The U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have “accomplished a lot” after a one-year anniversary of the aerial operation, chief of the U.S.-led coalition Gen. John Allen told Al Arabiya News Channel.
“I think the very first important lesson is as we expected, this was going to take a while. And while it has taken awhile, I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Gen. Allen, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS told Al Arabiya’s Washington correspondent Nadia Bilbassy in an interview aired on Sunday.
Allen was speaking in spite of criticism that President Barack Obama said the coalition - aimed to “degrade and destroy” - ISIS did not help to liberate territories held by the militants.
In August last year, the U.S.-led coalition launched its first airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS before extending its operations to Syria in September.
Allen, who described himself and other officials as being “very conscious” about the one year anniversary, said: “When I look back on that year, I looked at where we were at this time last year, the situation was pretty grim.”
He added: “We were facing atrocities of the like we had never seen before. The fall of large components of Iraq, the threat to the Kurdish region. The threat to [capital of Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan] Erbil…The Iraqi security forces were in very serious trouble. And Daesh was headed for Baghdad,” using an Arabic term for ISIS.
While Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul is still under ISIS occupation, “Tikrit [hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown of] has been recovered.”
He said about 100,000 of Tikrit’s residents have returned to their city, and “more will go home.”
He also said areas in Erbil that were previously seized by ISIS last year, have all been “recovered.”
“All of that ground has been recovered. The Kurds are still in the attack against Daesh,” he added.
He also hailed a more “capable political leadership” in Baghdad when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took over last September, after his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki lost the backing of the majority of the ruling party after he failed to combat ISIS.
Abadi, who is continuing to press on with sweeping reforms, “has brought the central government a long way, farther along than we thought it could have been, this time last year.”
In Syria, meanwhile, the general said ISIS has taken additional ground but “a large segment of Syria, the segment that runs along the Syrian-Turkish border, from the Kurdish regional government all the way to the Euphrates has been completely taken from Daesh now.”
He added: “Daesh has been pushed well from that border and there are elements of Syrian opposition forces that are within 45 kilometers of Raqqa.”
Raqqa, which is about 160 kilometers east of the northwestern city of Aleppo, has been an ISIS stronghold in Syria since last year.
“Now, a year ago, you could not have imagined, that we find ourselves in that position,” he said.
He also said that there was no coordination with Iran when launching the anti-ISIS airstrikes. Iran, which is mainly backing Shiite militias to quash ISIS, also has a military presence in Iraq.
The general also expressed hope for the future in the region.
“What we want is for credible governance to take root. Justice to take root, equal rights to take root,” he said.SHOW MORE