Abdullah: UAE won’t rest in war on terror

About 1,000 airstrikes have been launched on ISIL but fight could still last years.
Abdullah bin Zayed participates in Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. Wam
Abdullah bin Zayed participates in Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. Wam

WASHINGTON // The US-led coalition has carried out around 1,000 airstrikes against ISIL, preventing it from gaining ground in Syria and allowing a patchwork of ground forces in Iraq to push the extremists back, the top US diplomat said on Wednesday.

Despite the military successes, US secretary of state John Kerry warned that the fight against the Islamist group could still last for years.

“Our commitment will be measured most likely in years, but our efforts are already having a significant impact,” Mr Kerry said in Brussels before a summit of ministers from the coalition of countries working with Washington to fight ISIL.

“The roughly 1,000 coalition air missions we have flown have reduced Daesh’s leadership and inflicted damage on its logistical and operational capabilities,” he added.

Mr Kerry’s comments came as Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said the UAE will remain committed to its fight against terrorism, and after the US commander of the war effort, General Lloyd Austin, praised the country’s key role in the anti-ISIL coalition’s progress.

“Our position in the fight against terrorism, by standing against terrorist acts and organisations of all forms and types, has remained clear and consistent for decades and is reflected in our cooperation and coordination with the international community, facing it [terrorism] at the level of security and ideology, by providing necessary support in the fight against it,” Sheikh Abdullah said in an interview with the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

Speaking at a National Day event at the UAE Embassy in Washington, Gen Austin said that due to the “joint efforts” of the two countries, “we are very rapidly gaining the tactical and operational advantage” as well as strategic superiority over ISIL.

Gen Austin said the history of military cooperation between the US and the UAE – unique among its Arab allies – allowed Washington to “form a coalition as quickly as we did”.

The general hinted that the military and security cooperation was a long-term shared strategic interest. “Through our efforts, we will do what is required to make sure that what we’re seeing happening now in Iraq and Syria does not happen again in the future,” he said.

The ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, highlighted the economic and military ties underlying the bilateral relationship. “The UAE has participated in six coalitions with the US over the last 25 years. Proudly the only Arab country to do so.”

The US has carried out the bulk of the airstrikes against ISIL targets that began in Iraq in August and were then expanded to Syria in September. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain joined the bombing missions in Syria. Countries including Australia, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands have joined the strikes on ISIL in Iraq.

Observers say the momentum of an estimated 30,000 ISIL fighters has been blunted in Syria, where they are only able to hold territory, not expand. They are now losing ground in Iraq to the military, Shiite militias and their Iranian advisers, Kurdish peshmerga forces and some Sunni tribal militias, who are all backed by airstrikes from coalition forces and Iran.

So far there have been no large-scale and sustained uprisings by Sunni tribes in ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq, both because the group’s brutal rule has involved the mass execution of tribal members who oppose them, and because the political discontent with Baghdad and Damascus has still not shifted in the coalition’s favour.

In his remarks in Brussels, Mr Kerry said that Sunni tribal fighters are “beginning to come on board”.

“It is much harder now than when we started for Daesh to assemble forces in strength, to travel in convoys and to launch concerted attacks,” he added. “No large Daesh unit can move forward aggressively without worrying what will come down on it from the skies.”

The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that Iranian F-4 Phantom jets – sold to Tehran by the US before the 1979 revolution – had struck ISIL targets in Iraq’s eastern Diyala province over the past week.

“We have indications that they did indeed fly air strikes with F-4 Phantoms in the past several days,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told Agence France-Presse.

But he reiterated Washington’s position that there is no direct military coordination between Iran and the US.

The suggestion of some level of coordination between Washington and Tehran, which the US president reportedly said in a letter to Iran’s supreme leader could become more robust if a final accord over Iran’s nuclear programme is reached, may add to fears among regional US allies about Washington’s intentions toward Tehran.

On Wednesday, Mr Kerry described any Iranian action against ISIL as “positive”.

“If Iran is taking on ISIL in some particular place... and it has an impact, then it’s going to be net effect [that] is positive,” he said.

Frustration with the lack of a coherent strategy against ISIL in Syria, which Arabian Gulf states and Turkey say will only be possible if Bashar Al Assad’s regime is also put under military pressure to end its brutal war against Syrians, was likely also building after reports in recent days raised expectations for a protected buffer zone along Syria’s border with Turkey.

Turkey has reportedly premised its opening of a key airbase to coalition planes on the creation of the zone, which would allow western- and Arab-backed rebels to regroup, provide safe space for refugees and allow the political opposition to build institutions, according to proponents of the idea.

But on Tuesday, key Obama adviser Susan Rice threw cold water on the idea, telling a Wall Street Journal forum, “We are not moving in the direction of a no-fly zone or a safe haven at this point,” she said.

“We think the establishment of a no-fly zone or a safe zone, at this point, is at best premature, and would be a major investment of resources that would be something, frankly, of a diversion from the primary task at hand” in Iraq.

tkhan@thenational.ae

Published: December 3, 2014 04:00 AM

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