US to focus on ‘elimination’ of ISIL by military force

First meeting of international coalition since Trump’s election held in Washington on the way forward in defeating ISIL.

The United States will set up “interim zones of stability” to help refugees return home in the next phase of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and al-Qaeda, the US Secretary of State said on Wednesday.

Top US diplomat Rex Tillerson did not make clear where these zones were to be set up. He was addressing a meeting of 68 countries gathered in Washington, DC to discuss the fight to defeat ISIL, also known as ISIS.

“The United States will increase our pressure on ISIS and al-Qaeda and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through ceasefires, to allow refugees to return home,” Tillerson told the gathering at the state department.

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Creating safe zones could ratchet up US military involvement in Syria and mark a major departure from President Barack Obama‘s more cautious approach.

Increased US or allied air power would be required if President Donald Trump chooses to enforce “no fly” restrictions, and ground forces might also be needed to protect civilians in those areas.

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“We checked with the Pentagon and they say they don’t have any guidance to create these zones yet,” Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane reported from Washington, DC.

“In the past when there was talk about safe zones, that meant forces on the ground, to protect civilians, and cover from the air. But that doesn’t seem to be what Tillerson is talking about as he mentions doing it through ceasefires.”

ISIL has been losing ground in both Iraq and Syria, with three separate forces, backed by the United States, Turkey and Russia, advancing on the group’s Syrian stronghold city of Raqqa.

Defeating ISIL is the “number one US goal in the region”, Tillerson said, adding the coalition will focus on “regional elimination of ISIS through military force”.

Wednesday’s event was the first meeting of the international coalition since the election of Trump, who has pledged to make the fight against ISIL a priority. He vowed in January to set up safe zones in Syria for refugees.

In a statement released after the meeting, the 68 partners underlined their “determination to intensify and accelerate… efforts to eliminate ISIS” in Iraq, Syria and beyond.

They hailed progress by US-backed local forces against the group’s main strongholds in Raqqa and the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

And, as they predicted victory on the battlefield, they vowed to prevent the group’s fleeing fighters from spreading instability or from setting up a propaganda base in cyberspace.

Tillerson said the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq was down 90 percent over the past year.

“It is harder for terrorists to get in and more importantly harder for them to get out to threaten our homelands,” he said.

He called on coalition partners to make good on financial pledges to help secure and rebuild areas where ISIL fighters have been pushed out.

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The US will do its part but circumstances on the ground require more, Tillerson said, urging allies to allocate more military, financial resources towards defeating ISIL.

Wednesday’s meeting is the first of the international coalition since Iraqi government forces, backed by the US-led international coalition, retook several Iraqi cities from ISIL last year and recaptured eastern Mosul.

“We are at the stage of completely decimating Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL. 

He believes reconstruction of Anbar province as well as Mosul, in Nineveh province, will cost about $50bn, US Senator Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday, recounting a Tuesday conversation with the Iraqi leader.

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies