Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters at the Pentagon today that coalition forces have been “systemically eliminating ISIL’s cabinet” with operations against the Islamic State.
Appearing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Carter said “the U.S. military killed several key ISIL terrorists this week, including, we believe, Haji Imam, who was an ISIL senior leader, serving as a finance minister and who is also responsible for some external affairs and plots.”
“He was a well-known terrorist within ISIL’s ranks dating back to its earliest iteration as al-Qaeda in Iraq, when he worked under Zarqawi as its liaison for operations with Pakistan,” Carter added. “The removal of this ISIL leader will hamper the organization’s ability for them to conduct operations both inside and outside of Iraq and Syria.”
“This is the second senior ISIL leader we’ve successfully targeted this month, after confirming the death of ISIL’s so-called minister of war a short time ago.”
Carter said killing Haji Imam along with striking the Islamic State’s cash centers will be “hurting their ability to pay fighters and hire recruits.”
In Syria and Iraq, he said, “we’re seeing important steps to shape what will become crucial battles in the months to come.”
“We targeted Abu Salah, one of the top ISIL leaders charged with paying fighters in Northern Iraq,” the Defense secretary said. “Next, we targeted a number of ISIL associates who were directly involved in external plotting and training. And these precise actions came after recent strikes that destroyed a significant quantity of improvised explosive devices and bomb making equipment that could have been used against our partners headed for Mosul.”
“We believe these actions have been successful and have done damage to ISIL.”
Carter spoke with his Saudi counterpart on Thursday, in which they agreed to convene a Gulf defense ministerial in Riyadh on April 20.
Carter was asked if the trajectory of Haji Imam’s terrorism career — he was in Iraqi custody but released after U.S. forces withdrew in 2011 — should give the U.S. government pause about trying to clear out Guantanamo.
“A number of the leaders of ISIL were in detention in Iraq back in former years, including the head of ISIL himself, in Iraqi detention, so it is important that — these are people who have experience, they’re people who’ve shown dedication over the years, and that’s why it’s so important that we eliminate them,” he replied. “As far as Gitmo is concerned, that’s the very reason why we need an alternative detention facility to Gitmo, because it’s not safe to release everybody or transfer to the custody of another country everybody in Gitmo. So that’s the very point of that.”
On criticism that the U.S. response to the Islamic State’s growth has been slow, the Defense secretary said “we’re certainly gathering momentum and we’re seeing that that momentum is having effect, and we’re broadening both the weight and the nature of our attacks on ISIL.”
Dunford said U.S. forces have “made a dent in the resources.”
“We’ve started to affect their command and control in a negative way. I think we’ve begun to undermine the narrative. But there’s a lot of work that remains to be done,” the chairman stressed.
“And at the same time, while ISIL has not been able to seize ground in the past several months, that hasn’t precluded them from conducting terrorist attacks, and it hasn’t precluded them from conducting operations…I think there’s a lot of reasons for us to be optimistic about the next several months. But by no means would I say that we’re about to break the back of ISIL or that the fight is over.”