McGurk “It’s going to take years” to defeat ISIS
Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Brett McGurk, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (President Barack Obama Administration) , discussed ISIS threats to the U.S. and its military bases.
McGurk on the size of the threat: “The threat of the challenge is enormous. And it’s really something we have never seen before. I will give you some numbers. We have 22,000 foreign terrorists fighters have gone into Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS and affiliated groups. About 3,700 of those are from Western nations. We have had — about 180 Americans have tried to travel to Iraq and Syria. And just in the last few weeks, 15 Americans, the Justice Department has filed charges for supporting ISIS. So, this is a multifaceted, international, federal, state, local challenge. And that’s why we have put together really a multifaceted, multilayered approach to combat it. Since September, we built the global coalition to combat ISIS. And myself and General Allen, as the president’s envoys on this challenge, we have been to about 25 capitals over the last six months.”
McGurk on training troops to fight ISIS: “But we have about 3,400 volunteers now that we are in the process of vetting. We hope to have 3,000 trained by the end of the year, 5,000 trained 12 months from now….we are going to train up the moderate opposition forces. We hope to have about 3,000 by the end of the year. “
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much, Brett, for joining us. We talk a lot about the front lines being over there, and they are, but now you have U.S. bases under threats — under threat here. Is this the new front line, in your view, in the fight against ISIS?
BRETT MCGURK, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Jim, look, the threat of the challenge is enormous. And it’s really something we have never seen before.
I will give you some numbers. We have 22,000 foreign terrorists fighters have gone into Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS and affiliated groups. About 3,700 of those are from Western nations. We have had — about 180 Americans have tried to travel to Iraq and Syria. And just in the last few weeks, 15 Americans, the Justice Department has filed charges for supporting ISIS.
So, this is a multifaceted, international, federal, state, local challenge. And that’s why we have put together really a multifaceted, multilayered approach to combat it. Since September, we built the global coalition to combat ISIS. And myself and General Allen, as the president’s envoys on this challenge, we have been to about 25 capitals over the last six months.
We were in Paris when the “Charlie Hebdo” attack was ongoing. We have been to Ottawa. We have been to Canberra. We have been to Brussels. We were in Amman shortly after Captain Kaseasbeh, the brave pilot, was brutally assassinated by ISIS.
SCIUTTO: Jordanian pilot.
MCGURK: And in every — Jordanian.
In every single capital, we have seen the populations respond with resiliency. We have seen the government double down against ISIS. So, long term, we’re going to degrade and defeat this organization. But we have been clear from day one, it’s going to take years. It’s a long-term challenge. We have not seen this before, and it’s going to take a very long time to defeat them.
SCIUTTO: Isn’t one of the ironies here, that the harder you and the U.S. and coalition hits them on the ground there, the more they are spurred into action over here, because they want to — they want to draw blood, in effect, do they not on the U.S. homeland?
And how do you — how do you counter that? They want to show their strength and they want to draw blood here. How do you counter that, because, really, the danger almost rises here as the campaign becomes more intense there?
MCGURK: Well, that is what they are trying to do.
And I agree entirely with Senator Johnson. We have to defeat them in the heart of their self-proclaimed, their falsely proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria. And we’re doing that. We are taking back territory from them, particularly in Iraq. I was just talking to our commanders this morning, and in Anbar province now, we have thousands of tribal fighters organizing to fight — to fight ISIS. And that’s going to be ongoing over the coming weeks. We had 1,100 of them volunteer just two days ago in Anbar province near Fallujah.
But as they are defeated and degraded in Iraq and Syria, they are going to try to inspire attacks around the world. We have been seeing them do this here. And they are trying to do it all around the world.
SCIUTTO: Sydney, other places as well.
But let me ask you. You talk about gaining territory back. I want to show you and our viewers the map of ISIS-controlled and ISIS- influenced areas in Iraq. This is today. The red lines are under ISIS control, the orange lines under ISIS influence. And I want to show you the battlefield three months ago there — two months ago, rather. It’s not a big change.
And we have seen — in fact, I can’t really identify the change there, and we have seen some back and forth. Yes, coalition forces, Iraqi forces gained back Tikrit. Ramadi is still under contention. Baiji, the key oil refinery, had been taken back from ISIS, but ISIS is now penetrating there again.
It looks like a seesaw from abroad. So, where are the victories? How do you quantify success on the ground?
MCGURK: Well, first, again, this is a long-term campaign. It’s not going to be 20-yard pass plays down the field. It’s three yards, hard yards every single month, month to month, and it’s going to take years.
But I was in Iraq about 11 months ago to the day today, when Mosul fell, and when ISIS was a military force able to mass and maneuver force all around Iraq Syria. The capital of Baghdad was under threat. And we responded immediately, and beginning in August with our airstrikes, we really began to significantly degrade their capabilities.
If you look at the map overall, we have taken back about 25 percent of the populated areas that ISIS was controlling back then. But it’s going to take time. But we are building up security Iraqi capabilities. We have thousands of American special forces and trainers built — trying to re-professionalize the Iraqi forces.
And they are now getting out on the front lines. Ramadi, Jim, was under threat from January 1, 2014. ISIS moved into Ramadi six months before Mosul. That capital has never fallen. The tribes there, the locals are fighting. They are going to continue to fight. And now we are helping them.
And as we organize the Anbari tribes, as they are starting to do, we are going to push back.
SCIUTTO: Sunni tribes, yes.
MCGURK: The Sunni tribes in Anbar, we are going to push ISIS out of those populated areas in Anbar.
But, again, Jim, I just to have stress it’s a long-term challenge. It’s a long-term campaign. The focus is Iraq and Syria, but it’s also global. We have to cut down the foreign fighter networks. We have to cut down the financing networks. We have to counter them in the messaging face. And that’s why we have this global coalition of 62 nations to do that.
But all these nations and every capital we are in, they understand this is a long-term, multiyear challenge that will be with us for a long time.
SCIUTTO: So, years, not months.
I spoke earlier this week. You mentioned training of both Iraqi forces, but also Syrian rebels, moderate rebels that is just beginning, a company-sized group announced by Secretary of Defense Carter this week with 90 troops.
I spoke earlier this week with the president of the Syrian Opposition Council. Here is what he had to say about U.S. support. We will play that clip now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KHALED KHOJA, PRESIDENT, SYRIAN NATIONAL COALITION: As I mentioned, we have the capability and the ability to fight against the terrorism and against the terror led by Syrian regime, but we need to include much more fighters from the FSA in this program. And we need to have it much more faster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: He described U.S. support earlier in that interview as too slow and too small. They want thousands of fighters. They’re getting 90, maybe another 90. How does that change the military calculus on the ground?
MCGURK: Well, the training just started last week, as Secretary of Defense Carter noted.
But we have about 3,400 volunteers now that we are in the process of vetting. We hope to have 3,000 trained by the end of the year, 5,000 trained 12 months from now. But it’s going — it has to run in due course. And as Congress said when it passed the legislation, be very careful with the vetting and make sure we have moderate fighters who are ready to fight ISIS on the ground in Syria.
We had a very good conversation with President Khoja at the State Department this week about the training program, about what we are trying to do. And in Geneva this week, my colleague, the special envoy for Syria, Daniel Rubinstein, will be in Geneva with the U.N., with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, to try to reinvigorate a political process to wind down the Syrian civil war.
And thus far, the Assad regime has not agreed really to negotiate in good faith. We hope now, with the changing conditions on the ground, that we can have an opening, because we have to find a political solution to that conflict. But, as we do, we are going to train up the moderate opposition forces. We hope to have about 3,000 by the end of the year.
But it started last week, Jim, and that’s — that’s promising that’s finally getting under way.
SCIUTTO: Brett McGurk, thanks very much for joining us on this Sunday.
MCGURK: Jim, thank you.