US Defense Secretary Mattis discusses victories over ISIS with Iraqi PM Abadi
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis made an unannounced visit to Iraq’s capital of Baghdad where he was met by Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday. He later came to the Kurdistan Region to meet its President.
An Iraqi readout stated they discussed enhancing joint military cooperation, the war against “terrorism,” and recent victories achieved by Iraqi forces.
It added that Mattis reiterated US military support and praised the victories. The statement from Abadi’s office said that Mattis rejects any action aimed at “dividing and destabilizing Iraq’s integral unity.”
A readout from the Pentagon was later released. It solely focused on the “US-Iraq security partnership.”
The US Secretary of Defense thanked Abadi “for his strong wartime leadership, which has enabled the Iraqi Security Forces to achieve victory in Mosul and set ISIS on a path to a lasting defeat,” read the US statement.
Mattis expressed optimism that Iraqis will be safer in the future.
“The secretary reaffirmed U.S. dedication to the U.S.-Iraq security partnership, and committed to continued support to improve security for the Iraqi people and deny ISIS terrorists safe haven in Iraq,” detailed the Pentagon.
The US Secretary of Defense was being accompanied by Ambassador Douglas Silliman, Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Brett McGurk and a cadre of military officers. The Iraqi delegation included Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi and high-ranking military officers.
Mattis later met in Erbil with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.
The American reportedly had planned to ask Barzani to call off the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum scheduled for September 25.
Reuters reported an unnamed US official said that the memorandum of understanding would expire soon and suggested that Mattis could use it as a bargaining chip.
US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk was also travelling with Mattis to Iraq from Jordan, reiterated the US stance against the timing of the Kurdistan Region’s upcoming referendum on independence.
In addition to Kurdish Peshmerga, the United States has been supporting Iraqi security forces, who liberated Mosul on June 10, the country’s second-largest city.
Brett McGurk, the administration’s special envoy to the counter-IS coalition, told reporters on Monday in Jordan the gains against ISIS have been accelerated under the Trump administration.
“I think that’s quite significant and partially due to the fact we’re moving faster, more effectively,” McGurk said in a joint appearance with Mattis, adding Trump’s delegation of authority “has really made a difference on the ground. I have seen that with my own eyes.”
US President Donald Trump has delegated authority closer to the commanders on the battlefield, a shift from former President Barack Obama’s more Pentagon-centric policies.
McGurk reiterated US opposition to the Kurdistan Region’s timing of its September 25 referendum on independence.
“We believe these issues should be resolved through dialogue under the constitutional framework, and that a referendum at this time would be really potentially catastrophic to the counter-ISIS campaign,” the special envoy said.
On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the offensive to retake Tal Afar, a city 65 kilometers west of Mosul that has served as a key route for ISIS militants crossing between Iraq and Syria. It is the last ISIS-controlled major population center in northwest Iraq.
Mattis visited Jordan on Monday and his office had announced that he plans to also visit Turkey and the Ukraine.
Mattis told reporters before departing from neighboring Jordan that the Middle Euprhates Valley that stretches from Al-Qaim in Iraq to the Syrian City of Deir ez-Zor will be liberated in time, calling this area “ISIS’s last stand.”
“You see, ISIS is now caught in-between converging forces,” he said. “So ISIS’s days are certainly numbered, but it’s not over yet and it’s not going to be over any time soon.”
In Amman, the American met with Jordanian Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat to reaffirm a strong, enduring U.S.-Jordan partnership, according a US meeting readout.
Mattis “praised Lt. Gen. Freihat’s efforts to reform the Jordan Armed Forces –Arab Army” and “affirmed the U.S. commitment to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jordan in facing regional and global challenges.”
The US defense department is currently working on a new plan for US President Donald Trump in South Asia, specifically Afghanistan, where the Americans have been fighting since 2001.
Trump said in an address on Monday that initially his instincts were to pull out of Afghanistan.
However, “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.”
He said 20 US-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense,” Trump stated, without elaborating on what further US actions will be taken in Afghanistan.
He referenced former President Barack Obama’s decision to pull troops out of Iraq in 2010.
“The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit, and launch attacks. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq,” he said.