U.S. Coalition Making Gains Against Islamic State, Blinken Saysby
Extremists control 30% less territory than one year ago
U.S. giving another $100 million to support Syrian opposition
The U.S.-led military coalition targeting Islamic State has made progress in the past year, retaking territory in Iraq and Syria, as the U.S. steps up aid to Syrian opposition fighters, according to a senior U.S. diplomat.
After some 7,700 airstrikes against the militants over the past year, the coalition of 65 countries has made “significant gains,” Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday at an event in Manama, Bahrain. Islamic State has 30 percent less territory than it did a year ago because of coalition efforts, Blinken said.
“There is demonstrable, significant progress as a result of the efforts of the coalition working in partnership with the Iraqi government” and the Iraqi people, Blinken told reporters.
In Iraq, he said the coalition has helped secure Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, and recaptured the Mosul dam, while 85 percent of people have returned to the city of Tikrit. The coalition is also moving on to Ramadi, Blinken said. In northern Syria, forces have secured 85 percent of the Turkish-Syrian border, he said.
The U.S. must be able to deal with Islamic State and the Syrian civil war at the same time, he said, announcing another $100 million in U.S. aid for the Syrian opposition, bringing total assistance to $500 million.
There’s growing recognition that “there is no military way forward” and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “already forfeited” most of his country, Blinken said. An air campaign by Russia, which says it’s targeting Islamic State in airstrikes in Syria, has made almost no gains, he said.
”There’s been an onslaught of Russian bombs dropping indiscriminately against anyone who opposed Assad,” Blinken said.
If the Russian intervention is not aimed at Islamic State, then its campaign could negatively impact Iraq and reinforce the extremist group, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said during a speech in Manama on Saturday.
The Iraqi army has lost much of its military capacity and its financial resources were also squandered last year, at a loss of $27 billion, al-Obeidi said. Five military brigades were dismantled and declining oil prices have made it difficult for the army to rebuild. All units are now deployed in ground operations.
“It’s quite difficult to rebuild an army while fighting at the same time,” al-Obeidi said. “The Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces are fighting terrorism on behalf of the world.”
U.S. aid had a “great impact” on current forces, but Iraq needs additional international aid to expand, he said, adding that Iraq has no military coalition with Russia and is only engaging in intelligence sharing that could help target extremists. If Russia’s intervention is to target extremist groups it could be positive, but if its aims are elsewhere, then it could only reinforce Islamic State, al-Obeidi said.