Even as Iraqi forces are bogged down in a bloody fight to recapture Mosul from the so-called Islamic State, a new coalition is being formed to take on the Sunni jihadi group when it finally loses control of the Iraqi city it captured two years ago.
That coalition will take a more global approach to fighting jihadis than an existing coalition run by U.S. Central Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, according to a French general assigned to the command.
"The caliphate will be destroyed," said French Brig. Gen. Thierry Ducret, his nation's representative to CentCom's international coalition of more than 50 nations. "Nevertheless, Daesh or ISIL or something equivalent will remain and will act in different ways. We are building a new coalition to face the future of Daesh."
Ducret, 55, arrived in Tampa in August, just in time to catch the waning days of America's heated presidential election. In a recent interview, Ducret talked about the future fight against jihadis, maintaining a rapid reaction force in Europe to blunt Russian aggression, and French support for a call by President-elect Donald Trump to make NATO members pay more.
Thirty-seven nations are allied in the fight against Islamic State, Ducret said. France is contributing with airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria and with the deployment of its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the region. French troops in Iraq have also trained about 6,000 Iraqi special operations forces, "and what they have done in Mosul is quite impressive," Ducret said.
The fight is even tougher than anticipated, Ducret said, but eventually he expects the jihadi group will be defeated in Mosul and in its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, Syria. Still, that won't be the end of the battle, he said, but the beginning of a new one — a fight this new coalition of about a dozen nations is starting to map out "to protect our countries from the terrorists."
The French people are well aware of the danger, having been hit by jihadi attacks, including the coordinated assault in Paris that killed more than 120 people in November 2015.
As the jihadi group loses its territory, it will likely become an entrenched insurgency, hiding among populations around the world and increasing its reliance on social media, Ducret said. The new coalition will likely take a more global approach, drawing interest beyond CentCom — the regional command overseeing U.S. military efforts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and 17 other nations in the Middle East and Southwest and Central Asia.
Because they will be fighting jihadis in Africa and elsewhere as well as the Middle East, the Pentagon and U.S. Special Operations Command, also headquartered at MacDill, will have key roles coordinating the new coalition, Ducret said.
"ISIL will change and evolve and we need to be ready when ISIL transforms."
Ducret said he trusts that the Trump administration will maintain a U.S. leadership role.
"I am quite confident in the fact that truth wins every time," he said. "You can't hide the truth and the truth is that we have to face terrorist threats from other countries. If we don't do anything, it will be a disaster."
Ducret said he agrees with Trump's campaign pledge to make U.S. allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization contribute more toward their own defense.
The idea "makes perfect sense," Ducret said. "We fully support it. All the countries have to participate, not just the U.S. and very few countries like France."
Before coming to CentCom, Ducret was director of operations for NATO's rapid reaction force, a unified military effort resurrected to counter Russian aggression on the continent.
"We needed to send a message to the Russians," he said. "'We will do something if you do something more against our allies.'"
Though Ukraine is not a NATO nation, Ducret said, Russia's efforts to exert influence there have served as a wake-up call.
"I think the simple fact that we are ready to deploy these forces is proof that we are ready to fight against Russia," he said. "I am quite confident in their ability to react."
The Pentagon announced the death of a soldier last week in Operation Inherent Resolve.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton, 42, of Woodbridge, Va., died Nov. 24 in northern Syria, of wounds sustained in an improvised explosive device blast. Dayton was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two, which is based in Virginia Beach, Va.
There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 31 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 27 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; and one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.