Some Arab states to supply air power to ISIS war
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Paris that several Arab states had offered to join the air war against Islamic State. Kerry is in France attending a meeting of 30 countries who are discussing ways to confront ISIS and coordinate a world wide response to the terrorist group.
Kerry and administration officials declined to name which Arab countries would join the fight, but White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said that some countries would not participate in the bombing but help in other ways.
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking from Paris, declined to say which states had offered to contribute air power, an announcement that White House officials said could await his return to testify in Congress early this week. State Department officials, who asked not to be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters, said Arab nations could participate in an air campaign against ISIS in other ways without dropping bombs, such as by flying arms to Iraqi or Kurdish forces, conducting reconnaissance flights or providing logistical support and refueling.
“I don’t want to leave you with the impression that these Arab members haven’t offered to do airstrikes, because several of them have,” one State Department official said. “The Iraqis would have to be a major participant in that decision,” the official added. “It has to be well structured and organized.”
The United Arab Emirates, which provided some air power in the 2011 attacks on Libya, seemed at the top of the list, with Qatar hosting an American military headquarters. American officials cautioned that all strikes would have to be approved by the newly assembled government in Iraq, as well as by American military planners. That could prove just one challenge to the offer by Arab nations to participate in airstrikes: While Iraq’s struggling military forces have experience operating with the United States, its Shiite-dominated government has never worked with the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf.
The United States has identified ISIS targets in Iraq over the past several weeks. But officials said they were waiting, in part, to match the allied commitments with actual contributions: warplanes, support aircraft that can refuel or provide intelligence, more basing agreements to carry out strikes, and the insertion of trainers from other Western countries.
Tellingly, there are no plans, as of now, to increase the number of American attack planes in the region. The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson is scheduled to relieve the carrier George H. W. Bush in the Persian Gulf next month; if the Pentagon changed its plans and kept two carriers in the gulf, it could double carrier-based firepower over Iraq and Syria. But for now, there is no plan to do so, officials said. Nor are there any plans to increase American ground-based strike aircraft at facilities around the region, in hopes that Persian Gulf and European allies would make up the difference.
Before the administration asked for help, did anyone think of asking the Iraqis their opinion? Guess not.
Ahead of the conference, France's foreign minister acknowledged that a number of the countries at the table Monday had "very probably" financed Islamic State's advances, and Iraq's president appeared ambivalent about Arab participation, saying his country needed the support of its neighbors -- but not necessarily their fighter jets or soldiers.
"Ultimately, this is a fight within Islam, within Sunni Islam," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told Fox News on Sunday.
The gathering itself was set to last just a few hours. Hollande French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said quick action was vital, insisting there was no comparison with the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which France vocally opposed.
"It's the same geographic area but that's the only similarity," Fabius told France Info radio on Monday. "When you are a political leader you have to measure the cost of inaction."
In an interview on Sunday with The Associated Press in Paris, Massoum -- a Kurd, whose role in the government is largely ceremonial -- expressed regret that Iran was not attending.
He also seemed lukewarm to the possible participation Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in airstrikes in Iraqi territory.
"It is not necessary that they participate in airstrikes; what is important is that they participate in the decisions of this conference," he said, underscoring Baghdad's closeness to Iran and how tensions among the regional powers could complicate the process of forming a Sunni alliance.
Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have some of the region's best-equipped militaries, and they could theoretically provide air support to a broader international coalition. U.S. officials say the Emirates and Egypt were behind airstrikes against Islamist-backed militants in Libya last month.
So Iraq doesn't want the three best air forces available (I doubt whether Syria will be asked to participate) in the region to conduct air strikes on its soil. And how stupid is McDonough? By making this a sectarian war ("a fight within Islam, within Sunni Islam), the White House is forcing Shiite Iraq to choose being allied with their mortal enemies or succumbing to ISIS tender mercies.
And I can't wait to see this convoluted command structure in action. Air strikes must be approved by both the Iraqi government and the US military? Judging by the speed with which the Iraqi government acts, they may take a week to decide whether to bomb an APV.
It appears that this coalition thing hasn't gotten off to the best of starts - if there is a coalition. We eagerly await John Kerry divulging which nations have offered to help.