Kerry in Brussels for talks on threats from Russia and the Middle East

Posted on Posted in World News

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State John F. Kerry came to Brussels on Tuesday to secure promises of more help from NATO allies in the campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria.

In a series of meetings with his counterparts from some of the 27 other NATO nations, Kerry repeatedly urged them to step up their contributions to the efforts to defeat the jihadists, who have proclaimed a “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq and are inspiring terrorist attacks in other countries.

“The secretary made clear he was urging all allies to increase their contributions,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby after Kerry met with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

The Obama administration frequently mentions the 65-nation coalition battling the Islamic State. But the vast majority of coalition airstrikes have been conducted by the United States. That is changing, since jihadists affiliated with or claiming allegiance to the Islamic State have grown more ambitious in their reach.

Since the group claimed the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed at least 130 people, France has been conducting air attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria. Russia also has bombed some Islamic State strongholds, although NATO leaders have complained that the Russians have focused most of their airstrikes on more moderate opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

[American and Russian militaries don’t agree about much in Syria]

It is still unclear how successful Kerry will be. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski indicated that Poland would “consider” contributing more, Kirby said. It was not immediately clear how much Poland is contributing now. But Waszczykowski recently suggested that Poland could help arm Syrian refugees streaming into Europe so they “can go to fight to liberate their country with our help.”

Kerry declined to answer when asked after his meetings with the foreign ministers of Italy, Poland and Turkey whether he expected to gather more commitments from NATO allies.

The two-day NATO meeting is being held in the shadow of last month’s assaults on Paris restaurants, a concert hall and a soccer stadium, in which all the known participants were French or Belgian nationals. Brussels effectively went into lockdown after the Paris attacks as police searched for alleged accomplices, and the threat level was reduced only on Monday.

A full plate of terrorism-related and geopolitical challenges is on the agenda, in addition to the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. They include ways to avoid air confrontations after Turkey shot down a Russian plane, a Russian military buildup near NATO borders, the continued military presence in Afghanistan and ongoing tensions over Ukraine.

[On Ukraine’s front lines, U.S.-supplied equipment is falling apart]

Further complicating matters, many Islamic State leaders are believed to have relocated to Libya, where there is effectively no government and they can operate more freely. That positions them just a few hundred miles by sea from Italy.

“We don’t have the luxury of either being focused or addressing the challenges to the east or the challenges to the south; we have to do both at the same time,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

The NATO allies decided to keep 12,000 troops in Afghanistan next year, maintaining current levels, and are considering keeping them there through 2020. About half are U.S. forces. NATO had planned to drastically cut troop levels at the end of this year, but the alliance is clearly uncertain whether Afghan security forces can defend the country against Taliban fighters.

“We are in Afghanistan to prevent that Afghanistan again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists,” Stoltenberg said in a news conference. “That is also in our security interest to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”