Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday urged a gathering of defense leaders to do more in the fight against Islamic State group (I.S.) in Iraq and Syria, as they huddled to map out the next steps in the campaign.
“We must ensure that our partners on the ground have what they need to win the fight and then hold, rebuild, and govern their territory,” he told the more than 30 ministers and leaders. “We must not rest.”
Carter spoke during the opening of the private session at Joint Base Andrews.
Defense and foreign ministers are in Washington for two days of meetings as the fights for key cities in Iraq and Syria move forward. And some are expected to pledge more contributions to the battle.
The gathering comes as Iraqi security forces, aided by the coalition, are preparing to encircle and eventually attempt to retake the key northern city of Mosul. The meeting of defense leaders lasted about two hours. They were expected to see a military demonstration after lunch, before adjourning.
This is the fourth time that Carter has convened an anti-I.S. coalition meeting. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Carter had planned to talk about the military campaign and how it can be accelerated.
Secretary of State John Kerry was hosting a separate conference at the State Department Wednesday to try to raise at least $2 billion from donor nations to help Iraq as it takes territory from the Islamic State group.
“This is a cause that truly deserves a firm and generous commitment from everybody,” Kerry said. The money will go to humanitarian aid for displaced people, demining, immediate help to recently liberated communities and the people returning to them as well as medium-to long-term reconstruction and development assistance. The U.N. estimates that there are currently 10 million Iraqis in need of assistance and that number is likely to exceed 13 million by year’s end.
On Thursday, Kerry will host a joint meeting of defense and foreign ministers in the counter-I.S. coalition. They are expected to talk about the coordination of political and military efforts, including counter-terrorist financing, combating the flow of foreign fighters, and the stabilization of cities and towns that have been freed from Islamic State control.
“We are succeeding on the ground in Iraq and Syria but we have a lot of work to do,” said Brett McGurk, the president’s special representative to the counter-IS coalition. “This is an enormous challenge that will be with us for years to come.”
He told reporters that the situation in Libya and a rise in the number of foreign fighters there will be one major focus of the meeting on Thursday.
“Libya is incredibly complicated to say the least,” he said, noting that until six months ago the country was without a functioning central government. “We have some momentum, the discussion will be how to build on this momentum.”
The gathering comes on the heels of the NATO summit in Warsaw earlier this month, when allies agreed to boost support for the anti-I.S. mission. NATO agreed to start a training and capacity-building mission for Iraqi armed forces in Iraq, and the allies agreed in principle that alliance surveillance aircraft would be able to provide direct support to the U.S.-led coalition fighting I.S. in Syria and Iraq.
The alliance will also begin flights by AWACS surveillance planes this fall and will set up an intelligence center in Tunisia, a major recruiting ground for I.S.
The U.S. has announced that it will send 560 additional troops to Iraq to transform a newly retaken air base into a staging hub for the long-awaited battle to recapture Mosul from I.S. militants. The new U.S. forces should arrive in the coming days and weeks.
Most of the engineers, logistics personnel, security and communications forces will concentrate on building up the Qayara air base, about 40 kilometers south of Mosul.
The extremist group captured Mosul in the summer of 2014. It is the second largest city in Iraq and has been used as the group’s main headquarters since.
The coalition is also looking to reinforce the fight in Syria, where U.S.-backed forces are in a tough fight for the town of Manbij.
Manbij lies on a key supply line from Turkey to I.S.’s de facto capital of Raqqa. Ousting the militants from Raqqa is a key goal for the coalition.