Pentagon chief wants more teeth to fight IS extremists

US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter gestures as he addresses the media during the North Atlantic Council (NAC) of Defence Ministers' meeting at the NATO headquarter in Brussels on February 11, 2016. / AFP / THIERRY CHARLIER

Brussels / AFP

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday sought more help from dozens of defence ministers from the US-led coalition against IS extremists, as Russia mounts its own air campaign in Syria.
More than 18 months after the United States and the quickly assembled alliance began bombing IS targets, Carter is hoping renewed alarm over terror attacks around the globe and the extremists’ growing footprint in Libya will lead to greater military and financial commitments from partners at a meeting in Brussels.
He has taken a two-pronged approach to winning support, using a combination of private diplomacy and public shaming, accusing some unspecified members of the 66-nation coalition of doing “nothing at all” to help the fight.
Speaking at NATO headquarters on Thursday ahead of the coalition meeting, Carter said “the capabilities that will be required to carry out the campaign plans… will be clearly delineated” to defence ministers.
“We will be sharing with them the operational campaign plan for the
defeat of IS… which we need to get done as soon as possible,” Carter said.
Thursday’s meeting in the NATO headquarters saw Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, who is overseeing the anti-IS effort, give an overview of the situation on the ground.
A senior US defence official said Washington is looking not just for pledges of military support and cash, but ideas too.
“The secretary will, frankly, give a call to his fellow ministers to be creative, to speak up to contribute to the thought leadership in the campaign,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There’s no monopoly on good ideas.”
The assessment comes after the coalition has carried out more than 10,000 air strikes in Iraq and Syria at a cost to the United States of nearly $6 billion.
The effort has dealt some significant blows to the extremists: the Pentagon estimates IS has lost about 40 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq, and about 10 percent of the land it claimed in Syria.

Bearing fruit
But despite losing control of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, assaults to recapture key IS-held Mosul and Raqa in Syria are still many months away, and thousands of IS fighters have streamed into Libya.
Russia is meanwhile carrying out its own air campaign, which Moscow insists is also targeting IS, but which the West says is in fact aimed at rebels opposed to President Bashar Al Assad.
His efforts to solicit broader commitments appear to be bearing some fruit. Canada, for instance, announced Monday it would triple the number of special forces training Kurdish militia in northern Iraq to about 210.
And Slovenia has said it would start sending military trainers to work with local forces trying to push back the IS group.
“There are a number of other (countries) who are in the final throes of trying to figure out if they can also make that leap,” the official said, noting that several other nations are “very seriously” considering additional contributions, but first need parliamentary approval.
In all, 27 coalition members who have contributed militarily to the 18-month fight will join Carter’s delegation in Brussels. Another 21 coalition countries are attending as observers.
The summit comes at the conclusion of a two-day meeting for NATO defence ministers that focused on new commitments to boost the alliance’s presence along eastern Europe and act as a
deterrent against aggression from Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Additionally, Carter said NATO was willing to support a German, Greek and Turkish request for help in monitoring Turkey’s Aegean Sea coast for migrant smugglers ferrying refugees, mostly fleeing the Syrian conflict.

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