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Dunford Tells Senate Now is Time to Reinforce Iraqi Success Against ISIL

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON — Following operations around Beiji and Ramadi, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said there is an opportunity to reinforce Iraqi success in the days ahead.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Defense Department has developed a number of options to capitalize on progress the Iraqis have made.

In Syria, though, the balance of forces favors the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, he said.

The committee hearing focused on the Middle East, and more specifically on operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Last week, the chairman visited Iraq, Israel and Jordan, where he met with U.S. and local leaders. “I was extremely impressed with the focus and commitment of our sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines,” he said.

Dunford told the committee that the coalition must reduce ISIL’s territorial control, destroy its warfighting capability, “and undermine its brand and aura of invincibility.” ISIL’s main attraction is its claim to be the new caliphate.

The two main efforts against the terror group are the air campaign and the train, advise and assist campaign. Airstrikes are intended to kill key leadership and fighters, interdict ISIL’s lines of communication and disrupt their sources of revenue -- primarily oil, the chairman said.

“The second critical element in the military campaign is to develop and support effective partners on the ground, to seize and secure ISIL-held terrain,” he said.

The general called ISIL a trans-regional threat requiring a broader strategy. “The immediate priority is to bear down on core ISIL across Iraq and Syria, simultaneously,” Dunford said. “The framework for the campaign is the same for Iraq and Syria but the conditions on the ground present unique challenges and opportunities.”

Unlike the situation in Iraq, there is no partner on the ground in Syria. “No one is satisfied with our progress to date,” he said. “Moving forward, we must work with Turkish partners to secure the northern border of Syria. We must do all we can to enable vetted Syrian opposition forces willing to fight ISIL, and we must be more aggressive in strikes that will deny ISIL the access they have to oil revenue.”

The general said he supports changes in the train-and-equip effort in Syria. “We will be supporting groups who have already demonstrated the will to fight ISIL, and our support will be contingent upon their attacking objectives and meeting specific standards,” Dunford said. “We will look for opportunities to support vetted opposition groups in both the north and along the border with Jordan.”

The chairman praised the efforts of U.S. forces in the region under Army Maj. Gen. Mike Nagata. “Due to their efforts, we have a much better understanding of the operating environment and the opportunities,” he said. “We’ll be able to leverage their initiatives and lessons learned as we make course and speed corrections.”

“In Iraq, we’ve also been frustrated with the pace of operations,” Dunford said. “That said, there has been recent progress in Beiji, some movement around Ramadi, and the [Kurdish] Peshmerga have made progress in the north.”

Dunford stressed that the coalition must improve “how we leverage our intelligence capabilities and do more to cut the flow of foreign fighters.”

American leaders have expressed concern over Russia’s actions in Syria. Last month, press reports from Iraq seemed to indicate that Iraqi leaders wanted Russian airstrikes in their country. Dunford told the committee that he specifically asked Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi and Defense Minister Khalid Ubaydi about the reports.

“I explained to them how difficult it would be for us to continue to provide support if the Russians were invited in to conduct airstrikes,” he told the senators. “And I was assured at every level that that wouldn’t be the case.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)