Interview With Petra News Agency

John Allen
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL 
Amman, Jordan
February 8, 2015

Question: How do you view Jordan and its role after the killing of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by the Da’esh terrorist group?

General Allen: One of the principal reasons while I am here is to express our profound condolences over the tragic and despicable murder of Captain Moaz al-Kasasbeh. Second, because Jordan is such an important participant and leader within the Coalition, I have come to demonstrate the Coalition’s solidarity with Jordan. And third, His Majesty the King, King Abdullah, has indicated that Jordan was interested in doing even more.

I think Jordan has been a leader in this Coalition from the very beginning. Indeed, His Majesty had a vision for the Coalition and for the reality of Da’esh that helped the Coalition shape its approach. And so when His Majesty makes comments here and in Washington that we want do more within the coalition to fight Da’esh, well, there was no other place that I should be in than Amman.

So we look forward to seeing His Majesty tomorrow, and continuing to gain his views with respect to the direction of Coalition. Again, his views on the nature of the threat of Da’esh, and to continue to harvest the many perspectives and the wisdom that he has given to all us on the way ahead.

One of his really important perspectives has been the vision not just of Jordanian leadership but Arab leadership in the coalition. There are 62 members in the Coalition, and I am heading to East Asia very shortly from here to talk to some of the newer ones.

Question: There was an announcement recently on an additional US support to Jordan. Don’t you think that Jordan is in need of further support... logistical, military etc…?

General Allen: Well again, His Majesty, in his recent [visit] to Washington, was very clear on that point. He provided us his views and what that support should look like. And I will tell you that we are seized with the urgency of providing that support. And so that’s the direction the U.S. Government is obviously moving: to provide that support to Jordan. And we are grateful for His Majesty having made those points to us, so that we can provide that kind of support back to the Kingdom.

Question: Jordan is a safe and secure country in a turbulent region. Aren’t you concerned about Jordan from the repercussions of this regional situation?

General Allen: Well, the good news is that the Jordanian people have a great capability to defend themselves, and they have the will and spirit to do that. I have been coming to Jordan for many years, and I have never seen the unity of the people and the strength of character of the Jordanian people as great as it is today. It speaks to the Jordanian people; it speaks about who they are when they are presented with adversity. When they presented with the horror of what happened to Captain Kasasbeh, they gained strength from it, they became more unified because of it. And that’s the nature of Jordan, the Hashemite Kingdom; it’s been always that way. So the good news is that is the nature of the Jordanian people.

The other good news is, I think, is the extraordinary leadership of His Majesty the King. And that leadership spans the region. It’s not just leadership and vision for the Kingdom and for the people of Jordan; it’s a true leadership for the region. And frankly, the United States of America, an old friend of Jordan: we listen very carefully to His Majesty the King on critical points.

Now the bad news: there are very difficult moments right now in the region, from Yemen to Libya. There are only a few certainties in life and one of them is that the U.S. and Jordan will remain very close friends. We will support you.

Question: Is there a shift in the strategies of the international coalition after the international support and sympathy with Jordan against the Da’esh terrorist group?

General Allen: No, I don’t think so. I think the strategy is very clear, and that is we are going to defeat Da’esh. We will always look at the component for this strategy, [and] as the operational environment changes we will always look at the component of the strategy to ensure that were trying with the very best of our resources and our capabilities to achieve our strategic objectives.

Jordan is helping very credibly in a number of areas within that strategy. Now we have just the seen the skies darkened with Jordanian F-16s going into Syria that even the score with Da’esh. We have just seen that is an important demonstration of Jordan's military policy.

Jordan also plays very heavily in the area of humanitarian assistance. And the numbers are sometimes debated but to my understanding, you are hosting 600,000-plus Syrians, in addition to Iraqis and Palestinians. So Jordan has been an oasis. The global community and the Coalition has much to admire in Jordan's hospitality and Jordan's generosity and all that it has done to secure the lives of these people who are desperate. Look at what happened to them in Syria: Jordan has given them safe haven. That is another area.

Another area where Jordan has done important work, and we are looking for continued leadership, [is] in the area of foreign fighters and preventing foreign fighters from getting into Syria and then Iraq. And this goes back to His Majesty's vision on this conflict with Da’esh: counter-messaging. Da’esh has been capable of creating this image of invincibility, this image of inevitability. And the most powerful voices that can be raised against Da’esh should come from someone from the region: from an Arab, from a Muslim. And the King has been very clear, His Majesty has been very clear from the outset even before the Coalition. This is a real struggle, a Muslim struggle, to reclaim the beautiful and wonderful faith of Islam. And he has been a leader in that process. Jordan plays prominently and importantly in our entire counter-messaging campaign, and this an area I hope will be raised when I meet His Majesty tomorrow. We can even find a greater depth of cooperation.

Question: After months of air raids and bombing against this terrorist group, do you see any results on the ground as we have around 62 states as members in the coalition?

General Allen: Many Coalition partners have contributed a great deal towards the military line of efforts. And remember there are multiple lines of efforts. But Da’esh was coming, as they say, with full head of steam. They were coming at us, intent on destroying Iraq, intent on continuing the attack into the south into the Najaf, intent on attacking Saudi Arabia, intent on destabilizing Jordan. So they had this image of invincibility and there was a sense of inevitability that this was going to happen.

Several months ago, when President Obama and ultimately the members of the Coalition elected to apply a military solution to this problem, we began to apply substantial airpower. And the intent of that airpower was to blunt Da’esh and ultimately to stop Da’esh, to create the time necessary for us to retrain and work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces. And of course Jordan has been an important bringing about that counter-momentum. So we took them head on, we slowed and stopped them, and with the firepower, we killed thousands of them. And now they are generally stopped and their momentum has been halted.

Their time is coming, and the counteroffensive will begin very shortly.

Question: Do you think there will be a ground assault?

General Allen: Oh yes, oh yes, there will be a major counteroffensive on the ground in Iraq.

Question: By the coalition?

General Allen: Well, primarily, it’s about leading, the Iraqis leading. We have multiple advisory teams on the ground right now. They are advising Iraqi forces that are actually in action today.

Just for a brief moment on that, Da’esh took the Mosul Dam, it was taken back. Da’esh relied on the Rabiya crossing into Syria; that has been denied to them. Da’esh required a series of roads to supply Mosul, they have lost these junctions now. Farther to the south, Amerli was besieged; it’s been relieved. The Haditha Dam on the Euphrates was under threat; it’s been now relieved.

So there are advisory elements from the Coalition that are out supporting the Iraqi forces right now. But elsewhere in Iraq, we have created four camps in Iraq where Coalition and partner nations are training the Iraqi forces that will become part of the counteroffensive; four brigades of big force. One of those is an area that Jordan knows well, is the Al-Anbar province, Al-Asad. There is a camp in Taji, there is a camp in Bismayah, there is a camp in Erbil. And in every one of those camps, there are Americans. But in Al-Anbar, there are Danes and Australians; in Taji there are Australians and New Zealanders;[1] in Bismayah there are Spanish and Portuguese; in Erbil, there are Germans, Italians, French, Dutch and Belgians.

Question: Are you satisfied with all countries taking part in the coalition? Who are the effective participants in the coalition?

General Allen: Some countries have different capabilities. We play to their strengths. You know, I commanded the forces in Afghanistan; I had a fifty-nation coalition and I would often get the question “aren’t you frustrated by what the countries can’t do?” And I would say no, I don’t concentrate on that, I concentrate on what they can do. I play to their strengths, not condemn an absence of will.

So, there are many countries in the Coalition are contributing their strengths and it looks different from country to country. We have some very small countries that don’t have a lot of money that in the context, for example, of their manufacturing capabilities, who are very good at building shelters. So, within the capacity of their relatively small economies, they are contributing large numbers of shelters for refugees. Now, that’s a big contribution for that small country but it’s not fighter jets, it’s not special forces.

So many of these countries are making important contributions based on their capability to do so. The challenge for the Coalition is to find the best place for them to contribute. In our first meeting for the Coalition—and again His Majesty was important in helping us to see the way ahead on this— it was just only on December 3, all sixty members of the coalition at that time met in Brussels and the foreign ministers of those countries were there to endorse the strategy and endorse the way ahead where we are headed now is the within these lines of efforts. Each individual country will express their intent on how they would like to participate along these lines of efforts, so that we really do began to produce visible outcomes from the Coalition and that’s happening right now.

Question: There is a feeling that there is a delay in providing support to the Iraqi army in terms of weapons and training? And this also applies to the Iraqi tribes, what’s your comment on that?

General Allen: I will say two things on that. One is that the United States is doing all it can to deliver it support as quickly as possible.

And second, I think that it is important to remember that just where we were with the Iraqi Security Forces in June, July and August of last year. Much of their equipment had been lost, much of the forces had disappeared, the tribes have been overrun. And so where we find ourselves today is that the United States is paying $1.6 billion for equipment for 12 brigades. We are paying for that and we are going to deliver that. That is something that are moving very quickly today. We want the Iraqi forces to retake back Iraq.

It is important for everyone to understand that Da’esh pursued a conscious campaign plan in the attack on Iraq. And we may well see that now that there are elements in Da’esh who are former Sadaamists with extensive military capabilities. And so the campaign plan was at least a year prior to the major attack that was launched in Iraq. If you watched the suicide bombings, those bombings were directed against security officials, religious leaders, tribal officials, civil government. And so when Da’esh came across, the damage that had been to the society was great and it was not accidental, it was intentional. Plus the Maliki regime had under-resourced Iraqi Security Forces, replaced many of the leaders, the troops could [not] go to the field, much of the equipment was broken. So the combination of those two things were…

Question: Is there a new strategy for the coalition, we are talking about there?

General Allen: We have gone very long way. Syria is much harder because we have partners in Iraq; there is the Iraqi government, Prime Minister Abadi. He has met with His Majesty, and he believes that his visit to Amman and his meeting with His Majesty was very productive. And he has been around the region. So we have a partner at all levels in Iraq but we don't have similar partner in Syria. So the work that must be done by the Coalition in Syria is going to take longer.

Question: Are you supporting the Iraq tribes?

General Allen: Of course, we do we are doing it right now. I was recently in Al-Asad, where in fact there were young Iraqis and also young American Special Forces training the tribes. Tribes are already becoming effective against Da’esh in Anbar just as they were very effective against Al Qaeda in Anbar before.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity


[1] Neither Australia or New Zealand is currently participating in a Building Partner Capacity site in Iraq. Australia has deployed Special Forces as part of an advise and assist mission in Iraq and has participated in air strikes there as part of the counter-ISIL Coalition.