Commanders seek plan to counter ISIS advance

2014-10-14 10:00
FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

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Washington - Military commanders from the US-led coalition against the Islamic State will meet in Washington on Tuesday to discuss ways to halt the jihadist group's relentless advance in Iraq and Syria.

Top brass, including national chiefs of staff, from 22 countries, will also meet US President Barack Obama at Andrews Air Force Base outside the US capital, the White House said.

Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States will be represented.

The generals will "discuss a common vision on the counter-ISIL campaign, challenges and the way ahead," said US Colonel Ed Thomas, spokesman for the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It is the first time such high-ranking military officials from so many countries have come together since the coalition -- which on paper now includes about 60 countries -- was formed in September.

But US officials were tight-lipped about precisely what was expected to emerge, and said major strategy announcements were not likely.

"These are military leaders, not policy makers, so one should not expect news announcements out of this conference," a State Department official said.

"The gathering is an opportunity to meet personally and discuss the vision, challenges and way ahead for the counter-ISIL campaign."

Some partners, such as France, are pushing for concrete decisions.

French spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said Paris wants to "come to an agreement on key policy issues" and "to participate in the development of a joint action plan for regional focus."

Buffer zone debate

One of the ideas on the table the creation of a buffer zone along the Turkey-Syria border, which coalition members disagree about and which Washington said will probably not dominate the agenda.

Turkey and France support the creation of such a de-militarised area and on Sunday its defence minister Jean-Louis Le Drian said such a zone should be implemented urgently.

Coalition warplanes have been bombing the ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks, but the group continues to gain ground, threaten key towns and put pressure on Iraqi troops.

On Monday, ISIS militants fought their way into the centre of the Syrian town of Kobane near the Turkish border, sparking fears it's beleaguered Kurdish residents could fall prey to the brutal group.

Iraqi ground troops are under mounting pressure in Iraq's western Anbar province, prompting the United States to drop them military supplies and food over the weekend.

Obama has said the United States will not put "boots on the ground" in either Iraq or Syria and, despite recent jihadist advances, his Secretary of State John Kerry insists the current strategy is sound.

"We are confident about our ability to pull this strategy together, given the fact that every country in the region is opposed to Daesh," Kerry said Sunday, using the Arabic name for the ISIS group.

"Over time we believe that the strategy will build, the capacity will build, Daesh will become more isolated," he said.

Tuesday's meeting is expected to start at 10:00 and last most of the day.

US military chief General Martin Dempsey and the commander for the Middle East and Central Asia, General Lloyd Austin, will lead the meeting of their allied counterparts.

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