Statement on the U.S. Military Strategy in the Middle East and the Counter-ISIL Campaign before the Senate Armed Services Committee

U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, October 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Statement on the U.S. Military Strategy in the Middle East and the Counter-ISIL Campaign before the Senate Armed Services Committee


Testimony as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Washington, D.C., October 27, 2015

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Reed, Members of the Committee: thanks for inviting us to come here before you to discuss our counter-ISIL campaign in Iraq and Syria, and along the way to address some of the concerns, Mr. Chairman, that you raised and to share with you, Senator Reed, some of the plans and initiatives that the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and I are formulating for our campaign in both Iraq and Syria.

This is the first time for me appearing before this Committee alongside Chairman Joe Dunford, who was just in the region last week, as was noted. I'm grateful to Joe for answering my and the President's call to step down from what every Marine knows is a higher position--namely Commandant to the Marine Corps to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--and to this Committee for confirming Joe. Thank you. I'm glad to have you here with me today.

Before I turn to the subject of today's hearing, I want to reiterate--as I've said consistently since March and continue to believe--that Washington needs to come together behind a multi-year budget deal that supports our defense strategy, the troops and their families, and all elements of America's national security and strength. I understand significant progress was made on this overnight and I am looking forward to reviewing the details, but I welcome this major positive development and applaud the members of this Committee for what you're doing to help us get there.

The Middle East presents a kaleidoscope of challenges, but there, as everywhere, our actions and strong military posture are guided by what's in America's interests. That's our North Star. And amid this region's complexity and uncertainty, those interests are to deter aggression; to bolster the security of our friends and allies, especially Israel; to ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf; to check Iran's malign influence even as we monitor the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; and, to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. This last one, ISIL, poses a threat to our people and to friendly countries not only in the Middle East but around the world.

Today, I will first outline the changes in the execution of our strategy that we have considered, and are now pursuing militarily, to gather battlefield momentum in the fight against ISIL. Then I will address what Russia is doing in Syria, and why we won't let it interfere with our campaign against ISIL.

When I last spoke to this committee about our counter-ISIL campaign and its nine lines of essential military and non-military effort, I made three things clear about the military aspects--first, that we will deliver ISIL a lasting defeat; second, that truly lasting success would require enabling capable, motivated local forces on the ground, recognizing that this will take time and new diplomatic energy; and, third, that our strategy's execution can and must and will be strengthened.

All of that is still true. Our determination is unchanged, even as the situation continues to evolve, and we continue to adapt to execute our campaign more effectively. And today I'd like to elaborate on the third point and explain how we're adapting our campaign to do more--reinforcing what we know works.

The changes we're pursuing can be described by what I call the "three R's"--Raqqa, Ramadi, and Raids. Before I explain what they mean, let me also note that I took actions to streamline command-and-control of the counter-ISIL military campaign by assigning the entire effort to a single general officer, Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, where in the urgency of the early phase of the campaign last year several layers were added to the general officer already present in Iraq.

The first "R" is Raqqa, ISIL's stronghold and administrative capital. We have been clear for some time that we need to keep up pressure on Raqqa, and that to that end we will support moderate Syrian forces fighting ISIL that have made territorial gains near Raqqa--indeed, some of them are within 30 miles of Raqqa today. …

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