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Carter Secures More Commitments From Allies in ISIS Fight

February 11, 2016 (Photo Credit: Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

Update 2:40 p.m. ET: This story was updated after the meeting.

BRUSSELS — US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter came to Brussels looking for commitments from allies he felt have not been doing their share in the fight against the Islamic State group, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL.

He came away with pledges for aid from several nations, including perhaps the biggest regional player: Saudi Arabia. 

At the start of the event, Carter launched his pitch to allied nations: that history will remember those who assist in the fight against the Islamic State group, and those who don’t.

 

“We will all look back after victory and remember who participated in the fight,” Carter told an assembly of the anti-ISIS coalition gathered at NATO headquarters in Brussels, a not-so-subtle message to those who may be on the fence about contributing. 

The message appears to have hit home with the Saudis, whose defense minister pledged to enhance the air campaign in Syria. While Saudi Arabia was an early partner in the anti-ISIS coalition, the number of strikes it conducted quickly tailed off as the kingdom focused instead on Yemen.

Carter said that "reinvigorating" the air campaign means "something very specifically in this case, which is air assets that have not been operating [as] part of our [theater of operations] and the air campaign, and were not doing so months ago, begun to do so in the last few weeks. It's a number of strike aircraft that's an important contribution."

He also acknowledged comments by Saudi officials that showed a willingness to deploy ground forces in Syria, saying the coalition discussed "training of both military forces and police forces," as well as "logistics support, sustainment, rebuilding of a kind that is going to have to go on Ramadi."

Speaking after the event, a senior defense official said Carter would have a Friday morning meeting with representatives of the United Arab Emirates. 

Asked if Carter hoped to walk out of that meeting with another Sunni commitment, the official simply responded with "stay tuned." 

European Contributions

In addition to Saudi Arabia, three countries — Poland, Romania and Denmark — have stepped up their commitments this week, either for kinetic strikes or training missions, the official said. 

Carter also highlighted a "significant development" — that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and he are exploring the possibility that NATO could join the coalition as an active participant. 

"NATO as a new member would bring unique capabilities that could be brought to bear against ISIL, including experience in building partner capacity, training ground forces and providing stabilization support."

In total, "nearly 90 percent" of coalition partners has stepped up their commitment, or made a verbal commitment awaiting the approval of their governments, since the fall, Carter said. That time frame coincides with the November terrorist attacks in Paris and Carter's subsequent ask to the coalition partners.  

The nature of those commitments vary, and is not restrained to kinetic strikes. 

In comments over the last week, Pentagon officials have emphasized that US will be asking for countries to contribute in ways beyond military assistance, such as training of police or providing funding for the Iraqi government.

“You know, if you don't have a lot of capability, but you want to make a contribution, you can literally do that — make a contribution,” Carter said Feb 9. “Ramadi reconstruction is going to be a big burden for the government of Iraq.  They're going to need some help doing that.  So there are lots of different ways that — there are lots of capabilities and resources that are going to be needed.” 

That coincides with Wednesday testimony from Brett McGurk, the State Department’s top official on fighting ISIS, that the Iraqi government faces a $5 billion deficit every month. Asked for clarification, a State Department spokesperson said that planned monthly expenses in Iraq’s 2016 budget average "about $7.5 billion, and at current oil prices its actual monthly revenues are averaging about $2.2 billion, leaving a monthly financing gap of $5.3 billion."

However, it appears no new financial offers were made this week, with the senior official saying that several countries reminded the assembled of their "substantial" previous donations.

Carter, meantime, noted that countries will have several options in the near-term to make new contributions, whether materiel or not. 

“In the coming weeks, there will be several opportunities to discuss and evaluate how well we are implementing our renewed commitments, including when your Chiefs of Defense meet in a couple of weeks, and when CENTCOM convenes the Coalition Force Generation Conference next month,” Carter told the assembled nations in his opening comments, a point he reiterated after the meeting.

"He thinks there are additional contributions that could be made," the official said of Carter. "He feels good countries answered the challenge he put out there.”

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

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