US-led coalition to battle IS group for ‘as long as it takes’
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The US-led coalition against the Islamic State militants that have seized large areas of Iraq and Syria is prepared to battle the jihadists “for as long as it takes”, US Secretary of State John Kerry told coalition members in Brussels Wednesday.
Diplomats from more than 60 counties and international organisations gathered at NATO headquarters in the Belgian capital to plot a way forward against what has become one of the world’s most acute and best-funded terrorist threats.
“We recognise the hard work that remains to be done,” Kerry told the gathering, the largest meeting to date of foreign ministers to discuss the threat posed by the Islamic State group. “Our commitment will be measured most likely in years," he added.
“We will engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail,” the top US diplomat said.
Kerry said the airstrikes have already compromised the Islamic State group's leadership and "inflicted damage on its logistical and operational capabilities".
But Kerry went on to note that the fight against the Islamic State group will not be successful if coalition partners rely on military tools alone.
“This is far more than simply a military coalition,” Kerry said. “Destroying Daesh is going to require defeating the ideology, the funding, the recruitment. ... And these are the areas that were really the primary focus of today’s discussion," he said, using the Arabic term for the Islamic State group.
"Muslim leaders across the globe are speaking out against the killers who have sought to hijack a whole faith, and Daesh’s repellent nature is becoming more evident with every ugly execution and every former recruit’s admission of being duped into believing Daesh is something that it most clearly is not."
To read Kerry's complete remarks to the gathering in Brussels click here.
The mainly Sunni insurgency now stretches across much of northern Iraq and Syria, and has attracted thousands of foreign fighters from around the world, including thousands from Europe. Its leadership is flush with financial support from illicit donations and black-market oil sales.
Kerry also held a private meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who asked for “a lot of support to be able to crush Daesh”.
“I think we’re the only country in the Middle East who is really fighting Daesh on the ground,” Abadi said.
Iraq to request help from NATO
At the sidelines of the conference on Wednesday, a NATO spokeswoman said Iraq plans to ask NATO for help with “defence capacity building”, which can range from advising in security matters to full military training.
Iraq’s Abadi has informed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of Baghdad’s plan to request aid at a meeting in Brussels, said Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman. NATO ambassadors will review the official request once it is received, she said.
“Anything that NATO might do in support of Iraq’s defense-capacity building would need to be complementary to the considerable efforts already undertaken by the US-led coalition and individual NATO allies,” Lungescu said.
Since Aug. 8 – nearly two months after Islamic State militants seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city – the US and its coalition allies have launched more than 1,000 airstrikes against the jihadists in both Iraq and Syria.
The Syrian regime has also launched its own airstrikes against Islamic State group targets inside Syria, largely centred on the militants' stronghold of Raqqa.
Kerry said the attacks have greatly hampered the insurgency, and cited training missions and equipment being supplied by other nations that have joined the coalition since it was created less than three months ago.
But Iraq’s foreign minister said last week that the airstrikes were not weakening the militants nor slowing their advance.
“All the indications say that [Islamic State] today, after two months of coalition air strikes, is not weaker,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in an interview with the Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV broadcast on Friday.
“We have to build a very strong partnership,” said new European Union policy chief Federica Mogherini. “The challenge we are facing is not only a challenge for the Middle East, but a challenge for the whole world.”
On Tuesday, the Pentagon said Iran had launched airstrikes against Islamic State forces in eastern Iraq. The US, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since the 1979 revolution in Tehran, has not invited Iran to join the coalition. Iran has separately said it would not join even if asked.
But Abadi told reporters Wednesday, “I’m not aware there were Iranian airstrikes.”
“Did they have a role in that? That’s news for me,” Abadi, said when asked if Iran coordinated with or notified officials in Baghdad before launching air attacks against militants in Iraq.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)