WASHINGTON - The United States Wednesday said it is seeking to build an international coalition to confront the threat posed by Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq. U.S. officials are also trying to determine whether a second American fighting alongside jihadists in Syria has been killed.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States is working to put together a coalition of countries in Europe, the Arab world and beyond who might contribute to taking on the threat posed by IS Sunni militants. She said there are many ways for nations to contribute.
"There’s humanitarian, military, intelligence, diplomatic, and we know this is an effort that is going to require a significant focus and all hands on deck, not just the United States, but a range of countries. And, you’ve already seen that there is a range of countries who have taken strikes. You know, we’ve seen the efforts of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and many, many others who have given assistance. And, this is an effort that we think needs to be over the long term to take this on,” said Psaki.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday President Obama and his team are closely monitoring U.S. military efforts against IS fighters in Iraq. U.S. attack and remotely-piloted aircraft conducted three more strikes Wednesday against IS targets in the vicinity of Irbil and the Mosul Dam.
But, Earnest said, U.S. military action is only one component of a comprehensive strategy against the Sunni militant group. He said an inclusive Iraqi government is a “key component” in the struggle against IS.
He also said the United States is “deeply engaged” with regional governments, who have a “clear vested interest” in the outcome of the fight. He said they can use their influence over Sunni tribal leaders in western Iraq and “moderate” political forces within the Syrian opposition to beat back the IS threat.
"The United States is also in touch with our partners in Western Europe and around the globe to engage the international community in this effort," said Earnest.
He said the president is speaking with countries that are capable of and have demonstrated a willingness to playing a constructive role in dealing with the IS challenge. He references the announcement by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Tuesday that seven European countries, Britain, Canada, Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Italy and France, are providing “urgently needed” arms and equipment to the Iraqi Kurds in their battle with IS militants.
Rick Brennan, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a career U.S. Army officer, said specific countries have special roles to play.
“The Turks need to get more serious about closing off their border and not allowing the ISIL fighters from coming from Europe, the United States, and Australia. We need to get the Saudis on board to start to turn down the money that’s going into the region, same with the Qataris. The Iraqis are going to have to play a more dominant role fighting ISIL and pushing them back,” said Brennan.
Brennan said this is the beginning of a strategy that targets the military and economic supports of IS.
Psaki on Wednesday said the United States cannot yet confirm that a second American fighting for IS was killed in a reported firefight with elements of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front group Sunday near the Syrian city of Aleppo.
"We’ve seen those reports. We’re looking into it, but we don’t have any independent confirmation at this point in time," said Psaki.
The United States Tuesday confirmed 33-year old Douglas McArthur McCain was killed in a clash with fighters of the Syrian opposition.
Psaki said U.S. ambassador Robert Bradtke was appointed in March to lead an international effort to prevent foreign fighters from reaching the battlefield.
White House spokesman Earnest said there are thousands of foreign fighters from up to 50 countries who have taken up arms in Syria with the IS group.
"We are very concerned about the risk those individuals pose to the 50 countries from which they traveled. In many cases, these are individuals who have Western passports. They have some freedom of movement in our modern transportation system, and we are working cooperatively with Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, as well as the Homeland Security agencies to try to monitor the movements of these individuals. These are individuals who have been radicalized, these are individuals who have received military training, in some cases they’re battle-tested and they’ve demonstrated, as Mr. McCain did, a willingness to die for their cause,” said Earnest.
Earnest said it is an issue President Obama will take up with other world leaders at the opening of the UN General Assembly next month.
Meanwhile, the mother of 31-year old American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, missing for over a year, released a video Wednesday appealing directly to the head of IS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, to release her son who has been threatened with death for U.S. air strikes in Iraq.
"I have learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others. Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He is an innocent journalist. I’ve also learned that you, the Caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child," said Sotloff.
The appeal came a week after another American journalist, James Foley, was beheaded in a video posted August 19 on the Internet.
Earnest said the United States is committed to doing everything it can to recover and rescue Sotloff safely and as soon as possible. While he ruled out any ransom payment, he said the United States will not rule out another military rescue effort, like the one attempted earlier, to free all Americans held by militants in Syria.