Interview of General John Allen With Jake Tapper, CNN on Counter-ISIL Coalition Anniversary

John Allen
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL 
Washington, DC
September 10, 2015

GENERAL ALLEN: We have to start with a couple of reality points, Jake. And that is – the first interview I did in this job was last year for CNN. And I made the point then that this is going to be a long conflict and we need to be prepared.

QUESTION: How long?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, we think it could be years. There will be aspects of it that will go even beyond that.

QUESTION: Decades?

GENERAL ALLEN: The competition of ideas. That’s right. And we shouldn’t be surprised by that. But if we remember where we were a year ago, roughly at the beginning of the formation of the Coalition: Mosul has fallen, the better part of three to four provinces in western Iraq has fallen, much of the border of Syria and Turkey has been lost to the control of Daesh.

QUESTION: That’s another word for ISIS in terms of --

GENERAL ALLEN: Which is the term we typically use in our interaction with our partners in the coalition. We were uncertain whether Iraq was going to survive this. And when you think back to that moment in history, what was going on then, and you think about what’s happening now, it’s really a dramatic change.

We’ve had success in some areas; we’ve had some setbacks in other areas. In Syria, where we have had the opportunity to work with credible partners -- you’ll recall back in the fall of last year a place we’d never heard of called Kobani; it looked like that was going to collapse.

QUESTION: And it didn’t ultimately.

GENERAL ALLEN: But in the end, the support of the Coalition with credible partners, Kobani held.

So when you think back to where we were a year ago and to where we are today, I don’t agree with the articulation, the formulation that we’re losing.

QUESTION: The Russian foreign ministry just finally acknowledged that they do have some personnel in Syria aiding Assad, aiding Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its fight against ISIS. Do you have a problem with Russian forces in Syria on Assad’s side, but fighting ISIS?

GENERAL ALLEN: We’ve been watching this closely over the last several days, watching the buildup to see what it might mean.

QUESTION: So we don’t know whether or not it’s a good thing or a bad thing?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, I think it’s a bad thing --


GENERAL ALLEN: -- if the Russians use combat forces to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad.


GENERAL ALLEN: Bashar al-Assad is singularly responsible for the death of tens of thousands of his people. Much of the instability in the region is a direct result of the actions of Bashar al-Assad, and to prop him up with military force creates an additional crisis in the region, and in fact, could bring Russian forces in confrontation with Coalition forces that are fighting Daesh in Syria.

QUESTION: The U.S., as you mentioned, tried to train some moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS on the ground. Five hundred million dollars was spent on that effort. Ultimately, reports came out that many of these individuals were either kidnapped or they fled. Is this basically the best that the U.S. can hope for when it comes to moderate Syrian opposition?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, to be clear, the $500 million wasn’t spent solely on that first --


GENERAL ALLEN: It’s a long-term investment, and the $500 million will go towards supporting that long-term investment. And we do acknowledge that that was a setback.

But we remain committed to the principles of that program. There have been other elements in Syria that we have worked with very closely that have accomplished some pretty significant military gains.

QUESTION: Would this fight be easier for you and the military generals, because you’re a retired military general, if the rules of engagement were changed and you could have as many ground forces, whether American or Jordanian or whatever, as you wanted?

GENERAL ALLEN: Well, it’s a hypothetical question. We have to remember that much of the Iraqi Security Forces suffered a major defeat this time last year. So the process of building their capabilities and their confidence and their leadership and their military capacity – it’s going to take a while. And as I said before, this is not going to be a short-term conflict.

QUESTION: Retired Marine General John Allen, we wish you the best of luck with your mission.

GENERAL ALLEN: Thank you very much. Great to be with you today.