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Sunday 26 January 2020

Tillerson urges allies to step up efforts to defeat IS

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for renewed efforts to defeat IS (AP)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for renewed efforts to defeat IS (AP)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged coalition partners to step up efforts to defeat Islamic State militants.

Mr Tillerson made the appeal as top officials from 68 nations gathered in Washington to assess the fight to retake Iraq's second largest city and advance on the extremists' self-declared Syrian capital.

"I recognise there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating Isis is the United States' number one goal in the region," Mr Tillerson told the coalition's first ministerial gathering since President Donald Trump took office.

"As we've said before, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We must continue to keep our focus on the most urgent matter at hand," Mr Tillerson said.

Mr Tillerson and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Ababi and foreign ministers from the coalition partners at the State Department to explore new ideas to expand the fight against IS in the Iraqi city of Mosul and push the militants from Raqqa, Syria.

They also are preparing for the group's defeat by lining up humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.

"We are at the stage of completely decimating Daesh," Mr Al-Abadi said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

"A more defined course of action in Syria is still coming together," Mr Tillerson said. "But I can say that the United States will increase our pressure on Isis and al Qaida and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through ceasefires, to allow refugees to return home."

The reference to "zones of stability" appeared to stop short of "safe zones," which the US military has been extremely reluctant to commit to enforcing in Syria, even as Mr Trump and others have raised the idea at various times.

Nothing Mr Tillerson outlined departed significantly from the Obama administration's approach, which focused on using local forces to retake territory along with efforts to disrupt IS recruitment and financing, and the blueprint of the multilateral effort seemed unchanged.

The strategy is complicated in Syria, where a partnership with Kurdish forces has prompted difficult discussions with Turkey, which sees the militants as a national security threat.

Mr Tillerson said the United States would play its part and pay its fair share of the overall operation.

But he said other nations, particularly those which have faced IS or IS-inspired attacks, must do more.

He said increased intelligence and information sharing could overcome traditional rivalries between different agencies and governments, and advocated an enhanced online effort to halt the spread of extremist views, especially as IS loses ground in Iraq and Syria.

"As we stabilise areas encompassing Isis's phony physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere," Mr Tillerson said.

"We must ensure Isis cannot gain or maintain footholds in new regions of the world. We must fight Isis online as aggressively as we would on the ground. A digital caliphate must not flourish in the place of a physical one."


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