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Carter: Defense Ministers Agree on Next Steps in Counter-ISIL Fight

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2016 — Defense ministers and other senior leaders of the counter-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant coalition have agreed on next steps in the accelerated fight against the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today.

Carter hosted the meeting, the third of its kind, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for the representatives of more than 30 nations from the coalition and NATO to discuss the ongoing military campaign against ISIL and plans for upcoming offensives.

“In January this year, we updated our comprehensive coalition military campaign plan, … and we've pursued a number of deliberate decisions and actions to accelerate this plan and hasten ISIL's lasting defeat,” Carter said during a news conference after the meeting.

Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, attended the meeting and joined Carter at the news conference.

Since then, he added, “in play after play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back toward Raqqa and Mosul. By isolating these two cities, we're effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL's control over them.”

Carter said the ministers agreed today on the next plays in the campaign that will culminate in the collapse of ISIL's control over Mosul and Raqqa.

Accelerating the ISIL Fight

Since the first full defense ministerial in Brussels in February, Carter said, coalition nations, including the United States, have provided support to accelerate the campaign as local partners have made advances. And all have agreed to do more, he said.

For the United States, President Barack Obama decided to deploy another 560 troops to support the Iraqi security forces in their offensive to retake Mosul. And on a visit to Iraq last week, the secretary met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi, offering to share with the Iraqi forces hard-earned U.S. expertise in countering improvised explosive devices.

Today, Carter said, Army Lt. Gen. Mike Shields, director of the Defense Department’s Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Agency, is in Baghdad meeting with Iraqi officials to discuss the topic.

Coalition countries also are making new contributions, the secretary said. France is sending the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle back to the region to carry out airstrikes against ISIL, Australia will expand its training of Iraqi police and border guards, and the United Kingdom recently announced that it would deploy more personnel to Iraq, including trainers and engineers.

“Destroying ISIL's parent tumor in Iraq and Syria is necessary, but it's not sufficient,” Carter said.

ISIL's influence and activities continue to pose a threat to all coalition countries, and today the ministers discussed how they can continue to combat ISIL wherever it might try to take hold around the world, and how the military campaign can best support each government’s effort to protect its homeland and people, he said.

Iraq and Syria

On the pace of expected operations into Mosul and Raqqa, Carter noted that positioning forces for enveloping Mosul in Iraq involves training and equipping forces mainly in the south and then repositioning them.

“That has gone right according to plan,” Carter said, “including the Qayyarah west seizure, which has always been part of the plan,” and establishing the base there with help from the additional 560 U.S. troops. In the north, it’s mostly Kurdish forces that will execute the envelopment from the north, he added.

In Syria, the Syrian-Arab forces are fighting hard in Manbij, and coalition forces are in a support role, advising and providing air support, Carter said.

Votel said he’s been pleased with the performance of Syrian-Arab coalition forces in the Manbij offensive.

“This has been a very difficult fight,” the Centcom commander said. “This is an area that the Islamic State is trying to hold on to, and what I've been most impressed with is the deliberateness and the discipline with which our partner forces have conducted themselves. They are moving slowly, they are moving very deliberately, mostly because they're concerned about the civilians that still remain in the city of Manbij. I think that speaks very highly of their values and very highly of what they're about here. And I think we've picked the right partners for this operation.”

Stabilization, Reconstruction

But Carter said most of the conversation during the defense ministers’ meeting was not about the movement of forces, which was planned a long time ago and is going well. “Most of our conversations today were about what happens after the defeat of ISIL in Mosul,” he added, including stabilization and reconstruction plans and concern that the stabilization and governance effort will lag behind the military campaign.

“Making sure there's no such lag must be a significant strategic priority for us,” the secretary said. “We discussed it today, and it will be an important focus of our conversation tomorrow at the State Department with our foreign ministry counterparts.”

Tomorrow, Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with defense and foreign ministers at the State Department.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)

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