Islamic State jihadists have scored important advances in Iraq despite a sustained US-led air campaign, Washington's envoy to the coalition fighting the group said Wednesday.
Islamic State jihadists have made important advances in Iraq despite US-led air strikes, Washington’s envoy to the US-led coalition fighting the group warned Wednesday.
It was clear the IS group “has made substantial gains in Iraq” and it will take time to build up local forces that could defeat them in Syria and Iraq, John Allen, a retired four-star US general, told reporters.
The Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have halted or pushed back IS militants in some places, including around Mosul dam, but the group has “tactical momentum” in other areas, Allen said.
Although the United States and its allies were carrying out air raids in both Syria and Iraq, Allen acknowledged the international coalition was most concerned with the situation in Iraq.
There, IS fighters have seized much of the western Anbar province and are closing in on the region west of the capital Baghdad.
“The emergency in Iraq right now in Iraq is foremost in our thinking,” Allen said, admitting that it was too early to say which side has the upper hand.
“I’d be careful about assigning a winner — winner or a loser,” said Allen, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Speaking after a tour of the Middle East in which Allen spoke to coalition partners and Iraqi leaders, the presidential envoy emphasized that military power alone would not be enough to defeat the IS group — a point often made by the White House.
Allen said “the key and the main takeaway from this trip was that we all agree that while the military side is important to the outcome, it is not sufficient in and of itself.”
At the moment the plan was “to take those steps that are necessary, with the forces that we have available and the air power that we have at our fingertips” to buy time to train and arm Iraqi security forces.
The goal was to give Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi “the opportunity to build a stable government that is inclusive.”
US officials have repeatedly urged Baghdad to reach out to Iraq’s alienated Sunni population and blame the Shiite-led government for sowing resentment that was exploited by the jihadists.
Pentagon officials have said privately that Turkey is ready to grant access to some of its air bases to assist the coalition campaign against the IS militants, but details of the deal remain unclear.
Allen shed no light on what kind of arrangement Turkey had agreed to but denied Ankara was a reluctant partner in the fight.
He said “they want to understand how they’ll fit into the program and how ultimately the coalition would operate out of Turkey.”
A team drawn from the US military’s Central Command and European command was in Turkey “talking about operational details,” he said.