WASHINGTON — Defence Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers Tuesday that the attacks in Brussels will not deter the United States from its plan to defeat the Islamic State group as soon as possible.
“No attack — no attack will affect our resolve to accelerate the defeat of ISIL,” Carter said, using the acronym for the terrorist organization.
Carter struck an optimistic tone about the military campaign before the House Armed Services Committee just hours after multiple explosions in Brussels killed more than 30 people. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the blasts.
He said he’s confident of beating the group in Iraq and Syria and in other places where he described it as a spreading cancer.
“We have the momentum of the campaign in Iraq and Syria,” Carter said. “That’s necessary but not sufficient as the attacks in Belgium suggest.”
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee that as recently as last fall the terrorist group — not the United States and its allies — had the momentum in Iraq and Syria. The picture has changed significantly, he said.
“Since that time they not only have less territory, they have less resources, they has less freedom of movement, and we have reduced the number of fighters that are actually able to flow back and forth,” Dunford said.
But, Dunford added, “this morning was another reminder that there is a long fight ahead.”
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels, saying its extremists opened fire in the airport and “several of them” detonated suicide belts. A posting in the group’s Amaq news agency said another suicide attacker detonated in the metro. The posting also claimed the attack was in response to Belgium’s support of the international coalition arrayed against it.
Brussels Mayor Yvan Majeur said at least 20 people have died and 106 people were injured in the attack on the Maelbeek subway station, which is close to the European Union headquarters.
Earlier, another top Belgian official said 11 people were killed and 81 wounded in twin explosions at the Brussels airport.
European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. The arrest Friday of Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the November attacks in Paris, heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved than originally thought.
Carter said the Defence Department will soon be sending to Congress a long overdue strategy for defeating the Islamic State.
“Its delivery is imminent,” Carter said of the document.
Expelling the group from its strongholds in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, are essential steps, Carter said.
“That will show that there is no such thing as an Islamic State,” he said.