By Phil Stewart
STUTTGART, Germany, May 4 – The United States gathered defense ministers from 11 other countries for talks on Wednesday about ways to strengthen the campaign against Daesh, a day after a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in Iraq during an attack by the militant group.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the defense ministers that despite recent gains “this fight is far from over”.
“That point was brought into stark relief by yesterday’s attack on Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, which unfortunately claimed the life of an American service member,” Carter said, speaking at the start of talks at the U.S. military’s European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
The talks included ministers from France, Britain and Germany and were planned well in advance of Tuesday’s news that a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in northern Iraq when Daesh fighters blasted through Kurdish defences and overran a town.
The elite serviceman was the third American to be killed in direct combat since a U.S.-led coalition launched a campaign in 2014 to “degrade and destroy” Daesh and is a measure of its deepening involvement in the conflict.
In mid-April the United States announced plans to send an additional 200 troops to Iraq and put them closer to the front lines of battle to advise Iraqi forces in the war against the militant group.
In late April, President Barack Obama announced he would send an additional 250 special operations forces to Syria, greatly expanding the U.S. presence on the ground there to help draw in more Syrian fighters to combat Daesh.
Obama’s critics have said the gradual steps are still insufficient.
Carter said the U.S.-led coalition needed to look for opportunities to do more, even as he expressed confidence the campaign would ultimately succeed.
“With your help, it will go faster,” he said.
The Islamist militants have been broadly retreating since December, when the Iraqi army recaptured Ramadi, the largest city in the western region. Last month, the Iraqi army retook the nearby region of Hit, pushing the militants further north along the Euphrates valley.
But U.S. officials acknowledge that the military gains are not enough.
Iraq is beset by political infighting, corruption, a growing fiscal crisis and the Shi’ite Muslim-led government’s fitful efforts to seek reconciliation with aggrieved minority Sunnis, the bedrock of Daesh support.