KUWAIT CITY, April 24, (KUNA): Visiting US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the so-called Islamic State (IS) Brett McGurk said on Monday that Kuwait’s role is pivotal in the fight against IS. “The purpose of my visit is just to say thanks to Kuwait for all what Kuwait has done and continues to do for the United States, particularly in this very difficult campaign against DAESH, so I helped organize a global coalition, we can’t do anything against DAESH without Kuwait,” McGurk said in an exclusive interview with KUNA.
He added “obviously we’ve been in close military partners with Kuwait, and I hope this would continue, your critical voice of moderation here in the region, you are a cochair of what we call a foreign fighter working group within the global coalition together with Turkey and Netherlands.” The envoy noted that they were “constantly comparing information about how to go after this enemy in an effective way.” McGurk noted that he started his visit in Kuwait meeting with Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS), to see the other side of the battle, because this was a military campaign “to liberate people from the grips of DAESH, and to make sure that after DAESH they can get on with their lives” with the help of relief organizations.
The Special Presidential Envoy also noted that since late 2014, when they formed the coalition, they have “liberated 50,000 square kilometers of territory from DAESH, but more important than the territory are the people, we’ve liberated 2.5 million people who had been living under these terrorists.
“In Iraq we also helped 1.6 million displaced people return back to their homes” due to the “multifaceted campaign we put together, and because of the extraordinary work that Kuwait has done, particularly in the humanitarian side and stabilization side, so I was very pleased to start my visit with KRCS,” McGurk said. McGurk, on a two-day official visit, said he was eager to meet with Kuwaiti officials to know how to step up the anti-IS campaign “even better.
“We are grateful for all you’ve (Kuwaitis) done and for our important partnership,” McGurk added. When asked about how long the Mosul liberation operation will take, McGurk noted that it was very difficult to put timeline because Mosul is a populated city and the operations aimed at liberating the Iraqi people from IS.
He said Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi, whom he met in Baghdad last Friday, “told me that they were very confident, that they’re soon will clear the remaining neighborhoods of Western Mosul from IS. “Again, we have to keep in mind the tactics IS is using in terms of … literally using civilians in Mosul as human shields, so they put a sniper on top of a house, when they know they have families and civilians inside, so that is why this is very hard.”
The US envoy said the coalition was “quite proud” of the training of the Iraqi security forces and the level of professionalism, they have shown during the operations. McGurk said eastern Mosul has now been fully liberated from IS, and the UN estimated that 250,000 boys and girls are back in schools. These young boys and girls were living under IS rule only six months ago. On Syria’s chemical weapons, Mc- Gurk said the US has no doubt that a Sarin gas attack was conducted by the Syrian regime against Khan Sheikhoun.
This attack, he added, forced US President Donald Trump to act swiftly and attack the airfield from which the attack on Khan Sheikhoun has launched. Despite the US attack, McGurk added, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a very important visit to Russia, meeting with Russian leaders, while “we are engaged with everyone here in the region to try to reinforce a political end to this (Syrian) conflict, and that can only happen if we have ceasefires that are enforced.
“One thing that Secretary Tillerson reminded the Russians in Moscow is that they are the self-proclaimed guarantor of a ceasefire, that’s what was negotiated in (Kazakhstan’s capital Astana), and they’re the guarantor for the Syrian regime to live up to a ceasefire, and today those ceasefires are not holding,” said McGurk. The Russians, he said, have a real choice here about how they want to go forward and whether they want to help “us resolve this conflict and get to the political solution everybody realizes that we need.”
He said the US first priority was to defeat IS which is a “threat to the US, and a threat to the region.” First, he added, “we have to remove DAESH from Syria and we are accelerating operations to do that, also we want to work to deescalate the overall conflict to help ensure that ceasefire can hold, and we also work through the Geneva process to enforce the political process” which could happen through UN Security Council resolution 2254.
Meanwhile, on Iran, McGurk said the Islamic Republic “is a player in these conflicts in the region and they have a choice to make here, to be a part of the political solution.” McGurk added that his next visit would be to Saudi Arabia and later in the week to Oslo. He said Norway was playing a critical role against IS as it was funding the demining and clearing operations from areas liberated from IS. Former US president Barack Obama appointed McGurk in October 2015, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Syria in 2014.