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US, GCC Defense Leaders Focus on Islamic State, Iran


U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with reporters during a joint news conference with Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, right, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2016.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with reporters during a joint news conference with Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, right, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2016.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has called on Gulf Cooperation Council nations to engage more in the fight against Islamic State and continue to work with the U.S. to counter Iranian "malign and destabilizing" activities.

"We all do more, we can hasten the defeat of ISIL, which we all want," Carter told reporters at a joint news conference with GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani in the Diriyah Palace, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

Carter praised the GCC military contributions to fight IS, especially from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but said more also must be done politically and economically.

Sunni support will "be critical in ensuring ISIL stay's defeated," Carter said, adding that contributors could use the United Nations or non-profit aid organizations to channel assistance in coordination with the government of Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, right, delivers remarks during the Gulf Cooperation Council Defense Ministerial in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2016. Carter is in Saudi Arabia to participate in the U.S. Gulf Cooperation Council defense meeting.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, right, delivers remarks during the Gulf Cooperation Council Defense Ministerial in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2016. Carter is in Saudi Arabia to participate in the U.S. Gulf Cooperation Council defense meeting.

The GCC nations have been hesitant to directly help Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi due to concern about Iranian influence within his government, according to a senior defense official.

“Our point to them has been, if you are concerned about outside influence in Iraq, the best way to counter that is to get in and engage yourself,” the official said.

Leading by example

On Monday, the United States announced it was sending 217 additional troops, Apache attack helicopters and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Iraq, along with $415 million in aid for the Kurdish Peshmerga, whose government has struggled to pay its fighters due to a harsh drop in oil prices.

“We are leading by example ahead of this summit with the announcement we made,” a senior defense official said.

Carter said Monday during his visit to Baghdad that the additional troops, equipment and aid were to “enable” local forces in their fight to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the hub for Islamic State forces in the country.

“The Kurds are the single best example we have out there of a force on the ground that is holding the line. They are taking back territory from ISIL,” said the defense official.

Carter urged the group to ensure that "combined capabilities" to counter Islamic State and Iranian threats "match our combined commitments.”

Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert with the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA he expected little more than “polite declarations” from the GCC meetings this week.

"When it comes to fighting the Islamic State, the clock is running out on the Obama Administration,” Rubin said, "and I think many in the Gulf Cooperation Council are more likely to make their commitments with regard to whomever comes next in the White House."

Joint patrols

The U.S. and the GCC also pledged to carry out joint patrols to stop any Iranian arms shipments reaching "Yemen or other hot spots," Zayani said Wednesday.

Carter said the recent nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran does not restrict the U.S. from working to counter Iranian violations.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter walks with Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman as Carter arrives for the Gulf Cooperation Council Defense Ministerial in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2016.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter walks with Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman as Carter arrives for the Gulf Cooperation Council Defense Ministerial in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2016.

"The U.S. military remains committed and capable of responding to Iranian malign and destabilizing activities and deterring aggression against our regional friends and allies," he said.

'We're not abandoning them'

Rubin said the meetings Monday would be used to show the GCC that "we're not abandoning them and that we're not in effect prioritizing relations with Iran above and beyond our established relationships and alliances with them."

GCC states accuse Iran of smuggling weapons to Yemen, where they are helping battle against the Iranian-allied Houthi movement.

The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Zayani said the countries agreed on recommendations that were being referred to the GCC Leadership Summit with U.S. President Barack Obama tomorrow.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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