“The military working alongside and through proxies will be how we operate on any operation [similar to Inherent Resolve] around the world. Lessons learned in this operation will be a signpost to how [such] operations will work in the future,” said Major General Kevin Copsey, deputy commander – Strategy, Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq.
Gen Copsey was addressing delegates attending the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) virtual conference, Lessons from Operation Inherent Resolve: From Ensuring the Enduring Defeat of ISIS to Stabilising the Region, held on Wednesday 7 April.
Talking from the Iraq-based headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) in Baghdad, Gen Copsey said that the campaign against Daesh had been very successful, with 27 nations contributing militarily and a total of 76 nations and five organisations participating in a wider context. Over 110,000 square kilometres had been liberated from Daesh rule, he said, but emphasised which they had been “defeated today [we] still need to deny them tomorrow.”
Daesh has not been totally defeated in the region with enclaves still existing, largely in areas between different forces and nationalities. Gen Copsey identified the Hamrin Mountains northeast Iraq where there is a “gap between Iraqi federal forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in the north.” He added that from there they operate from bed-down locations such as caves and attempt to export violence to Baghdad (such as the suicide bombings earlier in the year).
Another base of activity was around the Middle Euphrates River Valley where there is a complex variety of actors including different tribes, Lebanese Hezbollah, militia groups, the Assad regime sponsored by the Russians, and coalition forces on the eastern side of the Euphrates. Gen Copsey said that Daesh looked to “exploit fissures between the various groups” to resurface. There was also a ‘power competition’ in play which means that the region remains volatile.
But the way ahead lay in using all domains – land, sea, air, space and cyber – as well as a unity of both effort and command not only to erode Daesh physically but also to defeat their attempts to spread their conceptual logic as a tool for recruitment.
Gen Copsey said the effect of the COVID pandemic had led to the reduction of international troops as nations withdrew their forces, but contrary to expectations this actually resulted in Iraqi forces taking on more responsibility and gaining confidence.
Now CJTF soldiers have fallen back to an advisory role, said Gen Copsey, “assisting Iraqi security forces to maintain operational tempo, exploit intelligence and forensics, and deliver the correct use of discrete strike capabilities through artillery or air power.” NATO’s mission has been more to focus on institutional reform at governmental level.