By DoD News
By C. Todd Lopez
Last year, U.S. Central Command conducted 313 operations in Iraq and Syria as part of the mission to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.
More than 95% of those operations were in partnership with either the Iraqi Security Force or the Syrian Democratic Forces.
“This really speaks to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform and also the enduring commitment of the United States—from the strategic all the way down to the tactical level—to completing this fight,” said Dana Stroul, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.
During a conference call Wednesday, Stroul told journalists the mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria remains a key priority of the national defense strategy, and it’s one senior leaders in Washington follow closely. She also said that, despite successes, ISIS remains a threat, and there is still more work to be done.
One advantage the U.S. has against ISIS is the relationships it has, not just with Iraq and the Syrian Democratic Forces, but also with partners around the world. Stroul said a recent trip to Finland to discuss the state of the fight against ISIS, demonstrated this.
“What was striking to me is the enduring commitment not only of the United States, but` of our European partners, as well as New Zealand, Australia and others,” she said. “Our partners across the world recognize the importance of this mission, recognize that ISIS still remains a threat, and are committed to this coalition.”
Also of value are the advancements made by Iraq since the U.S. transitioned a year ago to an advise, assist, enable and intelligence-sharing mission there, said Army Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. He said the U.S. continues to retain a presence in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government.
“In Iraq, things continue to improve in terms of their ability to demonstrate and actually execute independent operations as they’re building capabilities, capacity and competence towards gaining an independent ability to conduct enduring operations, sustainable, enduring operations against ISIS,” he said.
The general said much has changed in Iraq since the last time he was in the country in 2005. Baghdad, he said, is “alive and awake and illuminated at night,” and the Iraqi military is engaged in operations that are part of the “Defeat ISIS” mission in Iraq, as well as providing security for the Arabian Gulf Cup soccer tournament being held Jan. 6-19 in Iraq for the first time in 44 years.
“So, [there is] progress and continued room to grow and build the capacity and capability, but [ also a] very capable force,” he said.
Stroul said the U.S. also remains committed to the D-ISIS mission in Syria, in partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces.
“Not only are U.S. forces continuing to prosecute unilateral operations against ISIS, but we maintain a robust pace of partnered operations with the SDF, who are the only combat-credible, capable and committed partner present in northeast Syria today willing to join us in this fight,” she said.
Of importance are the number of ISIS detainees—as many as 10,000—who are in the custody of Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria.
“We know that ISIS continues to have its eyes on these detainees and sees them as the path to reconstituting and resurging across the Middle East, which is why we must stay the course [and] continue to work with the coalition in supporting the SDF to maintain custody of these detainees in a secure and humane manner.”