US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed Thursday that six months of airstrikes led by his country had stopped the advance of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), even as his British counterpart warned that it would take years to crush the self-declared caliphate.
The air strikes “have definitively put Da’esh on the defensive,” Kerry said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamist movement. “In recent months we have seen, definitively, Daesh’s momentum was halted in Iraq and in some cases reversed. Ground forces supported by nearly 2,000 air strikes now, have reclaimed more than 700 square kilometers.”
He was speaking following a meeting in London that brought together senior ministers from 21 of the countries involved in the coalition formed last year to fight Islamic State.
Kerry said that thousands of Islamic State fighters had been killed, including 50% of the ISIS command structure, and that “more than a thousand” ISIS positions had been hit, including military bases, checkpoints and oil refineries.
Standing alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who complained earlier this week that coalition forces were undersupplied, Kerry said the coalition was “not going to be defeated” by a lack of weapons and ammunition for Iraqi soldiers. He insisted that a “very significant number” of M-16 assault rifles had been shipped to replace the Iraqi army’s aging AK-47s and would arrive “very, very shortly,” and that 12 new Iraqi brigades were being trained for the battlefield.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Thursday that it would take a long time to defeat ISIS. “This isn’t going to be done in three months or six months. It’s going to take a year, two years, to push [ISIS] back out of Iraq. But we are doing the things that need to be done in order to turn the tide,” Hammond told Sky News before the coalition meetings began.
In an interview with BBC Radio, Hammond said it would take “months” before the Iraqi army – badly routed during by and ISIS offensive in the north of the country last year – could prepared capitalize on the airstrikes by mounting a serious ground offensive.