By Jim Garamone
The commander of U.S. Central Command detailed the progress of the Mosul offensive in Iraq and also spoke of the long-range strategies for the United States in the Middle East during a discussion at the Center for American Progress in Washington on Wednesday.
Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel answered questions from former Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy DeLeon, stressing at all times the need to listen to allies in the region.
Votel gave a quick update on the Iraqi offensive to liberate their country’s second-largest city from the clutches of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “What I can report to you is that it is on track with the plan,” he said. “In some areas, we are right where we expected to be, [and] in other areas we are a little bit ahead of where we expected to be.”
ISIL is facing advances from three different directions – the south, east and northeast, the general said, and they are getting squeezed. “What we are seeing so far is that the plan the Iraqi security forces have put together along with their Kurdish partners … is meeting the needs of what we must do right now,” he said.
Time, Effort, Sacrifice
The offensive is only three days old, Votel noted, and the ISIL terrorists have had two years to build up defenses and emplace booby-traps and improvised explosive devices throughout the city. He said he expects the liberation of Mosul to take a lot of time, effort and sacrifice.
The key watchwords Votel said he uses for the counter-ISIL campaign are “momentum” and “pressure.”
“It is extraordinarily important that we keep momentum up for our activities,” he said. “There is a lot of activity that we are continuing to pursue out there because it supports the other notion of constant pressure on the Islamic State.”
Operations against the group in Syria and other parts of Iraq did not stop because of the offensive on Mosul, the general pointed out. “The strategy has been to try to present the Islamic State with as many dilemmas as we possibly can,” he said.
Operations are taking place on the ground and via airstrikes, he said, going after ISIL’s resources, including its oil revenue, and targeting the group’s leaders.
An Adaptive Enemy
“That said, this is an adaptive enemy,” Votel said. ISIL is working to come up with new ways to attack the coalition, he noted, and has threatened to use chemical weapons. The general said that although coalition troops have the equipment and training needed to defend themselves against such a barbaric weapon, civilians do not.
Votel said he is cautious and will not speculate on how long the effort will take. “It’s a little early to talk about timelines,” he added, “but I think we are on track for where it needs to go.”
Votel also looked beyond the immediate issues of the day, saying that the United States needs to look at its long-term goals in the region and, specifically, how to work better with partners.
“We do have some very capable partners in the region able to do expeditionary operations, and they’ve been very receptive to the relationship and training that we’ve done,” he said.
The region poses many challenges, including a civil war, terrorism, Sunni/Shia issues, the role of Iran, Yemen and others. “From my perspective, I really try to focus on three things,” the Centcom commander said.
Three Points of Focus
First and foremost, he said, is listening to partners to ensure the United States has a good understanding of their perspectives on issues in the region.
“Second, is to reinforce relationships,” he said. “We have partners in the region that we’ve had long-standing security relationships with, and we’ve been extraordinarily dependent on them. We have to reinforce those relationships and adapt them as they grow and change.”
Third, the general said, the United States must be responsive to the partners. “I’m particularly concerned about this, whether it is foreign military sales or responses to things they are asking us about,” he added. “This doesn’t mean always saying yes, but letting them know where we are on things.”