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Hagel: Defeating ISIL is long-term endeavor

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will require a long-term commitment by the United States and its allies on many fronts and will not be achieved by airstrikes alone, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Sept. 26.

"This will not be an easy or brief effort," Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference, where he took questions alongside Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At beginning of campaign

"We are at the beginning, not the end" of efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL, Hagel said.

Since August, the United States along with France have carried out more than 200 airstrikes against terrorist targets in Iraq. The impact of more than 40 airstrikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria this week -- including against a little known group of al-Qaida veterans called Khorasan which U.S. officials said was plotting attacks against the United States and its allies -- is still being assessed.

The air attacks to deny ISIL freedom of movement are just one element of a strategy announced by President Barack Obama earlier this month to defeat the group, which has declared a caliphate spanning the Iraqi-Syrian border, threatening minority groups and non-adherents while forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee.

"No one is under any illusions that airstrikes alone will destroy ISIL," Hagel said. He also emphasized that the strategy must also include diplomatic, economic and intelligence components along with cooperation from the new Iraqi government, and "will require a long term commitment from the United States and all of our partners and allies."

The key to the strategy in Syria will be training and equipping moderate Syrian opposition forces to take on the battle against ISIL on the ground. Hagel said U.S. military assessment teams have arrived in Saudi Arabia where Syrian forces are set to be trained. Congress has approved $500 million in funds to train Syrian opposition forces but the Defense Department has said it could take up to a year before the first vetted Syrian troops are sent into battle.

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