Q&A Session: Transcript of Major General Jones’ opening remarks, June 26, 2017
(AS-DELIVERED OPENING REMARKS)
Good morning. Thank you for joining me today for an update on Coalition operations to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. As you will be aware, there is a great deal going on at the moment.
Let me start in Syria, where our partner, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are now almost 3 weeks into the operation to clear ISIS from the capital of their so-called caliphate. The operation has not attracted great attention given everything else that is going on here and around the world. However, this is a hugely significant moment – ISIS has sought to draw legitimacy from its ability to govern large swathes of terrain. Their capital is now essentially surrounded, its defenders beleaguered, and its fall just a matter of time.
The SDF are making good headway, but no one is pretending it will be easy and patience will be needed.
274,000 IDPs have left Raqqah and surrounding areas – many in the last 2 months. Their plight is difficult – the UN is not able to operate in northern Syria in the way it can in Iraq. NGOs are working hard to help, but more support is needed. The newly formed interim Raqqah Civil Council, who I have met with, are doing everything they can to help people and to prepare to provide governance to the area. We must be ready to assist if the population are to recover from ISIS occupation.
As you know, on 18 June a US plane shot down a Regime aircraft after it dropped bombs near SDF forces. The engagement was conducted in collective self defence of our partner forces operating within an agreed-upon Regime-SDF de-confliction area.
Let me emphasize that the coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime or pro-regime forces. We are focused solely on defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Coalition continues to call on all parties to focus their efforts on the defeat of ISIS, which poses the greatest threat within the region and across the globe. The Coalition is always available to de-conflict with the Russians to ensure ground and air safety. The de-confliction line has proven effective at mitigating strategic miscalculations and de-escalating tense situations. Coalition aircraft continue to conduct operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground.
Moving to Iraq. Last week in Mosul, Iraqi Security Forces pushed into the Old City. We all knew that the final stages of the liberation of the city would be tough. The Iraqis are fighting through a network of tight alleyways. The remaining ISIS fighters have nothing to lose and are fighting with characteristic brutality. Their destruction of the ancient Al Nouri mosque highlights their desperation – Iraqi forces were just 50 meters from it when it was destroyed. They are making excellent progress and the final liberation is drawing ever closer. Despite all the challenges, Iraqi forces continue to go to great lengths to protect civilians as they clear this urban maize.
There is a lot of talk of the destruction in west Mosul. This is the unfortunate bi-product of liberating the city. But there is seldom attention on what follows. Ramadi was uninhabitable when it was liberated last year, but following ground breaking stabilisation efforts by the UNDP, working with the Government of Iraq, over 400,000 have returned home. A similar picture exists in Fallujah.
Last week I visited east Mosul. Progress from the positive green shoots I saw when I was last there in March was hugely encouraging. Day by day the city is returning to normality – security is good, allowing Iraqi forces to reduce their profile. Work teams were visible clearing the detritus of ISIS’ occupation. Most impressive were the markets we visited – they were humming with activity and trade – shops and stalls were stocked with every imaginable item. Frankly I could have been anywhere in the Middle East – the bustling activity was all the more impressive coming during Ramadan. Traders spoke unprompted of the recovery being built on mutual respect between the people and security forces.
Over 190,000 IDPs have returned to their homes in Mosul. They have been drawn back by Government and UNDP efforts to restore essential services – 4 of 9 water treatment plants are back in use, 17 of 24 power stations have been repaired with electricity reaching 50% of the population, and 320 of 400 schools have reopened allowing 350,000 children to return to school. Of course there will be challenges ahead, but this is what life looks like after liberation. Families able to enjoy the basics of life, dignity and liberty, after the tyranny of ISIS.
Of course, the west will be harder, but the resilience of the Iraqi people is extraordinary and the example of Ramadi should provide hope for the future
With that, I am happy to take your questions.