BRITAIN and the United States have pledged to “ramp up” efforts to defeat Islamic State (IS) fighters who have seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria, wreaking havoc across the region.
After hosting international talks in London yesterday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US secretary of state John Kerry said the international coalition would be stepping up support to Iraqi forces engaged in the battle against the extremists.
Mr Kerry told a joint news conference at the Foreign Office that they aimed to raise 12 new Iraqi army brigades while opening training camps for Syrian opposition fighters in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
Mr Kerry acknowledged that the fight would be “neither short nor easy”, but insisted that Iraqi forces – backed by coalition air strikes – were beginning to gain ground against IS – also referred to as Isil and by the Arabic acronym, Daesh.
“In recent months we have seen, definitively, Daesh’s momentum halted in Iraq and in some cases reversed. Ground forces supported by nearly 2,000 air strikes now, have reclaimed more than 700 square kilometres from Daesh,” he said. Mr Hammond said the meeting – which brought together 20 “core” coalition member states – had reaffirmed their determination to defeat IS.
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“We all confirmed our commitment to the struggle however long it takes and wherever it leads us to defeating the scourge of violent Islamist extremism,” he said.
Earlier, however, the Foreign Secretary acknowledged that, despite huge sums spent by the United States and Britain on Iraq’s security forces in the years following the ousting of Saddam Hussein, they had fallen back into a “state of disarray”.
“There is a big challenge ahead of us,” he told the BBC.
“We are renewing and regenerating the Iraqi security forces – re-equipping them, retraining them, reorganising them – but it will be months yet before they are ready to start significant combat operations against Isil.”
Air strikes by Britain and its allies had “very effectively” contained IS while action was taken to “rebuild” the Iraqi armed forces to enable them to drive the militants out of their country, he said, adding: “They will be able to do it, the question is when they will be ready to start that process.”
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi said: “Iraq is facing a real crisis, a fiscal crisis and other crises in facing Daesh. We are waging a war in Iraq and war is very costly.
“We have soldiers’ boots on the ground – I think we are the only country who have boots on the ground to fight Daesh.
“Iraqi people have sacrificed their lives in facing Daesh. We have reversed, some time ago, the advances of Daesh and we are very keen to push them back from the whole of Iraq.
“But this is a fight of the world and Daesh must be eliminated from the region and from the whole of the world.”
David Cameron told his Iraqi counterpart that the UK would do “everything we can” to stop the flow of foreign fighters who were travelling to join IS and cause “mayhem”.
Speaking in No 10, he said: “The threat from extremist terror you face in Iraq is also a threat we face here in the United Kingdom… We will do everything we can to help stop foreign fighters coming to your country and creating the mayhem we see today.”
Mr Hammond stressed the danger of terror attack in the UK by people inspired by events in Iraq and Syria.
“We have to regard Isil as probably the greatest single immediate threat to Britain’s national security at the moment,” the Foreign Secretary told the BBC.
“Of course, our security and intelligence agencies, our police forces are working tirelessly around the clock to monitor, to identify, to intercept and to disrupt plots of this nature, and we’ve been very successful in doing so, but we mustn’t be complacent.”
Officials said the conference underlined the international commitment to defeating, degrading and destroying IS.