Defense Secretary Says Anti-ISIS Coalition Has Agreed to ‘Step Up’


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An Air Force C-17 Globemaster returned to base at an undisclosed location in the Persian Gulf in January after delivering cargo to Baghdad. The United States and other coalition countries use bases in the region to transport troops and equipment for the fight against ISIS.

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John Moore/Getty Images

BRUSSELS — All but a few of the 40 countries in the coalition now fighting the Islamic State have “stepped up to do more in the last months and days,” Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Thursday after a meeting here with defense ministers from the group.

Mr. Carter said 90 percent of the countries had made pledges, but he did not offer many specifics on what the contributions would be. It also remained unclear what effect any new assistance would have on the battlefield, or even how many ministers would be able to deliver on their commitments.

“There’s just a great deal going on,” Mr. Carter said at a news conference after the meeting. He added that he was “happy to see so much going on” but that “we’re also impatient.”

“We want the pace to accelerate,” he said.

Mr. Carter organized the meeting after President Obama asked him to coax members of the coalition into bolstering their contributions to the campaign to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In recent months, Mr. Carter has laid out how the coalition countries can contribute, saying the campaign requires more air support, as well as more help training Iraqi security forces and money to rebuild battle-shattered cities.

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Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter speaking in Brussels on Thursday at a meeting of defense ministers from the coalition of countries fighting the Islamic State. Mr. Carter said 90 percent of the 40 countries had made pledges to do more in the fight, but he offered few details.

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Thierry Charlier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Carter said on Thursday that Saudi Arabia — which has not participated in airstrikes in several months — was “reinvigorating its commitment to the coalition air campaign” and had agreed to “contributing in other critical ways on the ground.”

He added that the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Denmark had promised to make contributions, but the defense ministers from those countries still needed to get approval from their governments. He did not say what those countries had pledged.

The Dutch, who have been carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, were prepared to now extend them in Syria, Mr. Carter told reporters. He praised the Canadian government for its announcement on Monday that it would expand its training, advisory and surveillance programs in northern Iraq. He did not mention that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, fulfilling a campaign promise, had also announced that his government would no longer participate in the bombing campaign against the Islamic State.

Mr. Obama, who ran in 2008 on promises to end the United States military presence in Iraq, has urged other countries to do more in the fight. He has said he does not want to increase the number of American troops in Iraq beyond the 3,800 already in the country.

The American public has been skeptical that the administration has a plan to defeat the Islamic State.

Mr. Obama also does not wish to give the appearance that the United States is once again “going it alone” in the Middle East, and American diplomats and defense officials have made strong efforts to convince Arab countries to assume larger roles in the campaign. Those countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — had been a part of the anti-ISIS campaign when it began in the summer of 2014, but their participation fell off as they got more deeply involved in the conflict in Yemen.

Mr. Carter described the Saudi recommitment as “very welcome news,” adding that “Saudi Arabia and its regional partners have a clear stake in this fight, and I hope its neighbors in the Gulf also intensify their counter-ISIL campaign in the coming days.”

The meeting was held at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. As it began, Mr. Carter provided the defense ministers with an upbeat assessment of the military achievements against the Islamic State in recent months, and he predicted more in the coming weeks.

Mr. Carter said that by the time the ministers meet next month in the United States to discuss the campaign, ”We should begin to see tangible gains from the additional capabilities the coalition is bringing to bear against ISIL.”

When he was asked what those gains might be, he said that there were some expectations and details he could not discuss.

“There’s too much to enumerate,” he said.

Mr. Carter said that there were new efforts to cut off the Islamic State’s financing. He added that a number of Iraqi military units were scheduled to finish their training and would then be deployed to the northern part of the country for the expected battle to retake the city of Mosul.



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