WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will hash out a strategy to counter Islamic State on Tuesday with military leaders from some 20 countries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia amid growing pressure for the U.S.-led coalition to do more to stop the militants’ advance.
Some three weeks before U.S. congressional elections viewed largely as a referendum on Obama’s leadership, the president will aim to show the U.S. public and allies abroad that he is committed to a plan to “degrade” and “destroy” the group that has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Obama will attend a meeting led by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with foreign defence chiefs at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 3 p.m. EDT (2000 BST) to discuss the coalition’s work.
“It is part of ongoing efforts to build the coalition and integrate the capabilities of each country into the broader strategy,” said Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
The strategy is being called into question.
Republican Senator John McCain, a frequent Obama critic, said on Sunday that “they’re winning and we’re not,” referring to Islamic State. The United Nations said on Monday that fighting in Iraq’s western Anbar province had forced up to 180,000 people to flee after Islamic State, also known as ISIS, captured the city of Hit.
“This is a long campaign. It hasn’t gone badly, but it certainly hasn’t gone well,” said Anthony Cordesman, national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It is very important, quite aside from trying to show Americans that he’s leading, that he shows other countries he’s committed,” Cordesman said, adding that the defence officials from abroad were in many cases more involved in setting policy than their U.S. military counterparts.
Representatives from Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates were expected to attend.
Colonel Ed Thomas, Dempsey’s spokesman, said no major policy decisions were expected at the meeting, adding: “It’s about coming together in person to discuss the vision, the challenges, the way ahead.”
Having Turkey at the table will be key. Ankara has come under some pressure to send its own ground troops into Syria against Islamic State forces. The country could announce after the meeting that it will join Saudi Arabia in training moderate Syrian rebels, Cordesman said.
Turkey has not reached a new agreement to let the United States use its Incirlik air base in the fight against Islamic State but reached an agreement with Washington on training Syrian rebels, sources at the Turkish prime minister’s office told reporters on Monday, without saying who would train the insurgents or where.
Editing by Howard Goller