U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “extremely encouraged” by pledges of military assistance against Islamic State militants by countries inside and outside the Middle East and that some nations had offered ground troops.
Kerry has been touring the Middle East to try to secure backing for U.S. efforts to build a coalition to fight the Islamic State militants who have grabbed territory in Syria and Iraq.
“We have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes if that is what it requires. And we also have a growing number of people who are prepared to do all the other things,” Kerry said in remarks aired on Sunday on the CBS program Face the Nation.
On the CNN program State of the Union, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was asked if this coalition would need ground troops beyond opposition forces in Syria and Kurdish and government forces in Iraq.
“Ultimately, to destroy ISIL, we do need to have a force, an anvil against which they will be pushed – ideally Sunni forces,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
No US ground troops
Kerry reiterated President Barack Obama’s statement that U.S. ground troops would not be used against the Islamic State fighters.
“We’re not looking to put troops on the ground,” Kerry said. “There are some who have offered to do so, but we are not looking for that at this moment anyway,” Kerry said. He did not identify the countries.
On Thursday, Kerry won the backing for a “coordinated military campaign” from 10 Arab countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including rich rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
“This is a strategy coming together as the coalition comes together and the countries declare what they are prepared to do,” Kerry said in the interview, taped on Saturday in Egypt.
“I’ve been extremely encouraged to hear from all of the people that I’ve been meeting with about their readiness and willingness and to participate,” Kerry added.
McDonough also said Obama would meet on Tuesday with General John Allen, his newly appointed special presidential envoy for building the coalition against the Islamic State group. McDonough also said Kerry would testify before the U.S. Congress on the matter this week.
Kerry is in Paris on the latest stop of his tour to forge an international coalition against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
He flew to the French capital from Cairo late Saturday ahead of an international conference Monday aimed at stepping up the effort to fight the militants. Nearly 40 nations have so far agreed to join the fight, in some form, including several Arab countries.
On Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country will soon deploy 600 military personnel and several jet fighters to the region in response to a formal request from the U.S. for international help.
Threat of terrorism
While in Egypt, Kerry said it is only “a matter of time” before the threat of terrorism anywhere becomes the threat of terrorism everywhere. He spoke in Cairo after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.
Kerry said Islamic State jihadists claim to be fighting on behalf of Islam, but said the group’s activities have nothing to do with Islam. He said, “Its message of hate is rejected” by the majority of Muslims around the world.
As home to al-Azhar University, one of Islam’s oldest and most respected centers of Sunni Muslim education, Kerry said Egypt plays a “critical role” in denouncing Muslim extremist ideology. He described the Islamic State militants as an “organization whose brutality and sheer evil knows no bounds.”
Appearing at a news conference with Kerry on Saturday, Foreign Minister Shoukri echoed Kerry’s call for global action to counter the threat of Islamist militants. He said Egyptian security services are monitoring ties between the Islamic State and domestic terrorist groups and believes they pose a danger that crosses international borders.
The organizations share an ideology and common vision, differing only in tactics to defeat the idea of the national state so that their extremist ideologies can prevail,” he said.
“We believe that rejecting terrorism is a collective responsibility of all members of the international community. There should be definite steps to achieve this target,” he said.
Kerry said Egypt is on the front lines of extremist threats, particularly when it comes to groups on the Sinai Peninsula.
He stressed the U.S. commitment to helping Egypt counter those threats. The Obama administration last month approved the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters that had been held-up over human rights concerns.
A senior State Department official says there has been contact between the Egyptian terrorist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the Islamic State militants. Kerry says this threat demands a coordinated response.
Scott Steans contributed to this report from Paris.