The U.S. and its allies against Islamic State are seeking new ways to strengthen Iraqi forces and to force militants in Syria from positions along the border with Turkey, a State Department official said.
Foreign ministers from 22 nations -- the core group of the 62-nation coalition -- plan to meet in Paris Tuesday in the aftermath of Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, and its advances in Syria, including the takeover of the historic city of Palmyra.
The credibility of the U.S., European nations, and Persian Gulf Arab allies is being tested as Islamic State continues to recruit foreign fighters, seize territory and most recently gain allies in places such as Libya, the Sinai and Nigeria.
The group in Paris will discuss with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi plans to step up Iraq’s fight, and a smaller group will consider options involving Syria, said the U.S. official, who briefed reporters on Monday under rules requiring anonymity. The U.S. and Turkey are close to an agreement on action to remove Islamic State and Nusra Front militants from Syrian territory close to the Turkish border, he said.
One focus of the Paris meeting will be whether Abadi can convince the allies he has a workable plan as he seeks more military and economic support. After the loss of Ramadi to a smaller force of Islamic State fighters, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that “the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.”
Still, the allies have little choice but to rally behind Abadi. U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who will participate in the Paris meeting, on Monday minimized the significance of Ramadi.
“Of course, Ramadi is a setback but it is not a strategically significant point,” he said in remarks in the House of Commons.
The first of 2,000 U.S.-supplied antitank weapons have been delivered in recent days to help the Iraqis stop suicide bombers in armored vehicles, a tactic the militants used successfully in Ramadi, the official said.
Elements of Abadi’s plan include accelerating the arming of Sunni tribes in Anbar province, stepping up Iraqi Army recruitment and expanding training. About 7,000 Iraqi forces have completed a U.S.-led training program, and 4,000 more are in the process, the U.S. official said.
The U.S. expects the troops involved in the anticipated Ramadi counterattack will include some of the newly trained fighters, the official said.
The coalition also will discuss creating and funding a stabilization fund enabling the Iraqi government to flood resources into areas liberated from Islamic State control, the U.S. official said. That would help provide services, clean up rubble and remove booby-trap bombs so that residents can return home.
Separately, the United Nations plans to make an appeal this week to raise $400 million to $500 million to meet additional humanitarian needs of refugees from Anbar Province due to Islamic State’s conquests, the U.S. official said.
More needs to be done to slow the flow of foreign fighters across Turkey’s borders, the main transit route for the militants, the official said.
The U.S. and Turkey are moving after lengthy talks toward agreement on actions against militants along Syria’s border with Turkey, the official said. President Barack Obama has repeatedly rejected creating and enforcing a no-fly zone near the Turkish border to establish a safe haven for displaced Syrians and for coalition-backed rebels.
Kerry Calling In
Turkey’s foreign minister said last month that Turkey and the U.S. agreed “in principle” to provide air protection to Syrian rebels being trained and equipped to fight Islamic State militants. U.S. officials indicated his remarks were premature.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, unable to attend the Paris meeting after breaking his leg in a bicycling accident, is being represented by his deputy, Antony Blinken along with the U.S. envoys to the coalition, retired General John Allen and Brett McGurk.
Kerry may participate in some of the talks via phone or video link from Boston, where he will undergo an operation. He had a lengthy phone call with Allen and McGurk on Monday to prepare for the Paris talks.
For more, read this QuickTake: The Third Iraq War