Wednesday, March 4, 2015
U.S. vice admiral: "ISIL is losing"
Christopher P. Cavas, Defense News, Mar 3
From his headquarters in Bahrain, Vice Adm. John Miller surveys one of the world's most turbulent and dynamic regions. As commander of U.S. Central Command's naval forces, he oversees the deployment of several standing international task forces and the integration of military forces from up to 40 nations at a time, and is a key player in the relationships between Gulf Cooperation Council nations. And his forces now are at war, conducting combat air operations against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL, in Syria and Iraq.
Q. The situation in the Middle East has changed dramatically in a year – the Islamic State threat, the Syrian civil war, instability in Yemen, and most recently a regime change in Saudi Arabia. Compared with a year ago, how do those changes look to you?
A. One of the things I would like to highlight is that throughout all of that dynamic change, we continue to have a very stable maritime environment. And that's important. And I think it's due largely to the efforts we continue to maintain out here through our various task forces. So Task Force 152, now commanded by a Saudi, allows us to maintain maritime stability within the Arabian Gulf. We continue to have great support from our coalition of partners in Task Force 150, which has been
commanded by a number of different coalition partners over the last year.
Obviously, when ISIL came across the border last June it changed the nature of the civil war in Syria and the nature of the battlefield in Iraq. And it changed our activity substantially. Up until that point the carrier strike group efforts were largely in support of operation Enduring Freedom [over Afghanistan]. Shortly after Iraq was invaded by ISIL, we moved the carrier strike group into the gulf and were supporting operations in Iraq and Syria with carrier aircraft ever since. And we've been quite successful in that endeavor.
If you look at what's happening, ISIL is losing. They're losing people. They're losing equipment. They're losing territory. It's a long-term strategy. It's a strategy that's designed to take time – and it requires a certain amount of patience. It's a strategy that requires the Iraqi ground forces to be successful on the ground. We can only move as fast as they can move, and that's how fast we're moving. But we're nearing 2,500 air strikes from the coalition. About 20 percent of those strikes come from the sea. About another 20 percent come from coalition partners. That's a strategy that's working, so it's something we're satisfied with.
Q. You say ISIL is losing. I've heard a number of statements to that effect. Then a day or two later, you see them on the offensive again.
A. If you look at the murder of the Jordanian pilot, look at this horrific thing that happened on the beach in Libya, those are examples of an increasingly desperate organization that attempts to grab headlines to make the facts on the ground look different than what they actually are. But if you take a more holistic look at what's happening, they came across the border in June last year and looked very much like an army. Today they look very much like a terrorist organization, and a terrorist organization that's losing. They've lost thousands of people. They've lost hundreds, maybe even thousands of pieces of equipment. They find it much more difficult to move themselves around. It's more difficult for them to raise money because we've taken away a lot of the oil infrastructure that they used either to raise money or to fuel their own ability.
So clearly, they are losing. They made Kobani [in Syria] a strategic imperative and they were going to take Kobani at any cost. They're nowhere near Kobani. And every day they are further and further away from Kobani. Kobani was a strategic defeat for them. So they are losing. The strategy is working, but they will continue to do some of these horrific things to take advantage of the publicity they're able to generate. But that doesn't change the facts.
Q. You've got a very unusual situation now where a lot of your gulf partners are actually engaging in live warfare. They're driving live ordnance on targets.
A. Absolutely! And you saw how the murder of the Jordanian pilot reinvigorated their efforts in many cases. They have re-engaged and begun conducting air strikes or are doing some other things to further engage the ISIL forces. You saw the UAE begin to return some airstrikes as well. And so they understand that ISIL is a threat to their own nations, and they're more engaged than ever before. They understand that, A, ISIL is a threat, and B, that it's a threat that can and must be defeated.
Q. Yemen never was the world's most stable country, and it has now turned into a completely unstable area. The capital has fallen, we've pulled our delegation out, their president just got chased out of Sana'a. Is Yemen still a base of operations for the U.S. and allied forces?
A. Yemen is a story that is still ongoing, and how that's going to come out remains to be seen. So we'll let that continue to play out. What I would like to tell you is I don't think anybody that's a member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] ought to think that Yemen is going to continue to be a haven for them, because it's not. We'll continue to have an impact against AQAP in Yemen.
Q. Across from Yemen, the use of Djibouti just seems to continue to grow.
A. There are a number of ways to get after it, and I wouldn't detail all of them. But certainly Djibouti is a very strategic location for us. But so is the Gulf of Aden.
Q. We're in Abu Dhabi at the International Defense Exposition, the largest defense exposition in this region. I've been told show organizers have moved to increase the participation of senior U.S. leaders here – more military, more industry. Do you feel that's the case? Are people looking to the U.S. at all? Is that changing?
A. We have great representation here from DoD, both the civilian leadership and the uniform leadership. [Pentagon acquisition chief Frank] Kendall is here with a large number of his staff. There's a very robust presence here from the U.S. government. And then of course, U.S. industry here is doing extremely well in and of itself. But at the end of the day, what's really important here is building partnerships, and it's the personal relationships that are either developed here or are enhanced here.
Q. Non-U.S. people here have told me one of the key roles the U.S. plays is to provide a relatively neutral go-between when nations don't get along, as is often the case. Is that still true?
A. One of the most important things we provide here is leadership. And we can do that because we're here. We're fully deployed here. We operate here. We've been here for decades. And we are a constant. And the old Navy expression about being a force for good really does apply here. They can rely on us. We're here on an enduring basis. At our headquarters in Bahrain, we have a significant infrastructure development that's ongoing. We're preparing the waterfront for the eventual arrival of the littoral combat ship. Our partners know that we're here and that we're going to be here. So when the ISIL offensive happened last June, they knew they could look to us to provide the leadership required to get through this crisis and lead that coalition. And that's exactly what we're doing. I think they're grateful for that, and we're certainly grateful for their continued participation and contributions.
Q. There has been increasing involvement with Oman. They've been a pretty good partner for a while, but there have been some improvements in ports there. In particular, Duqm, outside the Straits of Hormuz on the Gulf of Oman, is becoming a much more frequent port of call and less in the background than it used to be.
A. Duqm represents a strategic vision and a significant investment on the part of the Omanis. Certainly in 2014 we took advantage of that. We were able to bring a nuclear-powered submarine into port there as well as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. So we see a future for the U.S. Navy out of Duqm as a logistics hub and also an opportunity for us to bring ships in there for maintenance and for crew rest. There's a lot of development that has to be done in Duqm, so it'll take time before it's fully ready. But we see a future for the U.S. Navy and Duqm.
Q. Was the pier in Duqm designed specifically to take a carrier?
A. Yes, it was purposeful to be able to take large ships pierside and large ships into dry dock. I don't think you can put a
carrier into the dry dock, but it'll take very large merchant ships. When it's fully built out, which will take more than a decade, Duqm will have been transformed from a desert with nothing to a seaport, an airport and a large city of a couple hundred thousand people. They've built this with vision. And it'll have lots of communication, land lines going up into the gulf that will be able to carry oil so you won't have to transport it in ships through the Strait of Hormuz. You can bring them into Duqm. All of the product you would have had to transport through the strait you'll be able to transport by rail or by air.
Q. So it allows the GCC essentially to bypass the Strait of Hormuz, if necessary.
A. Should they so desire.