US President Barack Obama has claimed the USA is defiant in its mission to dismantle the Islamic insurgents advancing in Iraq and Syria, as it reaches a milestone in the number of air strikes it has carried out against them.
More than 100 strikes have been carried out by US forces in Iraq to protect US diplomats supporting the fight against the Islamic State terrorist organisation, Obama said during the NATO summit in Newport, Wales.
These have “had a significant impact on degrading their capability”, he adds, while Washington endeavours to use the best intelligence so it only has to “perform limited strikes”.
He says the USA and its partners are acting with urgency in response to the crisis, but that the USA in particular is being careful in ensuring air strikes are carried out on the right targets. The US Navy is using its Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets dropping 226kg (500lb) laser-guided bombs to carry out strikes, as well as unmanned air vehicles.
“You can’t contain an organisation… that is killing that many innocents,” Obama adds. “You have to dismantle them. Given the nature of this organisation, other remnants of this are hiding and we will continue to hunt them down.”
Speaking on 5 September, Obama says he is hopeful a new Iraqi government should be formed “next week”, which would facilitate further action against the terrorist organisation claiming to have taken hold of the country.
The president praised the range of air capabilities deployed in the region, including strategic airlifters that have delivered air-drops, as well as surveillance aircraft.
“A variety of folks with different capabilities [have] made a contribution,” he notes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to embark on a tour of the region to drum up support from neighbouring Arab states against the rise of the Islamic State.
“My expectation is that we’ll see friends and partners joining us,” Obama says.
Meanwhile, Obama also pledges to continue the USA's support of the Ukrainian government, following the advancement of Russian troops into the country – an activity NATO has officially condemned. He claimed a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine announced on 5 September could “advance that goal” of bringing peace in the region, although he says “we are hopeful, but also sceptical”.
The Baltic air policing mission will continue under NATO’s commitment to help provide stability and support in eastern Europe, he adds. From the US standpoint this is part of a $1 billion support pledge Washington made towards Europe to support it against Russia earlier this year. Obama says some of this earmarked funding has already been allocated – including money towards supporting the air policing mission in the Baltic states – while some will be used to support the “Spearhead” joint rapid action plan the alliance announced during the summit.
Spearhead will involve NATO states preparing for an advancement of adversaries – including Russia – into Europe, and will see nations pre-deploying equipment in eastern Europe to be ready should a conflict arise. Initial operational capability for this is expected to be achieved in 12 months’ time.
The UK announced during the summit that it would offer 1,000 troops for this effort, and would establish one battle group and a brigade headquarters.
NATO will offer support to Ukraine, although this will be in the form of logistical support and will not be offensive, Obama notes.