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It Could Take Two Years to Defeat the Islamic State, Says UK Foreign Secretary

Despite significant coalition gains, Philip Hammond says the Iraqi army is still not ready to push out the militant group.
Photo by Peter Nicholls via Reuters/AP

US Secretary of State John Kerry touted the "significant gains" made by the anti-Islamic State coalition in Iraq at a multinational conference in London on Thursday, but his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, warned the Iraqi army still has a long way to go and it could be at least a year before troops are able to boot out the Sunni militants.

Kerry said international partners had made decisive headway against the insurgent group, killing thousands of its fighters and half of its leaders. The nearly 2,000 airstrikes carried out by coalition warplanes have assisted Iraqi and Kurdish troops to retake some 270 square miles of land back from the group in Iraq and Syria, he said.


"In recent months we have seen, definitively, Daesh's momentum halted in Iraq and in some cases reversed," Kerry told a news conference — using ISIS's Arabic acronym Daesh — adding that Iraqi forces would soon be receiving plenty of US-manufactured M16 rifles "very, very shortly" through an arms pipeline.

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But hours before the London meeting between officials from 21 coalition member states, including Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, Hammond stuck a more cautious tone, indicating Iraqi forces are still not well-equipped or trained enough to fight the Islamic State on the ground, and that it could be another year or two before the group is defeated.

"It's going to take a year, two years to push ISIL back out of Iraq but we're doing the things that need to be done to turn the tide against ISIL and I'm confident that ISIL will be defeated in Iraq," Hammond said in an interview with Sky News, referring to the militant group by their alternative acronym.

"I don't accept it's failed at all," he added. "What we've done is the coalition air strikes have halted the ISIL advance which was surging across Iraq last summer, it's started to turn it back."

The two foreign secretaries did agree in recent days that the coalition's next focus should be on cutting off the Islamic State's flow of finances and foreign fighters, as well as propaganda and proselytizing efforts.


During the conference, the officials will discuss tightening up their strategy in these areas as well as strengthening their military campaign against the some 31,000 militant fighters currently commanding vast areas of land in Iraq and Syria.

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Hammond's comments on the unpreparedness of the Iraqi army, whole contingents of which collapsed or disbanded when the Islamic State began their bloodied territorial advance last summer, comes amid reports of an emerging guerrilla resistance movement in Iraq comprised of ex-military fighters and tribesmen, including students and local businessmen.

The so-called Mosul Resistance Batallions has been fighting to liberate Iraq's second largest city — which fell under militant control in June — from within city walls, launching some 300 hundred attacks in Mosul and Nineveh Province, and killing a "large number" of insurgents, according to Iraqi officials.

The volunteer battalions, whose exact numbers are currently unknown, have employed whatever weapons they can find, make or seize from Islamic State fighters, including makeshift bombs, Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi told NBC.

The guerrillas have suffered at least five fatalities, according to al-Nujaifi, who added that access to the resistance movement, and providing supplies and assistance was near impossible.


"The government cannot send them anything," he said. "All their operations are planned and implemented according to resources they have."

Within the heavily fortified city, the Islamic State has been dispensing its own brand of justice and punishments to locals, including carrying out gruesome videotaped and photographed executions to locals accused of being gay or committing adultery.

Gruesome photos allegedly show Islamic State throwing gay men off a tall building. Read more here.

Outside of the city, coalition forces, Iraqi military, and Kurdish Peshmerga militias have also launched coordinated attacks on militants near Mosul over several months. Kurdish forces this week reportedly broke a key supply line used by the militants connecting Mosul and militant-held territory close to the border with Syria, according to Reuters.

Peshmerga forces uploaded video uploaded to social media Wednesday showing an offensive against Islamic State near Mosul Dam

The above footage is described as showing Peshmerga and coalition forces launching attacks on IS positions near Mosul.

Footage released on the same day shows Kurdish forces firing at militant targets in the Syrian town of Kobane, near the Turkish border. Kobane has been the site of fierce battles with the Islamic State since September.

This video, from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) YouTube account and uploaded on January 21, is described as showing fighting in Kobane.

Ilan Berman, Middle East security expert and Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, told VICE News the emergence of the resistance group is part of a larger trend line seen when local populations pushback against insurgent groups imposing their ideological regime, like the counteraction seen during the 2006 Anbar Awakening, in which Sunni Sheiks in Ramadi rejected al Qaeda and began cooperating with US forces.

"The similarities are pretty striking," he said. "ISIS is al Qaeda in Iraq now. If you look around the Muslim world over last decade, the most vehement reaction to these outfits has come from Islamic societies themselves who have had first hand experience under their rule."

"I see this as a very positive sign," Berman added. "There is organic domestic reaction from the constituency. Our job is to figure out how to make that local pushback effective and how to maximize it not only in Iraq but other places too."

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields