John Kerry Heads to Cairo as US Builds Coalition for War against Isis

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US secretary of state John Kerry heads to Cairo on Saturday amid a growing campaign to build a broad international coalition for a “war” against Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.

Retired US general John Allen, the hawkish former commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan who also led troops in western Iraq, was named on Friday to lead the international effort against Islamic State extremists.

Allen, 60, is on record saying that Isis “is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later”.

Both the White House and the Pentagon stressed that the United States is now “at war” with the group that has seized large chunks of Iraq and Syria.

But Kerry appeared reluctant to use the term in a series of television interviews, speaking instead of a “major counterterrorism operation” as Washington expands its campaign against IS.

“The United States is at war with [Isis] in the same way that we are at war with al-Qaida and its al-Qaida affiliates all around the globe,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, using another acronym by which the group is known.

Earlier on Friday, French president Francois Hollande travelled to war-torn Iraq while Washington’s top diplomat Kerry was in neighbouring Turkey, ramping up efforts to address what they now see as the global threat posed by the jihadists.

Hollande thus became the first head of state to visit Iraq since the militants seized large parts of the country in June, and he said France was ready to step up its military involvement.

The French leader is trying to take a lead role in responding to the crisis and will host a conference on Iraq in Paris on Monday.

Kerry, speaking to reporters in Ankara, spoke of “a broad-based coalition with Arab nations, European nations, the United States and others.”

Turkey is a fellow Nato member but has so far refused to open its air bases to US forces and other members of the coalition Washington is trying to put together against jihadists.

He held a two-hour meeting with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But a Turkish official told AFP that Ankara’s hands were tied because of the fate of 49 Turks, including children and diplomats, kidnapped by militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June.

The previous day in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Kerry secured the backing of 10 Arab states for a global push to weaken Isis, whose appeal has drawn volunteers from around the world.

In Cairo, Kerry will press his campaign to build a broad international coalition and will meet, among others, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.

However, Washington has insisted it will not work with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

The conflict in Syria has killed around 200,000 people in three and half years and allowed the emergence of the most violent and powerful group in modern jihad.

Isis led a major offensive in Iraq that began on June 9 and swept through the country’s Sunni Arab heartland, where many are angry and alienated by what they see as the sectarian policies of the Shiite-dominated government.

US aircraft have carried out more than 150 strikes in Iraq since early August but Washington now plans to help revamp the Iraqi army to combat Isis.

Source: AFP