Interview With Al Arabiya Arabic News Channel

General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
October 29, 2014

QUESTION: (ARABIC INTRODUCTION) Thank you for this interview.

GENERAL ALLEN: My pleasure.

QUESTION: We start with the latest coming out of Syria, specifically Kobane. There is a huge likelihood of it falling into the hands of Da’esh. What’s the plan for the Coalition if this happens?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, I would not say that it is likely to fall into the hands of Da’esh. The defenders of Kobane have held on for a long time. The coalition has been providing air support regularly around Kobane each day. There is a Peshmerga relief column en route now as well as FSA elements are on the way to reinforce the defenders of Kobane. So, the defenders are going to continue to be supported by the coalition. And I think they’re holding out quite well.

QUESTION: What if, it’s a hypothetical question, is there a plan if Da’esh comes close to the Syrian-Turkish border?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, Da’esh comes close to the Syrian border?

QUESTION: Yes, or takes it over.

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen; I don’t think that’ll be the case and I typically try not to - especially concerning operational issues - try not to answer hypothetical questions. We’re going to continue to support defenders of Kobane. And we will continue to consult with the Turks on Kobane on the situation along the border, and we will remain in consultations.

QUESTION: So, who are you coordinating with on the FSA level?

GENERAL ALLEN: You mean with regard to Kobane?


GENERAL ALLEN: We have elements that are talking to the defenders, and that is helping us obviously with the application of fire to ensure that those fires are on target. And that’s a very important opportunity for us to begin to build relationships in that regard.

QUESTION: There is a feeling that Kobane is exaggerated in the international media. Just as we are speaking many villages in Idlib are just about to or probably have fallen into the hands of Da’esh and its affiliates. One of the moderate FSAs, Jamal, is fighting fierce battles not to allow this, but it might happen. Are you sending any support whatsoever to the moderate FSA currently just as things are happening?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, we’re supporting the defenders of Kobane. We’re conducting air strikes throughout Syria on Da’esh targets. You’re bringing up a particular situation right now that I don’t know about operationally, but I would tell you that we’re seeking those command and control sites, those training centers, those lines of communications within Syria that present targets that support Da’esh’s operations throughout the region and particularly in Iraq as well – and we’re striking those throughout the region, throughout Syria, as well as striking the Da’esh elements around Kobane. So you brought up a particular situation that is new to me, but we’re continuing air operations across Syria against targets that present themselves.

QUESTION: Have you targeted any factions except Da’esh? I’m talking about Jabhat al-Nusrah or Ahrar al-Sham?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, the United States targeted Khorasan, which is an element of al Nusra, which is an al Qaeda veteran organization. And the coalition has attacked Da’esh and it will continue to do that.

QUESTION: So the casualties of Da’esh in comparison to the casualties of the Assad regime – were not much. Over the past two months, again in comparison to the Assad regime – so any normal person in the Arab street is asking why the whole is so fussy about Da’esh? They didn’t even take any action against the Assad regime that has killed 200,000 so far.

GENERAL ALLEN: We’re going to ultimately achieve a political outcome as a result of our supporting the Free Syrian Army and helping the moderate Syrian opposition create a political cohesion. Those two together, in conjunction with our train and equip program and other support that we’ll provide. We ultimately hope that that political echelon paired with a capable and credible Free Syrian Army is going to be a very prominent voice – if not a prominent voice, a preeminent voice – in Syria, for that political voice we seek.

QUESTION: General, it has been three years.

GENERAL ALLEN: And that political outcome does not envision Bashar al Asad.

QUESTION: People are dying by the minute. We just want to know how to convince people, will the Coalition at some point probably target Assad forces on the ground?

GENERAL ALLEN: That’s a question I can’t answer at this particular moment. Our intention is to support the Free Syrian Army, and we will build the capability of the Free Syrian Army to defend itself. Those capabilities that we will ultimately build into that organization are intended to give it the battlefield credibility not just to deal with Da’esh, but also to deal with Jabhat al Nusra and to defend itself against the regime. This is an idea that will ultimately we hope rally other Syrians to the cause of the moderate Syrian opposition and to the position of the Free Syrian Army. So as I said, they are not only a prominent voice, they are a preeminent voice in the political process.

QUESTION: So, some questions were raised.

GENERAL ALLEN: And it’s a very important point that that political outcome if I didn’t say it earlier does not include Bashar al Assad. It does not include him.

QUESTION: But he’s still there. We’ve been hearing a lot of that. Regarding the training centers, how many are they and where are they?

GENERAL ALLEN: I’m going to let the countries who have hosted those in the past speak for themselves. We’ll probably have three, and the intent will be to have elements of the Free Syrian Army or moderate opposition come to those camps and they will be trained and returned to Syria over the next few years.

QUESTION: It was very visible to any journalist covering Syria that when you land in Hatay and you cross the border toward Syria, you could see a lot of those foreign fighters allowed into Syria. Turkey has been accused of turning a blind eye to foreign fighters. Hasn’t U.S. intelligence or NATO or other intelligence officers on the ground, haven’t they spotted these foreign fighters going in over the last two years?

GENERAL ALLEN: Turkey has made the case of late that they have had an issue with foreign fighters in transit. They are taking the steps now – now that they are working in partnership with many European states from which foreign fighters emerge – to take those steps necessary to control their borders and prevent that from happening.

QUESTION: Have you officially in the past asked Turkey to stop the flow of those fighters?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, we talk to Turkey about the five lines of operation with respect to the strategy associated with this campaign, which is the military dimension, dealing with foreign fighters—and in that regard we have talked to Turkey about dealing with foreign fighters – and they are committed.

QUESTION: But they let them in—

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, let me finish on the lines of operation. The third line is dealing with the disruption of the finances of Da’esh, providing humanitarian assistance and since we’re talking about Turkey, it deserves credit on the humanitarian level hosting 1.8 million refugees currently in Turkey, and many more could be entering. And ultimately, helping us work toward the demise of the image of Da’esh.

And so we are talking to Turkey about a variety of things. It is a political consultation between two allies, a NATO ally. Those conversations will continue and we expect other areas for cooperation will emerge.

QUESTION: Now Hezbollah is rated or ranked one of the top terrorism organizations on the U.S. list and so is Da’esh. Will the coalition strike Hezbollah fighters on the ground in Syria? They are terrorists just like Da’esh.

GENERAL ALLEN: At this particular moment the efforts of the coalition are focused on stabilizing the situation in Iraq, providing Iraqi security forces and ultimately the central authority of Iraq under Prime Minister Abadi with the ability to restore the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq. We will concentrate on Da’esh to eliminate that presence in Iraq. At the same time, the coalition efforts are going to focus on giving the Free Syrian Army the capacity to defend themselves and ultimately deal with that.

QUESTION: Hezbollah is not on the radar?

GENERAL ALLEN: We will ensure that the Free Syrian Army has the capacity to deal with those elements in Syria that present a threat to them. If Hezbollah presents a threat to the Free Syrian Army, through the training and equipping we will give them, we hope they will be able to defend themselves in that regard.

QUESTION: So talking about Iraq, are the Iranian military consultants that are on the ground - are you coordinating with them, with the Sunni tribes? With whom are you coordinating?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, we are working very closely with Iraqi security forces. Just last week the central government named a Minister of Defense and a Minister of Interior for the first time since 2010. Frankly, that’s quite a breakthrough in governance. So we are increasingly dealing through the institutions and security forces of Iraq. We will continue to work closely with the security institutions with regard to the Sunni tribes. They are an important element.

QUESTION: Will you arm them?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well it is up to the Iraqi Security Forces to do that. But we will train them and we will work closely with Iraqi supervisors, materiel and weapons and ammunition.

On Iran, Secretary Kerry has been very clear with regard to the role of Iran that we welcome the constructive role of every country in that process. And just like we do with other countries we would welcome a constructive role by the Iranians.

QUESTION: What is the role of the National Guard in fighting Da’esh? Will the National Guard to the job of fighting ISIS, Da’esh? And how will you enforce the National Guard?

GENERAL ALLEN: The National Guard will ultimately exist as, if you will, the middle ground between the police, which are the closest security echelon to the population, and the Iraqi national army. Imagine three different echelons: police closest to the people, the national army responsible for the territorial integrity and emergencies and the National Guard in the middle brigades – they will be raised in the provinces: three in the north, three in the south.

The brigades will look like the demographic laydown of the provinces. They will answer to the governor of the province, but in the event that there is a national emergency they can be federalized to become part of the Iraqi national army. They will belong to the Ministry of Defense and be trained and be paid by the Ministry of Defense. But they will be a provincial entity. In the event that the police, which are closest to the people, run into a terrorist attack or some form of emergency that exceeds their capacity, then the governor will have the authority to order the provincial National Guard brigade to move to that place.

QUESTION: But you know everything is sectarian in the end – Sunni v. Shiite. Will there be a plan to not allow this to happen?

GENERAL ALLEN: I think there has been a really positive trend of late happening in Iraq where senior political leaders, senior religious leaders have talked about the future of Iraq relying on all Iraqis – Shia, Kurds, Sunni . And that the intent with regard to the refurbishment, the regeneration of the Iraqi Army and security forces will be that those forces represent the people of Iraq -- not a sect, not a particular organization, but the people of Iraq. We have heard senior religious leaders and political leaders all speaking with one voice on that issue – and that is new.

It won’t be easy; it will take time. But the political dedication to that end and the senior Iraqi leaders being motivated to that end is a good start. Now we have to bring the reality of that to the training of those forces.

QUESTION: One last question. Is ISIS a threat only to Syria and Iraq? Or are there threats on Lebanon and Jordan?

GENERAL ALLEN: It is a threat to the region, and in many ways a threat to the world. In the region because obviously we have seen it emerge in Syria, we have seen the results of its actions in Iraq we have seen the populations that were displaced as a result of what Da’esh has done to the civilians and millions have fled into Turkey and Lebanon and into Jordan and those other frontline states.

But we have also seen that the idea of Da’esh, as communicated through social media and the internet, has communicated on a broader basis an opportunity for those who would tend to be easily radicalized to join this movement and ultimately to want to become part of this. The immediate emergency is what is happening in Iraq and Syria; the regional consequences are the potential spread of this to our friends in the region. The global consequence is that this ideology will spread and be attractive to elements around the world. As I said before on the five lines of effort, the last line of effort is where we are achieving significant consensus and unity within the Coalition – where we finally defeat the idea.

QUESTION: Thank you.

GENERAL ALLEN: My pleasure.