US defence chief convenes IS war council in Kuwait

US defence chief convenes IS war council in Kuwait
3 min read
23 February, 2015
New Defence Secretary Ashton Carter insisted Monday that US-led coalition will inflict a "lasting defeat" against so called Islamic State, as he convened an extraordinary war council in Kuwait, six days after taking office.
Carter spoke to troops in Afghanistan before convening the unusual meeting in Kuwait (Getty)
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter has summoned 30 top military officers, diplomats and intelligence experts in an unusual conference in Kuwait aimed at stopping the growth and spread of the so-called Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis).

Attending the meeting will be several three-star and four-star generals, including General Lloyd Austin, head of the US military's Central Command, as well as presidential envoys John Allen and Brett McGurk and the US ambassadors to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations.

The closed-door meeting starts on Monday at Camp Arifjan, a military base from which Army Lieutenant-General James Terry commands the military campaign against IS.

Carter's aides said he was not looking for alternatives to the current strategy but rather wants to learn more about the current one.

In remarks to troops at Camp Arifjan before the conference, Carter said the key to success against IS was ensuring the countries threatened by the group could preserve the gains already achieved by the US-led campaign.

"We will deliver lasting defeat, make no doubt," Carter said. "It needs to be a lasting defeat."

The meeting was convened against the backdrop of heavy Republican criticism of Obama's strategy for countering Islamic extremism and Carter's preparation for congressional testimony in early March.

It also coincides with the administration's request to Congress for a new authorisation to use military force against IS, and comes on the heels of last week's White House summit on violent extremism.

A senior defence official said on Sunday that Carter was convening the Kuwait meeting not to search for alternatives to Obama's current strategy for countering IS but rather to give him a deeper understanding of the strategy.

The official, who spoke to reporters about Carter's reasoning on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, said he wanted to "kick the tires" of the strategy. To that end, he invited a range of top officials and instructed them to leave their standard "talking points" at home. The official said he wanted a discussion about the intellectual underpinnings of the strategy and an in-depth update on its strengths and weaknesses.

Although Kuwait neighbours Iraq, Carter decided not to visit Baghdad on this trip, which is his first since taking office. He told reporters he needed to limit his time away from Washington at this early stage of his tenure and intends to make an Iraq visit sometime in the future. Carter's predecessor, Chuck Hagel, made a brief visit to Baghdad in December.

Carter told reporters while visiting Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Sunday that he believed the US must rethink its approach to countering terrorism, partly in light of the emergence of IS in Iraq and Syria.

"The reason to rethink the [counterterrorism] mission here in Afghanistan is first of all related to rethinking the ISIL phenomenon" and other ways in which terrorism in general has changed, he said. "That's different from the very early years when we came into Afghanistan... because of an al-Qaeda attack upon our country."

"The ways and means of terrorism changed over time and it makes sense to take account of that - that applies here, and it doesn't apply only here" in Afghanistan, he added. He did not discuss in detail the ways in which he thinks the US should adapt its counterterrorism strategy.

Among the other key participants are General Joseph L Votel, commander of US Special Operations Command; Lieutenant General Michael Nagata, head of the US programme to train and equip a moderate rebel force in Syria; and top commanders of US forces in Europe and Africa.