On February 10, 2016, Ambassador Brett McGurk testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in regards to the growing Islamic State (IS) threat. The committee members expressed concern about what they described as a lack of progress against the jihadist group.
Chairman Ed Royce was critical of the Obama administrations failure to recognize the threat that IS posed having dismissing them as insignificant (“the JV Team”) early on. He is also concerned of IS’ global reach, now with 50 groups operating out of 21 countries, and continued success in recruiting foreign fighters, particularly utilizing social media.
McGurk stated there was progress being made such as Turkey solidifying its borders, but claims that Turkey is tightening it’s border have been made perennially and to no real effect. Time will tell if this border effort by the Turkish forces will prove more robust.
McGurk also noted that Iraqi forces have taken back 40% of its territory once held by Islamic State, and Syrian forces have reclaimed 20% back from IS.
10, 242 airstrikes have been launched against IS and its affiliate’s with the United States accounting for 7,835 of them. 6,000 IS fighters have been killed by joint coalition forces through airstrikes and ground attacks. McGurk noted the fight against IS needs to be a joint effort and the United States cannot do it alone. There also must be a strong coalition force on the ground.
Congressman Gregory Weeks, wanted to know how foreign allies are assisting in the effort to defeat IS. McGurk noted that Jordan has resumed increased airstrikes and Saudi Arabia has dispatched forces to Yemen. Yet contrary to McGurk’s testimony however, Saudi forces in Yemen are primarily focused on dealing with the Iranian-backed Houthi proxies, as Sunni jihadist forces have expanded during the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemeni civil war.
McGurk’s biggest concerns were the deterioration of Libya after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime. The IS support in Libya has doubled in size since last fall to now 5,000 members, many IS supporters are arriving from Tunisia and elsewhere in Africa rather than Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State also wants Libya’s oil the fields are worth billions and is a key supplier of oil to Europe.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, noted that removing Saddam Hussein was the worst thing the United States could have done, and with Gaddafi gone it lead to instability all throughout Libya. He questioned if Bashar Assad posed a serious threat to the United States
McGurk also said challenges remain ahead in resettling Iraq especially Mosul which had a population over a million prior to IS’s attack and is also politically divided. As Iraqi forces push IS and out of region these jihadist forces are taking up positions in southern Syria and along the Jordanian border.
Congressmen EdRoyce, Eliot Engel, and Jerry Connelly were deeply concerned about Russia’s involvement in Syria and causing even more instability in the region. McGurk did confirm that nearly 70% of Russian airstrikes are aimed at Syrian rebels, and not at the Islamic State.