The dedication of the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is evident by its progress, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in his welcoming remarks today at a defense ministerial at NATO headquarters in Brussel. The secretary confirmed that 95 percent of the territory ISIS once controlled in Iraq and Syria is now liberated while coalition partners continue to secure more ground each day.
“Mosul, Tal Afar and Hawijah have been liberated; efforts to liberate the final pockets of ISIS-held territory in Anbar province are progressing rapidly,” Mattis said.
Under Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s leadership, Arab and Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite forces have worked together with unprecedented levels of cooperation, he said.
Additionally, the Kurdish independence referendum in October has created tension, but the coalition appears to be on track to resolve it constitutionally, thanks largely to Abadi’s patience, Mattis said.
Two weeks ago, the coalition’s local partners in Syria liberated Raqqa, as ISIS’ leadership crumbled and many fighters surrendered, the secretary said.
“Despite these successes our fight is not over,” Mattis emphasized. “Even without a physical caliphate, ISIS remains a threat to stability in the recently liberated areas, as well as in our homelands.”
The fight to defeat ISIS will remain long-term, requiring all elements of the coalition’s collective national powers — military, economic, diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement, counter finance and counter messaging, the secretary said.
“We are stabilizing the territory liberated from ISIS through continued engagement with our Iraqi partners,” he said.
“Every battlefield is also a humanitarian field. Even after the fighting stops, [it’s] something we must hold actively in our operations as a situation that cannot be overlooked,” Mattis said.
“Our greatest weapon against this enemy, our greatest strength is our unity,” the secretary said. “ISIS is opposed to all nations’ civilized values, and we must remain focused on the common threat: denying them “their sick and twisted objectives,” he added.
“Groups like ISIS — groups that would seek to sow murder and mayhem — cannot be allowed to succeed,” Mattis said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronk@DoD)