23 Feb 15. Dealing a lasting defeat to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant will require “a combined diplomatic and military effort,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters today at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, after he concluded a conference there with ambassadors and senior U.S. and regional military leaders.
Earlier in the day during a troop talk at Camp Arifjan, Carter said he convened the conference to “begin to make my own assessment of the campaign to counter ISIL.”
Carter thanked the conference participants, noting that “many traveled a significant distance on short notice to be here, and I sincerely appreciate it.”
He added, “We had an incisive, candid, wide-ranging discussion.”
There were no briefings during the conference, said Carter, noting it featured participants’ sharing “of experience and ideas and expertise, and it made me very proud of the American team here in this region working on this problem of ISIL.”
Conference participants reflected on the “seriousness and the complexity of the threat posed by ISIL, especially in an interconnected and networked world,” the secretary said.
“Lasting defeat of this brutal group can and will be accomplished,” he said. “But I learned some things that we’ll need to guide our effort to do so.
“First, doing so, that is achieving the lasting defeat of ISIL, will require a combined diplomatic and military effort,” Carter continued. “That was abundantly confirmed by our discussion, and was affirmed or rather affirms the bringing together of this unique grouping of political and military leaders.”
Second, although he’s cognizant “of the great strength of the coalition the United States has assembled and leads in this struggle,” Carter said there’s a need “to leverage further the individual contributions of each.”
Third, he added, while the center of gravity of the anti-ISIL campaign is in Iraq and Syria, “it has ramifications in other regions of the world that need to be taken into account also in our approach.”
Fourth, ISIL’s “use of social media will be pressing us to be more creative in combating it in the information dimension as well as the physical dimension,” Carter said.
The secretary also said that discussion among conference participants indicated to him that ISIL “is hardly invincible.”
Anti-ISIL Efforts ‘Having Some Important Impacts’
Coalition anti-ISIL efforts to date “have already been having some important impacts,” Carter said.
He added, “Our global coalition is up to the task, and so is American leadership, which has shone through — throughout the course of this campaign.”
Carter described today’s conference as “very productive and very valuable, and you should expect to see more consultations like this by me in the future, convening senior leaders from across our government and sometimes experts from outside of it to ensure that our nation’s defense is as dynamic as the challenges before it.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, Carter took questions from the press. One reporter asked him about the importance of a political-military balance in the fight against ISIL.
Political-Military Dimensions ‘Closely Interconnected’
Carter acknowledged that the anti-ISIL campaign in Syria does have both political and military dimensions.
“They’re closely interconnected,” the secretary said. “We had an opportunity to review today the train and equip effort that is beginning in Syria, but I need to remind you and very much in the spirit of your question that — and as the discussion certainly indicated there, our campaign in Syria, like our campaign in Iraq, has an important political dimension to it. And we discussed that also: they’re both important, they’re both essential, both the political and the military dimension.”
Another reporter asked Carter if there would be any fundamental changes to the anti-ISIL strategy.
The secretary replied that the coalition recognizes the need to employ a combined political and military effort against ISIL.
“I think that’s crucial, and I think that’s understood by all, and it’s reflected in what we’re trying to do,” Carter explained. “I think that we have clearly in focus the idea that this can’t be a purely American thing, that it truly is a coalition effort and needs to be a coalition effort to succeed. I think it was clear to us that we can’t neatly partition it geographically, that it has global evocations.”
Conference participants’ discussions “reinforced the idea of the need to stitch all of the different aspects of this together, and that the leaders that I met with today are to a remarkable degree doing that,” Carter said.
‘Working Closely Together’
He added, “And this bringing them together was a further effort to work across geographies and work across functions to make sure that we are in fact all working closely together. And to a large extent, these folks have been doing that already. But I think today’s meeting reinforced that and gave them yet [another] opportunity to do that, and me to do that with them.”
Carter was also asked about his confidence level of building an anti-ISIL force. The secretary responded that providing good military training to people from other lands is a core skill of the U.S. military.
“It’s become a skill of many of our coalition partners, knowing how to train others, how to work with and through others, how to enable and use U.S. capabilities to enable the capabilities of others and to make sure that … we conduct all these activities in a way that’s consistent with American values,” the secretary said. “We’re good at all that. We’ve been doing that in many contexts for quite awhile.”
Providing training is “one of the key lessons that we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Carter said. “It’s one of the key skills we honed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I don’t think there’s any military that does it better.”