STUTTGART– An international coalition leading the military campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq agreed Wednesday to accelerate their contributions but did not publicly specify what those would be. The group also called on Iraqi leaders to reconcile political differences.
A day after a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in small arms fire with IS forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that as the war intensifies, “these risks will continue.”
Carter identified the SEAL as Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Keating, whose family had confirmed his death on Tuesday. Carter said he regretted the loss but stressed that combat risks in Iraq are unavoidable.
“Our overall approach is to enable local forces to do the fighting … but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do any fighting at all,” Carter said. “We are putting these people are risk every day,” including the aircrews who are flying strike missions daily over Iraq and Syria, “and, tragically, losses will occur,” he added.
Other U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details not yet publicly released, said that Keating, 31, and his SEAL advisory team were moving between Kurdish Peshmerga units when they got caught in a firefight with Islamic State forces that had created a breach in Peshmerga lines.
Carter and his counterparts from 11 coalition countries met behind closed doors at the headquarters of U.S. European Command, where Carter was presiding at a change-of-command ceremony Tuesday when news of Keating’s death reached him.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the group reaffirmed its support “to further accelerate and reinforce the success of our partners on the ground and for the deployment of additional enabling capabilities in the near term.”
“We called on all of Iraq’s political leaders to commit themselves to the legal and peaceful reconciliation of political differences in order to confront the nation’s challenges and to remain united against the common enemy,” they said.
The statement was not specific about what additional contributions would be offered, beyond citing resources to support the Iraqi military campaign and “various forms” of help to a civilian effort to stabilize and reconstruct areas of Anbar province devastated by war damage.
The meeting was a follow-up to a similar session Carter led in Brussels in mid-February.
“While we have gathered momentum since our ministerial in Brussels, this fight is far from over,” Carter said in an opening statement. “That point was brought into stark relief by yesterday’s attack on Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, which unfortunately claimed the life of an American service member.”
The Peshmerga are Kurdish militia who have generally fought more effectively against the Islamic State in northern Iraq than the regular Iraqi security forces. The U.S. has been training, equipping and advising Pershmerga forces as well as Iraqi security forces, and the Pentagon recently pledged up to $415 million in aid to the Kurds.
Carter expressed condolences Keating’s death, which is the third U.S. combat death in Iraq since U.S. forces returned there in mid-2014 to help the Iraqi government regain the wide swaths of territory captured by the Islamic State.
Wednesday’s session in Stuttgart was the latest in a series with partners on strategies for increasing assistance to the Iraqis, including the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, as they seek to recapture the northern Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. This comes as a political crisis in Baghdad clouds the outlook for further military advances against the militants.
Carter has placed a high priority on drawing coalition members more deeply into the counter-IS campaign, stressing the threat posed by allowing the extremists to spread their influence.
“We must do this,” Carter told the opening session. “It’s important for civilization that we do this. We can do this. We’re going to. With your help, it’ll go faster.”
The Stuttgart session was attended by senior defense officials from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain. Norway was also invited and was expected to attend.
By Robert Burns