “Our strategic approach is to cut the connectivity between ISIS affiliates and associates, and that’s specifically the foreign fighter flow, their illicit resources and their message.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense