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Coalition Has Momentum to End ISIL’s Hold in Iraq, Syria, Dunford Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2016 — The coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has the momentum to end the terror group’s hold in Iraq and Syria, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford also told the panel that he is worried about the joint force and the ability of the force to operate in the future.

The chairman testified alongside Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

The coalition, led by indigenous forces in Iraq and Syria, has made significant progress against ISIL, Dunford said. The coalition has also hit the group in other areas where it has established a foothold -- Libya, Afghanistan and West Africa, the chairman added.

“Coalition operations supporting indigenous ground forces … have disrupted core ISIL’s ability to mount external attacks, reduced its territorial control, limited its freedom of movement, eliminated many of their leaders and reduced the resources that they had available,” Dunford said. “Most importantly, the coalition has begun to discredit ISIL’s narrative and its aura of invincibility.”

More Challenges

While more needs to happen, he said, “it’s clear we have the momentum in the military campaign.”

The chairman backed up testimony from last week by the military chiefs. They spoke about readiness shortfalls in personnel, equipment and in modernization and research funding. “I fully concur with their assessment of the operational tempo and the budget challenges faced by each of the services and across department,” he said. 

While the challenges are present, the joint force remains the most capable and professional military in the world, the chairman said. “We can defend the nation, we can meet our alliance responsibilities and today we have a competitive advantage over any adversary,” he added.

There are abundant challenges. On the nation-state side, Dunford said, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea continue to invest in military capabilities that reduce America’s military advantage. “They are also advancing their interests through adversarial competition that has a military dimension that falls short of armed conflict,” he said. “Examples include, Russian actions in Ukraine, North Korea’s nuclear saber rattling, Chinese activities in the South China Sea and Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East.”

No Direct Confrontation

Each of these nations stays away from direct confrontation with the United States, Dunford said. Instead, he added, they use economic coercion, information operations, cyber capabilities, unconventional warfare and force posture, as semi-military strategies.

“Meanwhile, non-state actors such as ISIL and al-Qaida remain a threat to our homeland, the American people, our partners and our allies,” the chairman said.   

The joint force, Dunford said, “is engaged and responding to each of these strategic challenges,” the chairman said. “We’re focused on deterring potential adversaries and we’re prepared to respond should deterrence fail. We also remain firmly committed to defeating ISIL and its affiliates wherever they may emerge.”

And the joint force needs to be ready to engage any challenges moving forward, the chairman said.

“As the secretary said, we don’t have the luxury of choosing between the challenges that we face today, or the challenges that we most assuredly will face tomorrow,” Dunford said. “To meet tomorrow's requirements, we must take action today.”

Dunford said the U.S. nuclear enterprise is aging and needs modernization. “At the same time, we must develop and enhance the capabilities in the increasingly contested domains of space and cyber,” he said. “And we must also do all that while we preserve the edge in our conventional capabilities.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

Distribution channels: Military