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Washington • To doubters of its strategy for defeating the Islamic State, the Obama administration likes to tout its coalition of 66 nations and claim strength in numbers. But a year and a half into the war, some administration officials are acknowledging that this supposed source of strength has its own weaknesses.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered a glimpse of his own apparent frustration last week when he referred to "our so-called coalition" and suggested the slackers need to step up.
"We need everybody, and that's all the Europeans, the [Persian] Gulf states ... Turkey, which is right there on the border. So there are a lot that need to make more contributions," he said.
So Carter is leaving Tuesday for Brussels, where he will convene a meeting Thursday of defense chiefs from about two dozen coalition countries, including most NATO members, Iraq and the Gulf states. He indicated he will, behind closed doors, share with them details of the U.S. strategy for recapturing the main Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
"What I'm going to do is sit down and say, here is the campaign plan ... If you're thinking World War II newsreel pictures, you think of an arrow going north to take Mosul and another arrow coming south to take Raqqa," he said last week. Then he will run through a list of military capabilities that will be needed to achieve victory.
"And I'm going to say, 'OK, guys. Let's match up what is needed to win with what you have, and kind of give everybody the opportunity to make an assignment for themselves,'" he said. "The United States will lead this and we're determined, but other people have to do their part because civilization has to fight for itself."
A few coalition countries have made promises of increased support in recent days. The Netherlands, which has been carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, said on Jan. 29 that it would expand its efforts to Syria. Saudi Arabia indicated last week it could send ground troops into Syria, although it was not clear whether the offer was conditioned on U.S. ground forces participating. Canada announced on Monday that it will quit conducting airstrikes in Syria and Iraq by Feb. 22 but will expand its training of Kurdish and other local forces and provide more humanitarian and developmental aid.
Inevitably it falls to the U.S. military, with greater resources and a longer reach, to carry the biggest burden in countering terrorism.
The air campaign in Syria and Iraq, for example, is advertised as a 13-nation undertaking. But of the 10,060 strikes conducted during the past year and a half 6,723 in Iraq and 3,337 in Syria, as of Feb. 1 U.S. warplanes have conducted all but 2,124 of the Iraq hits and all but 208 in Syria. At their low point in August, the allies conducted only two strikes in Syria while the U.S. conducted 210, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.