Defence chiefs from the United States, France, Britain and four other countries pledged on Wednesday to intensify their fight against Islamic State, in an effort to capitalise on recent battlefield gains against the militants.
Islamic State lost control of the western Iraqi city of Ramadi last month, in a sorely needed victory for U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. But critics, including some in the U.S. Congress, say the U.S. strategy is still far too weak and lacks sufficient military support from Sunni Arab allies.
“We agreed that we all must do more,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a news conference after talks in Paris among the “core” military coalition members, which also included Germany, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands.
A joint statement by the Western ministers re-committed their governments to work with the U.S.-led coalition “to accelerate and intensify the campaign.”
The Paris setting for the talks itself sent a message, coming just over two months after the city was struck by deadly shooting and bombing attacks claimed by Islamic State.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sounded an upbeat tone about the campaign, saying Islamic State was in retreat.
“Because Daesh is retreating on the ground and … because we have been able to hit its resources, it’s now time to increase our collective effort by putting in place a coherent military strategy,” he said.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the goal was now to “tighten the noose around the head of the snake in Syria in Raqqa.”
Carter forecast that the coalition would need to ramp up the number of police and military trainers. He also emphasized preparations to eventually recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State and the expanding role of U.S. special operations forces in Iraq and Syria.
COALITION NOT “WINNING”
Still, U.S. Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and other critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach to the war effort say Islamic State still poses a potent threat.
“ISIL has lost some territory on the margin, but has consolidated power in its core territories in both Iraq and Syria,” McCain said at a Wednesday hearing on U.S. war strategy, using another acronym for Islamic State.
“Meanwhile, ISIL continues to metastasize across the region in places like Afghanistan, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, and Egypt. Its attacks are now global, as we saw in Paris.”
Carter has sought to lay out a strategy to confront Islamic State, both by wiping out its strongholds in Iraq and Syria and by addressing its spread beyond its self-declared caliphate.
But U.S. officials have declined to set a timeline for what could be a long-term campaign that also requires political reconciliation to ultimately succeed.
Carter announced a meeting next month of defence ministers from all 26 military members of the anti-Islamic State coalition, as well as Iraq, in what he described as the first face-to-face meeting of its kind.
“Every nation must come prepared to discuss further contributions to the fight,” he said. “And I will not hesitate to engage and challenge current and prospective members of the coalition as we go forward.”