Baghdad (AsiaNews) – US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States is changing its military strategy against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria. More air strikes against "high-value targets" are planned, implicitly acknowledging little progress so far. He also has not ruled “direct action on the ground”. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts continue with Iran to join talks for the first time.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services committee, Secretary Carter said that the US plans to carry out “strikes from the air or direct action on the ground" against IS targets in Syria and Iraq.
When the US-led coalition began air strikes against IS positions in Iraq and Syria last year, President Barack Obama had said the objective was to "degrade and ultimately destroy" IS.
Although Obama did not commit ground forces, the US keeps 3,500 troops in the country to train Iraqi forces with a limited combat role.
However since then, little progress has been made against IS, which still hold half of Syria and Iraq, albeit mostly desert.
Against this background, Russia started its own air strikes in Syria at the end of last month in order to help President Bashar al-Assad defeat IS and other extremists.
Washington and its allies in the Arab world strongly criticised the Russian campaign, arguing that it targeted mostly moderate rebel forces, thus fuelling more extremism. Conversely, a source told AsiaNews that Russian operations have been successful, forcing the militias to pull back.
Secretary Carter said the fight against IS would now concentrate mostly on Raqqa, the militants' declared capital in Syria, and Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq. As an example, Carter pointed to last week's rescue operation with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq to free hostages held by ISIS, which cost the life of a US soldier.
On the diplomatic front, efforts continue to find ways to end the Syrian conflict, which has cost the lives of more than 250,000 people, mostly civilians, and displaced at least 11 million people.
After unsuccessful talks last week, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey agreed to meet again this week in Vienna.
Washington is going to great lengths to end the humanitarian crisis and political impasse. Iran has been invited for the first time to international talks over Syria's war. Its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is also expected to be at the meeting.
Along with Moscow, Tehran backs Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. And Syria’s future revolves around the latter’s fate.
Invited by the United States, rrepresentatives of Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon should join the talks the next day in the Austrian capital.