Iraqi Army soldiers celebrate as they hold a flag of the Islamic State group they captured during a military operation to regain control of a village outside Mosul, Iraq.
THE US will send another 200 troops to Syria to help to help Kurdish and Arab fighters capture the Islamic State group’s key stronghold of Raqqa.
Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said today: “I can tell you today that the United States will deploy approximately 200 additional US forces in Syria.”
The extra troops will include special operations forces and are in addition to 300 US troops already authorised for the effort to recruit, organise, train and advise local Syrian forces to combat IS.
Addressing a security conference in Bahrain, Carter also took gentle jabs at US Middle East partners for failing to provide more military muscle in the broader campaign to defeat IS and counter extremism.
Without mentioning any by name, Carter suggested the US has been the target of disingenuous criticism from “regional powers here in the Middle East” for not doing more to help fight extremism.
Iraqi Army soldiers celebrate as they hold a flag of the Islamic State group they captured during a military operation to regain control of a village outside Mosul, Iraq.Source:AP
“I would ask you to imagine what US military and defence leaders think when they have to listen to complaints sometimes that we should do more, when it’s plain to see that all too often, the ones complaining aren’t doing enough themselves,” he said.
He said it is not unreasonable for Washington to expect regional powers who oppose extremism in the Middle East to do more to help fight it, “particularly in the political and economic aspects of the campaign.” Carter noted that many Sunni-led Gulf countries have expressed concern about the spread of Iranian influence in the region.
“The fact is, if countries in the region are worried about Iran’s destabilising activities — a concern the United States shares — they need to get in the game. That means getting serious about starting to partner more with each other, and investing in the right capabilities for the threat.”
Smoke rises in an east Aleppo neighbourhood as the sun rises during a battle between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels in Aleppo, Syria.Source:AP
That operation coincides with a US-backed Iraqi effort to retake Mosul. The two cities are the last major urban centres under IS control after the jihadists suffered a string of territorial losses in Iraq and Syria over the past year.
Car bombs and elaborate networks of booby traps and mines have been the jihadists’ favoured weapons as they battle to defend what remains of the “caliphate” they declared across Iraq and Syria in 2012.
“We’re now helping tens of thousands of local Syrian forces to isolate Raqqa,” from which they are only about 25 kilometres, he said.
A Rafale fighter jet is ready to take off from deck of France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, used in the U.S.-led operation against Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.Source:AP
Raqqa, which has also served as a hub for jihadists plotting attacks abroad, is being isolated according to plan, Carter said.
With the offensives against Mosul and Raqa, the US-led coalition against IS has reached “a critical milestone”, Carter said.
“This is a complex mission that will take time to accomplish but I’m confident that ISIL’s days in Mosul are numbered,” Carter said, using the alternative acronym for the jihadist group.
He warned that it is unclear what form IS will take after its eventual defeat in Iraq and Syria, so the coalition of Western and Middle Eastern nations battling it will need to remain vigilant.
A Syrian army soldier places a Syrian national flag during a battle with rebel fighters at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo, Syria.Source:AP
“We must be ready for anything,” said Carter, who is on a Middle East tour before leaving office at the end of President Barack Obama’s term in January.
In Syria, government warplanes have been pounding the remaining districts of Aleppo in rebel hands as US officials were to meet with their Russian counterparts on Saturday in a last-ditch bid to prevent a bloodbath.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that the talks in Switzerland would try to stop Aleppo “being absolutely, completely destroyed”.