General John R. Allen's Remarks to the Press at U.S. Embassy Baghdad

Press Availability
John Allen
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL 
Baghdad, Iraq
January 16, 2015


STAFF: Good morning, everyone. It's my pleasure to introduce Ambassador Stuart Jones.

AMBASSADOR JONES: Good morning, everybody. Saba Al-Kheir. It's great to have all of you here, at the American Embassy. Welcome to all of you.

We're really delighted today to be hosting the President's Special Envoy for Iraq, John Allen. John Allen has been here for a couple days. He's met with Iraq's leaders. And, of course, he will tell you all about that.

Since General Allen came in October, he has recorded an extraordinary record of achievement in building an international Coalition of 62 countries that are supporting Iraq in the fight against Da’esh. As many of you know, the Prime Minister traveled to Brussels in November, and he addressed this Coalition. And the benefits of this Coalition are now being seen in the relentless success that the Iraqi Security Forces are having against Da’esh here, in Iraq.

So, it's really my pleasure and honor to introduce to you the President's Special Envoy, John Allen.

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, good morning to you. Saba Al-Kheir. I'd like to thank you for joining us today, and I want to thank Ambassador Jones, in particular, for his introduction, and for the hospitality of the embassy, while we've been in Iraq. It is good to be back in Baghdad, and to be joined here with my deputy envoy and ambassador, and long-time friend to Iraq, Ambassador Brett McGurk. I doubt, frankly, that there is anyone in the U.S. who knows Iraq better than he does in our government. And I'm always grateful for his insight and for his guidance.

Now, since my visit to Baghdad three months ago, I have traveled to 15 other capitals. And on each of these visits, our global Coalition to counter Da’esh grows stronger, as does our collective commitment to the people of Iraq, and to the country of Iraq. Among my recent travels our first trip to Baghdad stands out in my mind, not simply because of the historic significance of this city, but because it was my first trip overseas serving as the President's Special Envoy.

It was what I remembered most vividly from that day were the words of Prime Minister Dr. Haider al-Abadi, and he was very articulate that day. And though he had only been in office a little more than three weeks, the Prime Minister conveyed a very clear and commanding vision for what a stronger, more secure Iraq required. Da’esh's defeat did not depend solely on military success, the Prime Minister told us. But it depended on delivering security reform, advancing national reconciliation, and revitalizing Iraq's ties with its neighbors. These were the efforts that would make success on the battlefield possible, he told us. But it also would set Iraq on the road to recovery, an Iraq that would be whole and complete, an Iraq at peace with its neighbors, an Iraq for all Iraqis.

On that day we knew Prime Minister Abadi was a man of vision. And we clearly today see he is a man of action. Already, Prime Minister Abadi has taken several steps to professionalize and to modernize Iraq's security forces. He has made important and timely personnel changes. Iraq's government has worked simultaneously to begin arming and training tribal fighters, and to integrate these forces and other irregular elements into Iraq's security forces. And, as Iraq's government has become more representative, the nation is becoming more integrated within its region, and closer to its neighbors.

We arrived here from Riyadh, where Saudi leaders recently announced plans to build an embassy in Iraq, their first in more than a quarter of a century. Iraqi ministers have been -- and have participated in very productive visits to Ankara, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Amman, and, in turn, we see these governments deepening and broadening their partnership with Iraq.

Two days ago, Prime Minister Abadi and key cabinet members, including Defense Minister Obeidi, Oil Minister Abdul Mahdi, completed a two-day visit to Cairo. This is a perfect example of the outreach of the Abadi government to its neighbors and significant partners. Now that more than 60 nations have come together to join the global Coalition to counter ISIL, Iraq can count on the support of a host of strong partners from across the world. Each has made significant investments of national prestige and resources in this nation's future. Iraq's Coalition partners are providing far more than military support; they are taking leading roles to stop the flow of foreign fighters, to limit Da’esh's financing, to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to its victims, and to defeat Da’esh where they can do incredible harm, and that is in the virtual space, in the marketplace of ideas.

Nations as diverse as Morocco and Germany and Kuwait are helping to steer these efforts. On the military side of the equation, 12 nations of the Coalition have committed to train Iraq's security forces at several locations across Iraq, an effort that is now well underway. And eight Coalition partners are also participating in air strikes over Iraq, coordinating their support with our Iraqi partners on the ground for maximum impact.

Yesterday I visited Al Asad in the Al Anbar Province to see, firsthand, the progress of our cooperation with the 7th Iraqi Division and the tribal elements on developing security strategies, mission planning support, sharing information and intelligence, and coordinating close air support. Also at Anbar I received a briefing from the Iraqi Security Forces on their training and advising of local tribal forces, and I was briefed by one of the province's tribal leaders.

On Monday I visited Erbil and I met with Kurdish leaders, and we noted the tremendous efforts exerted in the north to defeat Da’esh. But also, I noted that close coordination between the forces in the north and those of the Coalition and with the Iraqi security forces.

As Iraq's government has taken critical steps towards reform, the United States has stepped up our support for Iraq's security forces. Last week, in response to requests from Iraq's government, the United States delivered 250 mine-resistant armor-protected vehicles. This will significantly contribute to the mobility of Iraqi forces, and to protect our precious Iraqi allies in their military operations. This contribution was also followed, or done in conjunction with, a $500 million investment in small arms and ammunitions, which was delivered last year. And our government has appropriated 1.6 billion in December to train and equip Iraqi Security Forces for the future.

The size of the contributions from the United States and our Coalition partners reflects the scope of the challenge that we face. Whether it comes to standing up the Iraqi Security Forces, or standing up to extremist bigotry, these efforts require patience. And, even as we make important progress, the future of Iraq is beginning to unfold in a positive way. We must ensure that, when the pivotal battles to defeat Da’esh in Iraq are joined, the weight of this counteroffensive will be so unrelenting and so unremitting, that Da’esh simply cannot endure it.

The Iraqis will prevail in this fight. I have seen -- personally, I have seen -- how Iraqi soldiers, courageous men, perform in battle. I have worked with them shoulder to shoulder in combat, and with tribal fighters in Al Anbar, and we watched as they wrested that province from the grip of al-Qaeda, just several years ago. And I've seen how fiercely Iraqis will fight for their country, will fight for their children, will fight for their families, and now, will fight for their future.

Of course, as we saw so tragically in Paris last week, Iraq is on the front lines of a global conflict. I was in Paris last week, meeting with French and European counterparts as the crisis there was unfolding. And it was a stark reminder that Da’esh's dark, violent ideology has a long reach. Even before Paris we saw terrorists inspired by Da’esh wreak havoc in other capitals of the Coalition: in Sydney, and in Ottawa, and in Brussels.

So, none of us can afford to say that degrading and defeating Da’esh is solely an Iraqi responsibility. Da’esh is a global threat that demands a global response. And that is why the world is coming together to support the brave Iraqis on the front lines of fighting this terrible enemy. Shukran.

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, we will now take a question from (inaudible) TV, (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

GENERAL ALLEN: We are -- you said "weapons being dropped over ISIL areas." We are dropping weapons all over ISIL areas, and we're dropping them on ISIL.

The story, I think, is that we're supplying ISIL. And that, in fact, is not correct. We are not supplying ISIL.

And I think your question also went to whether the Coalition will directly support the tribes. Is that correct? That's my question back to you, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

GENERAL ALLEN: The Coalition will not directly arm the Sunni tribes. We are working very closely with the Iraqi Government, the Minister of Defense, and the Iraqi Security Forces for them to work with tribal fighters, not just to arm them, but to train them, so that they can provide important functions in Iraq, as individual tribal elements, but also, very importantly, in conjunction with the Iraqi Security Forces, as they continue to move into the attack more aggressively.

So, we will not directly arm the tribes. We may provide the equipment, we may provide the ammunition, but we will do that in conjunction -- to the Iraqi Government, and they will do it. We will help, but we will not directly arm the Iraqi tribes.

Thank you for your question.

STAFF: Next question will be from Ned Parker of Reuters.

GENERAL ALLEN: Ned, good morning.

QUESTION: Good morning. Just wanted to -- speaking with different U.S. soldiers, and -- my colleagues and I -- and some of them have said that it would help to have forward operating advisors on the ground to call in air strikes, and that would lead to more efficient fighting. And even Iraqi soldiers will say that it's the Iraqi tribesmen in Anbar -- that sometimes the message comes too late. The Albu Nimr, in October, who -- many of them were killed -- is a primary example of that. So we're just curious about why this isn't happening. Are there plans for it to happen? Thank you.

GENERAL ALLEN: I think the Chairman has answered this question. At this juncture there are no forward air controllers accompanying Iraqi formations. But the Chairman has been clear that when he has determined that it is appropriate, he will make the recommendation in that regard.

QUESTION: So it could happen?

GENERAL ALLEN: I would leave that for the Chairman, ultimately, to make that recommendation, should he desire it to occur. Okay?

STAFF: The next question from Mr. (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, we are going to constantly look at the strategy that we're pursuing with respect to our support to Iraq. And, as the operational environment continues to mature over time, we will -- as we would always do, we would adjust that strategy so that it was -- it best fits the operational environment, and is most effective in supporting both our operational goals, but, very importantly, the goals of the Iraqi Security Forces and its strategy.

So, the General making the comment that we will constantly be looking at that strategy is, in fact, correct. The difference is between how the strategy is ultimately composed, and ultimately how it is applied on the ground. The strategy today is sound. It is accomplishing the objectives that we seek for it to produce. But I assure you that, as we always do, we constantly look at the strategy to ensure that it fits the operational environment.

With regard to dealing with the Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, and mines, that is a concern of ours. I know it's a concern of the Iraqi Security Forces. Many of their casualties, in fact, come from IEDs, as they're called. So a part of the training that we intend to pursue will be, ultimately, to provide support, both in terms of training, explosive ordnance disposal, soldiers within Iraqi Security Forces, but, more broadly, to give the Iraqi troops the capabilities of dealing with IEDs as they encounter them. And I think that's represented by the fact the United States has just given 250 what we call MRAPs, which are armored vehicles specifically engineered to protect troops from the explosive effects of IEDs. So it will be a function of our training; it will be a function of our providing equipment to the troops themselves, in their formations; it will be a function of our providing armored protective mobility, so that they can move as quickly as they can, and be the least susceptible to the effects of IEDs.

STAFF: Our last question this morning comes from (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thanks so much (inaudible). General Allen, thank you so much.

GENERAL ALLEN: Good morning.

QUESTION: In a lot of senses, this story (inaudible) Mosul. And although it's moved on, I wonder if you could tell us what needs to happen to have things in place to take back Mosul. And is it still as important as it was?

And if I could reach back just a little bit, if we look at the early history of this, the Marines, in particular in Anbar, had a lot of trouble with al-Qaeda. The U.S. military was never really able to eradicate them. Why are you confident that now you can defeat a much more formidable enemy? Thank you.

GENERAL ALLEN: To review what happened in Al Anbar, because I was there, it was the partnership of the Marines with the Iraqi Security Forces and, very importantly, the partnership with the tribes, which ultimately brought about the defeat of al-Qaeda in Al Anbar. And, as you recall, that then spread across Iraq.

So, in many respects, what we're hoping to do today is to work through the Iraqi Security Forces, both those that are effective in the field today, and those that are being reconstituted through the various training sites that have been established in Iraq to bring to fruition the training of 12 brigades: three in the north; nine in the south. And, with advising and assisting these formations, with continual training, refitting, and equipping these formations, we expect that we will see the effectiveness of this force improve over time and, ultimately, that they will be able to take back the population centers and the municipalities.

It's important that it be done in the right measures. It's important that we have all the pieces in place when that time comes. It's important that it's done in a deliberate manner, so that the planning is, in fact, accomplished in the kinds of detail necessary, and it's done in conjunction with the support that we have from the Coalition. But it's also not just a military matter. There are going to be some humanitarian assistance considerations that will be necessary for us to consider as that effort by Iraqi Security Forces to retake the country unfolds. As you certainly will understand and know, we will have to provide relief to the population. There will be requirements for reconstruction.

And so, all of this has to be planned in detail. My visit over the last couple of days left me confident that that process is being thought of, and it is being planned. One of the messages that I carry from this visit back to the Coalition -- and we will be meeting relatively shortly this month to talk about how we can better support Iraq and the Iraqi people and future operations -- will be such things as how we can marshal humanitarian assistance to follow directly behind the efforts of the Iraqi Security Forces, so that we can, in fact, rescue the people from what they have had to suffer at the hands of Da’esh, to include internally displaced people, refugees, and so on.

So, it's a comprehensive planning requirement that's necessary. And, as I implied with the earliest part of my question, it's not just about the Coalition. It's not just about the Iraqi Security Forces. It's about the totality of the Coalition and the entire Iraqi population, including the tribes, partnering with the security forces to achieve the effect that we seek.

What's the question on Mosul? When?

QUESTION: What do you -- I don't think you're going to tell us that.

GENERAL ALLEN: No, I won't, actually. But go ahead.

QUESTION: What do you need (inaudible). Thank you. There are so many moving parts to this.

GENERAL ALLEN: Sure.

QUESTION: Mosul, in particular. What do you need to do to be able to be in a position to have a chance of taking back Mosul? And does it have to happen with -- do you have to take (inaudible) --

GENERAL ALLEN: I don't think we need to get into the operations. But it's pretty straightforward. It's not easy, but it's pretty straightforward. You have to generate the forces. By estimating the enemy's posture and the enemy's capabilities you have to generate the forces that will give you the tactical advantage, when the time comes to begin the operations.

Before that operation begins, there are probably some operations that you will want to undertake that we call shaping operations, which sets the conditions for success. That, both the shaping operations and the actual military operations with respect to Mosul, would need to be very closely coordinated with the Coalition so that our capabilities are brought to bear at exactly the right time and in exactly the right proportions to provide the greatest confidence and capability for success to the Iraqi Security Forces.

But it's not just the army. Again, there are police considerations. Because once the security activities have occurred, then you have stability activities that must occur, and that's where the population now will be protected in the aftermath of the clearing operation from the resurgence of criminal elements or elements of Da’esh that may seek to get back inside the population. So there will be a need for a police presence that moves quickly behind the assault echelons that clear Mosul.

Then the re-establishment of local governance will be important to tie, very quickly, that critical city, that iconic city of Iraq, to tie the governance of the people back into the central government. And then, of course, as I said, an immediate infusion of humanitarian assistance for the population with very serious consideration for reconstruction. In there is the re-establishment of electricity and fresh water, some infrastructure protection and infrastructure restoration.

All of those things have to be planned together in a comprehensive package that is both timed and sequenced to achieve the effect that we want to achieve in Mosul. And, of course, must be planned in a comprehensive manner with the capabilities that we, in the Coalition, can bring to bear for the Iraqis.

So it is not insignificant. But my sense is, as I leave Baghdad, that the size of the requirement and the components of the requirement are known to those who must plan it, and that process is moving forward. Thank you. Very good question.

And I want to thank you this morning for your time, and to see you, good friends. And I wish you the best. Thanks very much.

STAFF: Thank you, everyone. Good afternoon.