- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that the Islamic State is nearing defeat in Iraq and Syria, and that stabilizing the Middle East after the terrorist group falls is the key strategic concern facing the international community.

Mr. Carter and other senior U.S. military leaders met Wednesday with their counterparts from the 36-nation coalition backing indigenous forces fighting to drive Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, from Iraq and Syria.

The meetings are part of a two-day summit in Washington to finalize plans for the highly anticipated offensives against the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa and its self-styled Iraqi capital of Mosul.

During a briefing with reporters, Mr. Carter characterized Wednesday’s discussions as a means to “rigorously evaluate [and] further accelerate” the anti-Islamic State fight.

Part of that acceleration means considering the next steps after the Islamic State is driven out of Mosul and Raqqa, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said.

“This battle is won the day after liberation,” Mr. Fallon told reporters shortly after Wednesday’s meetings. “As momentum continues [on the battlefield], increasingly the focus is turning to [stabilization and reconstruction efforts].”

Partner nations spent a large portion of Wednesday’s discussion formulating what will be needed once hostilities are declared over in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Carter said.

“Defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria is absolutely necessary [but] that is not the entirety of the campaign,” he said. “That’s not enough. That is not going to be sufficient.”

He declined to comment on the details of those discussions, except to note that Washington and its allies “are going to ensure our partners have what they need to fight” but also stabilize Iraq and Syria after Islamic State falls.

The top strategic concern for partner nations is “making sure there isn’t a significant lag” in that support, both during the fight for Mosul and Raqqa and after the fighting is done, he added.

During a surprise visit to Baghdad, Mr. Carter announced Monday that 560 U.S. troops would be deployed as Iraqi government forces prepare to drive onto Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

The new deployment will bump up the total number of American troops in Iraq to roughly 6,000, according to unofficial estimates of U.S. troop strength in the region.

Those new troops, which will likely be concentrated at a military airfield in the western part of al Qayyara, about 40 miles south of Mosul, will begin to arrive in Iraq over the next few weeks, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said during Wednesday’s briefing.

But the overarching imperative to wrest Mosul and Raqqa from Islamic State control is “necessary but not sufficient” in the wake of several high-profile terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State in recent weeks, Mr. Carter said.

Recent Islamic State-inspired attacks in Orlando, Florida, and Nice, France, have shown the group’s ability to terrorize the West, despite not having notched any significant combat victories in Iraq or Syria in more than a year.

Still, the terrorist group unleashed a barrage of carnage in a series of attacks from Bangladesh to Baghdad that culminated in a massive suicide bombing in the predominantly Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada that left more than 200 dead.

Those attacks, combined with the successful coalition operation to retake the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah in June, have bogged down the Mosul offensive. The White House has stated it planned to recapture Mosul by the end of this year.

On Wednesday, Mr. Fallon said the coalition is not adhering to any supposed deadline to retake the city.

Gen. Votel echoed that sentiment, warning that the U.S. and its allies “should not underestimate the amount of preparation [needed] for Mosul.”

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