Nice words but limited commitment so far for Obama's ISIS coalition

Kerry: Engaging in significant operation
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Story highlights

  • Secretary Kerry meets with Middle East allies on anti-ISIS efforts
  • Too early to announce nation-by-nation contributions, Kerry says
  • Analyst: "Quiet cooperation" more likely to avoid jihadist backlash
So far, it least, it looks like a coalition of the not-so-willing to help President Barack Obama combat ISIS.
Public statements of support from key allies have yet to be matched by concrete commitments to the proposed coalition, particularly for expanded military strikes against the Sunni jihadists rampaging through northern Iraq from Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry's swing through the Middle East this week garnered broad pledges of backing, but few specifics made public.
In Turkey on Friday, Kerry met with top leaders and told reporters of positive meetings, but he announced no details regarding possible contributions from one of Syria's neighbors.
Kerry: More than 40 countries offered assistance
"It's just not appropriate to start laying out, as we are in the process of talking to all these countries, which country is doing what," he told reporters. "Next week, I'll be testifying before Congress and we'll have more of the reports back in as others are talking to various countries and we'll have a better sense of where we stand on that."
He added: "I will tell you this: More than 40 countries had already offered assistance of one kind or another before I left Washington."
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Earlier this week, Sunni Gulf states needed by Obama to legitimize regional support for going after ISIS put a qualifier on military contributions, saying they would participate "as appropriate."
Meanwhile, NATO partners Britain and Germany have sent mixed signals on participating in airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria, while France ruled it out but committed to military support in Iraq.
Difficulty getting a coalition
"There is likely to be a lot of difficulty getting a coalition beyond a limited approach, especially regarding U.S. efforts to attack ISIS in Syria," said Faysal Itani, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Different countries have different reasons to be wary of getting fully involved in the U.S.-led coalition. For example, Turkey has internal political considerations, as well as 49 Turkish diplomats taken hostage by ISIS, Itani noted.
U.S. officials say Turkey has taken steps to cut the flow of money to ISIS and denied entry to or deported several thousand foreign fighters heading to Syria to join the extremists. Now they look for Turkey to stop oil exports from ISIS-held areas that bring more funding to the group.
While Iraq's new government will fully join the U.S.-led strategy announced this week by Obama, major regional players including Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were unlikely to be as supportive, Itani said.
"Quiet cooperation"
Even staunch U.S. ally Jordan, a certain backer, would likely choose what Itani called "quiet cooperation."
"They're not going to come out all guns blazing and engage jihadists," he said.
Obama's strategy represents a potential milestone in the growing regional conflict, which involves Syria's civil war, Iraq's continuing instability and the emergence of the extremists known as ISIS, ISIL and Islamic State into a potent and growing terrorist force that controls an area larger than the United Kingdom.
In his nationally televised speech Wednesday to present the strategy, Obama called for airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria to "hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are."
He also announced more military aid and other support for Iraqi forces and Syrian opposition groups fighting ISIS extremists on the ground, as well as increased counterterrorism efforts to cut off the group's funding and the flow of foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere joining its ranks.
The goal, he said, was to "dismantle and ultimately destroy" ISIS.
Itani, however, called the ultimate objective unattainable and said that reality made regional nations cautious about joining the coalition effort.
Degrade realistic; destroy "not going to happen"
"Degrade might be realistic. Destroy is not going to happen," he said, noting that wiping out ISIS would require a ground campaign.
He also called unrealistic any expectation that Sunni nations in the region would send combat troops to take on ISIS, saying, "I'm sure it would make the administration's life easier, but it's not going to happen."
"This whole thing has been covered by deep suspicions and doubts about whether the United States is truly committed to destroying this group," Itani said.
Obama has ruled out U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and by extension Syria, leaving it Iraqi forces as well as Syrian opposition groups that are fighting both the government of President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.
"Ultimately, the responsibility for taking the fight to ISIL on the ground in Syria can and should be Syrian fighters," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday. "And the question is what kind of support can we offer them. And it's the President's view that the international community can provide support to them in two ways. One is ramping up our training and equipping mission. And two is the deployment of American and allied airstrikes in support of their efforts on the ground."
So far, though, no allies have signed on to joining U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
France ruled it out completely, pledging military aid to Iraqi forces include Kurdish fighters in the north, while officials in Britain and Germany gave conflicting responses that signaled internal debate influenced by domestic politics.