US urges allies to remain focused on IS threat

US urges allies to remain focused on IS threat
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged countries to focus their efforts on fighting the Islamic State group, saying that Turkey's offensive was "detracting" from the anti-IS efforts.
3 min read
14 February, 2018

The United States has urged allies to remain focused on their fight against the Islamic State group, highlighting that Turkey's military offensive, operation Olive Branch in the northern Syrian city of Afrin, had "detracted" from the anti-IS fight.

Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State spoke at a ministerial meeting in Kuwait for the US-led military coalition fighting the IS group in Iraq and Syria. The meeting was being held in parallel with an Iraq reconstruction conference.

"The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS," said Tillerson, using an alternative acronym for the militant group.

Iraq declared victory against IS in December, more than three years after the extremist group seized a third of its territory and swathes of neighbouring Syria, declaring a "caliphate" ruling over millions of people.

As the fight against the IS group nears its end, with the extremist group losing large swathes of land, the group's territory is now reduced to a small strip of the Euphrates and small areas of Syria and Iraq.

There are less than 1,000 IS fighters estimated remaining in Iraq and Syria.

Turkey's offensive "has detracted from our fight to defeat Islamic State in eastern Syria," Tillerson said of the ongoing offensive by US-backed Kurdish militia to clear remaining pockets of extremists.

"Forces have diverted from there to Afrin," he added.

Ankara launched Operation Olive Branch in the northern Syrian region of Afrin three weeks ago to fight the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Washington views the YPG as a key ally in the battle against the Islamic State group, and Turkey's offensive has seen strained relations between the two NATO partners.

"We remain concerned over recent events in northwest Syria and call on all parties to remain focused on defeating ISIS," Tillerson added.

"We will continue to be completely transparent with Turkey about our efforts in Syria to defeat ISIS, and while he gave a nod to Turkey's right to pursue its "counterterrorism efforts" on its border, maintained that the US would "continue to train local security forces."

Tillerson's remarks come as international donors meet in Kuwait to discuss loans and investment pledges made to Iraq to help the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

Baghdad says it needs nearly $90 billion to rebuild the devastated homes, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure after more than three years of fighting with the IS group.