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Kerry Says Progress Made In Fighting Islamic State

  • RFE/RL

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (left) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (left) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Islamic State (IS) extremist group is a global problem but that progress has been made fighting the group.

Kerry said in London after a meeting of countries in the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria that defeating the Islamist group is "a huge task with no shortcuts."

He added that "we've made progress and will continue to make progress," saying that the momentum of the IS has either been "halted" or even "reversed" in some cases.

There are some 60 countries in the coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq and around 1,000 air strikes have been carried out against the IS since August.

Kerry said the air strikes, along with fighting by Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces on the ground, had retaken some 700 square kilometers of territory from IS.

But British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who co-hosted the event with Kerry, said Iraqi forces are in a "state of disarray" and it will be months before they are ready for major combat against IS.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned that falling oil prices have had a "disastrous" effect on Iraq's economy and could diminish its ability to fight the militant group.

Abadi called on the international coalition to provide his country with more weaponry, saying the coalition "has the ability to provide Iraq with the weapons it needs."

Kerry said Washington has delivered 250 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to Iraqi forces and that they would soon be receiving M16 rifles.

A U.S. State Department official said earlier that foreign fighters would be the "real focus" of the meeting and that an expert working group would be formed on sharing information to stop militants from traveling.

The London meeting, involving 21 of some 60 countries who are part of the anti-IS coalition, came after 17 people were killed in Paris earlier this month in jihadist attacks.

One of the three Paris attackers trained with Al-Qaeda's Yemeni branch, according to Yemeni intelligence, while another said he was inspired by IS jihadists.

Kerry had been holding talks in Washington with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who described the anti-IS coalition as "a partnership that unites us all against a phenomenon that is brutally devastating societies all over starting with the Arab countries."

Along with the United States, Britain, and Iraq, the countries taking part in the London conference are Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile in northern Iraq, Kurdish forces launched on January 21 a major ground offensive against IS militants.

Reports said Peshmerga fighters, supported by coalition air strikes, advanced from five directions and took a commanding position above a critical crossroads at Kiske, 40 kilometers west of Mosul.

The advance cuts the key road linking the IS strongholds of Mosul and Tal Afar, some 70 kilometers to the west.

IS fighters captured large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq last summer and declared a "caliphate" in areas it controls.

The European police agency Europol estimates up to 5,000 EU citizens have gone to join the ranks of IS militants in Syria and Iraq.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and the BBC