(Seven Nations Defense Chiefs Discussed Anti-Islamic State Effort on Jan.20)
US, French and other allies agreed they must step up the fight against Islamic State in coming months to vanquish the extremist group from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The defense ministers of Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain – the seven countries most heavily involved in the US-led anti-Islamic State (IS) operation – met in Paris on Jan. 20 to review strategy as the militants spread their influence around the globe.
French and United States defense ministers, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian and Ashton Carter, hosted the event. Amid political pressure in Washington and abroad, the US has sought to expand its own fight against Islamic State and is eager for allies to show they will do so as well. The US has already 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.
For his part, Mr Le Drian expressed a desire for all nations to come together. «We have to fight the organization on all fronts and make sure that we can uproot it on the ground and in the minds of men», he told reporters.
Asked whether France would deploy special forces in the region as the US has done, Mr Le Drian declined to comment, citing the French rule of never discussing special forces activities. But he added that elite military units from the two nations do work together. Mr Le Drian said, efforts of the coalition are «starting to bear fruit».
The group’s members said in a joint statement that they have «expressed our broad support for the campaign plan objectives, and the need to continue gathering momentum in our campaign». Navy Vice Adm. Mark I. Fox, the deputy commander of US Central Command, briefed the defense ministers on what has been identified as needs, including more special operations troops, more training to help local forces counter improvised explosive devices and more training on how to build temporary bridges for military operations, said a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting candidly.
Le Drian added that the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – de facto capitals of the Islamic State – must be won back, but that the military coalition also must sever the militant group’s control of surrounding areas. The ideology of the group also must be combated, he added, noting the large numbers of people who have traveled to Iraq and Syria from across the world to join the IS.
The meeting came after the arrival of an elite US «expeditionary targeting force» in Iraq that is expected to include up to 200 special operations troops. It is not yet clear whether it has begun carrying out operations, but it is expected to conduct raids, collect intelligence and carry out other operations against Islamic State leaders. The Islamic State has recently suffered setbacks in Iraq, but the anti-IS force have so far failed to tighten the noose around its head in Syria. The major challenge is the lack of ground forces. Western countries remain reluctant to get too deeply involved, fearing a repeat of the quagmire of previous campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The coalition must also face up to the spread of IS around the world, notably in Libya, where political chaos has allowed the group to build a 3,000-strong force.
As of Jan. 10, the US-led military coalition has carried out 6,341 airstrikes in Iraq and 3,219 in Syria, according to the Pentagon. Of those, the United States has carried out the majority, with 4,361 Iraq and 3,029 in Syria.
On Jan. 19, the White House gave the Defense Department legal authority to target militants affiliated with Islamic State in Afghanistan.
The rest of the military coalition has carried out 1,980 strikes in Iraq and 190 in Syria. The countries doing so in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands and Britain. In Syria, the nations that have carried out airstrikes include the United States, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Great Britain.
In a rare admission, the French army's operations chief, General Didier Castre, recently recognized that the coalition's military strategy was having trouble «producing speedy results».
Canada was excluded from anti-Islamic State coalition meeting. The apparent snub follows new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's vow that he would remove the country's six fighter jets from the anti-IS coalition at a time the US is looking for its allies to step up their contributions. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter didn't mention Canada last week in a speech in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when he said he would meet defense ministers from nations who are playing a «significant role» in the coalition.
The Canadian mission includes six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling tanker aircraft, two surveillance planes and one airlift aircraft, with about 600 airmen and airwomen based in Kuwait. The Canadian jets continue to participate in air strikes, and it is unclear when Canada will remove the planes.
For comparison, Australia has six jet fighters and has soldiers in non-combat roles in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. It has declined a US request to do more. The Netherlands has four fighter jets in the mission while Germany is not involved in air strikes. Australia has already ruled out any increase to its military contribution.
The Canada’s Conservative opposition portrayed the exclusion as a deliberate snub. «When you are not a full partner, you don't get invited to the table», interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said in Winnipeg.
Defense expert Dave Perry, a senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the snub is significant because of the high-level nature of the meeting.
Not being invited means Canada is left out of critical conversations, he added. «We'll quite literally not be at the table, as the other significant members of the coalition are sitting around, making the decisions about how the mission evolves», Perry said.
No Arab states were invited to take part in the event! This fact could be interpreted as a signal to the countries of the region that their military potentials, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are under US control at the time it shifts to a new strategy. Their opinion is not important. Nobody likes to be downgraded or ignored, especially as the problems of the Middle East are decided by the countries that do not belong to the region. Major Arab actors feel small, just like Canada does. Even if not expressed openly, they feel resentment and it will come to the surface someday.
The United States will convene a meeting next month of defense ministers representing the countries participating in the fight against the Islamic State to discuss how each member of the coalition could contribute more to defeating the extremist group, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced on Jan. 20. «Every nation must come prepared to further contributions to the fight», Mr Carter said at a news conference in Paris with the French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian. «And I will not hesitate to engage and challenge current and prospective members of the coalition as we go forward».
The first-time meeting will be focused on how the war may be expanded to include more resources. He has invited leaders from all 26 nations involved in the combat activities against the Islamic State, along with Iraq. That leaves out 37 other countries that are a part of the 63-member coalition in some way, but not contributing militarily. A very iffy decision! Can anybody imagine an international event to succeed with about half of countries immediately involved in the problem on the agenda left out in the cold?
Russia, a major actor representing a broad coalition of the countries engaged in combat, was not invited to the meeting, though the need to coordinate activities has been emphasized many a time recently at different levels during bilateral contacts.
The US-launched process has a significant drawback to question its future prospects. It lacks broad representation, excluding even major players. Washington openly snubs its closest NATO ally (Canada). It keeps away many Arab countries – key players due to their geographical position, no matter what their military contributions are. It leaves out the powerful Russia-Syria-Iran coalition, which is closely coordinating its operations with Iraq. Just a few days ago Russia and Jordan set up a joint war room.
Last September, Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders set up a coordination cell in Baghdad to coordinate military activities and exchange information with each other and Iraq.
Since the start of the military operation on Sep. 30, the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria have made 5,662 sorties, including 145 sorties made by strategic missile and long-range bomber aviation. 97 launches of sea-based and air-based missiles have been carried out.
Not including Russia, the only country, operating in Syria being legally invited by the internationally recognized government, is like cutting off the nose to spite the face. It’s done at the very same time when Russia and the US are actively involved in dialogue on hot security problems. On Jan. 20, US State Secretary met his Russian counterpart in Zurich to boost the cooperation. The parties emphasized the need to work together. On the very same day Russia was not represented at an event organized to tackle the very same issues the foreign chiefs discussed in the Swiss capital. Now Russia is not on the list of the nations invited to take part in the Brussels meeting planned to take place in three weeks. What kind of results can be achieved without major actors included in the decision making process? Evidently, the US new Middle East strategy lacks coherence, to put it mildly. The chances are slim it will bring tangible results. A club of chosen in a narrow circle is not able to effectively handle the problems of global scope. Not in the contemporary multipolar world.