White House will host anti-IS strategy session
Tillerson to lead 2-day meet of over 60 nations, groups.
The Trump administration has invited more than 60 nations and international organizations to Washington later this month for a strategy session on how to counter the Islamic State after a widely expected U.S.-backed military assault on the extremists’ home base.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will lead a two-day gathering of a global coalition focused on fighting the extremist group militarily and starving it of money, weapons and fighters.
The session is an important signal that the new administration intends to maintain leadership of a sprawling diplomatic effort begun by President Barack Obama in 2014, despite Trump’s scathing assessment of Obama’s approach to the Islamic State during the presidential campaign.
U.S. officials described plans for the session March 22 and 23 session. The meeting will be the largest since the inaugural session, and comes as the Islamic State appears to be losing ground militarily.
“It tells the coalition partners the U.S. remains incredibly committed to working with them to defeat” the group now loosely based in Raqqa, Syria, a senior U.S. official said.
“The first thing the new administration will do is reinforce the importance of the coalition,” which includes both military partners and nations that support diplomatic and humanitarian efforts through donations of money, expertise and other resources, the official said.
The Trump administration had said it would retain Obama’s top official in charge of what was formerly called the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, but had not spelled out its goals for the group of 68 countries and international organizations.
It has substituted its preferred acronym, ISIS, in the global coalition’s name but left the organization’s structure and focus intact. The revised State Department web page for the coalition also stripped out mentions of Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, but kept language stressing that “there is a role for every country to play in degrading and defeating” the militants.
“It’s consistent with what the president talked about in terms of burden-sharing and asking other countries to carry their load,” said one U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Diplomats from some of the countries involved have questioned whether the coalition would be disbanded if the extremist group is routed from Raqaa.
But U.S. officials said Tillerson will stress the importance of keeping the coalition intact and focused on what is likely to be a diffuse but potent extremist threat.
“We expect them to disperse,” but not disappear, one official said.
Another official said that although the upcoming meeting is not a fundraising conference, the coalition aims to raise about $1.5 billion for humanitarian and other efforts in the near term.
Russia is a not a member of the diplomatic coalition, although it is a dominant military presence in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Trump has raised the prospect of the United States and Russia collaborating to fight Islamic State militants in Syria, and he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed possibilities in a phone call in January, according to the White House. But the issue is complicated by political fallout from Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said discussion of any broad cooperation is premature.
A sign bearing the image of the Islamic State flag is displayed on a building early last year in the ruins of Sinjar, Iraq.