Sec. Kerry: US-led coalition 'on the road' to defeating Islamic State

Increased airstrikes in Syria and the retaking of territory by Kurdish fighters in Iraq appears to indicate some progress in the US-led coalition fight against Islamic State militants.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel/U.S. Air Force/AP
A formation of U.S. Navy F-18E Super Hornets leaves after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over northern Iraq as part of U.S. led coalition airstrikes on the Islamic State group.

In the wake of stepped-up airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and some success in Iraq by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Secretary of State John Kerry says the US-led coalition is “on the road” to defeating Islamic State militants.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Sec. Kerry said he “absolutely” believes the coalition is moving toward its goal of degrading and defeating the group also known as ISIS, including killing “a significant proportion” of their top leadership.

“We believe everything, including the governing process in Iraq itself, is moving in the right direction,” Kerry said.

Since reports surfaced of the fiery execution of a downed Jordanian fighter pilot, Jordan has significantly increased its bombing sorties against ISIS targets.

At a press conference Sunday, General Mansour Al-Jbour, head of the Royal Jordanian Air Force, said nearly 20 percent of the militants’ capabilities have been degraded by the air attacks, including killing 7,000 of the enemy.

In 56 raids over three days of intensified bombing, Gen. Jbour said, “We achieved what we aimed at.”

“We destroyed logistics centers, arms depots and targeted hideouts of their fighters,” he said, as reported by Al Arabiya News in Dubai.

On ABC Sunday, Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh took a more measured view.

“They are not gone yet,” he said of ISIS. “The air campaign has degraded their capabilities on the ground. They still control territories. They still have access to Syria’s cash and funds and sophisticated weaponry…. But there is no doubt we shall prevail.”  

As evidence that progress is being made, Kerry notes that coalition forces have recaptured 22 percent of the populated areas that ISIS once held “without launching what we would call a major offensive,” as he put it on “Meet the Press.”

Much of that has been achieved by Kurdish forces on the ground in northern Iraq.

Also speaking on the Sunday TV news shows, Sen. Ted Cruz, (R) of Texas, said he wouldn’t rule out the use of US ground troop in the fight against ISIS – beyond, that is, the several thousand US trainers, air strike targeters, and special forces troops already in northern Iraq.

But for now, he said, the US needs to arm Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS.

"We need to arm the Kurds now because they are our boots on the ground," Sen. Cruz told CNN's "State of the Union."

 Chancellor Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish region of Iraq made that pitch in an interview with NBC’s Richard Engel. “So far we have not seen any serious action which can quickly defeat ISIS,” he said.

“I understand Mr. Barzani's impatience fully,” Kerry said in response. “The Peshmerga have been particularly brave and courageous. We have supplied them with enormous amounts of ammunition, weapons, supplies, other things. And others are supplying them, our allies…. As we've said from the beginning, people need to recognize the importance of putting in place a strategy that can win.”

Not everyone agrees with Kerry’s positive assessment of the fight against ISIS.

Retired US Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, says the United States’ strategy for combating Islamic extremist groups is not working.

“The counterterrorism component works just fine to go after the high-value targets and key leaders,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “But we need a much broader strategy that recognizes that we’re facing not just this tactical problem of ISIS in Iraq and Syria…. I think what I’m saying is the strategy that we have is not working, and it’s clearly not working.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.