Moderator: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to present the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk.
Mr. McGurk: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. And I really want to address your Questions, but I also just wanted to make some opening comments about the overall situation and our efforts to help the Iraqis as they continue the fight against Daesh.
Let me just start with a personal reflection. I have been in and out of Iraq now for almost 10 years, and I was here in the summer of 2014, when Mosul fell. I was in Erbil when Mosul fell, I immediately came here to Baghdad. And I think, of course, many of you were here and lived through that moment. And here, in Baghdad, you can recall Daesh formations pouring down the Tigris Valley, town after town falling, committing atrocious massacres against thousands of Iraqis, putting them up on YouTube, such as the Speicher Massacre. Daesh then breaking through at al-Qaim, coming down the Euphrates Valley, the sense that the future of Baghdad was very much hanging in the balance. It was a very serious and desperate time.
We immediately in those days made a decision, and President Obama made a decision, to help the Iraqis fight back, while recognizing that it was going to take time to do that. To do that, first, we had to help the Iraqis stem the advance of Daesh, and then help them regain their capacity to go on the offense. And it has been a very long 15 months. But when you are here today, now – and I have been here now for two days, meeting with all of our officials, our diplomatic and military officials here, and with the Iraqi leadership, with Prime Minister Abadi, with Speaker Jabouri, and others – and it is a dramatically changed environment.
First, most importantly, the capital here, in Baghdad, is increasingly secure. But the Iraqis are now decidedly on the offense against Daesh. It is not just true in Iraq, it is also true in Syria. But here in Iraq, from Sinjar to Baji to Tikrit to Haditha and the Western Euphrates Valley, where we are working with the tribes and the 7th Iraqi Army Division, the Iraqis are moving on offense, increasingly, every single day.
ISIL leaders that we knew about, as we learned more about ISIL and who their leaders were, the number-one leader here in Iraq in the summer of 2014 that we later learned about was a terrorist named Haji Mutazz. He was Abu al-Baghdadi’s number-one deputy and in charge of all of Daesh operations here in Iraq. He is now dead. He is dead because of our help with the Iraqis in getting more intelligence and learning more about Daesh. Abu Nabil is an Iraqi who is a leading terrorist of Daesh. We killed him recently in Libya. And Abu Nabil was responsible for some of the events that took place in the Speicher Massacre over the summer of 2014.
So where a lot of this is now coming together, of course, is in Ramadi. And Ramadi is so important because Ramadi fell in May, it was the last time we saw Daesh take offensive action here in Iraq in any sort of a concerted way. We immediately sent some of our advisors to Taqaddum Air Base in Habbaniyah to help the Iraqis organize themselves, and to move on the counter-attack. Again, these things take time. Ramadi is a very difficult environment. It took our forces – Steve Warren reminded me today that Lieutenant General MacFarland, who is in charge of all of our operations here in Iraq and Syria against Daesh, when he was Colonel MacFarland it took almost six months for our forces, working with the Iraqis, to take and stabilize Ramadi from Daesh’s predecessor, al-Qaida, in Iraq.
So, less than six months from when Ramadi fell, the Iraqis have now organized, and they are moving on the counter-attack in Ramadi. And it is important, because these are units, many of them in the counter-attack, these are units that the coalition has trained. So 14 coalition partners who came here to help the Iraqis train, these units are in the counter-attack. They are fighting. They are taking casualties, and they are retaking ground from Daesh. And Daesh is now resorting to holding the center of the city, while taking human shields as hostages, revealing to everyone the true nature of their barbaric organization.
But let me talk about a little what we are doing beyond the security side, because I know you hear from Steve Warren every week about all that we are doing on the military side. But most importantly, our efforts here in Iraq are multi-faceted. It is not only on the security side. But when it comes to Ramadi, we have been working with the coalition and coalition capitals across the globe to help the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi people and the people of Anbar have the resources they need to help stabilize their city, as Daesh is cleared.
We did this in Tikrit, when Daesh was cleared from Tikrit, working with the UN and the Government of Iraq, and Prime Minister Abadi, and the Governor of Saladin, to help ensure that people could come back to their homes. They got police back in the streets to help ensure that the governor and the local leaders have the resources they need to begin to rebuild their city. And those efforts have been largely successful. There are tremendous challenges, but over 70 percent of the population has returned, and the stabilization fund that was created through this global coalition and joined to help Iraq and help Iraq’s people helped enable that process to succeed.
In Ramadi we have worked to do the same thing. So, in Ramadi, the stabilization fund, through the international coalition, we have about $10 million set aside for Ramadi, as Daesh is cleared from Ramadi. We are working very closely with the local leadership in Anbar Province to regenerate the Iraqi police force that will hold the streets of Ramadi. The Italians have led the police training effort here, and their Carabinieri force – their commander of the Carabinieri was here just on Monday to graduate a number of police leaders, Anbaris, who will help reclaim their streets.
So this is very important, because, has the full support of Prime Minister Abadi here in Baghdad, the Governor of Anbar Province, of Governor al-Rawi, who Ambassador Jones and I will see later today, and with local tribal leaders in Anbar, to help make sure that, as Daesh is cleared, the city can increasingly stabilize.
So, through this international coalition, I think it is important to realize that it is not just the security side, it is also helping Iraq address the economic challenges, helping Iraq address the political challenges, and helping make sure that Iraq has the resources it needs to overcome this tremendous challenge of Daesh.
In terms of the United States’ relationship with Iraq, our relationship with Iraq and the Government of Iraq is fundamental to our overall relationship, our overall policy here in this region. It is fundamental not only to our own national security interest, but it is also fundamental to our partnership we have with you, and all that we have suffered together, over the last decade.
So I will give you one example of something that we have been doing behind the scenes that doesn’t get as much attention as the military efforts proceed. We have been working very hard with Prime Minister Abadi, with the finance minister, Hoshyar Zebari, and the leaders across the Iraqi Cabinet, to help them overcome the very serious financial challenges that Iraq faces, in light of the fiscal difficulties from the falling drop of oil prices worldwide. And this is something, of course, that led to a movement for reforms and protests in the streets, and this is something that Iraq really needs to help address and tackle, but it can’t do it on its own.
The fiscal challenges here are extremely, extremely serious, given the price of oil. And we have been helping the Iraqis with technical advice, working with the Iraqi Government, with Prime Minister Abadi, through the IMF and the World Bank to help them unlock some support for their budget, as they move forward. And the Iraqis have done an excellent job, and Prime Minister Abadi, and the Cabinet, in putting together a new budget for the coming year that meets the requirements of the IMF. They have concluded what is called a staff monitoring program from the IMF. And this has helped, through the World Bank, unlock about $1.2 billion in funding from the World Bank to support Iraq’s budget, and to help Iraq deliver critical essential services to the people.
Now, getting to – through a program like that, through the IMF and the World Bank, with the international financial institutions, is very complicated, and it is something that was really led by the Prime Minister, by the Finance Minister, and by the Cabinet. But we were very proud to provide technical advice throughout this process. And this is something we will do going forward. And by getting these agreements with the World Bank, we also help Iraq access international capital markets, going forward, to help address the fiscal challenges. And this is something that we are going to continue to do.
In the oil sector, we have been working with Iraq for some time for many years, in terms of increasing its overall ability to produce and export oil. Our consulate in Basra takes a leading role in this, and of course we work with companies from all around the world through the Iraqi Government to do this. Iraq, last month, hit an export record, in terms of its oil exports onto global markets. And what’s important about this is that they’re able to do this because of projects that we have worked on with Iraqis together over many years.
So, a project to dramatically expand the oil export infrastructure in the south that began all the way back in 2007, and then led to these floating export terminals in Basra in 2012, has allowed Iraq to increasingly export its oil onto global markets. That is because of a joint endeavor between the United States and Iraq that has helped Iraq get to that point. And we are actually very proud when we see the Iraqis hit targets and hit records, in terms of their exports, that we have been a part of that, at the invitation of the Iraqi Government, and under our Strategic Framework Agreement with the Government of Iraq.
So our relationship here with the Government of Iraq, with the Iraqi people, is multi-faceted across the board. It is not only the security side that we focus on every single day – and that is a critical focus of ours – but it is also on the economic side, on education, on exchanges, everything that is embedded within the Strategic Framework Agreement. And increasingly, as we help the Iraqis defeat Daesh – and we will – and help the Iraqis reclaim their country, these facets of our relationship will become increasingly important.
On a security side, of course, we are not only helping the Iraqis fight Daesh with the airstrikes and the advice, which we do every single day, but it is also helping the Iraqis rebuild their own capacity, their own security services, their own army. The fact that you have Iraqi-piloted F-16s in the skies over Iraq is something that we are also very proud of. That was the result of many years of work between our two governments.
And the fact that the Iraqi army – the Iraqi army, that faced such a difficult time less than two years ago, is now in the counter-attack in an urban environment like Ramadi, retaking major areas of that city, reclaiming just yesterday the Anbar Operations Command, raising an Iraqi flag. This is an army that has been regenerated, thanks to the determination, will, and courage of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi soldiers, and with the help of the coalition trainers who have been here helping them to establish that capacity. And I think you will be hearing more from Colonel Warren throughout the week about just how difficult it has been in Ramadi, in terms of organizing the counter-attack, the combined arms tight maneuvers that the Iraqis have had to do, and which they are now doing with great effect, which I don’t think they would have been able to do a year ago.
So, we have a long ways to go here. The threat of Daesh, as Iraqis know more than anybody – and I am looking at the Iraqi journalists here in the audience – you knew the threat of Daesh before the entire world knew about it. You were living with it, you were suffering from it, you were suffering from dozens of suicide bombers every single month coming into your mosques and marketplaces and playgrounds. It’s just vicious, brutal ideology of these terrorists coming from all around the world. Now the entire world, of course, is seized with this threat, because it is a threat to all of us. We have to attack it, globally, and that’s what we’re doing.
We analyze Daesh in three ways: there is the core, here in Iraq and Syria, and we have to help Iraq take its country back and shrink the core of Daesh, and we are going to do that; there are the networks that feed the suicide bombers and feed the foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq, and we have to eviscerate those networks, globally – that is why we have a coalition of 65 countries; and then there are affiliates which Daesh is trying to establish. And a good example of that is in Libya, and the fact that a terrorist from Iraq was sent by Daesh to Libya to try to establish a franchise there is significant, and it is also why we targeted him and killed him in a strike not too long ago.
So, we are focused here in Iraq. This is ground zero. And we are going to do everything we possibly can to help you succeed. But we are also focused globally to eviscerate these networks as we destroy the overall organization of Daesh.
So, with that, I will leave it there. But I just wanted to say to my Iraqi friends and colleagues just how proud we are to work with you every single day to do all we can to help you retake your country. People around the world don’t realize how difficult the challenges you have faced and you have stood up and worked to reclaim your country.And the fact that in Ramadi we have a central government led by the Prime Minister, working with the local governor, working with the locals. to restore the streets of Ramadi, to share the revenues of the state, and you have a coalition behind you to help you do this, we find a very encouraging sign.
But I don’t underestimate the challenges ahead. This is going to be a very difficult struggle, and it will take some time to succeed, but we will succeed.
So, with that, I can take some Questions.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: Can we repeat the first Question?
Mr. McGurk: So the Question of Turkey, I think, we have — a fundamental principle of ours is the principle of Iraqi sovereignty. So everything we do here in Iraq is with the consent of the Iraqi Government and under our Strategic Framework Agreement. We also believe very strongly that what every other country does here in Iraq should respect the principle of Iraqi sovereignty.
So, regarding this current situation with Turkey, we have been in touch with both sides, we have been in touch with the Turks, and, of course, we have been in touch with our Iraqi partners. And we are encouraged that there is an ongoing dialogue between Ankara and Baghdad, and we want to encourage both countries to find a diplomatic resolution to this situation, but our fundamental principle is Iraqi sovereignty. And if there are activities going on here in Iraqi from any country that the Iraqi Government has not provided its consent to, then therefore, I think it’s Iraq’s right to raise that issue and to fully respect and fully protect its sovereign rights.
In terms of the Russians, I think there is that perception, but I think it is – we have to look at the facts. So the airstrikes in Russia – the Russian airstrikes in Syria primarily are not attacking Daesh. If you run the numbers, it’s about maybe 30 percent are actually attacking Daesh. And the rest of the airstrikes are attacking other opposition groups that, frankly, are not a threat to Iraq, and that are not affiliated with Daesh.
Our air campaign is focused on Daesh. And, not only that, it is the most precise air campaign in history. It is increasingly effective, given the increasing amounts of intelligence we have. And you can just look at what we’re doing across the board in Syria. We are applying multiple points of pressure across Daesh, something that we were not able to do only six to eight months ago. So we are focused on closing up the last strip of 98 kilometers that Daesh controls at the Turkish border. We are increasing our pressure there. We are working with a coalition of Syrian Kurds and Arabs, to begin to put pressure on Raqqa, and that was one reason why President Obama announced that some of our special forces will be going into Syria to help that, because we have to put pressure on Raqqa.
If you go all the way around to Iraq, putting on these simultaneous points of pressure, Daesh is no longer an organization where it can mass-force in one area to mount major offensive operations. It has to do multiple things at once. That makes it think twice, and they make stupid mistakes, and we are able to find their leaders and kill them.
So, our air campaign in Syria, we think, is quite effective. We have the data to back that up. And the Russian air campaign has, you know, different objectives, quite frankly. So, while there is that perception, I understand you just said, I think the facts simply don’t bear it out. And I think Colonel Warren speaks to that almost every day, about exactly what our campaign is doing, and the effect that we are having on Daesh.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: I will take the second one. The reconstruction needs are vast, which is why Iraq can’t do this on its own, and which is why we need an international coalition to help the Iraqis do this. And a keystone, a centerpiece of that initiative is the stabilization fund that I mentioned. The Iraqi Government, with the UNDP, has established this international stabilization fund, and we have donations now from the coalition all around the world. The target amount we want to have at any given time is about $60 million or so in the fund. As I mentioned, we have about $10 million now allocated simply for Ramadi. And this is a fund that is designed specifically for quick-impact projects in areas that are cleared of Daesh. And so far, where it’s been used, such as in Tikrit, we think it’s been fairly effective. It hasn’t been perfect, we have to refine it, but it’s very important, because without that kind of quick infusion of resources, it’s hard to stabilize areas after Daesh.
So, the reconstruction funds are quite vast. Those are the quick hit, immediate needs to get people back into the streets to return refugees, which is central to our efforts. And then there are also, of course, larger reconstruction needs, which is also a focus across the coalition and Iraq.
Your second Question is larger, and I think a little bit beyond the topic of just a press conference, about everything over the last decade. I will just say we are focused right now on helping the Iraqis succeed, on helping this government defeat Daesh, and in helping the Iraqi people reclaim their country from these terrorists.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.) Thank you so much.
Mr. McGurk: So, it’s a great Question. I would just say if you really look at what we’re doing in Syria and in Iraq, the effort to liberate Mosul has already begun. We are beginning to isolate Mosul, cut off Mosul from Raqqa, cut off the main supply routes into Mosul. The operation in Sinjar was synchronized with operations across the border in Syria to cut off all of those access points. So the days of Daesh being able to maneuver along those roads and those supply lines, we’re increasingly making sure they can’t. So that’s step one.
Step two, to do Mosul right we have to have cooperation between the authorities, the Kurdistan regional authorities, and, of course, the Iraqi Government. So, that is why in Makhmur we have set up a joint operations center with Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, with Iraqi army commanders. And, of course, we will be there to help organize the attack.We are also working across the line, where Daesh controls territory, to help organize and recruit local fighters to begin to put pressure on Daesh across the board.
So, nobody is going to put a timeline on these things. This isn’t going to be a D-Day-like type of operation. It is going to be a steady, deliberate suffocation of Daesh, not only Mosul, but everywhere they exist. So it’s really already begun. And it’s going to continue. And we will need cooperation, in terms of who the forces will be. We will need cooperation from all the forces.
One thing that makes Mosul complicated is the great diversity and richness of the population there. So we need cooperation from the Kurds, and we feel very good about the cooperation from the Kurds and the Peshmerga. The Minister of Defense was in Erbil just a couple days ago, last week, to discuss some of these plans. And the fact that we have set up this joint command structure in Makhmur is a critical step.
But, look, wherever Daesh is, we are going to work to suffocate them, to restrict their ability to resupply, and to help the Iraqi people reclaim their territory.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: No, it’s not. That’s not a proposal of our government. And these are decisions for the Iraqi Government to make. So, no, that’s not a proposal of our government. Let’s be very clear about that.
Question: (Inaudible.) Is the planned deployment of special forces announced by Secretary of Defense Carter last week is that still on schedule to go ahead and is the mission of that force the same, or are there any changes?
Mr. McGurk: So, yeah, there has been a lot about that. Look, what we’re focused on doing is helping the Iraqis to reclaim control of their border areas. And the one thing, in terms of their capacity, that’s difficult to do is the farther reaches of their border. And we want to stop the infiltration of Daesh coming from Syria into Iraq.
So, the Iraqi Government has long made a request of us to help them in that area, to help their forces be a little bit more effective, to be able to do expeditionary-type things, to take down targets in those areas. And so that’s something that we are particularly focused on. So, what our advisors will do will help the Iraqis target ISIL fighters coming from Syria into Iraq, and that’s something that we really – we want to help the Iraqis do.
At the same time, we need to be able to reach into Syria when we have a target such as Abu Sayyaf, who was the number-one – one of Baghdadi’s deputies, and the number-one financier of ISIL. And those are the type of operations that we want to be able to do into Syria. So whenever you hear about the U.S. doing a unilateral operation, that only applies to what’s happening in terms of targets inside Syria. But everything we do here in Iraq is with the full consent of the Iraqi Government, and the full coordination of the Iraqi Government.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: Again, I think there was a lot of confusion generated by all of this here in Iraq, because you had the comments by – about 10,000 U.S. ground troops coming here. That’s not going to happen. You had the comments about an Arab force which – just asked about. Again, that’s not a proposal that anybody is considering.
Our bedrock principle, as I mentioned before, is the sovereignty of Iraq. So what we do here in Iraq, under our Strategic Framework Agreement, is with the consent of the Iraqi Government. So we will do nothing here without the full consent of the Iraqi Government. And this proposal for some of our advisors to help the Iraqis in the border region is something that the Iraqi Government has asked for because their capacity is limited to operate out in that – in those border areas.
What we want to be able to do, of course, is help the Iraqis increase their capacity to do that. If we were sitting here a year ago, those Western reaches of Iraq and the border, there was a much more pressing need. We had to help the Iraqis defend Baghdad; we had to help the Iraqis then begin to push out and move on the counter-attack. We are now reaching a stage where we can envision the Iraqis re-establishing their border with Syria, which we were going to help them do.
So, really, what this proposal is focused on is helping the Iraqis guard against and protect against the infiltration of Daesh fighters coming from Syria into Iraq, and we’re going to help them do that.
Question: (Inaudible) from Reuters. I have a Question about the — you mentioned the operations in Ramadi with the help of U.S. fighters. How soon do you see the Iraqi special forces and army closing in on the center of Ramadi, and making significant gains in that battle?
Mr. McGurk: So, we were talking about this with — few Americans understand Ramadi better than Lieutenant General MacFarland, and we were talking about this last night. I mean taking Tamim is quite significant. Tamim is Ramadi. It’s very significant territory.
So, in terms of the actual center of the city, this will get done. But we’re going to make sure that it’s done carefully. There are still civilians inside Ramadi. Daesh is not allowing any civilians to leave. They are holding civilians as hostages and as human shields. And so we want to do this in a very careful and deliberate way. So nobody is going to put a timeframe on it.
But I think, look, Daesh came into Ramadi and claims to be the defenders of Ramadi and the people in Ramadi. And one thing that I think has really been revealed here is just how false that entire narrative is. It’s a complete lie. And here they are now, trapped in Ramadi. They’re trying to blow up bridges to make sure that nobody can get out, and that also means that they can’t get out.
And so, we will help the Iraqis move in to the center of Ramadi, and we will help them do it in a deliberate and effective and precise way. But nobody is going to put a timeframe on it.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: Well, it’s a good Question. And I think when the President talks about moving to a more intensified stage, what’s important is that we are now at the point in this campaign where we can do this. So it takes time to set the conditions, for example, to allow U.S. special forces to go into Syria to work with local fighters in Syria. That was not something we would have been able to do, say, six to eight months ago. Now we can.
It took time to set the conditions to be able to work to begin to really shut off this last 98-kilometer strip of border that Daesh controls with Turkey. It takes time to help organize the Iraqi Peshmerga forces to do the operation to retake Sinjar. It took time to organize the forces in Syria to retake al-Hal, and now pushing down south to cut off those routes. Baji, Tikrit, Ramadi, all of these things six to eight months ago we were working with the Iraqis quietly to help plan. And now — because we wanted to do a lot of things simultaneously. And now we are at the point where we can do these things simultaneously. So, this theme of simultaneous pressure is something we wanted to get to, but it was a concept. And now it is actually being implemented on the ground.
So that is really the key difference. And as we see things that work, we will build on them.So we are building on certain successes we’ve had in Syria, and we also correct for things that don’t work, quite frankly. But when you hear about a new intensified stage of the campaign, what that really points out is that we’re now at the point in which we can do things we might have wanted to do six to eight months ago, but we couldn’t, and now we can. So you will see simultaneous pressure across the board, and this is something that is going to continue.
But importantly, it is not – I just want to emphasize it is not just the security piece, it is not just getting Daesh out of Ramadi. It is working also – we have been doing this with the Iraqis now for some months on setting in place a stabilization plan, on working with the governor and with the police, and making sure the stabilization program is resourced through the international coalition. So we feel that the planning has been done, a lot of this is ready to go, and now we’re in the execution phase.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: Well, actually, the Iraqi air force is playing a role. I think they are doing airstrikes almost every single day. And I think Steve can address that in more detail.But you have Iraqi F-16s in the sky, and you also have a number of other air platforms with U.S.-provided Hellfire missiles that have been striking Daesh targets now for some time.
The coalition air campaign, as I mentioned, is one of the most precise air campaigns in history, and we are very proud of that. And we target based upon the information that we are able to work together with the Iraqis and confirm. But the Iraqi air force is increasing in capacity because, long term, it will be the Iraqi air force that is protecting the sovereignty of Iraqi skies, and protecting the Iraqi people.
So, I think the Iraqi air force is increasingly in the fight, and I leave it to Colonel Warren to get you more of those facts.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: On the F-16s, I think I did a press conference some years ago in which nobody believed the F-16s would ever arrive here. And I had to make the point that a program, an F-16 program with a country that’s never had them before, it takes time. It takes time to train the pilots, it takes time to configure and build the planes. It’s expensive. It takes time to work out the funding arrangements and everything. It takes time to build an F-16 program with a country, particularly a country that has undergone all that Iraq has gone through.
So, the F-16s are now here. Iraqi pilots are flying them. We are very proud of the fact that we train those pilots in the United States. And more F-16s will be coming. So we’re very proud of this program. But it is a multi-year program. I wish we could snap our fingers and have Iraqi-trained pilots with F-16s in the sky and get the coalition out of Iraq, and it could be all Iraqi pilots and F-16s. But those things – these things take time.
So, the important point is that, yes, the F-16s that are part of this package will come. And we’re continuing to train the pilots, as we speak. And this is a bedrock of our Strategic Framework Agreement. The Strategic Framework Agreement has different pillars. It has a security pillar, which is our relationship with the Iraqi Security Forces. That’s a long-term relationship. It also has an economic pillar, which I mentioned, an education and cultural. But the F-16 program is a bedrock of our policy with Iraq. These are airplanes that Iraq has purchased, and they are airplanes that Iraq will receive.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: First, importantly, the Turkish effort is not part of the coalition effort with Iraq. So Turkey is a member of the coalition, but every country – every member of the coalition also does things in its – what it perceives as its interests, which are not a part of the coalition framework. So it’s important that this particular Turkish deployment is not a part of the coalition.
I think I’ve been to about 30 countries around the world in the last year. I’ve been to Iraq and Turkey more than any other country around the world. And both countries are very important partners of the United States, and that is why we have been engaged with both capitals over the last four or five days to help work this out.
As I mentioned, our bedrock principle is the principle of Iraqi sovereignty. The Iraqi Cabinet yesterday spoke unanimously on this issue. And we have been encouraged that there has been a dialogue between Ankara and Baghdad, and we are going to continue to encourage both capitals to find a way to work this out.
But our principle, again, everything we do here, the principle of Iraqi sovereignty is fundamental to us. And that’s something that, obviously, we discuss with Turkey. But that applies to any country that has activities here in Iraq. And that’s a very important point to underscore.
Moderator: (Inaudible.) We have time for two more Questions.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: We’re prepared to help Iraqis fight and defeat ISIL. You’re not only fighting on behalf of your own country, you’re fighting on behalf of the entire world, so – and you have a global coalition that has stepped up to get you the weapons you need. Again, some of these things take longer than anybody would like. And when it comes to sophisticated weapons systems like an F-16 program, that’s going to take many years.
But when Prime Minister Abadi came to Washington late last year, we really analyzed the situation. And one of the things that we keyed on, and that the Prime Minister keyed on, was that we had to help Iraqi forces in the field against these – what we call VBIEDs, the gigantic car bombs and truck bombs that ISIL is launching against Iraqi Security Forces.
And we put in place – and Secretary Carter put in place – with the Iraqi Government an accelerated program to get over 1,000 A-10 anti-tank rocket systems into the hands of Iraqi Security Force units. And we worked very hard to accelerate those types of munitions systems here. We then worked hard, with the coalition trainers who were here, to train Iraqi forces on those systems. And I think the statistic that Colonel Warren mentioned was they’ve gone from over 90 percent effective rate to – was it less than five percent now, or so – effectiveness of these Daesh car bombs.
And these car bombs and VBIEDs are a primary instrument for combat of Daesh. Every time they do an offensive operation, as we know, they start with these gigantic VBIEDs. And the fact that we’ve worked with the Iraqis to help them combat that in such an effective way in a relatively short amount of time, is something that is very important, and I think it’s just one example of how, when we identify a problem, we work with the Iraqis to figure out how we can fix it, and then we work to get in the hands of the Iraqi fighters out there the equipment they need to succeed.
So that’s just one example, but there are many others like them.
Question: Hi there, Susannah George of the Associated Press. If I can ask a quick Question about Syria, the local forces on the ground that our coalition airstrikes are supporting, the Arab forces are a part of that effort. (Inaudible) these forces, and how they are the — part of the local forces are they?
Mr. McGurk: So there is a conglomeration of forces in these parts of Syria that are under the banner of the Syrian Defense Forces. I don’t want to get into the exact numbers, because the numbers range. But we are finding – and one reason we’re going to put some advisors into Syria to work directly with some of these groups – that, as they move south – and this al-Hal operation was really the first, and they’ve taken, I think, over 900 square kilometers now. And as they continue to move south, the coalescence of some of the Arab units that are doing the fighting continues to grow.
And there is a recognition from – including from the Syrian Kurds that, as you push down on Raqqa into Arab areas, the predominance of the fighters need to be Arab. And so, that’s something we’re very focused on, and that will be a key mission of our special forces advisors who go into those areas.
Moderator: Last Question.
Question: (Speaks in Arabic.)
Mr. McGurk: We’re going to help the Iraqis take back their streets. So one of the bedrock principles here is that the more indigenous forces are taking back the streets, the better we are able to deal a lasting defeat of Daesh. So this is why Ramadi is so important. These are Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi counter-terrorism forces, Iraqi police, ready to come in behind a plan that is designed and led by the Iraqi Government, working with the local leaders of Anbar. So Ramadi is an example of this.
We are very proud to have coalition advisors and trainers here to help advise and assist this process. There are additional things that we might be able to do that we will, of course, discuss with the Iraqi Government. But I think the days of U.S. combat troops in the streets and alleys of Iraq is not something that is necessary to defeat Daesh, and is not something that the Iraqi Government has asked for, and is not something that we are contemplating. We want to help the Iraqis retake their country. And they are doing that. And we are going to help them do that.