By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2017 — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met with Jordan’s top officials in Amman yesterday to discuss the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the defeat-ISIS coalition and security in the Middle East.
In a news conference after his meetings, the secretary, joined by Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, discussed the visit.
“This trip is part of the ‘by, with and through’ effort with our allies,” Mattis said. “What we’re going to do here is find how we can better support one another. It’s a constant exchange of information against an adaptive enemy and a changing situation.”
Jordan is a strong partner and its military and political leadership is a great asset in the ISIS fight, Mattis said, noting that he’d met with King Abdullah II and with Jordanian Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat.
“I met with the king and had an excellent discussion with His Majesty,” the secretary said. “It was very informative for me. We’re good allies. We support one another’s efforts to bring peace and stability here in the Middle East, and united against the terrorists.”
Freihat, he said, “is proving to be a superb leader in adapting his forces to the reality of the security situation he faces with the ISIS threat right here on Jordan’s border, having spilled somewhere around a million refugees into Jordan’s society to give you an idea of the immensity of the problem faced by this country.”
Mattis also visited U.S. service members stationed in Jordan and, alongside them, men and women from 20 nations who are working together to defeat ISIS.
“The U.S. remains committed to doing our share against ISIS, and that’s our share of leading and supporting our fellow partners,” Mattis said, adding that more than 69 nations and four international nations make up the coalition.
“With these partners and allies committed to this struggle, we will prevail,” he said.
In his remarks, McGurk said that in addition to bilateral issues in meetings with the Jordanian king, he and Mattis discussed the important ceasefire initiative that the United States, Jordan and Russia negotiated in southwest Syria and that President Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin finalized in Hamburg in Germany on July 7.
“We’re now about six weeks into it and it is holding quite well. The fighting has largely stopped, [and] we’re beginning to see people return to their homes. That’s something … we want to see continue,” he said.
Jordan, a founding member of the defeat-ISIS coalition, has suffered losses in the campaign, including “the tragic loss of their heroic Capt. [Muath al-]Kasasbeh about 18 months ago, and they remain a critical partner in this overall effort to defeat ISIS,” McGurk said.
Before joining the secretary In Jordan, McGurk said, he visited Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, and at the news conference he described successful efforts in those countries, including the following:
— Saudi Arabia and Iraq after many years are attempting an encouraging and historic rapprochement.
— The Arar border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Iraq is opening for the first time since 1990, and about 1,200 pilgrims daily make the crossing. Also, the Saudi trade minister will visit Iraq to discuss the crossing’s commercial, giving Iraq access to the Red Sea for the first time in nearly 30 years.
— The Iraqis and Jordanians are in active discussions about opening the Turaibil border crossing, a nearly $1 billion-a-month commerce route.
In Syria, McGurk spent two days on the ground meeting with the U.S. team and the leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces north of Raqqa, a difficult fight that he said is 55 percent to 60 percent finished.
And it’s not just a military effort, he said.
“We also met with local councils and a number of tribal sheiks who are working very closely with us to defeat ISIS. And we have diplomats on the ground working on the stabilization and humanitarian elements. It was a very encouraging visit,” McGurk added.
In Iraq, McGurk met with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who announced the launch of another campaign to clear ISIS out of Tal Afar, the last major city the terror group is holding in northern Iraq.
“That will be a very difficult battle,” McGurk said, “but even in the first 24 hours here, about 235 square kilometers were cleared, and it’s going well.”
Mattis is making his first visit as defense secretary to Jordan and Ukraine and also is visiting Turkey during a five-day trip to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to strategic partnerships in the Middle East and Europe, Pentagon officials said.