Secretary of Defense
Counter ISIL Campaign Remarks at the Ecole Militaire, Paris
General, thank you so much for that introduction. Thank you all for being here this morning. Friends, colleagues, allies, partners, thank you. It’s an honor for me to be here with you today, particularly at this extraordinary institution, which has produced countless leaders that have not only strengthened France but also its alliance with the United States. From Lafayette to Pershing, from the Statue of Liberty to the liberation of Paris, we stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, and we are proud, proud, to count you as America’s oldest ally.
Yesterday it was my solemn honor to place a wreath at the Place de La Republique in memory of the victims of the November attack. The savage gunmen who opened fire that day attacked us all.
It was an attack on civilization, an attack on the very freedom you in this room have dedicated your careers to protecting – the freedom of everyday people to dream their dreams, to raise their children, and to live full lives. The determination I see in your eyes today is the same determination I see in the eyes of every man and woman in this magnificent city. It is our determination as well. We must, we can, and we will deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.
Hours after the attack in Paris, Minister Le Drian and I were on the phone driving our military alliance forward. The first thing we agreed was to deliver ISIL a crushing response in the heart of Raqqa. We also agreed right away to intensify our intelligence sharing and operational planning.
That week both of our nations signed a so-called “Special Instruction” to our respective military intelligence organizations, allowing thousands of additional intelligence products to be shared with one another, to improve the targeting of ISIL, and enabling closer planning between us.
The French military has been fortunate to have a steadfast and determined leader like Jean-Yves Le Drian. Over the past three and a half years, the United States and France have committed to one another in new ways to counter common challenges around the world and that simply would not have been possible without Jean-Yves, and I am proud to call him my friend. His incisive observations have played a critical role in the refinement of the coalition military campaign plan to defeat ISIL that I want to share with you today.
Many of you will play an important role in the execution of this plan on land, sea, air, and cyber-space working alongside many coalition partners. We all must have a common campaign plan that the entire coalition understands, and that our enemies cannot survive. The military actions that the United States, France, and our coalition partners have taken in recent months have allowed the campaign to gather momentum, and to apply pressure to ISIL in Iraq and Syria on more fronts than at any other point previously in the campaign. Moreover, this pressure is not only having an effect itself, it’s also generating additional opportunities to further accelerate the campaign. As we continuously adapt and accelerate the campaign, we will intensify the pressure on ISIL, not just in Iraq and Syria, but in other regions where they have emerged, using a variety of tools at our disposal.
It won’t be easy. ISIL is a cancer that’s threatening to spread. And like all cancers, you can’t cure the disease just by cutting out the tumor. You have to eliminate it wherever it has spread, and stop it from coming back. The coalition military campaign plan that unites our efforts accordingly focuses on three military objectives: One, to destroy the ISIL parent tumor in Iraq and Syria by collapsing its two power centers in Mosul and Raqqah, Two, to combat the emerging metastases of the ISIL tumor worldwide, and three, to protect our nations from attack.
To accomplish the first of these goals, we are enabling motivated, local forces on the ground to defeat ISIL and to sustain its defeat. We’re doing this by providing, first, a clear military campaign plan and decisive leadership by nations such as the United States and France, and second, the support of a global coalition wielding a suite of capabilities – ranging from air strikes, special forces, cyber tools, intelligence, equipment, mobility and logistics, training, advice, and assistance from those on the ground.
Last week, I described the elements of this military campaign plan firsthand to the troops of the U.S. 101st Airborne – no strangers to French history – who will soon deploy to Iraq to execute a part of this campaign. And now this week it’s my privilege to discuss it also with you, their partners.
Let me map for you, as I mapped for our departing troops, where we are headed this year.
The ISIL parent tumor has two centers – Raqqah in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq. ISIL has used its control of these cities and nearby territories as a power base from which to derive considerable financial resources, manpower, and ideological outreach. They constitute ISIL’s military, political, economic, and ideological centers of gravity.
That’s why our campaign plan’s map has big arrows pointing at both Mosul and Raqqah. We will begin by collapsing ISIL’s control over both of these cities and then engage in elimination operations through other territories ISIL holds in Iraq and Syria.
Last month I visited Iraq to thank U.S. and coalition troops and to meet with Iraqi leaders. As I spoke with them, it became apparent that the additional military steps that we implemented in the fall, in fact beginning well before the Paris attack, are generating significant momentum across the battlefield in Iraq and Syria. It’s clear that our actions to accelerate the campaign are having an effect, and moreover, are creating opportunities to do even more.
Local forces trained by American, French and other troops are taking ground back from the enemy. U.S. and French pilots were the first to take to the skies over Iraq and continue to bomb ISIL relentlessly, degrading its ability to move fighters and materiel by cutting off key transit routes to, and especially between, Raqqah and Mosul.
Our strikes are dismantling ISIL’s war-sustaining finances, targeting its oil production and its industrial base. Together, we will continue these kinds of operations as part of the overall effort to degrade its financing.
Throughout Iraq and Syria we are significantly constraining ISIL’s ability either to defend or attack, and we’re working with our partners to take advantage of every opportunity this presents. For example, we now have a specialized expeditionary targeting force in place that is preparing to work with the Iraqis to begin mounting sudden, long-range raids, going after ISIL’s fighters and commanders, killing or capturing them wherever we find them, along with other key targets.
In Syria, we’re combining the effects of our air campaign with support to local forces to isolate, pressure, and eventually collapse ISIL control over its so-called capital of Raqqah.
In November, a coalition of Syrian Arabs that we helped equip in northern Syria fighting alongside Kurdish and Turkmen forces recaptured important terrain along the Turkey-Syria border. And in just the past few weeks, with our advice, these forces also captured the Tishreen Dam and surrounding villages, cutting off a critical logistics route for ISIL to Raqqah. All these forces build momentum towards Raqqah, and as they do so other local forces can be expected to join the winning side.
To build on these efforts, our special operators are collaborating in ensuring that ISIL leaders and fighters enjoy no safe haven. Special operators, as you well know, bring a unique set of capabilities that make them force multipliers, such as intelligence gathering, targeting, and the ability to identify moderate local forces and provide them with advice and assistance, or to accompany local forces to help make them victorious.
Through even a small number of these highly trained operators, the full might of our coalition’s air power, technology, intelligence, logistics and know-how can be brought to the front end and relentlessly focused on the enemy. And while we do not discuss specifics of these operations, these forces have already established contact with new local forces that share our goals, new lines of communication to local, motivated and capable fighters, and new targets for airstrikes and strikes of all kinds. These operators have helped focus the efforts of the local, capable forces against key ISIL vulnerabilities, including their lines of communication. They’re generating new insights that we turn into new targets, new strikes, and new opportunities.
In short, they’re generating a virtuous cycle of actions. Actions which help identify and marshal the strength of yet more local forces. Action which is leading to more intelligence. Action which is generating new tactical and operational ideas. Action which flushes ISIL out into the open, shrinking its power base, its finances and its space to maneuver. And action that sends an unmistakable message to both ISIL and the moderate Syrian opposition that our coalition will prevail in this fight.
Now ISIL must and will as I said be defeated in Syria and Iraq. The defeat must be lasting, it must stick so that similar extremism does not recur and emerge from the same places after the campaign. For the defeat to be lasting in this way it has to achieved and sustained by local forces that are motivated and capable. After ISIL is defeated these forces must secure and govern the territory by building long term trust within the populations that they liberate. We can and we will enable such local forces, but we cannot entirely substitute for them.
It’s worth noting that it was Iraqi soldiers who took back the city center of Ramadi and are fighting every day to clear the remainder of the city, proving themselves not only motivated but capable. These same Iraqi forces, supported where needed by our coalition, aim to deliver the same results to the people who have been brutalized in every town on the road to the border in Anbar and on the road north to Mosul. These devastated towns and villages need to be secured, they need to be rebuilt, and they need to be governed.
As Ramadi showed, the unmatched capabilities of our coalition can enable and multiply the power and force of our local partners. We’re clearing the battlefield with precision strikes. We’re giving them equipment, and training on how to use it, including, just to give one concrete example, the temporary bridge that helped Iraqi troops cross the Euphrates when ISIL had blown up all the bridges in the town.
We’re giving them training, advice and assistance in modern warfare, including engineering and logistics. And we’re prepared to do more where and when we can have an additional strategic effect.
The training we’re providing will be critical, as the Peshmerga approach Mosul from the north to close with the Iraqi Security Forces and Counterterrorism Service approaching from the south. Reaching and retaking Mosul will not be easy, and it will not be quick. There will be many engagements in between. Logistics will become a greater challenge as the Iraqi Security Forces move farther from Baghdad, and the need for operational support from our coalition will likely grow.
But as our success in Ramadi and north and central Iraq has shown, training, advising, and assisting rather than trying to substitute entirely for local forces is the right strategic approach. Now when we see something that works, we look for ways to do more of it whenever and wherever it can have a strategic effect as we collapse ISIL’s hold on its remaining territory in Iraq.
This campaign is not up to our two nations alone, the United States and France, to accomplish. The lasting defeat of ISIL must be a global undertaking, because it’s a global threat. And any nation, any nation, that cares about the safety of its people or the future of its civilization must know this – the United States and strong partners like France will continue to lead the fight, but there can be no free riders.
That means that as we invest in the acceleration of the campaign, so must every one of our coalition partners and every nation in a position to help. Yesterday, I met with my counterparts from six nations who share a fundamental commitment to accelerating the campaign. We met to discuss a common approach to intensifying our military efforts. There was broad agreement on the objectives of the campaign plan among our ministers, and the need to accelerate our collective efforts. We received a briefing from Admiral Mark Fox, the Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command, on the wide range of capabilities – both military and non-military – that are needed to prosecute the campaign. We agreed that all must and can do more.
It was a very positive meeting, and it will give every minister the opportunity to discuss with their governments what else they can bring to the table, and how they can better align their efforts with our common goals and strategy. But we also recognize that there are other capabilities that our wider coalition can and must bring to the table as well. We therefore yesterday agreed to call the full coalition, all 26 nations plus Iraq, to meet next month in Brussels for the first ever meeting of defense ministers of the Counter-ISIL Coalition to further align our efforts, including the resources needed for the fight ahead.
France is already contributing greatly, as are several other nations. Many other nations can do more. And some are on the wrong track entirely.
I have personally reached out to the ministers of defense in over 40 countries around the world to ask them to contribute to enhancing the fight against ISIL – more special operations forces, more strike and reconnaissance aircraft, weapons and munitions, training assistance, as well as combat support and combat service support.
And very importantly, we also need the full involvement of every government, not just every military. That means greater diplomatic, political, and economic engagement. It means development and reconstruction. It means actions at home and abroad to disrupt, dismantle and degrade ISIL’s capabilities, recruiting and finances.
Now we don’t ask for favors, but neither do we grant favors. We recognize that nations follow their own best interests, as we follow ours. That means that they themselves must accelerate their efforts disrupting the networks that enable the flow of foreign fighters and material across their lands. That means joining and taking advantage of the opportunity to fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria, before it becomes a more serious threat to their public. And for Muslim-majority nations in particular, that means stepping forward and debunking ISIL’s false claims to religious or ideological excuses for brutality.
When the full coalition meets next month, every nation must come prepared to discuss further contributions to the fight. And I will not hesitate to engage and challenge current and prospective members of the coalition as we go forward.
There is also an opportunity for those nations who have been on the wrong side of this fight so far – Russia and Iran. They can make a difference too by stopping their unending support for Bashar Assad – a chief instigator of radicalism and terrorism in Syria – and instead support a timely political transition ending that disastrous civil war.
Next, let me describe the fight outside of Iraq and Syria. As we work to destroy the parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, we must also recognize that ISIL is metastasizing in areas such as North Africa, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
The threat posed by ISIL, and groups like it, is continually evolving, changing focus and shifting location. France has been a leader in this area. I know many of you have served side by side with American troops in Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere. France has taken the fight to terrorists in Mali and other nations with our support since 2013, and you’ve been working throughout the arc of instability from Syria to the Sahel for many years. You know the dangers of violent extremism, and you’ve seen how quickly it can spread. And you know the importance of a flexible and nimble response with a broad reach in responding to these dangers.
Now in order to enhance that nimble and flexible response, the United States for our part is organizing a new way to leverage the security infrastructure we’ve already established in Afghanistan, the Middle East, East Africa, and Southern Europe into a network to counter transnational and transregional threats like ISIL.
From the U.S. and coalition troops I visited in Morón, Spain in October, to those I visited last month in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, those regional nodes provide forward presence to respond to a range of crises, terrorist and other kinds. They enable our crisis response operations, counter-terror operations, and strikes on high-value targets, and they help us act decisively to prevent ISIL affiliates from becoming as great of a threat as the parent tumor itself.
This counterterrorism network is already giving us the opportunity and capability to react swiftly to incidents and threats wherever they occur, and it maximizes our opportunities to eliminate targets and leadership. An example of this network in action was our November 13th strike on Abu Nabil, where assets from several locations in the network converged to successfully kill this ISIL leader in Libya.
Libya will continue to be a challenge in the year to come, illustrating the new reality where small organizations wield undeserved power in chaotic places. As we discussed yesterday, a number of European nations including Italy have taken the lead to think through how Europe can support a new government in Libya, and the United States is prepared to support that effort.
Now as we destroy the parent tumor and disrupt its metastases, we are constantly mindful that the fundamental mission of our militaries – yours, as well as ours – is protecting our people at home. In addition to operations overseas, that means playing a supporting, but very strong and active role to play within our borders, reinforcing law enforcement, homeland security, cyber defense, intelligence and other aspects of the government response to terrorism.
Beyond our shores we’re using all appropriate means at our disposal to disrupt potential attacks on our homelands before they can occur. And to hold accountable those who would do us harm. After the Paris attack in November, President Obama vowed that we would help hunt down the perpetrators. And on December 24th, our airstrikes killed Charaffe al Mouadan, a Syrian-based ISIL member with a direct link to the Paris attack cell. Two days later, another ISIL leader with ties to the Paris attack, Abdul Kader Hakim, was killed. Our government promised to pursue Jihadi John, who plotted against British, American and other people, as our Vice President said “to the gates of hell.” And now he is dead. We’ve made it clear that those who threaten or incite harm to our people and our friends, wherever they are, will surely come to feel the long arm and the hard fist of justice.
Our campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat, at its source and wherever it rears its head, is far from over, but the outcome is certain. There will be extraordinary challenges ahead, and I emphasized yesterday and will emphasize again in Brussels in a few weeks time, we must all do more. But our campaign will continue to adapt and to build on our success, as ISIL’s territory decreases, its resources dwindle, and local, capable forces gain the capacity to not only win on the field of battle, but to lay the foundation for lasting security in the region, and a more secure future for the world.
Thank you once again for inviting me to address this prestigious audience, and for the strength of our oldest ally. Vive la France!