IS group 'the challenge of our time' Kerry tells London talks

Emmanuel Dunand, AFP | Ministers and delegates of the 60-member coalition trying to crush the Islamic State militant group attend a high-level meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on December 3, 2014

Foreign ministers from the coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group gathered for talks in London Thursday, with the threat posed by jihadists returning after training abroad at the top of the agenda after a series of attacks in France.


US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond co-hosted the discussions, which brought together representatives from 21 of some 60 countries that are working together to tackle IS militants in both Syria and Iraq.

Kerry called combating the IS militants "the challenge of our time".

"Their goal is to suppress and to take over and to expand a very nihilistic, unbelievably oppressive sense of how people ought to live," Kerry said.

"We've seen them carry it out in the most egregiously horrendous fashion with public beheadings, they're now threatening two Japanese hostages."

"It's the challenge of our time. And we need to step up and lead," he added.

The US official also said that members of the coalition would now meet on a monthly basis, but not necessarily at a ministerial level.

A US State Department official said jihadists travelling abroad to fight with the IS group would be a "real focus" of the meeting and that an expert working group would be formed on sharing information to stop militants from crossing international borders.

The Paris attacks rekindled fears about the dangers posed by homegrown jihadists returning from training on foreign soil. One of the three Paris attackers trained with al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, according to Yemeni intelligence. Another attacker said he was inspired by the Islamic State group jihadists.

European police agency Europol estimates up to 5,000 EU citizens have gone to join the ranks of militants in Syria and Iraq.

Meanwhile, Belgian authorities on Wednesday charged a sixth person with terrorism following a series of raids in Belgium last week that foiled a plot to kill police.

Iraqi army not ready

Looming over the meeting is also a 5:50pm GMT on Friday deadline set by members of the IS group for Tokyo to pay a $200 million ransom for the release of two Japanese hostages. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was not at the London meeting, but held talks with Hammond on Wednesday as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it was a "race against time" to free the men.

Speaking to the BBC before the talks, Hammond warned that the Iraqi army might be months away from mounting a sustained fight against the IS militants.

"We are renewing and regenerating the Iraqi security forces – re-equipping them, retraining them, reorganising them – but it will be months yet before they are ready to start significant combat operations against (them)," he said.

ButHammond stressed that the conference was "about the other strands of this campaign" and not just military operations in Iraq.

"We're very clear that undermining the narrative of ISIL, interdicting the flow of foreign fighters, stopping the flow of financial funding to ISIL, is as important as the military campaign itself," he said.

Across town in Downing Street, Prime Minister David Cameron also held talks with Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi.

Abadi defended his country's efforts to repel the IS group, saying the "Iraqi people have sacrificed their lives" to halt its advance.

"We have reversed, some time ago, the advances of Daesh (another name for IS) and we are very keen to push them back from the whole of Iraq," he told Cameron.

Ministers will also discuss military efforts to support both Iraqi and Kurdish armed forces, how to halt the IS group's financing, and supplying humanitarian aid for those caught in the crossfire.

The countries attending Thursday's conference are Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The talks were jointly hosted by the United States and Britain.

The coalition last met in Brussels in December.

Air strikes continue

US-led aircraft have launched several strikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq over the past 24 hours, the US military said Thursday, as Kurdish forces pressed a counteroffensive against the jihadists in the area.

US and coalition bombers, fighter jets and drones carried out a total of 31 air raids since Wednesday morning, including 10 in Syria and 21 in Iraq, according to the military command overseeing "Operation Inherent Resolve" out of US headquarters in Kuwait.

The raids coincided with a ground offensive by Kurdish forces against the IS group, with Kurdish officials claiming they had cut a key road linking the militant stronghold of Mosul with Tal Afar to the west. Allied warplanes also carried out two strikes near Tal Afar, two near Sinjar and one near Kirkuk.

Coalition planes struck IS targets near Mosul including buildings, a mortar team, six culverts, two bridges, a vehicle outfitted with a homemade bomb, heavy weapons and four armoured vehicles, the US command said.

In Syria, US and coalition aircraft conducted a strike near the jihadist stronghold of Raqqa and nine strikes near the Turkish border town of Kobane, which the IS group has been unable to capture despite a months-long offensive.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)


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