U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hold a press conference at the Pentagon, July 6, 2015. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)(WASHINGTON) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday that the large number of airstrikes north of Raqqa over the July 4th weekend were designed to prevent ISIS from attacking Syrian Kurdish forces moving near the city.
Carter made the comments at an on-camera briefing at the Pentagon with visiting French Defense Minister Jean Yves Le Drian.
“We are doing more in Syria from the air. I think you saw some of that in recent days. And the opportunity to do that effectively is provided in the case of the last few days by the effective action on the ground of Kurdish forces, which gives us the opportunity to support them tactically,” he said.
Carter explained that the airstrikes were to “limit ISIL’s freedom of movement and ability to counter those capable Kurdish forces.”
He spoke also of the effectiveness of the Kurdish forces that are currently about 30 miles north Raqqa, which is ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria.
Carter described the airstrikes as “tactical opportunities” aiming at ISIS’s freedom of movement and “its ability to counter the advances of the YPG.”
He added, “When there are effective local forces on the ground that we can support and enable so that they can take territory, hold territory and make sure that good governance comes in behind it.” “So we are looking for those opportunities and trying to create those opportunities in Syria. And that — but it’s the success on the ground that occurs that explains the uptick over the last few days.”
The Kurds “nominate” targets “we validate those targets, including validating that there won’t be damage to innocent civilians associated with strike, and then we take the strike.”
Le Drian said that for now the French will continue to conduct airstrikes only in Iraq where they have stopped ISIS advances. He said coalition airstrikes will also continue to target ISIS leaders in airstrikes if needed, including Omar al Baghdadi. “If we had an opportunity to go after Baghdadi, that opportunity presented itself and we looked for the opportunity, we would certainly take it,” said Carter.
Le Drian also said the Greece referendum would not impact that country’s participation in NATO, saying “It would be a very bad analysis to think that the vote in Greece is against NATO. It was never mentioned on either side.”
He also noted Greece’s strong participation in the alliance and said the referendum was “not at all a vote against the alliance or the West. They have refused financial proposals that have been given to them, discussions to restart. It is not a vote to get out of Europe nor to get out of Europe for political affirmation, and there will be new discussions.”
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