PARIS – U.S. allies signaled their readiness to boost efforts to fight Islamic State under a coalition formed by President Barack Obama as the beheading of a British aid worker sparked further outrage.
While no Arab states have publicly committed to military action, several have told the U.S. privately they are willing to join in airstrikes in Iraq and in Syria, said a U.S. State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to confront the militants with “iron determination.”
The U.S. intends to substantially increase the intensity of airstrikes on the militants in coordination with the Iraqi government, according to a second State Department official who also spoke anonymously under government rules. Obama is weighing whether to extend the attacks, now limited to Iraq, to Islamic State bases, leaders and supply lines in neighboring Syria.
French President Francois Hollande is bringing together Tuesday the European and Middle Eastern wings of the developing anti-Islamic State coalition.
The Paris talks probably will take on increased urgency after a third foreign hostage, David Haines, was beheaded in an effort to force the U.K — a key member of the coalition — to abandon the fight against Islamic State.
The group is threatening to kill another British hostage, putting further pressure on Cameron. That hostage was identified Monday as aid worker Alan Henning, the U.K. Foreign Office said. The father of two, from Greater Manchester, was kidnapped at the end of last year after crossing into Syria from Turkey, The Bolton News, a British newspaper, reported on its website.
Cameron responded Monday by saying the U.K. will take “whatever steps are necessary” to confront the militants. The prime minister’s office last week disputed Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s comment that Britain would not bomb Islamic State targets in Syria.
The 17-nation gathering in Paris is intended to coordinate aid to Iraq in the efforts against the Islamist militants. France invited foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China — along with European and Arab nations involved in implementing Obama’s strategy to degrade and destroy the Islamic State group.
The Paris meeting follows talks led by Obama with European nations at the NATO summit in Wales Sept. 4-5 and among Arab nations Sept. 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where they agreed in discussions with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to “do their share in the comprehensive fight” against Islamic State.
The challenge for the U.S. will be to ensure that the pledges of support go beyond the meetings to the battlefields, border posts, bank accounts and mosques where the struggle to contain Islamic State will unfold potentially for years.
So far, the U.S. is the only foreign country carrying out airstrikes against the group in Iraq, and Obama has threatened to expand them to militant safe havens in Syria. During Hollande’s visit to Baghdad last week, Iraq Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said he was told France “will take part in striking terror locations.”
More than 40 nations have committed to military and nonmilitary actions as part of the coalition, according to U.S. officials. “It’s not appropriate to start announcing, well, this country will do this and this country will do that,” Kerry said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” broadcast.
“I can tell you right here and now that we have countries in this region, countries outside of this region in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes if that is what it requires,” Kerry said
France has Dassault Aviation SA Rafale jets at a military base in the United Arab Emirates, and Britain has bases in Cyprus and the U.A.E.
Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday his country would deploy 400 air force personnel and 200 special forces soldiers to a U.S. military base in the U.A.E. along with fighter jets, an early-warning-and-control aircraft and an aerial refueling aircraft.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said the Obama administration would be “unwise” not to seek ground troops from allied Arab countries.
“I met with the prince of Jordan just two days ago who said he is ready today to put his troops into Syria to fight ISIS,” McCaul said on CBS, using an acronym for Islamic State. “So I don’t know why we wouldn’t consider that option of all the Arab nations.”
Still, Marwan al-Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister who is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he was skeptical that Arab nations would participate militarily.
“I doubt that any country, including Jordan, will provide ground troops,” Muasher said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” He said Jordan was more likely to help by providing intelligence than by offering soldiers.
Kerry, on CBS, said “there are some who have offered” to provide ground troops, though he didn’t cite any countries. “But we are not looking for that at this moment anyway,” he added, saying the U.S. is counting on the ground forces of the moderate Syrian opposition to defeat Islamic State extremists.
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, defended Obama’s plan for an international coalition in a round of appearances on the Sunday talk shows, while declining to say whether any countries have agreed to put troops on the ground.
“Secretary Kerry is continuing to work this in the region,” McDonough said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “He will be testifying in Congress this week. And we will make sure that we build a coalition that is durable, that is sustainable, and that is focused on the fundamental goal of this effort, which is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” or Islamic State.
In addition to the military campaign, the Paris conference will also discuss how to sustain the political settlement underway in Baghdad, how to cut off the flow of foreign fighters and money to Islamic State, and will look at ways to fund the rebuilding of cities that have been caught in the fighting.
One source of tension may be Russia’s objection that the U.S. and Arab agenda also includes increasing efforts to defeat Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, where the three-year civil war has drawn jihadist fighters from around the world to the Islamic State group.
If Obama orders airstrikes in Syria, they would be limited to Islamic State targets such as bases, leadership figures and supply lines, said the second State Department official. In addition, though, the U.S. says it has a new agreement to have Saudi Arabia host the U.S. training of thousands of anti-Assad Syrian rebels.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said U.S. airstrikes in Syria, even those directly at Islamic State safe havens, would be “an act of aggression, a gross violation” of international law. In response, Kerry said that he is “really rather surprised that Russia would dare to assert any notion of international law after what has happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.”
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet Monday at the conference, where they both will have the opportunity to speak.
The diplomatic action then moves to the United Nations, where Obama plans to seek a Security Council resolution requiring governments to craft regulations and laws to thwart the flow of foreign fighters to militant groups such as the Islamic State. Obama is scheduled to offer the resolution for a vote at a high-level Security Council meeting he will chair on Sept. 24 on the sidelines of the U.N.’s annual General Assembly session.
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