Carter: US looking to coalition for more trainers for Iraq

AP News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2016 3:04 PM

PARIS (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday that he wants coalition and other Arab countries to "greatly" increase the number of trainers they provide for Iraqi security forces and police, and said the U.S. will also look at boosting its numbers.

Speaking to reporters as he traveled to Paris for a meeting with several, mainly European, defense ministers, Carter said the U.S. is open to doing more when there is an opportunity "to make a difference."

"I think we're certainly open to that," Carter said when asked if the U.S. would consider providing more trainers. But he added that other countries can also provide more training so "there's no reason why the United States should do all of that."

He said the special commando force that the U.S. deployed to Iraq has not yet started operations, which are expected to include direct action and intelligence gathering missions.

The approximately 200 special operations forces have been sent to Iraq to better capitalize on intelligence and put more pressure on the Islamic State. The U.S. has more than 3,300 troops in Iraq.

Carter is in Paris to meet with a handful of key coalition countries battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as they map out plans for the coming year's fight.

He and defense leaders from France, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom will gather Wednesday and Carter has said he won't hesitate to challenge them to do more in the fight.

U.S. military leaders believe that the coalition is gaining ground on IS. And they are hoping that the six core nations can reach out to other countries to encourage them to contribute to the operations to capitalize on the progress.

While European nations have been heavily involved, the coalition would like to see more direct military contributions — both equipment and training — from Arab and Asian countries. Arab nations joined the coalition's airstrike campaign early on, but their participation has waned a bit over time, particularly as the fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran-backed rebels in Yemen has increased.

No Arab country was invited to the meeting, but Carter said he talks with Arab leaders frequently.

There also are concerns that IS is winning the propaganda war, and meetings like this are aimed, in part, at eroding that effort and getting out the message that the militants are losing ground.

Carter and his defense counterparts are also expected to talk about plans to retake key cities in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has a plan to help Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces retake Mosul in northern Iraq and to assist the Syrian moderate forces oust Islamic State militants from the group's power center in Raqqa, Syria.

The U.S. has already requested special operations forces, fighter jet and reconnaissance aircraft, weapons and munitions, training and other combat support. But the key needs are trainers and surveillance assets, such as drones.

Iraqi security forces, which waged a long battle to retake Ramadi, need increased training on niche capabilities, including how to counter improvised explosive devices.

While in Paris, Carter also will meet with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The U.S. has been forging a closer military and intelligence relationship with France, particularly in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year.

Part of the conversation may involve the weekend attack at a hotel in the West Africa nation of Burkina Faso. At least 30 people were killed in the attack, and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility.

French forces have been involved in battling Islamic extremists there and in Mali. But France has asked other nations to do more in Africa so that the French can expand its fight against IS in the Middle East.