Coalition focuses on reconstruction, three years into ISIS war

WASHINGTON, United States – The issues of stabilization and reconstruction topped the agenda of the US-led Global Coalition against ISIS in Washington on Thursday after the extremist group lost Mosul this month, its most significant loss in the last three years.

US Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition Brett McGurk opened the Small Group Meeting, telling coalition partners that advances made against the group in both Iraq and Syria are the result of an “accelerated” campaign instructed by US President Donald Trump.

Iraqi ambassador to the US, Fareed Yasseen, and an official from the Iraqi prime minister’s office attended the meeting representing Iraq. Bayan Sami Abdulrahman, Kurdistan’s representative to the US, represented the Kurdish government. 

McGurk revealed a $119 million contribution towards stabilization in Iraq, which, on top of a $150 million pledged a week ago, brings total US funds in support of stabilizing post-ISIS Iraq to $384.3 million.

He said he hopes that other countries would also make contributions.

The United Nations has appealed for $1.3 billion for post-ISIS humanitarian and stabilization requirements. 

Since the liberation of eastern Mosul in late January, 220,000 people have returned to their homes and 350,000 boys and girls are now back in school, thanks to the combined military and humanitarian operation in Mosul, McGurk said.

At the last coalition gathering in March, “Secretary Tillerson emphasized that President Trump had asked all of us to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. And over these four months, that is exactly what we have done,” McGurk said.

An estimated 100,000 Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters launched an offensive to liberate Nineveh and its capital Mosul last October in the largest military operation since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Iraqi-backed mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi later joined the offensive.

The fighting intensified as it entered Old Mosul in the western half of the city where the ISIS leader declared himself caliphate of the Islamic world on July 4 in the now-destroyed al-Nuri mosque.

McGurk said that the battle for Old Mosul was particularly difficult as it was a “house-to-house and room-to-room” fight, and that, for example ISIS snipers used a hospital as a “killing tower” against advancing Iraqi forces.

The rights organization Amnesty International released a report this week accusing the coalition of potentially committing war crimes in Mosul, killing thousands of people. The coalition strongly rejected the accusation.

McGurk praised Iraqi and Kurdish fighters as he said they made the protection of civilians their priority. 

He said there were many foreign fighters in Old Mosul that could be heard on ISIS radios speaking French, Chinese, Russian, Dutch, and non-Iraqi Arabic.

The US will continue to support the Iraqi forces to clear the remaining areas still under ISIS control in Tal Afar, west of Mosul, Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk, and al-Qaim, west of Anbar, McGurk said.

He added that they have trained 100,000 Iraqi security forces and training efforts will continue.

The US provides three-quarters of the coalition’s military resources in the fight against ISIS and one-quarter of the stabilization assistance.

He described the US contribution to Iraq as a worthwhile investment that is aimed at ensuring ISIS does not return.

McGurk reminded the meeting that the advance in Mosul after “three long years” was a “milestone” as Trump told Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a phone call this week, but that this is not the end of the war.

The US-backed forces, he said, have not lost any battle in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and have liberated 65,000 square kilometers of territory.

Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said this week that Peshmerga forces liberated 30,000 square kilometers, almost half of the territory controlled by all coalition partners.

McGurk commended the cooperation between the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, something few had anticipated, including ISIS.

He said the situation in Syria is different as they cannot work with the state actor there, especially as the six-year civil war lacks a political solution. 

He did, however, say that they "are proud to support the Syrian Democratic Forces," a coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces, now fighting ISIS in its capital in Syria, Raqqa.

He talked about his earlier visit to Tabqa, about 40 kilometers west of Raqqa, which used to be an ISIS stronghold, but was retaken by the US-backed SDF.

The US announced the creation of Global Coalition against ISIS in the wake of the rise of the extremist group in Iraq and Syria three years ago. It now has 72 members.

McGurk admitted that there are some member states who "do not see eye-to-eye," but that the focus remains on the defeat of ISIS, not just in these two countries, but elsewhere in Asia and Africa.

The Coalition includes 68 countries, plus four international organizations: NATO, INTERPOL, the Arab League and the EU.

McGurk said they work through their network, especially through INTERPOL, to track down 18,000 known "terrorist" fighters. 

He concluded that ISIS has lost most of its external funding and is now reliant on "self-generated" funds in areas it still controls in Iraq and Syria.

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