Carter in Iraq to seek ways to step up fight against ISIS

Defence chief will meet American commanders there, discuss offer of assistance with Iraqi officials

BAGHDAD • United States Defence Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Baghdad yesterday to discuss with Iraqi officials Washington's offer of attack helicopters and advisers to help retake the city of Ramadi as part of an intensified fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr Carter said he would also be speaking to US commanders there to get a reading on the battlefield and "their thinking about ways that we can continue to accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL".

ISIS, also known as ISIL, is an ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim group that controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, and has a presence in other countries, such as Egypt and Libya.

There are growing signs of the US seeking to step up its military campaign against the militants, who have killed thousands of people in Iraq and Syria, and claimed responsibility for attacks in the West, including the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people last month.

The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, to ISIS in May was the biggest defeat for Iraq's weak central government in nearly a year, dampening its hopes of routing the group from the country's north and west.

This month, the US announced plans to deploy elite American military teams to Iraq to conduct raids against ISIS fighters there and in neighbouring Syria.

The US, which has around 3,500 troops in Iraq now, has said it is willing to deploy advisers and attack helicopters to help Iraq retake Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

Mr Carter said he planned to discuss that offer with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

A US deployment of Apache attack helicopters to provide close air support in the Ramadi fight is dependent on a formal request from Dr Abadi. That request had not been made before Mr Carter's arrival.

"If the Prime Minister asks for them, they can be available on a very short notice," Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US-led coalition in Iraq, said of the Apache helicopters.

Dr Abadi faces resistance to closer cooperation with Washington from Iranian-backed Shi'ite groups who oppose greater American military involvement in Iraq and wield significant power.

Ten thousand members of the Iraqi security forces surround Ramadi, but US officials have expressed frustration at how long it has taken Iraqi security forces to take back the city.

The visit to Iraq is part of a trip around the Middle East that began in Turkey on Tuesday and is also aimed at asking US allies for greater contributions in the military campaign against ISIS.

Saudi Arabia has announced a 34-nation Islamic coalition against the group.

In Syria, the US has focused on reducing ISIS revenues, particularly from oil fields in the east.

Speaking to troops on Tuesday at Incirlik airbase in Turkey, which the US and its allies are using for the air campaign against ISIS, Mr Carter acknowledged that the threat posed by the terror group had grown beyond the Middle East.

"This has metastasised to other parts of the world, including our own homeland," he said.

"But the defeat here in Syria and Iraq is necessary, and we need to hasten that."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2015, with the headline 'Carter in Iraq to seek ways to step up fight against ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe