Interview With NRT TV

Brett McGurk
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL
Baghdad, Iraq
December 1, 2016

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, thanks. It's a pleasure to be here with you. And, really, it's a critical question.

And the role of the international coalition is to generate the resources that are needed to help the Government of Iraq, to help the Kurdistan Regional Government cope with the humanitarian situation that has been triggered by the atrocities of Daesh. So I can just give you some examples.

Of course, in the city of Tikrit, one of the early cities to be liberated from Daesh, we worked very closely with the United Nations, with the government here in Iraq, to generate millions of dollars to begin stabilization projects to allow the population to return to the streets of Tikrit. And, according to the UN figures, almost the entire population has returned to Tikrit.

In Ramadi, a more difficult environment, but in Ramadi almost 300,000 people have returned to the streets of Ramadi. What has made Ramadi difficult is because the enemy, Daesh, is so barbaric they leave IEDs and landmines in the homes and villages before they retreat or before they're killed. And then, when families return to their homes, they are threatened by these IEDs.

So we've worked, as a coalition and as the United States, to get world-class de-miners, people who are experts in clearing IEDs, into the streets of Ramadi and these other areas to clear the IEDs. And just by U.S. programs alone, we have now cleared 22,000 kilos of explosive material, and that number will continue to increase. We are training Iraqis every day to do this very difficult work. And, of course, Mosul will be one of the most challenging environments. But we feel that we have the resources in place to help clear the IEDs and to help make sure that people can return to their homes after the terrorists are kicked out of these areas.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Thanks. It's interesting. I get this question a lot. And I find it, actually, somewhat surprising.

The planning for Mosul, of course, was many months of planning went into the Mosul operation. It is one of the most complex endeavors that we have seen. The cooperation between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces, the Iraqi Army, the Counter-Terrorism Service forces, it is truly unprecedented. I will be in Erbil and in Sulaymaniyah later in the week. And of course, I will praise the role of the Peshmerga and what they did in the early phases of this campaign.

And now the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service forces and Iraqi forces are in the streets of Mosul, clearing neighborhood by neighborhood. And I think it's important to keep in mind the battle to liberate Ramadi about a year ago took almost six months. The battle of Kobani, which was a turning point in the battle of the overall war against Daesh, also took about six months.

So, these things take a long time, and they take a long time because the enemy, Daesh, is one of the most barbaric, brutal, suicidal -- literally, suicidal -- enemies the world has seen. They use civilians as human shields, they resort to suicide bombers in vast numbers. But in every single battle we have seen, they eventually reach a point of capitulation in which they can no longer fight.

And in Mosul the battle plan has been phased to make sure that, first, the city is now surrounded and isolated. Daesh can no longer reinforce themselves. And now multiple axes of advance are converging on the city. So it is truly a matter of time, but it will take time.

And another important element of the campaign is the high regard that the Iraqi Security Forces pay for civilian life. It is the directive of the prime minister, which, of course, we fully agree with. It is central to our support for the Iraqi Security Forces that the utmost care be taken for civilian life. And when you're fighting an enemy that is trying to use civilian shields to protect themselves, that can slow things down. But the overall campaign for the liberation of Mosul is very much on track. And I think, if you look at it compared to other battles, I think you could see that it is proceeding according to a very deliberate pace. And it's a matter of time before Daesh is defeated in Mosul.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.) Well, I think, first, I think you're referring to a law that recently passed here in Baghdad in the Iraqi Parliament. This law, of course, just passed. This is a matter for the Iraqi political system, and it's a very broad law that has to be implemented. And so, obviously, the Iraqis will work to implement that law. It gives a vast amount of power to the prime minister, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and he will have to organize and structure the Hashd al-Shaabi to make sure that they comply with the rules and the laws of Iraq. And so, obviously, we'll see how this develops.

But we have developed a very strict set of procedures for how we apply our air power in this campaign. And we support the forces on the ground fighting Daesh, forces that we can work with that are reporting directly up through the Iraqi chain of command. And that's important, because that is how we are able to provide precision air support on the ground, and make sure that we are taking the utmost regard for human life, and also to make sure that we don't make any mistakes. This has been the most precise air campaign in history. We are very proud of that. We want that to continue. And so, we will support those forces on the ground that are operating strictly under the Iraq command and control structure.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, airstrikes, I mean, I can go through all the statistics you might want. But, I mean, just in the Mosul campaign alone, we have dropped 5,000 munitions on Daesh targets in support of the forces that are pursuing this campaign. And that is something that we'll continue.

In terms of statistics against Daesh, I used to have a chart of Baghdadi and all his deputies. And I don't really need that chart anymore, because his deputies are now dead. We have found them, we have killed them, we will continue to do that. And we will find Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and kill him, too. It is a matter of time before we defeat this barbaric terrorist organization. But the only way we can do it is with the close cooperation and partnership of the forces on the ground, such as the Kurdish Peshmerga, who we have such a close relationship with; the Iraqi Security Forces; the Iraqi Army; the Counter-Terrorism Service forces. And, of course, many of our partners on the ground in Syria, who are now advancing towards Raqqa.

So, this is a campaign that has developed for some time. It takes time to train Iraqi Security Forces, to train the Peshmerga to take these offensive operations. We have trained over 60,000 now. And this is something that will continue. We are committed not only to defeating Daesh as soon as possible, but to make sure the defeat of Daesh is a lasting and permanent one, so they can no longer come back. And that's why your first question was so important about making sure people can come back to their homes, get on with their lives, and that local police are in control of the streets.

The kind of -- the umbrella of issues that we call in the coalition "stabilization," that is how our coalition supports you, supports the Iraqi Government, supports the Kurdistan Regional Government to make sure that the defeat of Daesh is not only swift, but also lasting.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Well, we had a very important conference in Washington, D.C. in July, where we raised, as a coalition, $2.3 billion for humanitarian and stabilization assistance. And so, a lot of those resources are being provided directly now to the IDPs that have come out of Mosul, almost 70,000. And, of course, the international humanitarian community here in Iraq, led by the UN, working closely with the Government of Iraq, has prepared for a substantially higher figure of IDPs. So they are ready. But again, this will be a very difficult situation because we have an enemy that is treating civilians as a shield. And so, the enemy is trying to terrorize the civilian population, trying to use them as a shield. But we are doing everything we possibly can, as a coalition, working through the government and with the UN to make sure that IDPs, as they come out of Mosul, will be cared for.

QUESTION: (Speaks in Arabic.)

MR MCGURK: Thank you so much. Thank you.