LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S.-led coalition could take up to two years to expel Islamic State from Iraq, and Baghdad’s own forces will be incapable of proper combat operations for months, Britain’s foreign minister warned on Thursday.
Speaking before he hosted a meeting of 21 coalition members in London, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the task of pushing the Islamist militants back would be slow.
“This isn’t going to be done in three months or six months. It’s going to take a year, two years to push ISIL (IS) back out of Iraq but we are doing the things that need to be done in order to turn the tide,” Hammond told Sky News.
Thursday’s meeting, attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, will examine ways of intensifying the campaign against IS in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere by doing more militarily, more to cut off the group’s finances and more to stem the flow of foreign fighters.
Kerry said before the meeting it was a vital opportunity to adjust the coalition’s strategy.
“The purpose of coming here is to bring everybody’s best advice, everybody’s thoughts about where there may be weaknesses, everybody’s thoughts about things we can do better, put that together, improve our own performance and operations, and lay down the strategy for the days ahead,” he said.
Iraq’s Abadi, who will tell delegates how his government’s fight against IS is progressing, met British Prime Minister David Cameron beforehand and asked for more military training and ammunition.
Britain has taken part in air strikes against IS forces, trained Iraqi troops, and provided some equipment already.
Cameron told Abadi that Britain was ready to help, but stopped short of making any new commitments.
“The threat from extremist terror you face in Iraq is also a threat we face here in the United Kingdom,” he said. “We will do everything we can to help stop foreign fighters coming to your country and creating the mayhem we see today.”
The meeting is taking place a day after Kurdish forces in northern Iraq said they had cleared IS insurgents from nearly 500 sq km of territory and broken a key IS supply line between the city of Mosul and strongholds to the west.
Hammond said Thursday’s meeting would take stock of coalition progress in the last five months and hear an update from U.S. General John Allen.
He praised Iraqi forces, saying the coalition was helping rebuild them so they could launch a sustained ground offensive against IS. But he warned it was a long process.
“It will be months yet before they are ready to start significant combat operations,” Hammond told BBC Radio.
Additional reporting by Michael Holden, William James and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Stephen Addison and Andrew Roche