Nothing keeps Defense Secretary Jim Mattis awake at night. “I keep other people awake,” he told CBS reporter John Dickerson during a segment on Sunday.
The secretary sat down today for his first television interview with Face the Nation. He spoke about the threats facing the United States and the department’s response to those threats.
Mattis said thedefeat-ISIS coalitionmust “annihilate” the terror group, and that the strategy to do so is working.“Our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS,” the secretary said. “It is a threat to all civilized nations. And the bottom line is we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot.”
The campaign against the group in Iraq and Syria has shifted from attrition tactics to annihilation tactics. “Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa,” he said. “We’re not going to allow them to do so. We’re going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.”
Decision-Making at the Right Level
Iraqi forces have surrounded the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar to ensure ISIS is annihilated. The same is happening in Raqqa — the Syrian city ISIS styled as the capital of the so-called caliphate.
The secretary said that decisions on the campaign are being made at the appropriate level. He has delegated execution to “the level where people are trained and equipped to make decisions so we move swiftly against the enemy,” Mattis said.
He stressed that there has been no changes to the rules of engagement in Iraq or Syria. “There is no relaxation of our attention to protect the innocent,” he said.
There is also no lessening of the whole-of-government effort against the terror group, he said. ISIS is a terror philosophy as much as it is a terror group. “[ISIS] is more than just an army. It’s also a fight about ideas,” Mattis said. “And we have got to dry up their recruiting. We have got to dry up their fundraising. The way we intend to do it is to humiliate them, to divorce them from any nation giving them protection, and humiliating their message of hatred, of violence. Anyone who kills women and children is not devout. They … cannot dress themselves up in false religious garb and say that somehow this message has dignity.”
The strategy of working by, with and through other nations will continue and the counter-ISIS fight will be a long one, Mattis said.
War With North Korea Would Be ‘Catastrophic’
The secretary shirted to the threat posed by North Korea saying a war on the peninsula “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”
Seoul, the capital of South Korea with a population of 25 million, is within rage of North Korean artillery and missiles. And the North Koreans are building a nuclear arsenal. “We are working with the international community to deal with this issue,” Mattis said. “This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan, to South Korea. And in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well. But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat if we’re not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.”
He said North Korea is a direct threat to the United States and said he was encouraged by Chinese help in seeking to rein in the rogue regime.
Mattis is a strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, saying it represents the West’s values and supports democracy. He said has no idea why Russia sees NATO as a threat. “Right now, Russia’s future should be wedded to Europe,” he said. “Why they see NATO as a threat is beyond me. Clearly, NATO is not a threat.”
Russia has chosen to be a strategic competitor and the United States is “attempting to deal with Russia, under President Trump’s direction, in a diplomatic manner,” Mattis said. “At the same time while willing to engage diplomatically, we are going to have to confront Russia when it comes to areas where they attack us, whether it be with cyber, or they try to change borders using armed force.”
Jim Garamone is a senior reporter with DoD News, Defense Media Activity