APRIL 18, 2016, WASHINGTON (AFNS) – Defense Secretary Ash Carter discussed the “two I’s” – ISIL and Iran — with U.S. Airmen at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates April 16.
Defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is the highest priority for American forces in the region, the secretary told the Airmen.
But the region is complicated, he said, and countering Iran’s malign influence is a concern not only in the region, but also around the world.
The main mission for the UAE-based Airmen is destroying ISIL in Syria and Iraq. “If you think about cancer, that’s where the parent tumor is,” Carter said.
ISIL leaders continue to call the area they have captured in Iraq and Syria the new caliphate, but Carter said the 66-nation coalition opposing the terror group will not let that happen.
“There isn’t going to be a state based on this ideology,” he said. “That’s what you are up to here, and we also secondly need to go after every place (where ISIL has) spread around the world. We’re doing that, too.”
But the U.S. wants to accelerate the destruction of ISIL, the secretary told the Airmen, and he asked them to think of ways that can happen. “We’re limited only by our own ingenuity and our ideas,” he said.
The strategy, he said, is to enable capable, motivated local forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria to take on ISIL. Special operations personnel are working with Iraqi and Syrian forces against the terror group. U.S. and coalition partners are training these local fighters and working with them.
But they can’t do this without U.S. and coalition support from the air, Carter said.
There has been progress. Iraqi forces have retaken the key cities of Ramadi and Beiji, and they are fighting ISIL around Hit. Syrian forces took Shaddadi and severed the lines of communication between ISIL’s alleged capital of Raqqa in Syria and the largest city the group holds: Mosul, Iraq.
“But we’re looking to do more,” Carter said. “We’re looking for opportunities, in essence, to get this over with faster. So if you see something, say something to your commanders.”
Even with the defeat of ISIL, there are still problems in the region, the secretary said. The U.S. has a nuclear deal with Iran, he said, calling it “a good deal, in the sense that it took the nuclear weapons out of the picture.”
But that does not mean Iran won’t try to disturb the peace in other ways, the secretary said, adding that Iran is capable of “outright aggression or the kind of malign activity” that has worried many nations of the area.
He noted that President Barack Obama will be visiting Saudi Arabia later this week for the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting. Carter told the airmen he is in the region to pave the way for the president as the region discusses ISIL and Iran.