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Kerry: ISIS 'Defeat in Ramadi Not an Isolated Event'

An Iraqi soldier holds a national flag near the provincial council building in central Ramadi on Dec. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Osama Sami)

Secretary of State John Kerry lauded the Iraqi military today for “fighting with determination, courage, and skill to dislodge the enemy” in Anbar province, where forces captured the center of Ramadi from ISIS.

U.S. Central Command hailed the operation as a “significant milestone” in Iraq, to which the coalition contributed more than 600 airstrikes.

“The Iraqi Security Forces, including the Counter-Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Air Force, the federal and local police, and the tribal fighters, have demonstrated their resolve in the fight for Ramadi,” Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force supporting Iraqi security operations, said in a statement today.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who said in May that Iraqis “just showed no will to fight” in the fall of Ramadi, ‎said the expulsion of ISIS by Iraqi security forces “supported by our international coalition is a significant step forward in the campaign to defeat this barbaric group and restore Iraq’s territorial sovereignty.‎”

“The fight for Ramadi demonstrates how capable, motivated local forces backed by coalition air support and training can defeat ISIL,” Carter said. “‎Now it’s important for the Iraqi government, working with provincial and local authorities, to seize this opportunity to maintain the peace in Ramadi, prevent the return of ISIL and other extremists, and facilitate the return of Ramadi’s citizens back to the city.”

“Even with this success, the fight against ISIL is far from over.”

Kerry said “support will continue as the mission in Ramadi is completed and we prepare for post-conflict stabilization.” He added strong praise for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, calling gains we saw today “a tribute to the prime minister’s strong leadership and his belief in a unified Iraq for all its citizens.”

“While Ramadi is not yet fully secure and additional parts of the city still must be retaken, Iraq’s national flag now flies above the provincial government center and enemy forces have suffered a major defeat,” he said. “These gains attest to the growing confidence and capability of Iraqi forces who are fighting bravely against a ruthless adversary employing suicide bombers, snipers, and improvised explosive devices. We honor those among the Iraqi ranks who have made the ultimate sacrifice during this painstaking operation, and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.”

Iraqi officials said ISIS still controls as much as 30 percent of Ramadi. “We can’t say that Ramadi is fully liberated. There are still neighborhoods under their control and there are still pockets of resistance,” said Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar.

ISIS is estimated to have left some 300 explosive booby traps at the government center complex alone.

“Dislodging ISIL from areas it has occupied is a central part of Iraq’s security strategy, but it is also vital to rebuild and stabilize the areas that have been liberated,” Kerry said. “In Ramadi, these efforts will be led by the Iraqi government and coordinated on the ground by Anbar Governor Sohaib al-Rawi and his team. The United States and members of the Coalition have pledged or contributed over $50 million to the UNDP stabilization fund to support these efforts. The stabilization process will be supported by thousands of local police and tribal forces, many of whom have been trained by the Coalition.”

Al-Abadi declared 2016 would be “the year of the final victory and the end of the existence of Daesh on Iraqi territory.”

ISIS has lost about 14 percent of its vast territory straddling Iraq and Syria since the coalition effort began. In the meantime, though, ISIS has been expanding operations in Africa, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Yemen, and South Asia.

Mosul fell to ISIS a year and a half ago and has not been recaptured. The Tigris river city had about 2.5 million people; by comparison, Ramadi’s population was around 400,000.

But Kerry was eager to declare that Ramadi has ISIS on the run.

“ISIL’s defeat in Ramadi is not an isolated event,” he said. “It comes after losses this year in Tikrit, Baiji, Sinjar, and across northern Syria. Working with our Iraqi and Syrian partners, the United States and our Coalition will continue to apply relentless pressure and squeeze this barbaric terrorist group across all lines of effort. We will also continue to pursue diplomatic initiatives in Syria aimed at further isolating ISIL and contributing to its ultimate defeat.”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told MSNBC today that all that the Ramadi recapture did “was bring us back to where we were 15 months ago.”

“And you don’t win these wars by a body count. The fact is, during the last 15 months, ISIS has also expanded significantly into Libya, into Afghanistan, where they now rival al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”

The 2,000 ISIS fighters killed “would be significant except that they’ve recruited a lot more than that,” King said. “…And ISIS has also now expanded. Really they were not until the last year or so attacking outside their own region, but they’ve attacked Paris, they’ve attacked the United States, they’ve — obviously in Lebanon they’re going into. So this is a significant development by ISIS.”

“So, listen, we can win this. It’s not going to be easy. I think what the American people, why they’ve lost faith to a certain extent in the president is that he acts as if everything is going fine. And he doesn’t acknowledge these defeats we have had or the gains that ISIS has made. And that’s why it puts a cloud over everything he’s claiming.”