Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

US uses NATO sidelines to build front against Islamic State

Obama seeks broad regional and international coalition to undo Islamic State’s gains, rules out ground troops

The United States said Friday it was forming a "core coalition" to battle Islamic State militants in Iraq, calling for broad support from allies and partners – but ruling out committing ground forces.

President Barack Obama sought to use a NATO summit in Wales to enlist allied support in fighting the Islamic State group, but it was unclear how many nations might join the U.S., which continues its limited airstrike operation in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told foreign and defense ministers from 10 nations on the sidelines of the summit that there were many ways they could help.

"We need to attack them in ways that prevent them from taking over territory, to bolster the Iraqi security forces and others in the region who are prepared to take them on, without committing troops of our own," Kerry said at the meeting. "Obviously I think that's a red line for everybody here: no boots on the ground."

Government ministers from the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark met to discuss a strategy for addressing the Sunni militant group that has taken over swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

"This group here this morning is the core coalition," Hagel said at the meeting. "It is the core group that will form the larger and extended coalition that's going to be required to deal with this challenge."

Kerry said he hoped the allies could develop a comprehensive plan for combating Islamic State in time for this month's annual U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, the leaders of Europe's main military powers, told Obama in private meetings that Washington had to do more than simply order air strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq, and needed an overall strategy, European officials said.

"It can’t be just ‘let’s go and bomb a few targets and see what happens’," said one Western defense official familiar with the talks between the allied leaders.

France said this week it was ready to engage in all aspects of the fight against Islamic State, potentially including military action. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Friday that London had not yet decided on any involvement in airstrikes.

A British official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "There is a growing sense that this is going to take more than we are doing ... but it needs to be a measured, cautious approach."

A NATO official said that while individual members and partners would provide security assistance, the alliance would help coordinate supplies and serve as a clearinghouse to matching available airlifts with deliveries.

The Europeans have called for a global strategy to combat the Islamic State threat, involving a new Iraqi government, Iraq's neighbors and other stakeholders.

The U.S. stressed the need for a comprehensive approach in the talks Friday, and acknowledged that action against Islamic State in Iraq would have implications in Syria as well.

"We’re convinced in the days ahead we have the ability to destroy ISIL [another acronym for Islamic State]. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined," Kerry said.

The Obama administration has also realized that the battle against Islamic State will have to include input from many regional powers – including Saudi Arabia and Iran – the latter of which has found itself, at least temporarily, on the same side of some of its traditional rivals.

Despite the divergent interests of many of the region’s powers, there is widespread agreement, albeit for different reasons, on the urgency of trying to curtail recent Islamic State advances on the battlefield.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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