U.S. Defense Chief Visits Baghdad; Seeks to Step-Up Fight Against Daesh

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U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has arrived in Baghdad for talks with miltary commanders to discuss ways to step-up offensive against Daesh militants. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

BAGHDAD, Dec 16 (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday for talks with U.S. military commanders, seeking ways to intensify the fight against Daesh militants.

Carter said earlier, at the start of his trip to the Middle East, that he would be speaking to commanders to “get their latest reading on the battlefield situation and also very importantly their thinking about ways that we can continue to accelerate the campaign to defeat Daesh”.

Daesh is a Sunni Muslim hardline group that has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

There are growing signs of U.S. moves to step up its military campaign against the group, which has claimed responsibility for attacks in the West, including bombings and shootings which killed 130 people in Paris last month.

This month, the United States announced plans to deploy elite American military teams to Iraq to conduct raids against Daesh there and in neighboring Syria.

The United States has said it is willing to deploy advisors and attack helicopters to help Iraqi security forces retake the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, from Daesh.

Carter said his trip was also aimed at asking U.S. allies for greater contributions in the military campaign against Daesh.

For President Barack Obama, reluctant to commit large numbers of U.S. ground troops to the Middle East, the preferred strategy for battling Daesh has been to identify and assist local forces willing to fight the group.

But that strategy has limits. In Iraq, U.S. officials have expressed frustration at how long it has taken Iraqi security forces to take back Ramadi.

Iraqi forces have cleared militants from areas of the city but the city center remains under Daesh control seven months after it was seized.

In Syria, earlier efforts to train rebels stumbled and the United States has instead opted to support Kurdish and Syrian Arab groups with a mix of ammunition drops and air strikes.

But major population centers remain in Daesh’s hands, including the Syrian city of Raqqa, allowing the group to maintain a revenue base and possibly plan attacks outside its territory.

Speaking to troops on Tuesday at Incirlik air base in Turkey, which the United States and its allies are using for the air campaign against Daesh, Carter acknowledged that the threat posed by Daesh had grown beyond the Middle East.

“This has metastasized to other parts of the world including our own homeland,” he said. “But the defeat here in Syria and Iraq is necessary and we need to hasten that.”

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