WASHINGTON – The United States and coalition forces have made progress in recent months against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but the campaign will be “a long and difficult struggle,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress here today.
“We are three months into a multi-year effort,” Hagel said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. In some parts of Iraq, ISIL’s advance has been stalled and even reversed by Iraqi, Kurdish and tribal forces supported by U.S. and coalition air strikes. But ISIL still represents a “serious threat” to American interests, Hagel said.
The secretary stressed the importance of sustaining the regional and global coalition, which includes 16 more countries since Hagel’s last congressional testimony in September. More than 60 nations are now contributing to the fight against ISIL, Hagel said, with assistance ranging from air support to training to humanitarian aid.
“Coalition partners have carried out 130 airstrikes against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria,” Hagel said. “Coalition nations have also pledged hundreds of personnel to support our mission to train, advise, assist, and help build the capacity of Iraqi forces.”
Methods and Results
The comprehensive strategy to stop ISIL also focuses on supporting inclusive governance, undercutting ISIL’s flow of resources, countering ISIL’s messaging, and constricting the flow of foreign fighters, Hagel said.
The combined effort has yielded results in degrading and destroying elements of ISIL’s warfighting capacity and denying safe haven to its combatants. The secretary said that ISIL fighters have been forced to maneuver in smaller groups, hide their large equipment, and change their communication methods.
“Sustaining this pressure on ISIL will help provide time and space for Iraq to reconstitute its forces and continue going on the offense,” Hagel explained. “And as Iraqi forces build strength, the tempo and intensity of our coalition’s air campaign will accelerate in tandem.”
However, ISIL “will not be defeated through military force alone,” Hagel said. In Iraq, he said, “much more needs to be done to achieve political reform.” And in Syria, since there is no partner government to work with, Hagel said, military strategy will demand time, patience and perseverance to deliver results.
“The position of the United States remains that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has lost the legitimacy to govern,” Hagel said. The U.S. and coalition goal, he explained, is to ultimately create conditions for a political settlement in Syria.
“We are still at the front end of our campaign against ISIL,” Hagel told the House panel. “Congressional support — your support — is vital for this campaign to succeed.”