ISIL Militants Building Conventional Capabilities

Despite signs the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) was forming an offensive, senior Iraqi officials did not act quickly or give regional forces (such as Kurdish militias) the clearance to move to counter militants prior to this past June, senior Defense and State Department officials said Wednesday. ISIL militants are now a “full-blown Army” seeking to establish a state throughout the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys of Iraq and Syria, Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Pressed by HFAC Chair Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) about why Iraqi airstrike requests were not acted on, McGurk said the US wanted “local actors” to take the fight forward, choosing instead to build up Iraqi air intelligence and strike capabilities. Iraqi strikes were effective against ISIL camps initially, but a formal request for US strikes did not come up until last May, he noted. McGurk added all weapons deliveries requested by the Iraqis were completed prior to the ISIL offensive. The situation, as it stands, is “complex and fluid,” said Elissa Slotkin, DOD’s acting undersecretary for policy. The US’ primary goals remain protection of its personnel and property, building the ISR picture over the country, and determining how to train and advise Iraqi forces, she added.