“This acceleration will, of course, require all members of the coalition to step up, each in their own ways,” Carter said.
For Carter, the meeting here marks an inflection point for his battle against the Islamic State. After a tumultuous year of pitched fighting against the extremist group, many Obama administration officials have grown frustrated with the pace of the campaign. Thursday’s meeting hopes to change that, as Carter’s new operation plan is set to chart the way forward in the fight against the Islamic State.
According to Carter, core countries like the French, British, Australians, Italians and Germany have “stepped up their already significant contributions.”
Sixty percent of the coalition has decided to increase their contribution to the campaign, according to Carter, while a third awaits parliamentary approval to dedicate resources to the fight. Overall, Carter said, nearly 90 percent of the coalition since the fall has decided to increase its support in some capacity.
Carter also applauded contributions by the Netherlands and the Canadians to the coalition. After deciding to stop airstrikes over Iraq, Canada has pledged to triple the amount of trainers and double intelligence assets in the country—a move likely to help Kurdish forces fighting around the Iraqi city of Mosul.
According to a senior U.S. defense official who requested anonymity to speak frankly about Thursday’s deliberations, Poland, Denmark and Romania pledged to increase airstrikes and deploy more trainers, including special operations forces into the region.
Carter also met with a number of ministers from the Gulf States with expectations to gain additional local support for operations in Syria. According the official, Carter was “especially pleased” with Saudi Arabia’s recent commitments to reinvigorate its air campaign over Syria and help establish an Arabic ground force to combat “Islamic extremism.” On Friday, Carter is scheduled to meet with the United Arab Emirates and is hoping for further contribution.
“We see this as a commitment from the Saudis to get even more involved,” said the official.
Yet one of the more notable commitments, came from NATO. In his remarks Carter alluded to a possible future involvement from the alliance, adding that while the organization might not be able to help in the short term, it has a unique ability to help with training ground forces and providing stabilization support.
Earlier in the day, however, NATO pledged to contribute to the fight against the Islamic State in the short-term, albeit indirectly. NATO Secretary General Jans Stoltenberg announced that the alliance’s early warning aircraft were to be sent from their airbase in Germany to NATO countries currently contributing the same type of aircraft to the air campaign against the Islamic State. This “backfilling” would free up more resources for those countries on the frontlines of the air war.
While Carter was pleased with the numerous countries stepping up, he did not “get everything he wanted,” according to the official.
For the coalition members that failed to commit the Pentagon’s desired resources during Thursday’s meeting, they will be able to revisit their pledges at a series of meetings in the coming weeks.
Though Carter walked away from the meeting with a positive outlook, the situation on the ground is far from optimal. In Iraq, there is no set timeline to retake Mosul as Iraqi forces remain bogged down in Anbar province to the south. In Syria, continued Russian airstrikes against U.S.-backed opposition forces around Aleppo threaten to turn the tide of the war permanently in President Bashir al-Assad’s favor.