Dubai: “We have accomplished a lot on the ground against Daesh and liberated ground previously held by the group. But there are still pockets [held by Daesh] that we are fighting to liberate,” General Joseph L. Votel, commander of the US CENTCOM, told Gulf News during a telephonic press briefing from Tampa, Florida Wednesday. “We are [currently] in the consolidation and stabilisation phase, helping Iraqi forces and the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces militia backed by the US] consolidate their gains in order to enable international [community-backed] reconstruction efforts. We are addressing things like removing the remaining explosives that Daesh left behind. And creating conditions to enable aid organisations to get in. We recognise the great sacrifices of our partners [the Iraqi army and SDF] in the fight against Daesh.”
In the recent days, Votel has been on a tour of 10 countries in the region, including Iraq and Syria. Votel said he had seen first hand “how much violence was needed to defeat Daesh in Raqqa”, and that the global community should be thankful for the commitment of the Iraqi and SDF forces. He said the success against Daesh was proof that open and transparent military-to-military relations between coalition member states were crucial. “There is value in transparency,” the General observed, adding that action was need to rebuild destroyed areas so that the conditions enabling groups like Daesh to re-emerge are not created.
He also said that the US will continue to support the SDF, even in the face of the current campaign launched in Afrin, Syria by the Turkish army. “Turkey has legitimate security concerns along the border. Turkey has been a partner in the fight against Daesh and is also a Nato member. At the same time, we have the objective of defeating Daesh. And the SDF has been the most efficient force in the fight [against the extremist group] in the north and east of Syria.”
Asked in the teleconference about the presence of US Special Forces in Lebanon, he said, “I won’t get into specifics but our general role is to help build the capacity of Lebanese armed forces and help them fight terror. Out relationship with them has been long-standing.”