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by Carla Babb July 20, 2016
Defense ministers from more than 30 countries are joining Defense Secretary Ash Carter outside Washington to plan the next steps in the war against the Islamic State.
Officials say Carter will use Wednesday’s meeting at Joint Base Andrews to determine strategies to accelerate the campaign in Iraq and Syria, especially now that the Iraqis are setting up their push to retake Mosul, the largest Iraqi city controlled by the terror group.
“We’re now at a point where we want to bring the coalition together to talk it through, look at the details and make sure we have what we need to give us the best chance we have to succeed,” Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition to Counter Islamic State, told reporters Tuesday.
Last week, the United States committed an additional 560 troops to help shape the fight for Mosul, and an official told VOA the U.S. will ask other coalition countries to “maintain current contributions and provide additional contributions to fill in any gaps.”
A second counter-IS meeting of both foreign ministers and defense ministers will be held on Thursday at the U.S. State Department. Officials say leaders will concentrate on “what comes after” battles are won, so that peace and stability can follow the fights. The coalition has established an “immediate stabilization” fund, which officials say contains about $100 million at any given time.
“This is kind of to get the lights on, to get police trained, to get them back in the streets, to allow people to return to their homes,” McGurk said, pointing to the city of Tikrit as an example of the stabilization effort’s success.
Nearly the entire Tikrit population has returned to the city since it was liberated last year – and overall in Iraq, more than 700,000 Iraqis have returned to their homes in areas that IS used to control, according to McGurk.
Diaspora IS fighters
The coalition also must worry about the large numbers of Islamic State fighters likely to disperse after the so-called caliphate is destroyed in Iraq and Syria.
“This isn’t going to be some kind of absolute victory. Nobody’s going to sign a surrender document,” Anthony Cordesman, the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA.
McGurk said the leaders also will extend their focus to Islamic State networks outside of Iraq and Syria. IS has about eight self-declared affiliates around the world, from Afghanistan to Libya.
Cordesman cautions the rising threat against the global society, however, is bigger than IS. Lone wolf attacks were the cause of nearly 50 deaths in Orlando, Florida, and more than 80 were killed in such attacks in Nice, France.
“We can’t be afford to become obsessed with an acronym. The broader threat of Islamic extremism has not diminished,” said Cordesman.
One noticeable absence from the meetings will be Turkish Minister of Defense Fikri Isik. Turkey’s ambassador to the United States will be representing Ankara instead as the country deals with the aftermath of an attempted coup carried out last week by elements within the military.
According to Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook, Carter spoke with Isik by phone Tuesday and reiterated U.S. support for Turkey’s democratically elected civilian government. Isik assured Carter that Turkey remains a determined and committed partner in the fight against Islamic State.
Turkey is home to Incirlik Air Base, which houses U.S. refueling aircraft and attack aircraft used in the counter-IS fight. More than 3,000 U.S. personnel currently are based in the country as well.
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