FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter provided an upbeat assessment on Wednesday of the Obama administration’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State and said that missions now underway by a new deployment of Special Operations forces are “generating a virtuous cycle of action” against the extremist group.
Mr. Carter’s speech here to troops set to deploy to Iraq came as the Obama administration tried to convince an apprehensive public that it has an effective strategy to destroy the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Mr. Carter lauded Iraqi security forces who, aided by American airstrikes, reclaimed the western city of Ramadi from the Islamic State last month as the latest example that the United States and its allies have the right approach.
The defense secretary also said other measures — cutting off the Islamic State’s supply routes, destroying its oil fields and disrupting its finances — “are significantly constraining its ability either to defend or attack.”
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter
“We have not only gathered momentum but done even more, and are now pressuring ISIL in Iraq and Syria on more fronts than at any other point in the campaign,” Mr. Carter said.
Mr. Carter made his remarks to troops of the 101st Airborne Division. Next month, about 500 soldiers from here will be sent to Iraq and Kuwait as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the name the military has given to American-backed efforts to destroy the Islamic State.
This spring, 1,200 more troops from here will join the mission. Most will be involved in training and supporting Iraqi forces.
Mr. Carter discussed the secretive work of American Special Operations forces in the anti-ISIS campaign. He said that one unit is on the ground in Iraq to work alongside local forces to kill and capture Islamic State militants. Another group of roughly 50 American commandos is in Syria working alongside rebel groups fighting the Islamic State.
“While I cannot give you specifics, I can tell you these forces have already established contact with new forces that share our goals, new lines of communication to local, motivated and capable partners, and new targets for airstrikes and strikes of all kinds,” Mr. Carter said, referring to the forces in Syria.
“These operators have helped focus the efforts of the local, capable forces against key ISIL vulnerabilities, including their lines of communication,” he added.
The administration is aware that many Americans are skeptical of its approach to the Islamic State. Republican presidential candidates have said that Mr. Obama was too slow to react to the group when it first seized wide swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, and that his current ISIS strategy has been a failure.
Mr. Carter said the focus now needs to turn to reclaiming the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, which he described as the Islamic State’s most important strongholds. He said American forces needed to play an integral role in assisting operations — but could not carry out the fight for the Iraqis.
“Frankly, I know the 101st has taken Mosul before, and you could do it again,” Mr. Carter said, referring to the how the division seized the city during the occupation of Iraq under President George W. Bush’s administration. “We could deploy multiple brigades on the ground and arrive in force. But then it would likely become our fight, and very likely our fight alone.”
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