Interview With Sky News Arabia

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 intro & question)

GENERAL ALLEN: This was an important visit from our perspective. It was an opportunity to visit the Arab countries in the region. First of all, to thank them for the many contributions that they have made to the coalition, to explain the strategy that we are pursuing in the coalition to deal with this emergency, to deal with Da’esh, and to exchange views on the way ahead. We listened very carefully to their questions. We talked about the ways we can deepen the relationships within the coalition to be even more effective in the future.

We talked about the five lines of operation. The one that’s most conspicuous now and the one that receives a lot of attention is, obviously, the military line. But there are other important lines as well. It’s the line that we’ll pursue together as a coalition to stem the flow of foreign fighters, to do all we can to disrupt the finances of ISIL, to conduct humanitarian operations and to support the humanitarian needs of the region, and last and very importantly, how we can come together and unify our voices to de-legitimize the voices of Da’esh and all it represents.

QUESTION: (Arabic question)

GENERAL ALLEN: The intent of the operations as they have unfolded is to blunt and stop the momentum of Da’esh. That is why the airstrikes have been so important to this point. The airstrikes were to impede Da’esh’s operational and tactical momentum, to create “white space” as we call it, and to provide time for us to work closely with Iraqi security forces, to begin to take the fight back to Da’esh.

We’re doing several things simultaneously. We’re attacking Da’esh from the air to again buy that time that is necessary for the regeneration of the Iraqi security forces. Those Iraqi security forces that are in the field now taking the fight to Da’esh, we’re helping them by providing advice and assistance and training. There have been some local successes, and we think those trends are beginning to move in positive directions. But we’re also setting up training camps in Iraq where the coalition will help to train those elements of the Iraqi security forces that have been regenerated, and move back into the main force of the Iraqi security forces for a counter-offensive -- a counter-offensive that will ultimately restore the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq. And the other area in which we’ll conduct operations and be present is to support the Ministry of Defense to build capacity to support the police and the army over time.

So we’re doing a number of things simultaneously. The first and foremost is to stop the operational and tactical momentum of Da’esh. And we’re engaged in that process right now.

QUESTION: (Arabic question)

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, I think it’s important to understand that we’re really just starting these operations. We’re working closely with Iraqi security forces that are in the field to give them the capability to move into the attack, to move onto the offense. Our firepower will be closely integrated into that. Da’esh for some period of time was achieving a number of sequential victories, and what’s happening now is those victories have been stopped.

We intend not just to place the Iraqi security forces in a position, the Iraqi government and the senior echelons within the forces to move their forces into the attack. We intend to provide the fire support necessary for them to be successful while we train other elements of the Iraqi security forces to join in the field, ultimately to push Da’esh back.

QUESTION: (Arabic question)

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, we’re not talking to them right now in the context of being part of the coalition, but they are a very important part of the outcome we hope to achieve in degrading Da’esh and the defeat of Da’esh over time. The Free Syrian Army consists of a number of groups that we will assist in terms of training and equipping to build their capabilities over time.

That’s really only one part of the strategy that we will pursue in Syria. Another very important part is to work closely with the political echelon of the moderate Syrian opposition helping to bring that organization together, those elements together for a political cohesiveness which, when tied to the battlefield capabilities of a Free Syrian Army that we will support to fight Da’esh and ultimately defend itself against other elements of the battlespace to include the regime. When those two come together – which is one of our objectives – we want that element of the moderate Syrian opposition supported by the credible Syrian Free Army to be part in the long term objectives we all seek in Syria. That is a political outcome in which Bashar al Assad is not a part. But for that outcome to credibly move forward, the Free Syrian Army supporting the moderate opposition must not only be a prominent voice in that process, but we hope with our efforts for it to be a preeminent voice in that process.

MK: (Arabic question)

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, let’s start in Iraq, which is very important because we’re going to be doing these two efforts simultaneously. We’re going to work very closely with Iraqi security forces to eliminate the presence of Da’esh in Iraq, to restore the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Iraq to the benefit of all Iraqis – all Iraqis – within the context of the leadership of the new Abadi government.

Simultaneous to that we will begin building the capacity of the Free Syrian Army through the training centers throughout the region. And as those troops become available to the Free Syrian Army, as we create greater capability in the field, as we create a greater cohesiveness and probably a military command within the Free Syrian Army, we expect that they’re going to be able to deal with Da’esh.

And in the context of doing that, we expect to see many Syrians move in the direction of the moderate Syrian opposition and many Syrians move in the direction of wanting to support the Free Syrian Army. And it will be in that context, the growing capability and the growing influence of the moderate Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army’s capabilities in the field, we see them as the forces which will ultimately retain control of that element and of that ground where Da’esh had previously retained influence.

QUESTION: (Arabic question)

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, we’re in a close conversation with the Turks right now about the role they can play. Turkey is an old friend of the United States. It’s a NATO ally; the relationships with respect to this coalition are a natural relationship to unfold. Turkey has been helpful to this point in ways I will let Turkey talk about. But we’re in a long conversation with them right now--a political conversation and a military conversation--about what role Turkey can play.

They do have an important role to play. It’s unique. It’s based on the people of Turkey, the location of Turkey with respect to Syria and Da’esh elements operating in Northern Syria and along the southern Turkish border. So there is a role for Turkey to play; we’re in a conversation with them now about how that role can be deepened and we look forward to relatively soon being able to announce some of those ways.

QUESTION: (Arabic question)

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, the first thing I think is to celebrate the success of the coalition. This is a group of nations that has come together that recognize the common emergency that we face, to recognize that our diversity is actually a strength with so many different voices, worshiping in different ways, with different political histories and backgrounds. First of all, we think that this coalition is a very important symbol of unity with respect to dealing with an organization like Da’esh.

But as you properly pointed out, President Obama made the case – made the point that this is going to take a while. I can’t put a timeline on this, but I hope that the very helpful steps that we have taken already as a coalition in terms of the military activities underway, the common views that we have on the issues of stopping foreign fighters and dealing with the financing of Da’esh, and providing humanitarian support to those in desperate need of it and going after the message of Da’esh, the brand of Da’esh – all of those things together will give us the synergy will give us the capability to end this threat to the region and to end this organization.

And just two days ago, I was able to participate in a conference where the Arab states of the region came together to talk about this business of unifying our voices ultimately to de-legitimize the whole idea of Da’esh. And I think one of the conclusions we all came to is, we can deal with Da’esh as a military entity and deal with it on the battle field, we can deal with Da’esh as a financial entity or having been sourced by foreign fighters but when we are ultimately able as a Coalition to deal with the image of Dash and the reputation of Da’esh, killing that reputation will ultimately what brings us all victory and that’s what we’re seeking right now. I can’t put a timeline on it, but the common vision of all of these countries together and the common purpose we have all assumed in this end is very encouraging.