Interview With Hurriyet's Verda Ozer on U.S.-Turkey Cooperation to Counter ISIL
Deputy Special Representative for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. So I’d like to start with the PKK attacks of Turkey. Following the recent Incirlik agreement between U.S. and Turkey, as you know, Turkey started a massive air campaign against the PKK targets in northern Syria – sorry, northern Iraq – and U.S. officials have stated several times that these attacks are not part of the Incirlik deal. So does this mean that the U.S. Government was not informed in advance of these airstrikes? And if it was, has it conveyed its consent to this air campaign?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, it’s a good question and I’m really happy to clear it up, because there’s a lot that has been said about this and a lot of it is just not right.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: The negotiations that we’ve had with the Government of Turkey about opening up Incirlik but really cooperate against Daesh writ large have been going on for about nine months. They’ve been very cooperative. There’ve been very constructive negotiations; there’s a lot of details to work out. And we really concluded those talks as two governments on July 7th and July 8th. We were here with a delegation – myself, General Allen, and some others from our interagency – and we had a very good discussion over those two days and concluded a set of principles.
Our two presidents – President Erdogan and President Obama – then spoke a few days later and agreed that these principles were a basis on which to proceed, and at that moment there was an agreement between our two heads of state to open up Incirlik Air Base and to begin strike operations against Daesh. Now, our military teams then had to get together to begin to work out the arrangements for that, and we actually began our manned operations just yesterday and we began unmanned operations a few days ago.
So contemporaneous with all of this, and in fact, right around the time that we were concluding our talks, it was the PKK – that the United States declares as a terrorist organization together with the EU and many of our other partners – declared that they were – the ceasefire was over and then they began attacks here in Turkey. I think we’ve been very clear that the right of self-defense for Turkey is a bedrock principle of ours. Turkey is a long-term partner and NATO ally of ours. And these attacks were started by the PKK. If the PKK did not launch attacks in Turkey, Turkey would not be launching its airstrikes against the PKK.
So that is what happened, and I think it’s just important to be very clear about that. The PKK was not a part or an issue that was a part of the agreement about the fight against Daesh. However, the PKK is a very serious threat to our friends, to our Turkish partners. And therefore, when the PKK launches attacks inside Turkey, Turkey has a right to respond.
We have also said very clearly that we encourage de-escalation, we encourage a return to the solution process – so we’ve been very clear about this. But this notion that somehow the agreement on Incirlik and the cooperation against Daesh is linked to anything against the PKK is just really fundamentally false.
And in fact, one other point I want to clear up, because I’ve read in some places that well, since we reached this agreement Turkey’s only done a couple airstrikes Daesh and they’ve done a number of airstrikes against the PKK, so what about that. And the truth of the matter is, and I can speak to this with some authority – I’ve been to Ankara now about 10 or 11 times over the last eight months, including a number of times over the last six weeks or so – the Government of Turkey is very eager to begin airstrikes against Daesh. They would be doing them with us now; however, we have to work out military-to-military the arrangements for doing that. We have a team of our own military professionals here in Turkey now that is working with the Turkish military to work out the arrangements and the mechanisms for doing it.
So, this is my final point. The only reason that Turkey is not doing airstrikes against Daesh is because we are in the final stages of working out the arrangements by which they will do that within our Coalition. It’s called an air tasking order. It’s very complicated, it’s military-to-military, and those arrangements are being finalized now.
So the notion that Turkey has been attacking the PKK and not Daesh is more an issue about working out the arrangements by which Turkey will be striking Daesh, than anything having to do with our agreement with them.
QUESTION: I see. So it’s not because Turkey prioritizes PKK attacks rather than attacks against ISIS?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, again, the PKK is a threat to Turkey. The PKK now is launching attacks inside Turkey almost every day, and those attacks have to stop. So the PKK is a threat to Turkey. Daesh, ISIS, is also a threat to Turkey. ISIS is a threat to us, the United States, and we have a mission from the President to do everything we can through a Coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh, and we’re going to do that.
So Turkey faces multiple threats. The PKK is a threat. They are responding to PKK attacks. But they’re also concerned about the threat against Daesh. Again, they’ve opened up their air base for our strike operations; we’ve begun those now. And very soon Turkish F-16s will be flying with us, and the only reason they’re not today is because we have to work out the arrangements military to military to (inaudible) effective way.
QUESTION: I see. May I repeat my question – if the Turkish Government has informed the U.S. Government in advance of the air campaign against the PKK attacks, and has the U.S. Government conveyed its consent to this air campaign?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, Turkey is a sovereign country and it has a right to defend itself pursuant to its own sovereignty. We have also worked with Turkey over a number years about its threat against the PKK in terms of sharing information with agreements we’ve had with Turkey going back to 2007, and so those agreements are still in place. And so we’ll continue to cooperate with Turkey.
I think this will all move very fast, getting everything worked out. And there was some anxiety – that’s the wrong word – was some concern, I think, within our side in the initial hours simply because there were a lot of airplanes in the sky. There’s a lot going on. These are Coalition operations, and we have to make sure that everything is coordinated. So there’s issues of air flight safety. Again, defer to our military professionals who are here on the ground now with Turkey working out these arrangements. We want to make sure that everything is coordinated so that this is done safely and effectively.
QUESTION: So, then, shall we expect a coordination between the governments in both countries with regard to the attacks against PKK?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: We are not directly coordinating anything having to do with the attacks against the PKK, but again, we fully respect the right of Turkey to defend itself against these attacks. But I also want to emphasize that we have also called for de-escalation, for everyone to return to the solution process. Again, that’s a bedrock principle of ours, and I think that’s also a principle of the Government of Turkey.
QUESTION: So was the U.S. surprised by the scope of the air campaign against the PKK?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: No, I don’t think we were surprised. And I think if you – every time the PKK launches attacks inside Turkey – and again, that is what happened. There’s been some – when I read some of the coverage of this – not here, of course, but internationally when I’m traveling – they leave out the fact that the PKK now has been launching attacks inside Turkey almost every day, going on now – beginning the first week or so of July. And so that really has to stop, and that was the trigger for this. Again, if the PKK did not launch attacks inside Turkey, Turkey would not be launching retaliatory attacks against the PKK.
QUESTION: And then how do you – how long do you expect these operations against PKK to last?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Again, I would refer that question to the Government of Turkey. I don’t think there’s been an airstrike inside Iraq now in a week or so, but I would really – I would defer – you’d have to ask the Government of Turkey.
QUESTION: I see. And do these attacks done by Turkey hinder U.S. cooperation with PYD, and hence its fight against ISIS, do you think?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, again, the PKK is a designated terrorist organization. The PYD under our laws has a different status. The PYD and the YPG within Syria has been very effective against Daesh. We obviously are helping in terms of helping airstrikes to weaken Daesh in these areas. And again, I want to be very clear to your readers: Our mission from the President is to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. And so when groups on the ground are fighting Daesh and they’re groups that we can work with, we will work with them. So we have been helping to enable these very effective operations by the Syrian Kurds, and also by a number of Arab and Christian groups in these areas that have also organized themselves and armed themselves to fight Daesh.
Those operations have been extremely effective. Closing off that border region to Daesh has been very effective. Isolating Raqqa, which is Daesh’s administrative capital, is a key component of our campaign. So I think this cooperation will continue. We’re also in constant communication with the Government of Turkey. And so there’s a lot of actors here and we want to make sure that everything is done as transparently as possible, but certainly, our work with the Syrian Kurds will continue to the extent they continue to fight Daesh.
QUESTION: Then do you think their cooperation – I mean, the cooperation between Turkey and PYD – would boost the fight against ISIS? And if you think so, is U.S. trying to convince both sides to come to better terms, and do you expect any rapprochement or cooperation between them anytime soon?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Again, I’m not going to get into all of our diplomatic conversations. But certainly, the PYD has – they’re Syrian. We want to make sure the territorial integrity of Syria is maintained. That’s a bedrock principle of ours that we discuss with the PYD. But we’re talking to the PYD; Turkey’s talking to PYD. Everybody’s kind of talking to each other. But again, I’d leave it to the Government of Turkey in terms of their formal relationships with the PYD or their discussions with the PYD.
QUESTION: You think cooperation is feasible between them anytime soon?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: I think cooperation amongst groups that are fighting Daesh and that have a vision for Syria maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity, and also a vision for post-Daesh Syria in which human rights are maintained – I think cooperation between those groups with the Coalition is something that’s very beneficial. We have seen, particularly in northern Syria – and it really started with Kobani, which I’m happy to talk about – that these Syrian Kurdish fighters are extremely effective against Daesh.
And again, I think here in Turkey, something that I don’t think is probably understood outside of Turkey – when it came to the situation in Kobani, Kobani was about to fall to Daesh. We made a decision and President Obama made a decision back in October that we were going to try to help the defenders of Kobani and the Syrian Kurds in Kobani defend their town. Had we not made that decision, I think Kobani probably would’ve fallen. And of course, here in Turkey, the Turks had already been flooded with about 200,000 refugees. It was an extremely serious situation.
You may recall the U.S. military – we did an air drop to Kobani with some arms supplies at a very critical time. We then --
QUESTION: And let Peshmerga go through its territory.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Yes. We then came – that’s a very good point, because I think it’s lost when the history is told – we then came here and negotiated with Turkey – in fact, General Allen and myself were here – until late in the night with your prime minister, with Prime Minister Davutoglu about the situation in Kobani, the fact that they really needed a supply corridor. And Turkey immediately agreed to open up this corridor for the Kurdish Peshmerga. We then went to Erbil to work with the Kurdistan Regional Government about that, and we did open up that corridor. And that corridor allowed some critical munitions and heavy weapons to get into Kobani at a critical time. And off of that, all of that then combined with our air campaign, helped turn the tide in Kobani, and Turkey was actually very important to all of that.
QUESTION: So that means you think cooperation is feasible between them in the future as well?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Yeah. I would leave it to the Government of Turkey, but it’s certainly our view that groups that are fighting Daesh on the ground and the groups that have a general moderate outlook for the post-Daesh future in Syria, the more cooperation the better.
QUESTION: Okay. So regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey, President Erdogan stated clearly yesterday that the peace process is frozen now. How do you evaluate this situation and how do you think – would this negatively affect U.S. cooperation with PYD in any way?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, again, I’m one of the President’s envoys on the global Coalition against Daesh. So when it comes to internal Turkish politics, I am neither equipped nor would I want to offer my opinion on that. I know there’s a lot of active politics here in Turkey; there’s a lot of politics in my country at home. There’s a lot of politics throughout the region. But it’s very important for us, I think, to focus everybody on the common threat against Daesh. I was just in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, and we were very much encouraging all the Kurdish parties in northern Iraq to focus on the common threat against Daesh.
So I would leave it to the Turkish political leaders in terms of the politics here, but it’s very much our view that the threat of Daesh is extremely serious. It’s not going away, it’s growing. It’s a challenge that the world has really never seen before. The statistics are kind of off the charts. If you look at the threat of foreign fighters in the ’80s in Afghanistan, it’s about twice as many now have come to fight with Daesh. And they’ve come from over 100 countries all around the world. There are over 26,000. And we know what the ’80s in Afghanistan led to with al-Qaida.
So this is an extremely serious threat. It’s an extremely serious challenge. We need the whole global Coalition to come together, the international community to get a handle on it. And Turkey is an essential partner in this, both for geography and also for common values and common interests. So that is why we have invested so much time here in Ankara to work with Turkey and to come to some mutual agreements, some mutual arrangements to help accelerate the fight against Daesh.
QUESTION: On this topic, my last question would be – I think there are some Turkish liaison officers in the military headquarters of the Coalition against ISIS, such as in Erbil and Qatar. Is this right, first of all? And are there also PYD representatives in these headquarters?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: We do not have PYD representatives, but in our air campaign, which is coordinated every day out of Qatar – and I’d defer to my Defense Department for the details – but we have Coalition representatives from across the Coalition.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: And now that Turkey is formally joining the air campaign, they will be a key member of that operation in Qatar. And again, one thing that we’re working with very closely with Turkey now is to work out all of those arrangements. And it’s complicated. The air campaign has now been ongoing for over a year. It actually started about a year ago just last week. We’ve now done over 6,000 airstrikes. We have a way of doing things. It’s actually one of the most precise air campaigns in history, and we want to make sure we maintain that way.
We’re now bringing Turkey into the process, which is very important to us. And so to get Turkey integrated from a new platform here in Turkey and also to get Turkish pilots and F-16s in the skies, that is something we’re actively working on through military-to-military arrangements.
QUESTION: So there are no PYD representatives in the headquarter base in Erbil right now?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, in Erbil we have relationships with a number of people, but we don’t have a formal representative of that basis. But of course, I mean, it’s very clear that when Syrian Kurds are operating against Daesh, we want to make sure we know where everybody is so our air campaign can be effective and precise. So we have ways to communicate with them on the ground – and again, that has been very effective. And those communications go up through our chains of command. So Erbil is one piece of that, but it goes all the way then to Qatar where the air campaign is managed.
QUESTION: So – but it’s not official yet, the PYD’s representation in those headquarters? It’s not official yet?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: It’s not official. Again, we have communication with a number of groups on the ground fighting Daesh because we want to have good information to make sure our air campaign is effective.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. So President Obama had stated on June 8th that Turkey has not fully ramped up the capacity it needs. Do you think he would make the same statement again today, or has Turkey already ramped up the capacity needed, do you think?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, a lot happened between June 8th and and July 22nd when President Obama spoke with President Erdogan.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: And so I would say where we are right now, the Government of Turkey has made very clear that it is fully committed to the campaign against Daesh, and it has opened up its air facilities for Coalition aircraft to fly and strike Daesh. That happened last night. And that’s a real gamechanger. The flight from Incirlik Air Base to Syria is about 15 minutes. The flight from an aircraft carrier in the Gulf or from Bahrain to Syria is about three hours.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: So that’s a significant difference, and that has now begun.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Turkey has also cracked down on a number of foreign fighter facilitation networks here inside Turkey. And of course, we share a lot of information, are cooperating fully on that. So certainly, I think a lot has happened since President Obama made that statement and --
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: -- I know his conversation with President Erdogan was very positive, very constructive, and also very fruitful. And so we’re moving forward on that basis.
QUESTION: And what do you expect and shall we expect from Turkey concretely in its contribution to anti-ISIS fight in the upcoming term? I mean, when will it resume its operations against ISIS? When will joint U.S.-Turkish operations start? And will other bases than Incirlik be used by U.S. as well? Could you please clarify a little bit on that?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: So I think the joint flight operations will start fairly soon. We’re working on the arrangements, and it’s a military-to-military effort. But the only issue there is in integrating the whole thing, so when it starts, it’s effective, and it’s done in an effective way. And then once it starts, it’s going to continue. So I think that’ll be a major moment and that should start fairly soon.
Turkey is also, of course, working in a number of areas, because the fight against Daesh isn’t just a military effort.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: There’s also countering foreign fighters, and Turkey is the chair of one of our Coalition working groups on countering foreign fighters. There’s also the counter-financing, and sharing information with Turkey about what we know about Daesh financing has been very important and very critical, and that will continue. There’s also the humanitarian support. Given that we have so many refugees in areas that Daesh has controlled – and of course, Turkey is one of the most highly impacted countries in the region facing the humanitarian challenge. And then there’s military support to our partners – which, again, Turkey is a critical member.
So across all five lines of effort within the international Coalition, Turkey is a key member in all of these areas. And again, that’s why we have been here so much – myself and General Allen in particular – because it is such a valuable partnership and we really can’t succeed against Daesh without Turkey.
QUESTION: But shall we expect it to resume its operations soon?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Yes. It is entirely an issue of working the military technicalities and of making sure that everything is integrated. And it’s complicated, and I defer to my military colleagues here, but it’s everything from the radar networks to making sure everything is together, because Turkey is now joining an air campaign that has been ongoing for a year. So it’s kind of a –to use an analogy which is particularly apt, it’s like you’re flying a plane in flight and then you’re kind of adding something else to the plane in the middle of the flight.
QUESTION: I see.
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: That’s what we’re doing. And so the plane has been running very smoothly for a year, we’ve done over 6,000 airstrikes, and we’re very careful about how we apply our air power. And we’re now adding Turkey to that operation. That means Turkish F-16s, and also flying off of Turkish bases. So we were able to begin last night with our F-16s, and that was a very fast turnaround from the time President Obama and President Erdogan spoke. So we’re moving very rapidly, and we’re going to add Turkey to those operations as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And will other bases be used by U.S. as well – other bases than Incirlik?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: So again, I think Turkey has – I defer to the Government of Turkey, but they’ve certainly made that offer. But it depends on what the military necessities are and what’s needed.
QUESTION: I see. On the safe zone, there is a great confusion in the Turkish public right now about the question on the safe zone and no-fly zone. On the one hand, Turkish officials have been calling for a safe zone or no-fly zone. On the other hand, U.S. officials have insistently opposing this idea. So there is a big discrepancy in the public statements between the two countries. And ISIS-free zone seems to be the term they had agreed on.
First of all, would you agree with that? And secondly, could you please, please clarify why U.S. is standing against the creation of a safe zone? Is it maybe because it carries the risk of a clash with the Syrian regime’s forces?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: That’s a great question, and what’s changed is that we now have agreement with Turkey on a set of principles about what we’re going to try to do together. Step one of that, the first phase, is the air campaign, and that’s now moving forward. The second phase is trying to clear Daesh out of this very critical, strategically located area in Syria from – really from Azaz to --
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: -- to Jarabulus. That is a primary hub for Daesh. Daesh has been reinforcing it now for about a year. They are there in force, and we have to clear them out.
QUESTION: Now --
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: And there’s a number of other things going on in the campaign how this all fits together, but it’s a really critical piece of terrain. It has to do with how they supply their foreign fighters, and there are a whole host of reasons it’s very important. So we’ve been talking to Turkey about how can we work together to do this. We want Syrians on the ground to do this. This is not going to involve U.S. troops; it’s not going to involve Turkish troops. So we’re looking to work together to organize Syrian forces on the ground in Syria – Syrian moderate opposition forces – to be able to operate effectively against Daesh in this very critical and strategic area.
Now, how you do that, how you go about doing it – we haven’t agreed yet because we’re talking to Turkey about, now that we’ve agreed on a principle and a framework, how you actually go about doing it militarily. And that is where I defer to my military colleagues who have been here in Turkey talking to the Turks about how to do this. And those talks have actually been going very well. It’s extremely complicated. We don’t want to do this fast; we want to do it right. And it’s already started. The airstrikes last night from U.S. F-16s flying out of Incirlik hit about 16 targets in this strategic area, and that’s going to continue.
So I think the talk about a safe zone and no-fly zone are the vestiges of the debate we’ve had over the last two years in which we know the position of the Government of Turkey about establishing a no-fly zone. Of course, the United States does not support a no-fly zone for a number of reasons. But I don’t think it’s useful to go back to that debate or to have that debate color where we are right now. We agreed that we have to focus and concentrate efforts on this particular area, and we’re working out now how to do it. And then afterwards, once we clear Daesh out of this area, of course, we want to have the conditions that allow for refugees to voluntarily return to their homes. But that’s going to take some time, and so we’re not at that point yet.
So we’re not really focused on what we call it. What’s really important is we want to get Daesh out of this area. We want to restore life to this very important area of Syria, and we’re going to be working with Turkey together for how to do that.
QUESTION: But you said there is a number of reasons why you are not calling it a safe zone, right? May I ask you what those reasons are? Is it linked to international community’s approval, or is it linked to a clash with the Syrian regime’s forces? Could you please clarify what those reasons are?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: I think the word “safe zone” harkens back to the debate we had about a no-fly zone, and again, we just don’t think it’s a very useful debate. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. The objective is to get Daesh out of this critical area of the border, as we have worked with other groups across Syria and also in Iraq to get Daesh out of critical terrain and critical towns in Iraq and also in northern Syria. So that is the objective. So if you want to call it an ISIL-free zone, that’s fine. We’re going to defeat ISIL in this critical area, and we want to establish the conditions for life to return.
We’re not talking about hypotheticals here. We’ve been in this air campaign for a year. We’ve learned an awful lot. And where we are able to fly in great density – take Kobani or take other areas – we really totally control that airspace. So flying out of Incirlik, and Turkey flying with us out of Incirlik, the possibility of other Coalition partners flying out of Incirlik, will really change the whole game in this critical area of the northern border. And we just don’t want to get focused on the terminology and what it’s called. We really want to get focused on “how do you get Daesh out of this area?”
QUESTION: You just mentioned moderate opposition forces on the ground in Syria. Who are the moderate rebels for the U.S.? For example, is Ahrar Al Sham part of the moderate rebels? And can we assume that U.S. and Turkey have agreed on which moderate rebels to support on the ground?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, it’s a good question. We do not work with Ahrar Al Sham for a whole host of reasons. We have agreed with Turkey that the groups we will work with together will be mutually agreed. And there’s a number of groups, so that’s one thing that we’re talking to Turkey with about now. Who will be a part of this, how do you do it, that’s something we’re discussing with them now. The set of groups will be mutually agreed by the two of us, but there’s a fairly large pool from which to draw.
QUESTION: I see. And my question on Assad: It looks like that recently the diplomacy between United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia has intensified, and we hear U.S. officials, including President Obama, mentioning more and more about the political transition in Syria. So does this mean that U.S. has started working concretely on a political solution without Assad in Syria, and do you expect Iran and Russia to withdraw their support from Assad anytime soon?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: I think everybody recognizes that there’s no stable future in Syria with Bashar al-Assad as the head of the regime in Damascus. So therefore the only way to end this terrible conflict is with a political transition that leads to the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. And I think there’s an emerging, very broad consensus on this point, and there’s a lot of diplomatic activity, as you’ve said. Secretary Kerry was recently in Doha meeting with Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia to talk about – specifically about Syria. So there is a lot of diplomatic activity. There are a lot of new ideas that are emerging.
But what is really emerging as a consensus is that the only way to stabilize Syria and bring an end to this terrible conflict is through a political transition process that leads to the departure of Bashar al-Assad.
QUESTION: So shall we expect a political solution coming from the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia jointly in the near future?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, I think it’s everybody’s hope that we can reach a consensus on a political transition framework that will be accepted by the Syrians. This is ultimately about the future of Syria, and so that is what those discussions are about. But I just wouldn’t want to speculate now about where they lead to.
QUESTION: Are – is your hope rising after those negotiations, discussions?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: I think anyone who’s been through these conflicts over the last decade, I think you’d never say hope is rising. What you do say is that we have to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can diplomatically to work on diplomatic and political solutions. So that is why Secretary Kerry has been so active with the Russians, the Saudis, and many others to try to get on a common framework and a common path to try to bring an end to this terrible conflict.
QUESTION: Following 1st of March 2003, we know that relations between Pentagon and the Turkish military establishment got strained. Do you think that the recent Incirlik agreement has restored those relations and turned them back to their old, good days?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: I don’t know. I wasn’t doing this in 2003. But I’ll just say in my experience, we have an incredibly close relationship with the Turkish military and particularly our military professionals who are here all the time working very directly with Turkish military officers and Turkish soldiers. So I think the relationship is very close.
I do think since we have had this agreement, we have certainly really accelerated our military-to-military engagement to work out the technical arrangements, and to work out how to actually implement the vision that was outlined in the call between our two presidents. So certainly, I think this agreement has real potential to further deepen what I would say are already deep ties between our two militaries.
QUESTION: So we – we have reached that previous level of cooperation and relationship?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: I wouldn’t want to compare it to a past time. All I can do is speak to my experience, particularly right now here in Ankara. And I’m always very honored to be here in Ankara. And right now, as we speak, our military experts, some of our best people from EUCOM, from CENTCOM, from across our Defense Department, are working very closely with an interagency team from Turkey to implement the arrangements that we’ve agreed upon. And that cooperation – those meetings have been going very, very well. They’re extremely constructive. They’re very positive. We have a mutual vision for what we want to do against Daesh. And they’re working now militarily-to-militarily to work out the arrangements to do that.
QUESTION: And, frankly, how long do you expect this war to go on, and what will be the end result, do you think, in Syria, in Iraq? I know it’s a $1 billion question; sorry for asking that. But –
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Look, our mission against Daesh is to defeat Daesh, and we’re going to do all we can for as long as it takes to defeat Daesh. We have outlined a general principle that we think it’ll take across Iraq and Syria. I think we have to be very realistic. This is very difficult. The fighting on the ground is being done by partners on the ground. It’s not being done by U.S. soldiers. It’s not being done by Turkish soldiers. So everybody has to have a little bit of strategic patience.
But we also want to defeat Daesh as soon as possible, because everywhere that Daesh is controlling areas, they are enslaving women, they are killing people in town squares every single day, and it is a terrible, terrible situation for the people living under Daesh. So we are going to work – U.S., Turkey, international Coalition, our Syrian partners on the ground, our Iraqi partners on the ground – to constrict, squeeze, and ultimately to defeat Daesh. And it’s going to take some time, but we want to do it as fast as we possibly can.
QUESTION: And that “some time” might be a decade or –
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, again, what we put on and when we looked at it analytically last summer, we put about a three-year campaign plan together. We think it’ll take about three years to really degrade the organization. But I think you have to keep in mind that even once we defeat Daesh and get them out of places like Raqqah, Mosul, Ramadi – which we will – they will remain a cellular terrorist organization.
Even in the years in Iraq in which its predecessor organization, al-Qaida in Iraq, in, say, 2012, 2011-2012, in which violence went down substantially – and people like to say that al-Qaida in Iraq was defeated – it was still launching about 5 to 10 suicide bombers every week – or every month in Iraq. It was killing over 4,000 Iraqis those two years. And so we want to make sure that we really defeat it to the point where it can’t do that anymore. It is now still continuing with terrible suicide attacks. There was one in Baghdad today killing about 60 people in eastern Baghdad.
So it wants to control territory. It wants to snuff the life out of these areas. And it also wants to remain as a cellular terrorist organization. And we want to try to defeat it in all facets. We want to take away its territory. We want to take away its financing. We want to take away its recruiting tools. We want to dry up the foreign fighter networks not only in Syria and Iraq but throughout the entire globe. And that is going to take time. But we have built an international Coalition to do it. Turkey is a key partner of that Coalition, and we’re going to keep pressing at it.
QUESTION: And you think they will maintain – remain as unitary states – Iraq and Syria?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, the vision for Iraq, which is the Iraqi vision as outlined in their constitution, is for a united federal and democratic Iraq. And one of the key words is federal. That’s a principle of decentralization of powers, and that’s a key principle of Prime Minister al-Abadi. This makes Abadi very different than the former prime minister, who was really a believer in greatly centralized power. Prime Minister Abadi believes in decentralizing power and a more federal nature of governance. We call it a “functioning federalism.” We believe that is the model that’s outlined in Iraq’s constitution. It’s their vision. It’s the vision of the Iraqi Government. And we do believe that’s a model for a stabilized Iraq – a functioning federalism.
In Syria, given the state of the conflict right now – I know it’s very difficult to foresee how Syria can be stabilized – but our principles are very clear. We believe in the territorial integrity of Syria, and it’s ultimately up for Syrians to determine what the post-Assad future in Syria – how that will look.
QUESTION: May I ask a last question?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Okay.
QUESTION: When shall we expect other Coalition partners such as Britain, France, and Gulf countries, to join the airstrikes against ISIS and use Incirlik Air Base?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: Well, these are decisions both for the Government of Turkey to invite Coalition partners, and they’ve made clear they would welcome Coalition partners, but they have to invite individual capitals. But most importantly, they are decisions for the individual capitals of those Coalition partners. So Britain, France, Australia, they have said that they are looking at joining the air campaign in Syria, but they have to work through their own national political process, because right now those countries are only conducting operations in Iraq.
We would, of course, welcome those countries to be a full part of the air campaign in Syria, and of course, that would be most effective from here in Turkey and from Incirlik. But these are discussions that will be ongoing between those capitals. So I think we have to go step by step.
I think since our two presidents spoke, since President Erdogan and President Obama spoke on July 22nd, we have moved very fast. It was in a matter of about two weeks that we began unmanned – what we call armed ISR operations striking Daesh flying from Incirlik. Just last night our first U.S. F-16s began airstrikes against Daesh from Incirlik. The next step is to get Turkey full integrated into our air campaign, and that should happen soon. And then we will address the question of additional Coalition partners. But that will ultimately be a decision for the Government of Turkey and for the capitals of the Coalition partners.
QUESTION: And the Gulf countries, are they also discussing when to start launching airstrikes together with U.S. and Turkey?
AMBASSADOR MCGURK: I think we want to go step by step. We have Gulf partners who are a part of the air campaign in Syria, and we think the air campaign in Syria can be really enhanced by flying out of Incirlik. So again, these are conversations that are going to be ongoing, but I just want to emphasize where we are now. We reached this agreement a little less than a month ago. We’ve moved very rapidly to begin our U.S. airstrikes out of Incirlik. Those are now beginning. We’re going to bring Turkey into the campaign very soon, and then we’ll address the question of the Coalition partners.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you so much, Ambassador.