Several important tests loom for the US administration’s nascent coalition to “degrade and defeat” the ultra-hardline Islamic State whose militants have seized a third of both Iraq and Syria, declared war on the West and beheaded two American journalists and one British aid worker, Reuters reports.
The complexity of eliminating Islamic State, which requires stabilizing Iraq, building up its armed forces and creating a western-backed rebel force in Syria, could take years, testing Obama’s commitment and that of whoever succeeds him in 2017.
“There’s a real general distrust among our regional allies about our commitment to this because we’ve been missing in action for the last three years,” said David Schenker, a specialist on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Pentagon adviser on Syria during President George W. Bush’s administration.
In Baghdad, Amman, Jeddah, Ankara, Cairo and Paris in the last week, Kerry laid plans for a US-led coalition of regional and outside powers. It would hammer the black-clad fighters of Islamic State militarily, dry up its funding, eliminate its safe havens in Syria, block its ability to recruit fighters and try to extinguish its extremist ideology.
Kerry, who will report on his trip to Obama and Congress this week, insists this is different from past US operations in the region.
“This is not the Gulf War of 1991,” he told reporters in Paris
“And it’s not the Iraq War of 2003 … We’re not building a military coalition for an invasion. We’re building a military coalition together with all the other pieces for a transformation, as well as for the elimination of ISIL itself,” he said, invoking an acronym for the Islamic State group.
World powers meeting in Paris on Monday gave a symbolic boost to that effort, publicly backing military action to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq.
France sent jets on a reconnaissance mission to Iraq, a step towards becoming the first ally to join the US-led air campaign there and a senior US official said some Arab countries had promised to take part.
On Friday, Kerry will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, which will provide countries which quietly backed the US coalition an opportunity to do so publicly.
But questions remain over how far each will commit to a fight that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday “will not be an easy or brief effort.”