Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

Ash Carter: Behind the Plan to Defeat ISIS

| Oct. 31, 2017

To its credit, the Trump administration followed the path we set in the Obama administration.

On December 11, 2016, just before my time as secretary of defense ended, I stepped off a C-130 transport plane onto a cold and dusty patch of northern Iraq that had been on my mind for more than a year: an Iraqi military airfield called Qayyarah West. Q-West was a talisman of progress on one of the defining issues of my service, the fight to defeat ISIS. A year before, General Joe Dunford and I had briefed President Obama on a plan to step up the fight against ISIS. We had laid out the series of military tasks in Iraq and Syria that would lead us to the liberation of ISIS’s strongholds in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. Q-West was a fulcrum of that plan. Ejecting ISIS and turning the airstrip into a logistics hub was essential to seizing Mosul, just 40 miles north.

The plan had become reality, and I was there to see it in person. Iraqi forces, with the support of a U.S.-led global coalition, had seized Q-West. This summer, they defeated ISIS in Mosul. And this month, partner forces in Syria enabled by the U.S.-led coalition liberated Raqqa—the putative capital of the caliphate. Though ISIS still holds pockets of territory and can inspire violence, its pretensions of statehood are over. For the first time in years, people in the Middle East can dream of a future free from this brutal terrorist organization.

How we got there is a story of good fortune, immense skill and bravery on the part of young men and women in uniform, and some key decisions to change a fight that had been going poorly. The outcome is not the result of some secret strategy from the new administration, but instead the execution of a campaign plan developed under President Obama and completed under President Trump. We should all cheer the end result. Americans are safer and we have learned important lessons about the use of our military might.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Carter, Ash.“Ash Carter: Behind the Plan to Defeat ISIS.” The Atlantic, October 31, 2017.