WASHINGTON – US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Sunday that he wants Middle Eastern countries to do more as the US-led coalition steps up its fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
“This is one of the great ironies, which is that the countries of the region have made the least contributions to the counter-[Islamic State] coalition, including the Gulf countries,” Carter told CNN on Sunday. “Now I'm hoping, and believe, that if we show them what they can do and what they can accomplish, that they will do more. Because they are better suited culturally and historically to deal with some of these complicated situations than we are.”
Carter also said America’s allies in the coalition need to “put forward their capabilities” as the coalition attempts to retake the ISIS-controlled cities of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, from the Islamic State.
Carter presented elements of the plan to the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which will soon deploy to Iraq, and is due to meet with 27 defense ministers from coalition countries in Brussels next month, where he is expected to press them to do more.
The approach, Carter emphasized, has been to defeat the Islamic State not with Western forces alone, but with local forces for which Gulf states would be “galvanizing recruiting.”
“Up to now, they haven’t done enough. We want them to do more,” he said.
Sharing the operations plan for beating the Islamic State is key to how the US intends to convince allies to do more.
“We stand with our friends,” Carter said. “We stood with them through many difficult situations. And we expect our friends and allies to stand with us. We're prepared to lead, but I say we are not asking for favors, we're asking for things that we think are in their interest. But we'll win. And when we do win, we'll remember who contributed.”
Carter said there are roles for allies beyond supplying troops and equipment, such as sustainment, logistics and police training.
Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser degree Qatar, Jordan and Turkey, is working with the CIA to funnel cash and weapons to US-trained Syrian rebels, the New York Times reported over the weekend.
Sunni Arab nations and Israel displayed reluctance to join the fight when weakening the Islamic State means strengthening Bashar al-Assad, an ally of their common foe, Iran.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged as much in an interview with CNN on Jan. 24.
“My rule is simple: When both your enemies are fighting each other, don't strengthen either one; weaken both,” Netanyahu said, adding later, “If you're closer to the Persian Gulf, Iran comes first.”
While it is unclear whether the US will push for a collective Arab combat force, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phillip Gordon expressed skepticism such a force could be assembled to bolster the fight in Raqqa and Mosul.
In Yemen, a Saudi-led force of 10 Muslim nations has yet to muster the “ability or political willingness to deploy that ground force,” Gordon said in a Jan. 21 Senate Armed Services hearing.
“That is just Yemen, let alone an ability of these forces to go into Syria or Iraq," he said. "So I think we should be really cautious in assuming that we don't have to do it, we'll get some Arab force to do it for us.”
US officials are already making the push in other venues for greater involvement from countries in the region.
Vice President Joe Biden met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul on Jan. 23. Biden said afterward the two agreed to “improve the support of local Sunni Arab forces working to cut off what remains of the [Islamic State’s] access to the Turkish border.” The step is meant to block new fighters and equipment from reaching the terror group.
After a meeting with the Saudi foreign minister on June 22, Secretary of State John Kerry, in remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, emphasized consensus between interested nations to aid a political transition in Syria.
"Every country in the region opposes Daesh, and even governments that disagree with each other on other issues acknowledge that the war has to end and a diplomatic solution has to be found,” Kerry said.” No one has more incentive to do that than the Syrians themselves to try to write a new chapter in their history.”