SHAFAQNA -Several Arab states have offered to fly airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq alongside the efforts of the United States, U.S. officials said Sunday. “A lot of them” offered to do airstrikes, a senior State Department official said in Paris. The military side of the widening campaign against the Islamic State is being coordinated by the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM. U.S. officials would not identify which nations made offers of active battlefield participation, or “kinetic action,” in military parlance.
“A lot of this is still in the discussion phase, but I want to be clear that there have been offers, both to CENTCOM and to the Iraqis, of Arab countries taking more aggressive kinetic action against ISIL,” including airstrikes, the official said, using an alternative acronym for the militant network.
Thus far, the military effort has involved offers to use Arab military bases and other resources, but the entry of Arab warplanes, especially if contributed by Persian Gulf countries, would be significant. Shiite-led Iraq has feuded with the major Sunni states, especially Saudi Arabia, for nearly a decade.
“The Iraqis would have to be a major participant in that decision,” and that discussion is ongoing, the official said. “And secondly, the air campaign would have to be very well organized.”
Iraq was a signatory to a pledge of joint cooperation against the militants issued in Saudi Arabia last week.
“It’s a very complicated situation, militarily,” a second senior State Department official said. “We have a lot of flights in the air at any given moment, and we wanted to be an overall coordinator of this effort.”
There is precedent for Arab participation in international air campaigns.
The United Arab Emirates flew air missions during the 2011 NATO-led assault in Libya, providing some military value but far greater diplomatic cover for the United States and European nations uneasy about being seen as launching a Western war in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabian planes flew as part of the U.S.-led coalition that pushed Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces back from Kuwait in 1991.
The U.S. officials requested anonymity to discuss details of the evolving diplomatic and military strategy. U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry is in Paris to attend an international conference Monday on countering the Islamic State threat.
In an interview that aired Sunday, Kerry discussed the possibility of expanded U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State militants inside Syria, saying that the United States could “de-conflict” such attacks with the Syrian government but that there would be no formal cooperation or coordination.
President Obama has authorized such strikes but has not yet ordered them to be carried out.
“No, we’re not going to coordinate it with Syria,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We will certainly want to de-conflict to make certain that they’re not about to do something that they might regret even more seriously, but we’re not going to coordinate.”
“It’s not a cooperative effort. We’re going to do what they haven’t done, what they had plenty of opportunity to do, which is to take on ISIL and to degrade it and eliminate it as a threat,” Kerry said.
“We will do that with allies,” he added.
Kerry recorded the interview Saturday in Egypt, part of a week-long tour of Mideast and European nations involved in the emerging coalition against the militants.
“I’ve been extremely encouraged to hear from all of the people that I’ve been meeting with about their readiness and willingness to participate,” he said.
“People should not think about this effort just in terms of strikes,” he added. “In fact, as some have pointed out, that alone is not going to resolve this challenge.”
Addressing Kerry’s comments, a third State Department official stressed that should the current air campaign expand to Syria, as it is expected to do soon, the United States would make its own decisions and will not discuss them with the Syrian government. The United States has called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and expanded support to Syrian rebels seeking to defeat Assad is an element of the new campaign.
Kerry’s remark about de-conflicting airstrikes was not meant to signal any change in that policy, the official said.
“There’s ways to communicate, including publicly, what our plans are, in terms of if we’re going to take that additional step, and I think that’s what he was referring to,” the official said. “He wasn’t implying that we’re changing our policy as it relates to coordinating or working with or talking to the regime.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told Kerry last week that Iraq is fighting the militants on the ground but cannot cross the border to pursue them in their haven of Syria. Others have to do that, Abadi said during brief remarks heard by reporters when Kerry visited Baghdad on Wednesday.
Hours after that visit, Obama said in a prime-time television address that the United States would take action inside Syria if it proves necessary. He has ruled out sending American ground forces.