The Trump administration, worried that the anti-IS coalition is not keeping sight of its main objective, urged its partners on Tuesday to refocus their efforts, overcome rivalries and concentrate on their goal – to eradicate the Islamic State extremist group in all territories in Iraq and Syria.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pointed this out at a coalition gathering in Kuwait, at a time when the fight against the Islamic State is a critical point and the mission is trying to achieve stabilization in the region, Associated Press reports.
However, Turkey fighting the U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels presents a distraction to the coalition. At the same time, non-coalition actors such as Iran, its proxies in Syria and Israel risk sparking a new conflict with their renewed hostilities.
“The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS. ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe,” Tillerson said. “Without continued attention and support from coalition members, we risk the return of extremist groups like ISIS in liberated areas of Iraq and Syria and their spread to new locations.”
According to U.S. officials, Tillerson’s message is that the coalition must keep its eye “on the prize” and avoid anything that might pose an obstacle to the defeat of IS, thus also risking the long-sought political transition in Syria that will ultimately lead to an end of the war and diminish Iranian influence there.
“It’s complicated enough as it is. Let’s not make it more so,” an official said.
The primary concern at the moment are the rising tensions between the United States and it’s NATO ally Turkey, which conducts military operations in Syria. Turkey’s foreign minister Melvut Cavusogly said Monday that Tillerson’s visit comes at a make or break time for relations.
“Our relations are at a very critical stage,” Cavusoglu said. “Either we will improve ties or these ties will totally break down.”
U.S. officials admitted that talks with Ankara would be difficult, but acknowledged Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, even though they said resolving them should not come at the expense of the anti-IS mission.