US, France to step up anti-IS campaign
The Paris terror attacks are likely to galvanise a stronger global military response to Islamic State, as a US-led air war that has lasted more than a year has failed to contain a group now proving itself to be a growing worldwide threat.
The defence ministers of France and the US agreed yesterday on "concrete steps" to intensify cooperation against the Islamic State group, said the Pentagon.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian discussed by telephone the actions they are taking in response to Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, according to AFP.
"They agreed on concrete steps the US and French militaries should take to further intensify our close cooperation in prosecuting a sustained campaign against ISIL," said Pentagon Press secretary Peter Cook.
"Secretary Carter reiterated the firm commitment of the United States to support France and move together to ensure ISIL is dealt a lasting defeat," he said.
France, which has described the Paris assault as an act of war, can quickly ramp up its contribution to the air campaign against Islamic State targets, reports Reuters.
Even before the Paris attacks, France announced that its sole aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, would be deployed to the Middle East, arriving on November 18.
IS claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks. There have been other major IS-claimed attacks in the past two weeks. Two explosions in suicide attacks in a Shi'ite Muslim district of southern Beirut in Lebanon killed 43, and 224 died when a Russian aircraft crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
The US, long accused of taking an incremental approach to the struggle, is under growing political pressure at home and abroad to do more and it is expected to examine ways to intensify the campaign, including through expanded air power.
US President Barack Obama vowed yesterday to step up efforts to eliminate Islamic State in Syria and prevent it from carrying out attacks like those in Paris, while European leaders urged Russia to focus its military efforts on the radical Islamists.
Speaking at the G20 summit in Turkey, Obama said the US would work with France to hunt down those responsible.
"The United States and its allies will redouble efforts to find a peaceful solution in Syria and prevent Islamic State militants from perpetrating attacks like those in Paris."
The two-day summit brings Obama and fellow world leaders just 500 km from Syria, where a four-and-a-half-year conflict has transformed IS into a global security threat and spawned Europe's largest migration flows since World War II.
Obama and his Western allies now face the question of how the West should respond after IS again demonstrated it posed a threat far beyond its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
Washington already expects France to retaliate by taking on a larger role in the US-led coalition's bombing campaign against Islamic State.
It, however, remains far from clear whether Paris and Washington would be willing to radically expand the scope of their current military engagement, given a deep aversion to getting dragged into a large-scale ground war in the Middle East.
But Obama has been committing more to the fight in recent months, and lawmakers and counter-terrorism experts see the Paris attacks strengthening arguments for additional military might.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Russia too should focus its military operations on Islamic State, rather than on the Syrian opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad, urging cooperation between Washington and Moscow.
Meanwhile, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a short and unannounced summit meeting over a coffee table on the margins of G20 summit.
The two leaders agreed on the need for UN-sponsored peace talks and a ceasefire to resolve years of war in Syria, a White House official said.
They "held a constructive discussion" that lasted about 35 minutes, the official added, calling the need for a solution for Syria "an imperative made all the more urgent by the horrifying terrorist attacks in Paris."
A top Kremlin official said while Moscow and Washington shared "strategic objectives" to fight IS, divergences still existed.
"Differences on tactics still remain," Putin's foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.
US officials said Washington will look in particular to European and Arab allies to step up their military participation in the war in Iraq and Syria.
Obama is also seeking to coax other European and Middle Eastern countries into more tangible steps to show their military commitment and will hold a bilateral meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, US officials said.
Washington and Riyadh are part of a US-led coalition that last year launched an air campaign targeting the IS jihadist group in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it had become clear that Obama's strategy of limited air strikes coupled with support for ground forces in Iraq and Syria "are not sufficient to protect our country and our allies."
"The fight is quickly spreading outside Iraq and Syria, and that's why we must take the battle to them," Feinstein said.
US officials say they are in discussions with allies, including from Arab nations, to also increase their roles in the air campaign. Talks are also underway about whether allies might deploy special operations forces, in Iraq and Syria.
Riedel and other former US officials said one quick way the US and its allies could do damage to IS would be to expand pressure on its leadership. Such pressure has been steadily growing with precision strikes in recent months.
It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will generally loosen rules of engagement for airstrikes that some in Congress and elsewhere have called too restrictive.
CRISIS TALKS ON FRIDAY
European Union interior ministers will hold crisis talks in Brussels on Friday in the wake of the Paris jihadist attacks, the Luxembourg government announced.
"Following the tragic events in Paris, this extraordinary [meeting] will strengthen the European response while ensuring the follow-up of the measures taken," Etienne Schneider, the internal security chief for Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said in a statement.