US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said any Iranian military action against Islamic State (IS) fighters in Iraq is “positive” after the Pentagon said Tehran had carried out air strikes against the group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Kerry, hosting a meeting of the US-led coalition against the IS in Brussels, said air strikes were finally stopping the advance of the group across Iraq and Syria, but said it could take years to defeat it.
Top US military officer General David Rodriguez said that the IS had set up training camps in eastern Libya, although he said they were not an immediate target as activity there was “very small.”
Kerry told the Brussels meeting of officials from 60 coalition states that a campaign of about 1,000 strikes had made a “significant” impact on the IS group, which declared a caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq in June.
“Our commitment will most likely be measured in years,” he told the meeting at NATO headquarters, adding that the partners would “engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail.”
However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — who is backed by Iran — criticized the Western and Arab air strikes for having no effect.
Kerry denied there was any military coordination with Iran after the Pentagon said that Iranian F-4 Phantom jets — acquired from the US before the 1979 Islamic revolution — had deployed against IS fighters in Iraq’s eastern Diyala Province.
However, he suggested that there was an understanding between mainly Shiite Iran and the US to tackle a common threat.
“If Iran is taking on [IS fighters] in some particular place ... and it has an impact, then it’s going to be net effect [that] is positive,” Kerry told a press conference after the meeting.
US defense officials said the Iranian air raids were part of a pattern in which Iranian or US military advisers have carved out separate spheres in Iraq.
“There’s a tacit understanding we’re not going to operate in the same space. And they’re not targeting American forces,” said a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The coalition issued a statement saying that the militant group’s “advance across Syria and into Iraq is being halted,” and that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are reclaiming territory.
However, al-Assad — whose main backers are Tehran and Moscow — hit out at the Western powers that until months ago had been focused on his removal from power in a civil war that has killed about 200,000 people.
“You can’t end terrorism with aerial strikes. Troops on the ground that know the land and can react are essential,” he said in an interview in this week’s edition of French magazine Paris Match. “That is why there haven’t been any tangible results in the two months of strikes led by the coalition. They would of course have helped had they been serious and efficient.”
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