Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US steps up diplomacy, raids on IS

AFP, WASHINGTON

The US on Tuesday announced that Iran might take part in talks to end the civil war in Syria and warned of increased military action against the Islamic State (IS) group.

On the military front, the Pentagon said it might launch more airstrikes and even direct ground attacks by special forces against the extremists.

On the diplomatic front, the US Department of State said it expected Damascus’ key ally Iran to be invited to a new round of talks in Vienna this week on a political solution.

“An invitation to Iran to participate, I think Iranian leaders can take to mean that it’s a genuine multilateral invitation,” state department spokesman John Kirby said.

US officials would not say which power would pass the invitation to Tehran and did not know if Iran would accept, but they said it would be welcome to attend.

Tomorrow’s talks in Vienna are seen as a way to end Syria’s civil war by creating an interim unity regime and paving the way for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit.

However, in parallel to this fledgling political process, a US-led coalition is carrying out an air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Testifying to lawmakers, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said US forces would not shy away from “direct action on the ground” if they see a chance to hit Islamic State targets.

US President Barack Obama’s administration has not committed ground forces to back opposition and Kurdish rebels fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, but has 3,500 troops in Iraq.

These troops have a “train and advise” role to help Iraqi forces battling the extremist group, but were recently drawn into fighting in northern Iraq.

Last week, a US soldier died during a raid in which commandos and Kurdish Peshmerga stormed an the Islamic State-run jail in northern Iraq and freed 70 captives.

Afterwards, Carter said he expected “more of this kind of thing” and on Tuesday told senators that the coalition would focus on the the Islamic State stronghold of Raqa, in Syria.

“We expect to intensify our air campaign, including with additional US and coalition aircraft, to target IS with a higher and heavier rate of strikes,” he said. “This will include more strikes against IS high-value targets as our intelligence improves.”

Carter described the strategy as centered on the “three Rs” — raids, Raqa and Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, held by the Islamic State group since May.

“We are willing to continue providing more enabling capabilities and fire support to help our Iraqi partners succeed,” Carter told the US Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Islamic State group is a would-be global jihadist extremist network born out of the Iraqi insurgency and the Syrian civil war, with offshoots around the Middle East.

US-led efforts to “degrade and destroy” the movement have been stymied by the chaos in Syria, where al-Assad is battling a broader rebellion.

Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah are backing al-Assad with direct military support, while US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting Sunni rebels.

CIA Director John Brennan said the Russians have in sight a political transition in Syria where al-Assad would eventually step down.

“Despite what they say, I believe the Russians do not see al-Assad in Syria’s future,” Brennan said. “I think the Russians understand that there is not a military solution to Syria, that there needs to be some kind of political process.”

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