US, allies agree to intensify fight against Islamic State

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2016 3:02 PM
US, allies agree to intensify fight against Islamic State

PARIS (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter won agreement Wednesday from defense ministers from France and five other nations to intensify the campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Carter said at a news conference with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian that there was broad agreement on a coordinated plan to battle IS over the next year and retake key cities under the militants' control.

"We agreed that we all must do more," Carter said shortly after a session with Le Drian and defense ministers from France, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain.

Carter also said the main 26 nations in the anti-IS coalition, as well as Iraq, will assemble in Brussels next month, after a NATO defense ministers' meeting, to continue the talks. Those 26 countries have provided specific military troops, equipment or weapons in the campaign against the extremists. Other nations have provided various types of nonmilitary support, such as humanitarian aid.

Carter urged the coalition to seize the opportunity now to hasten the terrorist group's defeat.

The U.S. has mapped out a coordinated campaign against IS over the next year, and Carter laid out the plans to the ministers during meeting hosted with France.

"Because Daesh is retreating and we have managed to affect its resources in the ground, it is the moment to increase our collective forces with a coherent military strategy," Le Drian said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Carter has said he would not hesitate to challenge the core nations to do more in the fight in the coming year.

According to a senior defense official, there were no specific offers from the ministers. Instead, a consensus emerged that they were open to doing more. The official said that U.S. Vice Adm. Mark Fox, deputy commander at U.S. Central Command, outlined the specific military needs to the defense ministers.

The defense ministers also discussed plans to retake two major cities in Iraq and Syria that serve as power centers for IS. The coalition wants to help Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces regain control of Mosul in northern Iraq and to assist the Syrian moderate forces in ousting Islamic State militants from Raqqa, Syria, the group's self-proclaimed capital.

"Raqqa and Mosul must be won back," Le Drian said, adding that it can only succeed if the coalition supports the local forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. military leaders say the coalition is gaining ground on IS, and they hope the six core nations can encourage others to contribute.

While European nations have been heavily involved, the U.S. 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 the defense official said there has been very little Arab participation in the airstrike campaign in recent months. Saudi Arabia has been focused on its fight with Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. The official was not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Before the meeting, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said IS was under pressure and that the goal of the gathering was to "identify how we can tighten the noose around the head of the snake."

"We are now seeing Daesh being hit in its own heartland. We are seeing the attacks on its oil wells and we are beginning to see attacks" in Mosul, Fallon told reporters. He said Britain carries out air strikes six days per week, plus reconnaissance flights to pinpoint targets.

The U.S. has asked allies to increase their contributions, including 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.

U.S. has forged a closer military and intelligence relationship with France, particularly in the wake of the attacks in Paris last year.

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Associated Press writers Milos Krivokapic and Elaine Ganley contributed to this report.