A new NATO-led mission in Iraq will work to further develop Iraq’s security institutions and structures, British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika told Pentagon reporters here today.
The mission is expected to be established by early next year, said Ghika, who declined to specify which NATO nations and the number of personnel would be involved.
Ghika, deputy commander of strategy and information for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, spoke during a video teleconference from Baghdad today.
The nature of the mission will be noncombat, he said. It will consist of advisors working closely with officials of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Office of the National Security Advisor “to help Iraq build a more effective, sustainable, inclusive and transparent defense sector.”
The focus of those efforts will be on institutional education in the National Defense University, the Joint Forces Staff College, and some of the schools which are building military capability in areas such as engineering and infantry, he said. The advisors will focus on training the Iraqi instructors.
Ghika also provided an update on coalition efforts to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and provide aid to civilians impacted by the fighting.
Coalition Efforts in Syria
Last week provided for the safe delivery of critical humanitarian aid to the Rukban internally displaced person’s camp near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, on the border with Jordan in the deconfliction zone, Ghika said.
Leading that effort were the Maghaweir al Thowra, a fighting force native to southern Syria and a partner of CJTF – OIR, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a humanitarian nonprofit organization. Maghaweir al Thowra was previously called the New Syrian Army.
Supplies delivered included 10,475 food parcels, clothes for 18,000 children, 10,000 hygiene kits, as well as newborn baby kits for about 1,200 children, he said.
Also, the U.N. conducted an emergency vaccination campaign to protect around 10,000 children against measles, polio and other potentially deadly diseases.
Currently, the coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces partners are fighting ISIS in the last physically held terrain in the Middle Euphrates River valley around the town of Hajin in eastern Syria, Ghika said.
“This is a hard fight. Indeed, we have witnessed some of the most intense fighting since ISIS was defeated in Raqqa, [Syria,] and Mosul, [Iraq]. The ultimate outcome is not in doubt. ISIS will be defeated in the Middle Euphrates River valley,” he said.
On Nov. 8, U.S. and Turkish forces conducted their second combined joint patrol in the vicinity of the town of Manbij, Syria, on the west bank of the Euphrates, about 19 miles from Turkey. “This is a critical part of the coalition’s efforts to prevent the resurgence of ISIS there and enable the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced people,” Ghika said.
Coalition Efforts in Iraq
Iraqi security forces continue to target ISIS fighters who are attempting to regroup and regain a foothold in the small pockets of the Anbar Desert area of Iraq. Those efforts, called Operation Last Warning, are broadening to the entire country, he said.
Additionally, Iraqi forces are shoring up the border with Syria to prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing to Syria, reinforcing efforts of the SDF, he said.
In Saladin province in northern Iraq, the ISF and the Iraqi counterterrorism service, supported by the coalition, conducted multiple strikes on an ISIS senior leader meeting, killing a significant number of ISIS militants and key leaders, Ghika said.
Progress in Battling ISIS
“I’m struck by the immense progress that’s been made by Iraqi security forces and Syrian democratic forces partnering against the evil of ISIS,” said Ghika, noting that this is his second CJTF – OIR tour, the first as deputy commander of the coalition’s land component command in 2014 to 2015.
A recently published U.N. report on atrocities and mass graves in territories formerly controlled by ISIS documents 202 mass grave sites and the U.N. estimates these sites contain 6,000 to 12,000 bodies, he said.
“This is a stark reminder of why the coalition to counter ISIS was established and why nations across the globe have been willing to send their fighting men and women here,” Ghika said.