US-led coalition says war on IS ‘likely to take years’

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Significant progress in a war that’s likely to take years.

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That’s how US Secretary of State John Kerry has assessed the mission against the self-proclaimed Islamic State militants.

Mr Kerry made the comments at NATO headquarters in Brussels where talks have been held among the countries that are part of the United States-led coalition fighting IS.

Greg Dyett reports.

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Senator John Kerry says around 1,000 air strikes in Iraq and Syria have inflicted serious damage on IS militants, sometimes referred to as Daesh, an Arabic acronym which the French government uses to describe the organisation.

“We have made already significant progress in two and a half months but we also acknowledge there is a lot of more work yet to be done. Daesh is still perpetrating terrible crimes but there was a consensus that the momentum which it had exhibited two and a half months ago has been halted, that it has been forced to modify its tactics and some of those modifications are severely hampering their ability to operate in the way that they were, certainly.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, told the Brussels meeting it’s paramount that the Islamic State fighters are defeated.

“The challenge we are facing is not only a challenge for the Middle East, it’s a challenge for whole world. This is the most criminal organisation that has committed atrocities in Iraq and in other regions and they are able to commit other atrocities so we have to stop them.”

While Western and Arab nations are using air power, Iran – not part of the US-led coalition – is reported to have used airstrikes for the first time against IS in eastern Iraq.

John Kerry stresses the US certainly wasn’t involved in that mission.

“Nothing has changed in our fundamental policy of not coordinating our military activity or other activities at this moment with Iranians. We are not doing that. And we are not only not coordinating militarily right now but there are no plans at this time to coordinate militarily. I think it’s self-evident that if Iran is taking on ISIL in some particular place, and it’s confined to taking on ISIL and it has an impact, it’s going to be in that effect positive but that’s not something we are coordinating. The Iraqis have the overall responsibility for their own ground and air operations and what they choose to do is up to them.”

In Washington, Defence Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby delivered the same message.

“It is sovereign Iraqi airspace. It is a sovereign country. They deconflict (sic.) the airspace requirements over their country. We are flying missions over Iraq, we coordinate with the Iraqi government as we conduct those. It’s up to the Iraqi government to de-conflict that airspace. Nothing has changed about our policy of not coordinating military activity with the Iranians.”

Far from Brussels, in the Syrian border town of Kobani, the fighting continues between IS and Kurdish fighters.

The town has been under siege since mid September.

Radiologist Mohammed Aref works in one of the remaining medical facilities in Kobani.

He’s told Al Jazeera the situation in the town is likely to get worse.

(Translated) “For now as the situation in Kobani permits we will find other places where we can hospitalise the injured because we know that that the number will increase and more injured will come so we have to be ready. The most important thing for us is having an operating room.”

Some analysts argue that if it was possible to defeat IS with airpower alone, the US-led operation would have done so by now.

The fact that hasn’t happened has them calling for the US and other countries to re-think their strategy and commit to deploying ground troops.

That’s an option President Obama has taken off the table but other countries are considering it.

In a statement issued after the Brussels meeting, the coalition said some members had noted the need for effective ground forces to ultimately defeat the militants.