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Pentagon Press Secretary Reports on Counter-ISIL Fight, Condemns Attack on Turkey

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2016 — Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said today that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been degraded and methodically dismantled in Iraq and Syria as a result of Defense Secretary Ash Carter's strategic consolidation last summer of the coalition military campaign plan under a single command. 

For the past year, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland has been the overall operational commander and under his leadership, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve has shown clear results on the ground and now has momentum in the fight against ISIL, Cook told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. 

Working with local partners in Iraq and Syria, the press secretary added, “today the barbaric group finds itself in retreat thanks to the coalition’s efforts on the ground and in the air. Its finances are in trouble, its communications are challenged and its [leaders] -- those that have survived -- find it increasingly difficult to physically move anywhere, much less operate.”

Cook said Carter is grateful to MacFarland for the job he and his team did in that important fight, which served the nation and accelerated ISIL’s ultimate defeat.

On Sunday, XVIII Airborne Corps Commander Army Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, a former brigade commander in Iraq, took MacFarland’s place in Baghdad, and the press secretary said the new commander has Carter’s total confidence.

Syria and Russia

The recent increase in Syrian air strikes and ground fighting in Aleppo are bringing more suffering to an already deplorable humanitarian crisis, Cook said, adding that the Syrian regime, aided and abetted by allies Russia and Iran, is driving the escalation with an indiscriminant bombing campaign.

“Bombing densely populated urban areas, interrupting water and electrical services and maiming civilians is only adding fuel to Syria’s civil war, and does nothing to degrade extremist groups -- Russia’s original reason for its military intervention in Syria,” he said.

By intervening militarily in this civil war, Cook said, Russia assumed enormous responsibility for Syria’s future.

“It is long past time for Russia to protect civilians, guarantee open access for humanitarian agencies and create conditions conducive for a political transition,” he added.

The United States remains engaged with Russia on all such issues but will not commit indefinitely to discussions that do not lead to results, the press secretary said.

“Contrary to recent claims,” he added, “we have not finalized plans with Russia on potential coordinated efforts.” Serious issues must first be resolved before the United States can implement the steps Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed in Moscow last month, Cook said.

“We are not there yet, and the [Syrian] regime and Russia’s recent actions only make it harder to consider any coordination,” he added.

Attack in Turkey

Also this weekend a young suicide bomber’s attack at a wedding in Gaziantep, Turkey, near the border with Syria, killed more than 50 people and injured many more.

“On behalf of Secretary Carter and the entire Department of Defense,” Cook said, “I wanted to reiterate our strong condemnation of this weekend's cowardly terrorist attack in Turkey. Our thoughts and prayers are with families of those who lost loved ones in the Gaziantep bombing and the many injured.’

The depraved act targeted innocent civilians at a wedding party, he added.

“We will continue to stand with Turkey, a vital NATO ally and key member of the counter-ISIL coalition, as we confront the terrorism threat facing our countries and the civilized world,” he said.

“If this was the work of ISIL, it only highlights once again the need for all of us to accelerate its demise,” Cook noted.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)

Distribution channels: Military