Middle East

Obama, foreign military chiefs, to thrash out Islamic State plans

In Oct. 10, 2014, President Barack Obama speaks at Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas, Calif. Democrats’ high hopes of mitigating House losses in a rough election year have been dashed by reality. Obama’s dismal approval ratings and midterm malaise have been a drag on Democrats. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will hash out a strategy to counter Islamic State with military leaders from some 20 countries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday amid growing pressure for the U.S.-led coalition to do more to stop the militants' advance.

As the commanders gathered, the U.S. military announced that U.S. and Saudi planes had carried out 21 airstrikes in the last two days near the contested Syrian border town of Kobani, an unusually large number of attacks on one of the flashpoints of the campaign.

U.S. Central Command said the strikes on the militants' staging areas, compounds and armed vehicles, were meant to hit supply lines and stop reinforcements. It said the situation was fluid but the Kurdish militia was "continuing to hold out."

Obama was due to address the meeting of coalition military chiefs, led by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT).

The meeting was "part of ongoing efforts to build the coalition and integrate the capabilities of each country into the broader strategy," said Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

Colonel Ed Thomas, Dempsey's spokesman, said no major policy decisions were expected, adding: "It's about coming together in person to discuss the vision, the challenges, the way ahead."

Anthony Cordesman, national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said defense officials from abroad were in many cases more involved in setting policy than their U.S. military counterparts.

Some three weeks before U.S. congressional elections viewed largely as a referendum on Obama's leadership, the president is aiming to show the U.S. public and allies abroad that he is committed to a plan to "degrade" and "destroy" the group that has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The strategy is being called into question.

Republican Senator John McCain, a frequent Obama critic, said on Sunday that "they're winning and we're not," referring to Islamic State. The United Nations said on Monday that fighting in Iraq's western Anbar province had forced up to 180,000 people to flee after Islamic State, also known as ISIS, captured the city of Hit.

Representatives from Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates were expected to attend.

Having Turkey at the table will be key. Ankara has come under some pressure to send its own ground troops into Syria against Islamic State forces. The country could announce after the meeting that it will join Saudi Arabia in training moderate Syrian rebels, Cordesman said.

U.S. officials have voiced frustration at Turkey's refusal to help them fight against Islamic State. Washington has said Turkey has agreed to let it strike from a Turkish air base; Ankara says this is still under discussion.

 

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