(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – European powers are now on board to aid in the fight against Islamic State, US President Barack Obama announced in Wales this weekend.
The addition of nine countries, including the UK, France and Turkey, to the cause furthers the president’s goal of achieving a broad, global coalition to combat the group – the third such alliance to battle in Iraq in a quarter century.
Members of NATO agreed unanimously that the vicious organization, in control of territory spanning throughout eastern Syria and much of northern Iraq, “poses a significant threat to NATO members.”
According to Article V of the NATO treaty, an attack on one member is an attack on all – including those perpetrated by non-state terrorist actors, such as al-Qaida’s strikes against the US on September 11, 2001.
Obama said he was “extremely encouraged” at the “great conviction,” and lack of resistance, from NATO leaders in their collective will to bring the fight to Islamic State before the group is able to launch attacks on member states.
“I’m confident that we’re going to be able to build on that strong foundation and the clear commitment, and have the kind of coalition that will be required for the sustained effort we need to push ISIL [Islamic State] back,” he said.
But at the conclusion of the Wales summit on Friday, with its coalition expanded, the Obama administration shifted focus to the Middle East, where it hopes to recruit both Shi’ite and Sunni governments to the effort.
Jordan is directly threatened by the group, and it is expected to participate in a practical role that does not openly antagonize Islamic State leadership to target the kingdom: Jordanian land and air-space rights as launching pads for US-led military operations are likely, as is help gathering intelligence on the group, brimming along its eastern border.
Turkey’s participation is a strategic imperative for the US, with its borders along both Iraq and Syria key to expanding visibility into Islamic State operations.
Those borders, too, constitute a front line in preventing Islamic State members from crossing into the European continent.
The US hopes that Saudi Arabia, a large Sunni power, will provide intelligence and funding to moderate opposition fighters. US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to travel to Riyadh and Amman this week to discuss the kingdoms’ roles.
The US has ruled out coordinating military or intelligence operations with Iran, though Iranian press reports have suggested a willingness to do so from Iran’s supreme leadership. Tehran has reportedly sent arms to Iraqi government and pro-Shi’ite troops, in violation of international sanctions against its government.
The US ruled out working with the government of Bashar Assad in Syria, which the Obama administration says is primarily responsible for the rise of Islamic State.
Nevertheless, Islamic State poses the greatest threat to Assad’s fragile rule in Damascus. On Saturday, video reports suggested his air force struck the city of Raqqa, Islamic State’s nominal capital.
The broadening of a coalition does not mean that strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria are imminent.
While local ground forces in Iraq, including the pro-Western Peshmerga forces of Kurdistan, are able to secure territory struck and cleared by US air power, no such allied ground force exists in Syria, and no country has yet suggested a willingness to provide one.