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SecAF: ISIL fight requires comprehensive approach

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is working as part of the ongoing joint effort to disrupt, degrade and destroy the terrorist organization, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said here Dec. 9.

Speaking at a conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, James said the Air Force has executed more than 60 percent of all airstrike missions to date against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, in addition to more than 90 percent of the mobility, humanitarian, tanker and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in the region.

“We have been huge in this fight,” James said. “With all due respect for … the important debate about ‘the boots on ground,’ I’m grateful that we have so many fine boots in the air, and an awful lot of those boots are United States Air Force.”

But the air campaign alone is but one tool in a comprehensive approach to stabilize the region and thwart terrorist networks, the Air Force secretary said. The fight will take time, she added, and any “boots on the ground” ideally will be the Iraqi army and the Syrian elements that U.S. forces and their allies will help to train. The Iraqi government also has an important role, James said.

“This is not just a military thing,” the secretary said. “This has got to be a political solution, and ultimately, there needs to be various accommodations, particularly in Iraq.”

Iraq’s new prime minister gives her hope in the nation’s political and military evolution, James said, noting relatively swift “disrupt” and “degrade” successes against ISIL. The “destroy” aspect of the conflict calls for the most patience, she added.

“We’ve been hitting hard those oil refineries; we’ve been attacking their sources of income … and training,” she said. “But we’ve got to all get our heads around the fact that we’re in this for the long ballgame. This is not a short ballgame.”

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