Defense Secretary Carter: Campaign Against IS ‘Far From Over’

STUTTGART, Germany (AP/Reuters) -
Defense Secretary Ash Carter (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Defense Secretary Ash Carter. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the latest American combat death in Iraq shows the military campaign against Islamic State is “far from over.”

Carter made the remark Wednesday  at the start of talks at the U.S. military’s European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany with counterparts from 11 countries which are contributing to the military campaign against the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria.

The session is the latest in a series with partners on strategies for increasing assistance to the Iraqis as they seek to recapture the northern IS stronghold of Mosul. This comes as a political crisis in Baghdad clouds the outlook for further military advances against the terrorists.

Carter has placed a high priority on drawing coalition members more deeply into the counter-IS campaign, stressing the threat posed by the terrorists if their influence is allowed to spread even further.

“That point was brought into stark relief by yesterday’s attack on Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, which unfortunately claimed the life of an American service member,” Carter said.

The talks included ministers from France, Britain and Germany and were planned well in advance of Tuesday’s news that a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in northern Iraq when Islamic State terrorists blasted through Kurdish defenses and overran a town.

The elite serviceman was the third American to be killed in direct combat since a U.S.-led coalition launched a campaign in 2014 to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State and is a measure of its deepening involvement in the conflict.

In mid-April, the United States announced plans to send an additional 200 troops to Iraq and put them closer to the front lines of battle to advise Iraqi forces in the war against the terrorist group.

In late April, President Barack Obama announced he would send an additional 250 special operations forces to Syria, greatly expanding the U.S. presence on the ground there to help draw in more Syrian fighters to combat Islamic State.

Obama’s critics have said the gradual steps are still insufficient.

Carter said the U.S.-led coalition needed to look for opportunities to do more, even as he expressed confidence the campaign would ultimately succeed.

“With your help, it will go faster,” he said.

The Islamist terrorists have been broadly retreating since December, when the Iraqi army recaptured Ramadi, the largest city in the western region. Last month, the Iraqi army retook the nearby region of Hit, pushing the terrorists further north along the Euphrates valley.

But U.S. officials acknowledge that the military gains are not enough.

Iraq is beset by political infighting, corruption, a growing fiscal crisis and the Shiite Muslim-led government’s fitful efforts to seek reconciliation with aggrieved minority Sunnis, the bedrock of Islamic State support.