Defence ministers vow to destroy IS ‘power centres’

Paris: Defence ministers from seven countries fighting the Islamic State group vowed today to step up their operations and destroy the jihadists’ “power centres” in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking after talks in Paris, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the coalition’s main aim was to crush what he called the IS “tumour” in Iraq and Syria by “collapsing its two power centres in Raqa and Mosul.”

The second aim, said Carter, was “to combat the metastasis of the ISIL tumour worldwide,” using an alternative name for IS.

Russia — a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — was not invited to the Paris meeting, where hosts France and the United States demanded it stop bombing Syrian opposition forces fighting IS.

But in Zurich, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syria peace talks would start “in the next few days” after a meeting with US counterpart John Kerry.

“The Russians are on the wrong track strategically and also in some cases tactically,” Carter said.

“We don’t have a basis for broader cooperation (with Russia),” Carter said.

In contrast, Lavrov said Russia was willing to “more closely coordinate our actions” with the coalition to facilitate aid deliveries in Syria.

The meeting in Paris included defence ministers from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

Carter announced an unprecedented meeting of 26 defence ministers in the anti-IS coalition, plus Iraq, to be held in Brussels in three weeks and warned that he would demand increased efforts.

“Every nation must come prepared to discuss further contributions to the fight and I will not hesitate to engage and challenge current and prospective members of the coalition as we go forward,” he said.

Carter has repeatedly urged other countries in the approximately 60-member coalition to step up their participation in the military effort, particularly Arab and Gulf countries that are more focused on fighting Iran-backed forces in Yemen.

The ministers were keen to tout progress in their campaign.

“Daesh is retreating, it is time to increase our joint efforts by implementing a coherent military strategy,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters.

But the coalition faces a rapidly spreading threat from IS around the world, notably in Libya where political chaos has allowed the group to build a 3,000-strong force.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stressed there could be “no military solution” to the war.

“We need a political solution,” Zarif told an audience at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.