Territory, resources and foreign fighters are the measurements the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will use to measure progress against the “physical caliphate” that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has declared in Iraq and Syria.
At a Pentagon news conference today, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said these three things can be measured and will chart the progress against ISIL.
“Our campaign is designed to deny the enemy sanctuaries – to take back the territory that they currently hold,” he said. “That will have an impact on their resources, because much of their resources come from taxing people inside their territory.” It also will affect ISIL’s access to oil and other industries, he added.
The chairman said foreign fighters from about 122 nations are in Iraq and Syria. “Working with those countries to be sure that we cut off the flow of foreign fighters is probably a third area that can be quantified,” he said.
Taking back the territory, cutting the resources and choking off the foreign fighter flow is success on the ground, the general said. In addition to the physical caliphate, Dunford said, ISIL’s “virtual caliphate” must be addressed.
The chairman addressed a proposal Secretary of State John Kerry is discussing with the Russians in which the United States and Russia would work together more closely in Syria. “Without seeing that specific framework within which other contacts may be made, it's hard for me to comment on whether or not it would be viable,” he said. “But again, I'd emphasize today our contact with the Russians is absolutely limited to safety of flight and safety of our people on the ground.”
Any discussion with Russia will have safeguards, the chairman said. “We're not entering into a transaction that's founded on trust,” he added. “There will be specific procedures and processes in any transaction we might have with the Russians … that would account for protecting our operational security.”
The chairman also addressed rumors that some U.S. backed groups are intermingled with al-Nusra – an offshoot of al-Qaida. “We're supporting the Syrian-Arab Coalition and Syrian democratic forces and what we call moderate Syrian opposition forces,” Dunford said. “So to be clear, we don't have any indication that the forces that we are providing support to in Syria are cooperating or intermingled with al-Nusra.”