Tag Archives: Syria

Counterterrorism: Interview With Milliyet

Interview -John Allen

Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL
U.S. Embassy
Ankara, Turkey
November 19, 2014
Gen. Allen, courtesy of the Guardian
Gen. Allen, courtesy of the Guardian

“Asli Aydintasbas: Thanks for meeting me for the interview. I heard you have recently been to Abu Dhabi, right?

General Allen: I was.

Aydintasbas: So, let me start with the obvious question. Is there a policy review, what’s happening? We have all seen the CNN story. Are you reviewing Syria policy?

Allen: We are always looking at the strategy. We have a policy with regard to Syria, which is that the U.S. intends for there to be a political outcome that represents the voice and the desires of the Syrian people. And that policy with that outcome does not include Bashar Al Assad. With respect to the strategy…

Aydintasbas: Doesn’t include or…?

Allen: Does not include Bashar Al Asad. With respect to the strategy, it is the nature of strategies that we are constantly assessing and reassessing the strategies, and that’s what is underway now.

Aydintasbas: So, basically the President has said “We are not working on toppling Bashar Assad”.

Allen: Well, once again, our policy is that we will help to pursue a political outcome in the context of the Communique of Geneva II which looks for a negotiated political outcome that does not, in our case, include Bashar Al Asad. I think that is very different than toppling. So, in this case, we are looking for a political outcome that does not include Bashar Al Asad.

Aydintasbas: You are looking for a transition, that I understand; you wish for a transition, that I understand. But the question here is of course the priorities. My understanding from what your president, President Obama has said at G-20, is that it is not a priority to overthrow Bashar Assad right now.

Allen: If that’s what he said, then I’ll go with what the President’s comments were . If that’s what he said.

Aydintasbas: So, in this whole dilemma, “ISIS first” vs. “The regime first”, in terms of what the source of problem is or who to tackle first in Syria, where are you?

Allen: Well, we are clearly going to be dealing with ISIL. ISIL is a threat to the entire region and that threat not only spans Iraq but spans Syria. It is a threat to Turkey, a threat to the United States and a threat to the region. The strategy with which I am associated is to help to build the coalition, which ultimately brings together in this case 60 countries who are intent on being engaged on ultimately defeating ISIL. That’s the role that I play. And eventually, of course, our policy intent for the U.S. is that there be a political outcome in Syria that does not include Bashar Al Asad. While we will be doing work in Iraq, which is the main effort at this point but does not mean it is the only effort, so we will be working the ISIS issue associated with Iraq, [and] we’ll be doing that in Syria as well.

Aydintasbas: Why are you here?

Allen: I am here to continue conversations I have had with the Turkish government.

Aydintasbas: Can you tell me where you are in terms of your discussions on safe zones…?

Allen: No, I don’t want to get into those details. This is a long-term conversation that we have been having. It is, I think, a very positive conversation on the whole. I have been very clear that we view our relationship with Turkey as a deep friendship. It is a long-term friendship, an old alliance. And in the context of this emergency, we are in a conversation, the U.S. with the Turkish government but more broadly within the context of the coalition as well, on how we can partner to deal with this emergency.

Aydintasbas: Technically speaking, is Turkey part of the coalition?

Allen: It is.

Aydintasbas: I believe State Department spokesman several times said that safe zones and no-fly zone are not on their agenda right now, is it on your agenda?

Allen: What I want to say is that the conversation I am having with Turkey is a wide-ranging conversation about the measures that we could take together, ultimately, to deal with this crisis, and I don’t want to get into any particular aspect of that conversation.

Aydintasbas: This is what I want to, I would be very curious in terms of what your response is, when Turkish officials tell you that they have constraints when it comes to fighting ISIS as in you know we have a border, they could blow up things here, etc. So you know there are understandable reasons for them to be reserved and cautious about taking on ISIL. What is your response when you hear all these reservations and constraints and complaints? What do you as somebody lobbying in the other direction?

Allen: Well, I am not lobbying, obviously. First of all, I am extraordinarily respectful of Turkey’s sovereignity, territorial integrity, all of those things. Turkey has been a dear friend of the United States and a partner in so many things over the years so I am very sensitive to concerns. We also recognize that every single participant in the coalition, every country that is involved, every country that has an interest in this comes to the table with its own national interests. And we absolutely must consider Turkey’s national interests and special considerations. It is very clear that Turkey is a frontline state, [and] has had to endure the effects of terrorism for a long time. And so we know that fıgures into the thinking of Turkey as it considers its way ahead and the moves it may well take in conjunction with ISIS. So, we are very attentive to that.

Aydintasbas: But what are your talking points?

Allen: Let me continue. We are also very attentive to the fact that Turkey has also I think very generously hosted a large refugee population and they have been well taken care of by your country. So, we are very attentive to Turkey’s interests and very attentive to Turkey’s concerns as they raise these issues. And so, for us, it’s being knowledgable of those issues over which Turkey has concerns, being understanding of the interests Turkey has, as we seek to coordinate our activities and look for those areas of common interests where we can obviously, to the extent we can, bring the maximum efficiency and effectivemess to the strategy.

Aydintasbas: So, how do you convince Turks to do more? What is your overarching argument when you are talking to Turkish officials and they are like ‘You know we would love to but this, that and the other’?

Allen: Again, I am not going to paraphrase what their comments are. We are in an excellent conversation with Turkish officials and I am not going to preview what the outcome of the conversation is going to be. In the end, Turkey will do what Turkey will decide to do and we’ll have a conversation about those areas where we can cooperate, those areas where we can combine our capabilities to have an important outcome. But in the end, Turkey is a sovereign country and Turkey is an old friend. And we recognize that Turkey will be very conscious of its interests when it commits. It already has committed to some extent on its participation, but as Turkey continues to consider how it will play a role in this process, we are going to be very conscious of that.

Aydintasbas: I am going to ask the same thing in a different, roundabout way. OK, now you are talking to Turkish public. What do you tell Turkish public in terms of ISIL, how can you convince me or the man/woman on the street that we, Turkey, should do something about ISIL?

Allen: First of all, Turkey is doing something about ISIL. But second, what the Turkish citizen needs to be concerned about is the growth of extremism in the region, how that extremism has in many ways undercut the stability of countries across the region, not just in Syria but clearly in Iraq as well.The reach of ISIL, the reach of that ideology of extremism and hatred, has had a wide range of effects across the region. And again, the Turkish citizens, who I have known for many years, have suffered from years of terrorism. And so this is yet another of the potential threats that is posed in the region that Turkey is considering , that Turkey is talking with us about, in terms of potential courses of action we might take together. And as a citizen in Turkey, watching the activities of ISIL to the south, watching the activities of extremist groups in Syria and others in the region, I would be very concerned and very attentive to what action Turkey would be willing to take or what the means by which Turkey could cooperate or collaborate with the U.S. and other partners in how to provide for Turkey’s national security.

Aydintasbas: Do you know what the latest is in terms of, how do you assess the situation in Kobane? Because, while there is the campaign by the coalition it is clearly now proving it would not be that easy to get rid of ISIL in that town.

Allen: I think the situation has largely stabilized there. We intend to continue to provide the support of the coalition for the defenders in Kobane, and at this point, while I would not attempt to predict over the long term how it will turn out. Both the activities of the defenders inside the city but also the fire support that has been provided outside the city with respect to how ISIL has been able to occupy key terrain and use that terrain to their advantage. That’s put them into a distinct disadvantage.

Aydintasbas: How?

Allen: Well, ISIL has in so many ways impaled itself on Kobane. It has sought to create that moment, that particular action as its ability to achieve victory over a conserted defense, a victory over a group of resistance fighters who are in fact putting up a very stiff resistance and ISIL continues to pour fighters into the process. And as they pour fighters into the process, we are going to continue to bomb them, we are going to continue to interdict their supply lines, we are going to continue to disrupt command and control, and at the same time, do what we can to support the defenders. And ISIL will find that it is not going to be successful there.

Aydintasbas: Has it served, in an ironic way, a useful purpose ın terms of gathering all the ISIL guys in the same geographical location.

Allen: Any time you mass, to achieve the affect that they are trying to achieve with respect to Kobane, you create targets. And the precise number is probably not known but we are convinced that our air attacks have killed well over 600 ISIL attackers and created for them, some real problems. At what point do they decide that it has cost them too much.

Aydintasbas: And they haven’t made that decision.

Allen: They haven’t made that decision. They are going to keep pouring those troops in and we are going to keep dealing with those troops as they go in. But when ISIL ultimately decides to withdraw from Kobane it will be a very strong indication, once again, that ISIL has not been able to achieve its objectives, just as Asad has been pushed out of a substantial number of places in Iraq at this point.

Aydintasbas: Why aren’t they making that decision?

Allen: Well, because I think, the sense is, if they pull out this is going to be a real indicator that the “march to victory” of ISIL has finally hit its high water mark.

Aydintasbas: It will be symbolic…

Allen: It will absolutely be symbolic.

Aydintasbas: But then, now I’m going to make another argument which is that, there is another way of looking at the Kobane situation, which is, it is also not a good sign in terms of our ability to deal with ISIL, in the sense that we are still not able to get rid of them in one, tiny, small town with airpower, peshmerga, weapons, heavy weapons, you name it. We cannot get rid of them from a tiny enclave. What does it say about the larger goals of your effort in the coalition?

Allen: But let us not focus only on Kobane. Let us talk about what happened in Iraq, where in fact ISIL has been pushed in a lot of areas. But let us just review the bidding of the last few weeks: ISIL had seized the Mosul Dam and that was taken back from it; they threatened the Haditha Dam– so there is the Tigers and the Euphrates River– they threatened the Haditha Dam, and they were pushed off of the terrain on which they were threatening the Haditha Dam. They were pushed out of the siege of Amerli.

Aydintasbas: Thanks to Hezbollah and Suleymani.

Allen: Don’t give them credit for something they did not accomplish but …

Aydintasbas: The guy was posting pictures of the …

Allen: Of course there are lots of pictures out there. The fact that he takes a picture with a couple of fighters does not mean that he directed the battle or ultimately achieved the objective. The point is that the Iraqi Security Forces supported by some local fighters were able to defeat ISIL at that location. And at other locations…

Aydintasbas: Bayji?

Allen: The drive on Bayji is another example where the ISF has been supported both in terms of their ability to move up Route 1 towards Bayji, but also supported by coalition air power. So there are places frankly where ISIL is being pushed out of a lot of positions. And our sense is, as we continue to deliver air power, as we continue to see the Iraqi security forces for example gain in capabilities – and this is going to take a while, but – as we see them continue to gain in capabilities, that the operational and tactical momentum has been checked. That is what you always seek to accomplish in a military operation.

Aydintasbas: Operational momentum?

Allen: Strategic momentum, operational momentum and tactical momentum. And our sense is strategic momentum is long past done. The operational momentum has been checked and in most places now, while there might be some exchange of terrain back and forth at a tactical level, even their tactical momentum has been checked. Now the point is, as we began to move forces in Iraq – Iraqi Security Force elements — into the attack, as we support those, now is the time to reverse what has appeared for some period of time to be ISIL’s invincibility. And, in truth, what we are learning is that they are very defeatable and we are going to continue.

Aydintasbas: You are learning that in Iraq but not in Syria yet?

Allen: Well, we have someone to work with obviously. We have someone to work with on a day-to-day basis.

Aydintasbas: You mean PYD?

Allen: No, I’m talking about the Iraqi Security Forces.

Aydintasbas: Oh, in Iraq.

Allen: Yeah. Over time with the train and equip program and the support that we will give to the moderate Syrian opposition. We will be working more closely with them.

Aydintasbas: Aleppo? They say that it is about to fall to the regime and how does that change your calculus?

Allen: We are obviously very attentive to what is going on in Aleppo. Again, I am not the military commander here; I deal with the coalition and the coalition in the context of the overall strategy. But I know that we are very conscious of what is going on in Aleppo and to that extent, if we are able to provide support we will provide support.

Aydintasbas: To whom?

Allen: Well, to the moderate Syrian opposition movement.

Aydintasbas: Of which there is dwindling numbers.

Allen: Well, there are. We recognize the current tactical situation has been difficult for them but we are going to provide the support that we can. The support that we have for some period of time, the train and equip program will be helpful to them over the long term. So we are going to remain very conscious of this.

Aydintasbas: Is Aleppo part of your discussion with Turks?

Allen: Well, again, broadly it is the situation in Syria but the situation with ISIL very broadly, the situation with the coalition, how the coalition will operate both in terms of Iraq and Syria. And of course within Syria we talk about a variety of things.

Aydintasbas: Is PYD going to be the Kurdish forces in Kobane? Are they going to be part of the train and equip program ultimately?

Allen: We will be consulting very closely with Turkey about who gets into the train and equip program. And so I will not comment on that.

Aydintasbas: Does it not make sense to include them?

Allen: I am not going to comment on who is going to be in the train and equip program.

Aydintasbas: The relationship and the coordination you have with PYD has become a sticking point with Turkey. They are clearly not happy about it. How do you plan to go about continuing to help PYD forces?

Allen: You are talking about Kobane?

Aydintasbas: Yes.

Allen: We are going to help the opposition in Kobane and that is the way we will articulate it.

Aydintasbas: And Turks now accept what you are doing in Kobane?

Allen: You would have to ask the ambassador in that regard.

Aydintasbas: And my final question is, basically, I know you are about to start the train and equip for 2,000 guys it has been reported I think, and then 2,000 guys in Saudi, and people are not really convinced – 2,000 guys here, 2,000 guys there – is enough to take on ISIL. I mean look how much difficulty Iraqi security forces had back early this summer, so what is that going to do?

Allen: It is not the only thing that is going to happen. Obviously we are going to support the FSA and the moderate Syrian opposition, we are going to continue to deliver air power, we are going to continue these capabilities through the train and equip program which is 5,000 a year for several years. We are going to keep a very close eye on the operational environment. We are going to look at the totality of the support that we give, to determine that we are focused on the right direction and the resources are being allocated properly and that we are doing all that we can to provide the kind of support that is necessary for the Free Syrians.

Aydintasbas: How do you define your goal, containing ISIL, degrading them?

Allen: As we said our goal is to degrade and defeat over time.

Aydintasbas: Any important points?

Allen: To make a couple of points, it is important that we understand again that my role is to work with the coalition, we work to consolidate the members of the coalition, to integrate the contributions that the members of the coalition are making into the strategy– and I will talk about the strategy in just a moment– and then ultimately to coordinate the role of the coalition. The coordination takes a number of forms. We will have on December 3rd, for example, our first ministerial meeting of the coalition.

Aydintasbas: Where is it going to be?

Allen: In Brussels. This will be the first political consultation of what will be a series of conversations where we will consult politically about the strategy and the way ahead. So consolidate, integrate the capabilities and ultimately, to coordinate the activities. We do it to cross five lines of operation; the first is a military line which is attracting so much attention. The other four are dealing with and impeding foreign fighters – both going to the battlespace and returning; disrupting the revenue flow to ISIL from the various means by which they generate; fourth is in humanitarian assistance; and fifth is in delegitimizing the brand of ISIL.

Aydintasbas: The PR campaign?

Allen: It is much more than that actually. Each country has an ability to contribute based on its audience, its population, based on its segments of population which are potentially susceptible for recruiting for ISIL. So it is much more than that. As we have organized in each one of those five lines, some countries can only contribute in one of those lines. Some countries can contribute in several, some in all of them. And so the activities between and among those lines seeks to create the synergy necessary to degrade and ultimately ISIL. So the conversation that we are having with Turkey is a very important conversation; we are able to find ways for Turkey to feel comfortable in its contribution across those lines of operation.

Aydintasbas: So sounds like you feel Turkey is on board?

Allen: I think Turkey has very clearly viewed ISIL as a threat, Turkey is already contributing in important ways, because it has a refugee population that has been inflicted upon Turkey. And I think as I said at a meeting the other day, I was very clear that Turkey deserves a lot of international credit for the work that it has done in terms of humanitarian assistance. So each of these countries ultimately makes its own sovereign decision wıth regard to how it will participate in those five lines of effort, integrating it so that we get the maximum return within that line of effort and between and among those lines of effort is the challenge that we will all face in the long-term. And then the political meetings from time to time help us then to ensure that we have a common political vision on the way ahead with respect to this strategy.”

ISIS’s Command and Control

ISIS's Command and Control, courtesy of NYT.
ISIS’s Command and Control, courtesy of NYT.

ISIS has a sophisticated command and control structure which taps the networks of members of AQI, Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party, and former inmates from Camp Bucca. The key leader is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is now operating under the name of Caliph Ibrahim. He is assisted in his governance with as Shura Council, including:

Abu Muslim al Afari al Turkmani

Abu Ali al Anbari

Abu Arkan al Amiri

Omar al Shishani

Abu Ayman al Iraqi

Abu Muhammad al Adnani

Abu al Athir Amr al Absi

Other key leaders on thematic issues include:

  • Fares Reif al Naima – Chief Quatermaster

  • Abu Yahya al Iraqi – Chief Bodyguard

  • Abdul Rahman al Afari – Veteran Affairs

  • Khairy Abed Mahmoud al Taey – Explosives Expert

  • Abdulla Ahmad al-Mishhadani – Facilitator

  • Abu Safwan al-Rifai – Chief of Military Intelligence

Check out:

NYT. “How ISIS Works.” http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/09/16/world/middleeast/how-isis-works.html?_r=0

PBS. “Who Runs the Islamic State?” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/iraq-war-on-terror/rise-of-isis/who-runs-the-islamic-state/

Interview of General Allen With Al Jazeera

General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Doha, Qatar
October 29, 2014

Gen. Allen, courtesy of the Guardian
Gen. Allen, courtesy of the Guardian

QUESTION: Mr. Allen, thank you very much for accepting this interview.

General Allen: My pleasure.

QUESTION: You have said that victory is not the matter of just one night. What is the timeframe for the war against ISIL?

General Allen: President Obama has been very clear on this, as have others: it’s not going to be a short period of time. It’s going to take the cooperation of many of the members of the coalition over a period of time. We’re going to combine our efforts in a number of ways to accomplish the objectives of degrading ISIL and ultimately defeating it. But it is not going to be a short period of time. We have a lot of work to do. The coalition has just begun. The mission is new. And, I’m confident that we will be successful.

QUESTION: This is the first—

General Allen: We are taking a number of steps simultaneously. The obvious step that you have seen, that has taken a lot of the attention, have been the military steps. That is an attempt to create stability in Iraq, and to take those measures that are necessary to begin the regeneration of the Iraqi security forces while we seek ultimately to reverse the momentum that Da’esh has undertaken in the region, particularly, obviously in Iraq. But many other steps are underway at the same time. We have talked about five lines of operations. And we are taking step –

QUESTION: What are these steps?

General Allen: Well, the five lines are: the military line which is obvious. The second is working together as a coalition to stem the flow of foreign fighters; disrupting the finances of Da’esh; conducting humanitarian operations and supporting humanitarian action; and then the fifth is dealing with the image, the de-legitimization of Da’esh as an organization. So, all of those are underway now, and there is significant cooperation.

QUESTION: For instance, you have said that planning to free or liberate Mosul could take one year at least. What are the reasons? Is the situation –

General Allen: Let me be clear about what I said. I said, we anticipated that that would occur within a year. I didn’t want to get specific about dates or times, which is an operational issue. What we’re doing is we’re accomplishing three things simultaneously. Beyond the air strikes, we are conducting training and advising and assisting of the Iraqi security forces that are out in the field today. And some of those forces are in the attack, and we have been supporting those forces in the attack, and we are beginning to see that they are accomplishing local tactical victories over Da’esh and they are beginning to reverse that momentum. The other thing that we’re doing — and that is beginning to unfold now as the coalition is coming online — is to create, through building of partner capacity, the local development of Iraqi security forces so that they also join into the counter-offensive.

And then the third area in which we will be conducting operations within Iraq is in the improvement of the security sector, security area reform. We will be working closely with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense, ultimately for them to be capable of fielding and sustaining operational forces. So all of those things are occurring simultaneously: training, advising and assisting; building partner capacity; and security sector reform. And they have to occur together.

QUESTION: However, the failure in Iraq was very remarkable. Is there any assessment for the reasons of this failure?

General Allen: Well, I think there were a variety of things over time. Neglect of the operational requirements of the military forces. Frankly, sectarian policies which replaced key leaders within the Iraqi security forces. And what I think we are seeing now is, what we’re hearing now, is that the Iraqi security forces in the future will be Iraqi security forces who represent all of the people. Very important statements are being made by central government in Baghdad, from Prime Minister Abadi, about an Iraq of the future being an inclusive Iraq. It will include all elements of the society, and that is something that we’re beginning to see already in the conversations that we’re having and the intentions with respect to Iraqi security forces.

QUESTION: But still the Sunni clans are very angry from what happened. They feel that they are marginalized in terms of political sharing and economic sharing. How can you tackle this?

General Allen: Now you’re talking about the tribes?


General Allen: Well the tribes’ voices are important. In the end, Iraq in many respects is a tribal society. And I think that’s a positive aspect of Iraq as a historical entity and as a modern entity.

We’re reaching out to the tribes. Iraqi security forces and central forces are reaching out to the tribes, with the intent of explaining to them what role they will have in the future, [and] to hear from them how they can create relationships. And I would strongly encourage that you speak to the central government of Iraq, and to the Abadi administration. and to the Prime Minister himself, and to hear from him that the relationship with the central government is one of inclusivity: that it is a central government for all Iraqis

QUESTION: Do you have any specific suggestions in terms of Sunni tribesmen? I know it is very complicated. What tribes are you contacting with?

General Allen: We’re talking. I’ll leave that for the Iraqi government to give you the specifics, but I have spoken to a number of the tribes and I know that Prime Minister Abadi has as well. He will continue that dialogue. It is important that the dialogue be between the central government, the Abadi government and the tribes, not between the American government and the tribes.

But it is important that we work closely with the Iraqi security forces, that they begin to build their own capacity and begin to work with the tribes with respect to restore stability and security in certain areas of the Anbar Province; for example, in the northwest. So, there is an active dialogue.

We all have to remember a couple of things: we are early in the coalition. We are early in the implementation of the plan to roll back Da’esh, to degrade it and to ultimately defeat it. We are also very early in the administration of Prime Minister Abadi. He is saying things that are important. He is doing things that are important. He is reaching out to elements within Iraqi society – all elements of Iraqi society – to include the tribes.

QUESTION: Can you be more clear on what tribes you are contacting with?

General Allen: I don’t want to get into that. What I don’t want to do is to create a vulnerability that we can’t control here.

QUESTION: What role they can do the tribes?

General Allen: Well I think it’s a very important role.

QUESTION: I know, I know. Is it will be a role like Sahwa in the past?

General Allen: That is exactly correct. But beyond the role that they played when I dealt with the tribes in Al Anbar in 2007-08, which was in fact the emergence of the Awakening. There is an intent to bring those tribes into a close relationship with the Iraqi security forces so that together the tribes and the Iraqi security forces can create the security and stability in Al Anbar and other places like it that can benefit all Iraqis citizens.

QUESTION: This might lead to internal fighting between the Iraqi tribes… if you just try to attract just some tribes to the Sahwa.

General Allen: Well, it will be a universal call. All the tribes will be welcomed to participate, not just the few. That’s why I’m reluctant to talk about any one particular tribe. The intent ultimately –

QUESTION: Who can guarantee that?

General Allen: The central government. And we will support that. Prime Minister Abadi has been clear about inclusiveness. This is about all Iraqis participating and all tribes.

QUESTION: Back to your current tour, one of your objectives is discussing the training of the moderate Syrian fighters. What happened regarding this objective?

General Allen: Well, we’re pursuing that objective. In fact there are a variety of things that will be undertaken and we are moving on that now: that is to create three training centers, where elements of Free Syrian Army and moderate Syrian opposition elements will be brought to the training centers. And they’ll be trained and equipped and returned into Syria where they will conduct operations against Da’esh, but will also defend themselves from other elements in Syria, to include the regime.

QUESTION: Where? And how many?

General Allen: Again, I want to be very careful about numbers and timelines as those are operational considerations but we’ll see three training sites in the region.

QUESTION: The mission of the train Syrian fighters is confined for war against ISIL. How can you guarantee that you are not going fight the regime?

General Allen: Your question presupposes a limitation that we have not imposed. We are preparing the Free Syrian Forces to fight ISIL, but we fully expect they’ll have to fight Jabhat al Nusra and other elements of the battle space to include the Regime.

QUESTION: To include the regime?

General Allen: Yes, to include the regime.

QUESTION: Do you expect them to fight the regime after they have fought ISIL?

General Allen: It is difficult to predict at this particular moment how operations in Syria will unfold. But we clearly expect the Free Syrian forces to be built into a credible battlefield force to hold their own and to deal with Da’esh, but to also deal with Nusra elements and to be able to defend themselves against the regime in those operations.

QUESTION: That might create complications for the United States with powers in the region. Like Russia for instance?

General Allen: Look, we want the free Syrian elements to be able to defend themselves and to be able to defend citizens associated with a moderate free Syrian Opposition and that is the intent. Building a Free Syrian Army that can be supportive of the moderate Syrian opposition. And as we talk about a political outcome in Syria, which is what we see, a political outcome that does not include Bashar al Assad. The moderate Syrian Opposition becomes not a prominent – not only a prominent – but the preeminent voice in the political outcome, and that comes from political cohesion that we hope to see within the free Syrian – the moderate Syrian opposition. We also hope to see that the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army as they deal with Da’esh, but also as they deal with other elements of the battlespace which will be Jabhat al Nusra and regime elements, that it becomes so capable that in the process of the unfolding political dialogue which will solve the tragedy of the Syrian civil war, that the Free Syrian Army backing up the moderate Syrian political opposition will be the preeminent voice in that process as the situation unfolds.

Now there’s going to be fighting in Syria that we cannot necessarily predict. There is going to be a lot of fighting against Da’esh and there will also be, we can anticipate, operations with the Free Syrians defending themselves and controlling their territory and defending their people against Jabhat al Nusra, but also against the regime as well. We have to expect that.

QUESTION: How do you see Iran’s role against ISIL?

General Allen: You said Iran? Well, as Secretary Kerry said we welcome a constructive role of all states in this process, and to this point we have welcomed a constructive role of Iran. I will leave it at that because that conversation will unfold over time.

QUESTION: Any type of coordination with Iran?

General Allen: No. We are not coordinating.

QUESTION: Final question and I’ll be brief. Why do you refuse the Turkish demand to create a buffer zone and how do you coordinate with Turkey in the war in Syria and in Kobane for instance?

General Allen: Well, we are old friends with Turkey. It is a great bilateral relationship that has been cultivated over many years between the United States and Turkey. And they are also NATO ally.

Turkey has made important contributions already to the coalition. We’re seeing unfolding today of the positive outcome of conversations between the Peshmerga and the defenders of Kobane and Turkey to provide for the reinforcements of Kobane. And beyond that I simply say that we are in a conversation with Turkey about the role that it can play within the coalition and ultimately dealing with Da’esh. And the details of that conversation we will hold close between the two of us until we have come to an agreement about what that relationship will be within the coalition, and what role Turkey will play within the coalition and at that point we will make it very public.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Allen.

General Allen: My pleasure.

See the full article at: http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/233486.htm

Reflections on America’s ISIS Strategy

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On the evening before the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, President Barack Obama outlined his strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. He started his speech by noting that while terrorism can be mitigated, it cannot be totally eliminated. Transitioning to ISIS, he described the organization as not being “Islamic” and not being a state. The President then noted what makes ISIS so unique – its sheer brutality, its ability to hold territory, and its attraction for foreign fighters. Then, he described current American foreign policy actions against ISIS, including airstrikes against the terrorist group in Iraq and building coalitions with partners in the Middle East. Thus, the Commander-and-Chief described the previous actions of the U.S. against ISIS in Iraq.

The President then pushed a new initiative, “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” in the Middle East. He subdivided this strategy into four parts. The first part of the plan is to “conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes” against ISIS in Iraq and now Syria. The next part is to increase military support for the Syrian opposition. He also authorized the deployment of 475 more troops to Iraq to build up their forces, raising the total number of American military personnel there to 1,600 troops. The third part of the strategy is to employ threat mitigation techniques to detect and to deter ISIS attacks on the U.S. Homeland. The final part of the plan is to provide humanitarian aid to displaced persons in Iraq and Syria. President Obama emphasized that this plan had international support as well as bipartisan support in Congress. Thus, the strategy President Obama outlined had four parts – airstrikes against ISIS, military support for the Syrian opposition, counterterrorism to protect the U.S. Homeland, and providing humanitarian aid for civilians.

President Obama concluded his speech by attempting to strengthen the U.S.’s morale for as sustained counterterrorism campaign. The Commander-and-Chief then vowed any action in Syria or Iraq would “not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”  He then noted his multilateral approach stating, “Use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges.” He then noted the history of 9/11 and the Great Recession, but then noted America is still a leader on the global stage – including that America “rallied the World against Russian aggression,” led the struggle in containing Ebola, and removed Syrian WMDs. He concluded the speech with the motivating words, “Our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.” President Obama sought to rally the crowd by portraying ISIS as an expanding evil while stressing America’s role in the international community.

The speech was commendable in seeks to degrade and destroy ISIS; however, several key actors and factors were ignored. President Obama did not mention the Kurds or the peshmerga at all, and they are responsible shareholders in a multiethnic Iraq’s future. Furthermore, 20,000 foreign fighters have or are currently fighting in Syria. Of these 20,000, 100 fighters are American passport holders. Of these 100, at least a dozen are fighting for ISIS. These foreign fighters can easily become terrorists, and need to be monitored and tracked. Additionally, ISIS has executed Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, causing me to question whether the American government has reviewed its policy of hostage negotiations with terrorists. Another point of concern is over whether the U.S. – specifically the CDC – has the resources to deal with an ISIS biological attack in the form of the bubonic plague – as files were retrieved from an ISIS computer suggesting a cell was looking into using this technique. While the change of strategy in Syria and Iraq will be more proactive in countering ISIS, it is not enough to guarantee the safety of the American Homeland.

Obama’s CT Speech on ISIS


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Thoughts on the speech:

  • No mention of the Kurds / peshmerga
  • 12,000 foreign fights HAVE or ARE fighting in Syria – hard to detect / deter due to porous borders (Turkey/Saudi Arabia)
  • Shiite troops will not tolerate Sunni civil guard units
  • Degrading and Destroying ISIS – will take years / decades

“My fellow Americans – tonight, I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.

Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL – which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists – Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then, we have conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. That’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.

Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.

First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.

Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.

Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into – and out of – the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.

Fourth, we will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.

This is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners. Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity, and in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria to drive these terrorists from their lands. This is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom; and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.

My Administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.

Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved – especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.

My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks; through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back – America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.

Our technology companies and universities are unmatched; our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day – and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.

Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia – from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East – we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding. Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform – pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and service-members who support our partners on the ground.

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said. “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”

That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety – our own security – depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for – timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.

May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

To the Gates of Hell


From: IIP Digital

“When people harm Americans, we don’t retreat. We don’t forget,” Vice President Biden said in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as he talked about Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who was murdered by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“Steven put his life on the line as a journalist to tell the stories of the Syrian people,” Biden said. “Because of the barbaric acts of ISIL, he was taken from us.”

But history has shown that the American people cannot be intimidated, the vice president said, adding that the United States “made sure that Osama bin Laden would never ever again threaten the American people.”

The “American people are so much stronger, so much more resolved than any enemy can fully understand,” Biden said. “As a nation, we’re united. And when people harm Americans, we don’t retreat. We don’t forget. We take care of those who are grieving. And when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of Hell until they are brought to justice. Because Hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”

Threat of ISIS Demands a Global Coalition

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The Threat of ISIS Demands a Global Coalition
By John Kerry

“In a polarized region and a complicated world, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presents a unifying threat to a broad array of countries, including the United States. What’s needed to confront its nihilistic vision and genocidal agenda is a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force.

In addition to its beheadings, crucifixions and other acts of sheer evil, which have killed thousands of innocents in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, including Sunni Muslims whose faith it purports to represent, ISIS (which the United States government calls ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) poses a threat well beyond the region.

ISIS has its origins in what was once known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has over a decade of experience in extremist violence. The group has amassed a hardened fighting force of committed jihadists with global ambitions, exploiting the conflict in Syria and sectarian tensions in Iraq. Its leaders have repeatedly threatened the United States, and in May an ISIS-associated terrorist shot and killed three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. (A fourth victim died 13 days later.) ISIS’ cadre of foreign fighters are a rising threat not just in the region, but anywhere they could manage to travel undetected — including to America.

There is evidence that these extremists, if left unchecked, will not be satisfied at stopping with Syria and Iraq. They are larger and better funded in this new incarnation, using pirated oil, kidnapping and extortion to finance operations in Syria and Iraq. They are equipped with sophisticated heavy weapons looted from the battlefield. They have already demonstrated the ability to seize and hold more territory than any other terrorist organization, in a strategic region that borders Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and is perilously close to Israel.

ISIS fighters have exhibited repulsive savagery and cruelty. Even as they butcher Shiite Muslims and Christians in their effort to touch off a broader ethnic and sectarian conflict, they pursue a calculated strategy of killing fellow Sunni Muslims to gain and hold territory. The beheading of an American journalist, James Foley, has shocked the conscience of the world.

With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries. The world can confront this scourge, and ultimately defeat it. ISIS is odious, but not omnipotent. We have proof already in northern Iraq, where United States airstrikes have shifted the momentum of the fight, providing space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to go on the offensive. With our support, Iraq’s leaders have come together to form a new, inclusive government that is essential to isolating ISIS and securing the support of all of Iraq’s communities.

Airstrikes alone won’t defeat this enemy. A much fuller response is demanded from the world. We need to support Iraqi forces and the moderate Syrian opposition, who are facing ISIS on the front lines. We need to disrupt and degrade ISIS’ capabilities and counter its extremist message in the media. And we need to strengthen our own defenses and cooperation in protecting our people.

Next week, on the sidelines of the NATO summit meeting in Wales, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and I will meet with our counterparts from our European allies. The goal is to enlist the broadest possible assistance. Following the meeting, Mr. Hagel and I plan to travel to the Middle East to develop more support for the coalition among the countries that are most directly threatened.

The United States will hold the presidency of the United Nations Security Council in September, and we will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters, including those who have joined ISIS. During the General Assembly session, President Obama will lead a summit meeting of the Security Council to put forward a plan to deal with this collective threat.

In this battle, there is a role for almost every country. Some will provide military assistance, direct and indirect. Some will provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance for the millions who have been displaced and victimized across the region. Others will help restore not just shattered economies but broken trust among neighbors. This effort is underway in Iraq, where other countries have joined us in providing humanitarian aid, military assistance and support for an inclusive government.

Already our efforts have brought dozens of nations to this cause. Certainly there are different interests at play. But no decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease.

ISIS’ abhorrent tactics are uniting and rallying neighbors with traditionally conflicting interests to support Iraq’s new government. And over time, this coalition can begin to address the underlying factors that fuel ISIS and other terrorist organizations with like-minded agendas.

Coalition building is hard work, but it is the best way to tackle a common enemy. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the first President George Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III did not act alone or in haste. They methodically assembled a coalition of countries whose concerted action brought a quick victory.

Extremists are defeated only when responsible nations and their peoples unite to oppose them.”

Hagel and Dempsey on Iraq

U.S. Department of Defense
Press Operations
Arlington, Virginia
August 21, 2014

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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey in the Pentagon Briefing Room

“SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Good afternoon, everybody.

As the U.S. Central Command continues to provide regular updates about our military support to Iraq and Kurdish forces, this afternoon, I want to say a few words about what this assistance has accomplished over the last two weeks and what, based on the president’s guidance, we can expect going forward.

Chairman Dempsey will give you a brief summary, including some numbers, on the U.S. military actions to date.

But first, let me offer my deepest condolences and sympathy to the family of Jim Foley, the American journalist who, as you all know, was savagely murdered by the ISIL.

As the Department of Defense confirmed yesterday, earlier this summer, the United States attempted a rescue of a number of American hostages held in Syria, including Jim Foley. We all regret that the mission did not succeed. But I’m very proud — very proud — of the U.S. forces that participated in it. And the United States will not relent our efforts to bring our citizens home and their captors to justice.

Jim Foley’s murder was another tragic demonstration of the ruthless, barbaric ideology of ISIL. ISIL militants continue to massacre and enslave innocent people and persecute Iraq’s Sunni, Shia and Kurdish and minority populations.

Given the nature of this threat, at President Obama’s direction and the request of the Iraqi government, the U.S. military has provided assistance to Iraqi security forces in order to protect U.S. personnel and facilities and support Iraq’s efforts to counter ISIL in addition to providing humanitarian assistance.

American air strikes and American arms and assistance helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces blunt ISIL’s advance around Irbil, where American diplomats and troops are working, and help the Iraqis retake and hold-Mosul Dam. A breach of the dam would have threatened the lives of thousands of Iraqis as well as Americans at our facilities in Baghdad and prevented the Iraqi government from providing critical services to its citizens.

The United States led an international effort to address the humanitarian crisis that unfolded at Mount Sinjar. As there continues to be an acute humanitarian need elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. appreciates the partnership of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia and the United Nations in helping provide relief. I expect more nations to step forward with more assistance in the weeks ahead.

Overall, these operations have stalled ISIL’s momentum and enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regain their footing and take the initiative. As Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to take the initiative, the United States will continue to support them.

But addressing the threat posed by ISIL to the future of Iraq requires political reform in Iraq. The country’s peaceful transition of power last week was important, and the United States will continue urging Iraq’s new prime minister to establish an inclusive government that is responsive to the needs of all Iraq’s citizens. A united Iraq will be a more secure and prosperous Iraq.

Political reform will make it harder for ISIL to exploit sectarian divisions. The United States and the international community will increase support for Iraq in tandem with political progress.

The president, the chairman and I are all very clear eyed about the challenges ahead. We are pursuing a long-term strategy against ISIL because ISIL clearly poses a long-term threat. We should expect ISIL to regroup and stage new offenses.

And the U.S. military’s involvement is not over. President Obama has been very clear on this point. Our objectives remain clear and limited — to protect American citizens and facilities, to provide assistance to Iraqi forces as they confront ISIL, and to join with international partners to address the humanitarian crisis.

With that, I’ll ask Chairman Dempsey for his comments and then we will take questions. Thank you.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

As most of you know, I just returned on Sunday from a trip to Vietnam. And, today, I have my counterpart from Singapore visiting. On Vietnam, it was quite remarkable to be in Vietnam 40 years after our departure from Vietnam to discuss opportunities for a new relationship, building on our historical investment and the incredible sacrifices of those who served there. My engagements in the region reinforced that we have our shoulder behind the rebalance to the Asia Pacific, even as our military confronts challenges in other parts of the world. In fact, on Sunday, I’ll depart for Afghanistan.

Which brings me to Iraq. Under the command of General Lloyd Austin at U.S. Central Command, our efforts in Iraq have included to date seven humanitarian airdrop missions delivering 636 bundles of food, water and medical supplies, more than 60 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties daily, each day, and to date, 89 targeted airstrikes conducted by United States Air Force and United States Navy aircraft. These airstrikes have protected U.S. persons and facilities and helped prevent humanitarian crisis.

As Iraq’s political future takes shape, I’d emphasize that enduring stability will depend on achieving a credible partner in the Iraqi government that must commit to being much more inclusive with all of its population than it has been thus far.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.


Q: Mr. Secretary, in your comments, you mentioned that ISIL’s momentum has been stalled recently, and you said that nonetheless you expect them to regroup. My question is, why not go after ISIL where they started, which is in Syria? I know that you’ve described a strategy of enabling the Iraqis both politically and militarily to roll back their gains in Iraq, but they do have a sanctuary in eastern Syria. What is the strategy, if it’s not to go root them out from, you know, inside Syria? Why not — why not go that route?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, going back to your point about my statement on what our objectives are, which I just restated in my statement, I would also say, in addition to that, that — and I think the president has been very clear on this — that we continue to explore all options regarding ISIL and how best we can assist our partners in that area, the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, against ISIL.

You all know that in the president’s request in OCO for a $5 billion antiterrorism fund, it was $500 million in there to assist the moderate opposition. So that’s what we’re looking at; that’s what we’re doing. And we will continue to stay focused, as I said, on what we’re doing now and exploring all options as we go forward.

Q: (OFF-MIKE) options that you refer to include airstrikes across the border into Syria?

SEC. HAGEL: Like I said, we’re looking at all options.


Q: I wanted to ask both of you specifically on the hostage rescue mission. You both have talked extensively over the years about protecting classified information. Even if you (inaudible) were told that the news media was going to publish an article, which is what the State Department says, you revealed it because you thought the media was going to publish something. Why specifically did both of you — please, both of you answer — why did you think it was a good idea to officially acknowledge in detail classified information — a classified mission about a hostage rescue when there are still American hostages there? Are you worried that this has risked other hostages’ lives? We now have a leak investigation. And was this an intelligence failure, this mission? But why did you both think it was a good idea to do this? No one’s ever seen either of you do this before.

SEC. HAGEL: Why did we think it was a good idea to…

Q: Publicly acknowledge a classified mission for a hostage rescue.


Q: The statement came out of this building about it last night.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, to start with, there were a number of news outlets that were aware of the action, of the raid. And it was a decision made by the administration, which we concurred with, to address the mission. Recognizing everything that you said, there’s always risk, there continues to be risk in every action or inaction we take.

Also, the administration had informed the families of the hostages of — of this effort. So it was the decision and it was unanimous that we should, in fact, acknowledge this effort without going into any of the specifics of it, which we, as you know, will not.

As to your question on was this was a failure of intelligence, no. The fact is, as you all know, intelligence doesn’t come wrapped in a package with a bow; it is a mosaic of many pictures, of many factors.

The enemy always has a say in everything. The fact is that you have to always work that reality into any decision you make.

But the underlying — underlining objective was to do everything we could, as the president has said, to rescue these hostages, knowing their lives were in danger, clearly in danger.

It’s the responsibility of our government and our leaders to do all we can to take action when we believe there might be a good possibility, a good chance to — to make a rescue effort successful.

This operation, by the way, was a flawless operation. But the hostages were not there.

So we will do everything that we need to do, that the American people would expect from their leaders, to continue to do everything we can to get our hostages back.

Q: (OFF-MIKE) do you think that — do you have concerns that hostage lives are at risk? Was it — was it a good enough reason that the news media was going to write an article about this and do you believe it was an intelligence failure?

GEN. DEMPSEY: The — I provide military advice. The military advice that was rendered in response to your question was as long as sources and methods are not revealed, that it would be a policy decision on whether to release the information of the raid.

As to whether it was an intelligence failure, I — I agree completely with — with the secretary of defense. The mission was executed flawlessly after a significant period of preparation and planning and rehearsal. And the — it turned out that the hostages were no longer at that location.

Q: You believe they were there at one point?


Q: What were the — you both addressed this. Talk a little bit more about the long-term strategy against ISIS?

Secretary of State John Kerry said they will be crushed. The president calls them a cancer.

If that’s the case, why are U.S. airstrikes so narrowly focused and so limited and why have you delayed providing heavy weapons to the Kurds? It seems the rhetoric doesn’t match U.S. efforts to date.

SEC. HAGEL: First of all, we are providing a tremendous amount of military assistance to the Peshmerga through the Iraqi security forces.

It is one country and there’s no question that we have been accelerated — as a matter of fact, all year long, we have been accelerated — all the requests made by the Iraqi government for lethal assistance and equipment and we continue to do that.

As to the comments made by Secretary Kerry and the president — and we all share the same evaluation of ISIL — as the president has said, I’ve said, the chairman said, Secretary Kerry has said, the — the defeat of ISIL is not only going to come at the hands of airstrikes.

One of the things that I noted in my — my comments here at the beginning of this press conference was an inclusive government in Iraq is essential as to how Iraq and the United States and all of our international partners are going to also have to deal with ISIL. Military kinetic actions, airstrikes are — are part of that.

But it’s — it’s bigger than just a military operation and our efforts, as we have executed the president’s strategy on this, are specifically targeted, just as the president has said for the reasons he said.

But we are working with international partners, we’re working closely with Peshmerga and the ISF. We are doing everything we can within the confines of our influence to assist and recognize, as we’ve said, to deal with ISIL there in the Middle East and also recognizing that it is a threat, just as we’ve all said. But it isn’t going to just come as a result of airstrikes. Strategically, there are limits to how much you can accomplish with airstrikes. Tactically, you can accomplish a significant amount; I think we’ve seen that, I’ve mentioned in my comments here. So it’s the broad scope of activity and actions that we take…


Q: … I mean, the Peshmerga still say they haven’t received the heavy weapons that they’ve requested. And you’re creating a task force, I understand, on that?

GEN. DEMPSEY: A task force for the equipping effort with the Kurds? Yes, the secretary has a task force that oversees that. And they have begun to receive supplies, not just, by the way, from us or regional partners, but also from the government of Iraq, which incidentally is not to be discounted as a significant moment, with the possibility that there will be a single state of Iraq in the future. And we are providing, you know, the — those that were conducting assessments in those joint operations centers have continued to evolve. So this isn’t just about airstrikes.

SEC. HAGEL: Margaret?

Q: General, do you believe that ISIS can be defeated or destroyed without addressing the cross-border threat from Syria? And is it possible to contain them?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me start from where you ended and end up where you started. It is possible contain — to contain them. And I think we’ve seen that their momentum was disrupted. And that’s not to be discounted, by the way, because the — it was the momentum itself that had allowed them to be — to find a way to encourage the Sunni population of western Iraq and Nineveh province to accept their brutal tactics and — and their presence among them.

So you ask — yes, the answer is they can be contained, not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated. To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border.

And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time. ISIS will only truly be defeated when it’s rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.

Q: And that requires airstrikes (OFF-MIKE)

GEN. DEMPSEY: It requires a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is airstrikes. I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all of the tools of national power — diplomatic, economic, information, military.

SEC. HAGEL: Karen?

Q: Talking about ISIL in Syria, my question is for — both of you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Secretary — do you — do you have any information that there is a link, a relation between the Assad regime and ISIL? As you may know, the Assad regime has been striking ISIL for the last few months. Do you see yourself on the same page with the — with the Assad regime? And do you still believe that Assad is part of the problem or he might become part of the broader solution in the region?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, Assad is very much a central part of the problem. And I think it’s well documented as to why. When you have the brutal dictatorship of Assad and what he has done to his own country, which perpetuated much of what is happening or has been happening in Syria, so he’s part of the problem, and as much a part of it as probably the central core of it.

As to your question regarding ISIL and Assad, yes, they are fighting each other, as well as other terrorist groups, very sophisticated terrorist groups in — in Syria.

GEN. DEMPSEY: He is absolutely part of the problem.

SEC. HAGEL: Kevin?

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you address the charges of mission creep with Iraq, going beyond helping humanitarian, beyond protecting Americans to directly going after ISIL, whether through the Iraqis or not? Does the Pentagon believe it has the authority? Have you talked to the general counsel for what you’re doing now? Or do you need any kind of additional or different type of authority going forward for what you would like to be able to do?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, to start with, the president has been very clear on mission creep. And he’s made it very clear that he will not allow that. This is why he’s been very clear on what our mission is. We comply with the War Powers Act and informed Congress on how many people we have.

Of course, we consult with our counsel all the time on do we have the domestic authority, do we have the international authority on all actions, as we do on everything we do. But, again, I refer you back to the president’s comments on mission creep. This is — this is not about mission creep.


Q: I want to ask you to prepare — talk directly to the American public. Is the — should the American public be steeled for another long, hard slog against ISIS? Mr. Secretary, in July, you painted them as an imminent threat. Not even George Bush when he was hyping the road to war in Iraq called Saddam Hussein an imminent threat. He called him “grave and gathering.”

General Dempsey, you talked about defeating ISIL over time. Should the public start getting prepared for another long, hard slog, like Secretary Rumsfeld talked about, fighting Al Qaida, in the fight to eliminate ISIL?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, as to the comment about an imminent threat, I think the evidence is pretty clear. When we look at what they did to Mr. Foley, what they threatened to do to all Americans and Europeans, what they are doing now, the — I don’t know any other way to describe it other than barbaric. They have no standard of decency, of responsible human behavior, and I think the record’s pretty clear on that. So, yes, they are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.

GEN. DEMPSEY: You’ve heard me speak, I think, about the fact that we’ve gone from a narrow focus on Al Qaida to the recognition that, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and these disenfranchise populations that I’ve described a lack of governance and sanctuary, failed states, declining nationalism — you’ve heard me talk about all that — that we actually have groups that now kind of are loosely connected, in some cases affiliated, that run from Afghanistan across the Arabian peninsula into Yemen to the Horn of Africa and into North and West Africa.

So, in general, the conflict against those groups, most of which are local, some of which are regional, and some of which are global in nature, that’s going to be a very long contest. It’s ideological. It’s not political. It’s religious, in many cases. So, yes, it’s going to be a very long contest.

But when you ask me if the American people should steel themselves for this long conflict, there will — there will be required participation in the — of the United States of America, and particularly in a leadership role, to build coalitions, to provide the unique capabilities that we provide, but not necessarily all the capabilities, to work through this thing using three different military tools.

One is direct action. There will be cases where we are personally threatened, U.S. persons and facilities are threatened, that we will use direct action. If told to use direct action for other purposes, we’ll be prepared to do so. Haven’t been asked.

The second one is building partner capacity. And that’s — that’s really where this has to reside. We’ve got to have them take ownership of this, because, frankly, if we own it, they’re not going to be that interested in it.

And then the last one, of course, is enabling, which is to say enabling our partners, which is what you see us doing somewhat now in Iraq with both the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga, and I think you’ll see that enabling function used, as well.

Q: Can I follow up on Tony’s please?


Q: You know you were talking about this threat and a war-weary America. And I think most Americans are asking, well, what is the ISIL threat to us here at home? Could either of you describe the terrorist threat that ISIL represents to Americans? And — and should Americans — again, to follow up on Tony — should they be prepared for a perpetual war on terror?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I’ll take the first run at it, and Marty can respond as well.

Jim, what happened in this country on 9/11, 2001, when you ask the question about should Americans see this as any kind of a threat, imminent threat, or what’s the — what’s the issue, this is in Iraq, I doubt if there were many people that would have thought there was much of a threat the day before 9/11.

Now, that happened a few years ago. This — this country is far better prepared today, in every way for this.

But terrorism is not new to the world. The sophistication of terrorism and ideology that the general was talking about, married now, with resources now, presents a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country. The sophistication, technology, money, resources, all that is different.

And we can’t ask the question of ourselves as leaders who have the responsibility of the security of this country, saying, well, is it that big a deal? I mean, they’re far away.

We don’t have that luxury.

Every day the intelligence community of this country and the leaders, regardless of who the administration is, or who the secretary of defense is, or who the chairman is, deals with this every day, that we don’t want to face that again, ever, 9/11 or any part of it.

So we — so we have to look at this, Jim, from the reality of what’s out there, but also what could be out there and what could be coming.

And is this a long-term — sure, it’s a long-term threat.

Q: Is it the calculation, though, that ISIL presents a 9/11 level threat to the United States?

SEC. HAGEL: Jim, ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded.

Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it and– and — and get ready.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, the immediacy — the immediacy is in the number of Europeans and other nationalities who have come to the region to become part of that ideology. And those — those folks can go home at some point.

It’s why I have conversations with my European colleagues about their southern flank of NATO, which I think is actually more threatened in the near term than we are. Nevertheless, because of open borders and immigration issues, it’s an — it’s an immediate threat. That is to say, the fighters who may leave the current fight and migrate home.

Longer term, it’s about ISIL’s vision, which includes — I actually call ISIL, here we go, right, ISIS, I-S-I-S, because it’s easier for me to remember that their long-term vision is the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. And al-Sham includes Lebanon, the current state of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Kuwait.

If they were to achieve that vision, it would fundamentally alter the face of the Middle East and create a security environment that would certainly threaten us in many ways.


Q: I know the president and you all talk about right now, it’s Iraq’s responsibility to take control of their own country, but isn’t the U.S. already at war with ISIS?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Are you looking at me?


SEC. HAGEL: You’re the general.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Do I — do I look like a guy that would answer that question in front of the — the declaration of war is a policy decision, not a military decision.


Q: Is there any estimate on how much these operations in Iraq have cost so far? And considering you said ISIS poses a long-term threat, and we’re gonna — (inaudible) — a long-term strategy, might you need to reshape your 2015 budget to accommodate for that?

SEC. HAGEL: Maybe. Well, depending — first of all, go back to the OCO reference that I mentioned, that we’ve already asked the Congress in a separate fund, a counterterrorism fund for $5 billion, half a billion of that specifically for the moderate Syrian opposition.

So, yes, you’re constantly shaping a budget to assure that resources match the mission and the mission and the resources match the threat.

And it isn’t — it isn’t a process that is void of the dynamics of a changing, shifting world and requiring resources, as you plug those resources into your strategy, to assure that you can carry out that — that strategy.

SEC. HAGEL: So, yes, you’re shifting all the time on what you think is going to be required. I mean, we’ve had to move assets over the last couple of months, obviously, to accomplish what we accomplished in Iraq. That costs money, that takes certain monies out of certain funds. So it’s — it’s a constant, fluid process as you — as you plan for these.

General, you want to say anything?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I mean, you know, this — the adaptations we’ve made to our global posture and in particular, our regional posture in response to the tasks we’ve been given has been really remarkable.

It reminds me that — never to miss the opportunity to thank those who serve in uniform for their incredible agility and courage in dealing with whatever issues confront them. And as you know, there’s a lot of — there’s a lot of issues confronting us globally right now and we’re answering a call and will continue to do so.

But we — there may be a point where — I think we’re fine for Fiscal Year ’14 and we’ll have to continue to gather the data and see what it does to us in ’15.”

White House on Meeting with Syrian Defector

White House on Meeting with Syrian Defector

01 August 2014
Caesar's testimony before Congress, courtesy of the WSJ
Caesar’s testimony before Congress, courtesy of the WSJ

Office of the Press Secretary
Washington, D.C.
August 1, 2014

Statement by Deputy NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan’s Meeting with the Syrian Defector “Caesar”

Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan met today with former Syrian military police photographer “Caesar,” who defected from the Assad regime with thousands of photographs of brutalized bodies, suggestive of torture and killing on an industrial scale by the Assad regime.

Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Sullivan thanked “Caesar” for his personal and moral courage in bearing witness to the Assad regime’s atrocities, which represent an assault on human dignity. The images that “Caesar” has shared with the world paint a picture of unimaginable suffering – gouged eyes, abrasions in the silhouette of metal chains, and the emaciated corpses of men, women, and children – and offer some of the most heart wrenching evidence of the unconscionable tactics Bashar al-Assad employs to cling to power.

Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Sullivan told “Caesar” that he has done a service not only to the Syrian people, but to the world, in bringing this evidence to light. The United States remains deeply disturbed that because Russia and China vetoed a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that was supported by every other member of the United Nations Security Council, the perpetrators cannot be held to account in the ICC. Nevertheless, the United States will continue working through other avenues with our international partners to pursue accountability for the perpetrators of these crimes against the Syrian people.

The United States is deeply concerned for the many thousands of Syrians who remain imprisoned within Syria. More broadly, the United States will continue to be the largest international donor to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis faced by the Syrian people. We are also providing increased support for the moderate Syrian opposition, which is fighting both the Assad regime and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Finally, we will continue our efforts to achieve a negotiated political resolution to the Syrian conflict that leads to Assad’s departure and finally ends the nightmare facing the Syrian people.